At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Baylham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Baylham snowdrops
Passed churches: Baylham

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      The fast back road from Ipswich to Stowmarket through Great Blakenham and Needham Market is a pretty dreadful one if you are a cyclist, and its factories, quarries and warehouses are perhaps not typical of how outsiders might imagine the county. And yet, not a mile from this awful road, there is a quite different Suffolk. The hills above the Gipping Valley on both sides of the river are gentle and wooded, with ancient farms and little cottages. The roads that lead up from the B1113 head nowhere in particular, either petering out in the villages or doglegging back down the hillside. Because of this, villages like Baylham and Darmsden seem remote and lost, while places like Badley seem to barely exist at all.

Baylham is the next parish after Great Blakenham as you head west, and part of the straggling ribbon of development on the busy road takes its name. On the north side of the road stood the house where the iconoclast William Dowsing lived as a young man, but his puritan theology was moulded at Coddenham church, which was nearer to his home. Dowsing's place may well have been technically within the parish, but for the old village of Baylham itself you must head south, up into the hills. Very quickly the traffic noise falls away, and the lane burrows beneath a bower of trees. You climb into Upper Baylham, a place of of pleasant cottages and former council houses, nothing too fancy, nothing too posh, but lovely for all that. The road forks, one leg heading downwards in the direction of Nettlestead, the other climbing up into the centre of the village. A steep drop from this road is more Yorkshire than East Anglia perhaps. And when you reach the top, around the bend in the top road, the church comes into sight, the 19th Century former school beside it, now a house.There are views across the valley, and the sounds and sweet smells of an intensely rural churchyard.

The church is cruciform, and seems larger than it is. There are no aisles, and the transepts were added as part of the 1870 restoration by Frederick Barnes. The robust result is typical Barnes work, which was always enthusiastic and is perhaps at its most memorable at Ipswich Presbyterian Church on Portman Road. He was also responsible for the beautiful Tudor revival railway stations at Needham Market and Stowmarket on the line in the valley below Upper Baylham. Above the door of the south transept are the words Domus Dei, Porta Caeli ('This is the House of God, this is the Gate of Heaven') from the Book of Genesis. The grand 14th Century tower keeps a watch over all, and you enter through Barnes's south porch.

The nave and chancel are, at first sight, entirely of the Barnes restoration. All the furnishings are his, as is the splendid tiling of the crossing and chancel, produced by Maw & Sons of Birmingham. But the font is 15th Century, a typical example of the East Anglian style of the time, and it is noteable for an interesting reason. When William Dowsing visited Baylham on his iconoclastic tour through the churches of Suffolk and Cambridgeshire in 1643-44, It was one of the few fonts on which he passed comment, disapproving of a Trinity in a triangle on the font, and a cross, by which he presumably meant the Instruments of the Passion. These survive, though not undamaged. It's worth remembering that Dowsing was more often giving advice rather than taking a hammer to things himself. Most East Anglian fonts would have been plastered over before Dowsing saw them.

The 1870 east window of the Resurrection by Clayton & Bell came as part of Barnes's restoration, but more interesting perhaps is the glass on the south side of the chancel. It remembers Agnes Margaret Barry who fell asleep in Jesus at Bangalore in 1902. She was eight years old. The main subject is a fairly run of the mill depiction of Christ as the Good Shepherd with St John and St Peter, but what makes the glass memorable is the upper light, where Agnes Barry is depicted as an angel with two cherubs, her portrait used for her face. Aidan Macrae Thomson tells me it is by the Mayer & Co workshop of Munich, who also had a studio in London by the early 20th Century.

The Good Shepherd (Mayer & Co, c1905) Agnes Margaret Barry as an angel with two cherubs (Mayer & Co, c1905) Agnes Margaret Barry 'fell asleep in Jesus at Bangalore' (Mayer & Co, c1905)

On the north side of the sanctuary is the late 17th Century Acton memorial. John and Elizabeth Acton face each other across a prayer desk, while behind them a skeleton bursts in waving a dart of death. There's something similar at St Nicholas, Kings Lynn. Beneath them are their children kneeling to mourn, three boys and two girls. The inscriptions for the main figures are odd. Elizabeth's records that she died at the age of 36 on the 27th of March, but omits to tell us which year. John's inscription has been left completely blank, but we know he died in 1695. The monument must have been erected before his death. In the great storm of October 1987 the chancel wall was destabilised, and this memorial needed to be reset. The local builder who carried out the work found that it came apart like a gigantic jigsaw puzzle, and each piece had been pegged separately into the wall with wooden dowelling. It was put back in place using the same late 17th Century techniques.

The Acton memorial (late 17h Century) The Acton memorial (late 17h Century)

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship there were just over three hundred people living in Baylham, divided between those in the upper village and those down on the main road. Eighty-seven people attended the morning service on the day of the census exclusive of the scholars who had no choice but to be there, and there were well over a hundred and twenty in attendance for the Sunday afternoon sermon which was always more popular in East Anglia. These are exceptionally high figures for rural Suffolk where there was a strong enthusiasm for non-conformism. It may well be that the Baptist chapel at Great Blakenham or the Independents chapel at Needham Market provided a temptation for those down in the valley, but it is likely that the upper village was simply too remote for its inhabitants to want to head elsewhere.

William Colville, the Rector of Baylham, had been incumbent since 1828, and he was one of the Norwich diocese's last pluralists, being also Rector of Broome in Norfolk, a parish too far away for it to be possible for him to ever take services at both on the same Sunday. Instead, he paid a curate to carry out his duties at Broome, and he could well afford to do so. Colville received about 300 a year from each of his livings, the total being equivalent of about 120,000 per annum in today's money. But he was near to retirement, and his successor at Baylham, William Downes, would serve the parish for forty years, and it was he who would largely bankroll Frederick Barnes's restoration of the church.


Simon Knott, February 2023

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looking east chancel Resurrection (Clayton & Bell, 1870s)
font (15th Century, recut) encaustic tiles (Maw & Son, 1870s) Mary Lund, 1689 descendants of the Actons of Bramford Hall

The Baylham dead


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