At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Bradfield Combust

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Bradfield Combust: click to view large

Bradfield Combust Bradfield Combust Bradfield Combust

Christ in Majesty  

The hellish A134 hurtles through from Sudbury to Bury, slicing this otherwise rather pretty village in two. But still, the church sits beside the pub in happy juxtaposition, reminding me rather of the same thing at Fornham St Martin. The name of the village means exactly what it suggests; there was a great fire here during the 1320s, when the Bury Abbey holdings here were destroyed by a mob protesting at the power of the Abbey over the burgesses of the town.

What a strange church this is! It seems to have lost its west end at some time, but must always have been tiny until the the great square extension was built to the south. I hesitate to call it an aisle, although that is what it is; it seems to have been built with the intention of increasing capacity as much as a space for processions and altars. Indeed, although Mortlock dates it as 14th century, it looks almost entirely Victorian to me, with window tracery and doors reused from the previous south wall. Perhaps it was just over-restored.

There is a rusty cage-like grill on the south door, but the church is accessible, and it is worth getting the key. Stepping into the squareness of the nave aisle, your first sight is of the very good Norman font, with its decoration added a couple of centuries later when there was a fashion for that kind of thing. Inside, the late Victorian glass makes it a bit gloomy, but there is an excellent early 20th century depiction of Christ in Majesty, by Powell & Son I think, in the east window of the aisle.

St Mary Magdalene Blessed Virgin St Mary Cleophas St Cecilia St Dorothy St Catherine
in the faith Three Marys Christ in Majesty St Catherine St Cecilia and St Dorothy angels

All Saints would not be the least bit remarkable if it were not for something discovered during the restoration of the north wall in 1961. This was the pair of wallpaintings, two of the finest in East Anglia, of St George and St Christopher. St George is dressed in the uniform of a crusader, which is interesting, because the St Clare family of Bradfield were noted as crusaders. This painting probably dates from a good two centuries after the crusades, but perhaps it is based on a family portrait. St Christopher stands in a river, fish swirling about his feet, and his little house on the bank below. The Christchild is quietly majestic on his shoulder, but the Saint's face is a riot of long hair, beard and moustache. As M.R. James records of something more sinister in one of his ghost stories, one feels in no doubt that he is drawn from the life. The amount of red pigment in the paintings is striking, and calls to mind the Doom at adjacent Stanningfield. Like the Stanningfield Doom, they would have been covered up with whitewash by Protestant reformers in the late 1540s.

 wall paintings St George St Christopher

Rather happily, the keyholder to this church is the adjacent pub. Even better, one of the churchyard gates leads directly into the pub garden. Of course, this may mean that the church is not accessible outside of pub hours, and in all honesty I can't think of any reason why this church shouldn't be safely kept open. Still, it's a good excuse for a pint.

On your way over to the pub, don't forget to stop at the rather impressive memorial to Arthur Young. He was a member of William Pitt's countryside taskforce, and one of the great agricultural writers of the 18th century; he is credited with being a major force behind the changeover from medieval farming methods to modern ones. His father had planted the great woodlands of Bradfield Hall, which nestle the village to the east. Arthur Young junior was himself a useless farmer, unfortunately; he not only bankrupted Bradfield Hall, he did the same to another farm he took over in Hertfordshire. But he did write a cracking book about his travels in France. In later life, he went blind, and suffered from intense bouts of depression. Adding to these sufferings, he had married badly at the age of 24. His cousin, the writer Fanny Burney, records in her journal that his wife's language was violent, and she was so red-faced that she looked like a fiend. She lies beneath the memorial with him.   St Luke

Simon Knott, May 2008

arcade looking east Looking west font
St Christopher organ Three Marys at the tomb Christ at Bethany window Arthur Young
St Matthew St Mark St Luke St John
Soho Square Christ walking on the water noli me tangere
home at last war memorial Arthur Young



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