At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Brandon

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


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An unusually low key urban setting.

The chancel makes it special. All the knapped flints appear to have been exported though.

Into the fading light.

A curious tower, in several ways. Note that window at roof ridge level - surely not a sanctus bell window?

Rugged and sturdy, a terrier among towers.

Looking east.

The chancel arch and screen. Restored, but done well, I think.

The stone reredos does not overwhelm a pretty sanctuary.

Looking east in the south aisle. The chapel beyond s now a vestry.

Looking west.

Font and modern font cover.

Prayer icon. I was pleased to see you can light a candle. I wonder if anyone ever does?

Pulpit and lectern in the east end of the nave.

Moving methodist gravestone.


Adrift in a sea of limestone.

Maybe I just caught Brandon on a bad day. I was keen to like it, because, as a correspondent recently observed, I hadn't given nearby Mildenhall a chance. There is more to Mildenhall than a small, mean, shabby town creaking under the weight of providing services to two of Britain's biggest American airbases, apparently. Brandon sits just to the north of the Lakenheath airbase, so I was all prepared for more of the same. But it wasn't that exactly; it was just the way the cars and lorries poured through the town, on the way to somewhere else. A frontier town, where the traffic backs up into Norfolk. I went into one of the smallest Tescos I'd ever been in, and the only queue was for lottery tickets. It was like everybody wanted to leave town.

The setting, to north and east at least, is superb, with the deciduous forests that have gradually replaced the ugly conifers in full golden leaf, in the finest autumn for decades. And if the town centre is characterless, it is perhaps because the parish church of St Peter is almost a mile away, out in an anonymous housing estate. In the 19th century, Brandon was one of Suffolk's main industrial centres, producing gunflints, rabbit pelts, whiting (that's decorators' plaster, not the fish) and beer. The town centre gravitated towards the river and the railway line, leaving the church in the fields.

Today, it sits in a banal sea of low-rise 1960s housing, with only the former workhouse as a memory of former days. In the 1840s this building became the national school, and still carries the sign today. Brandon has produced flints for thousands of years, and most of the buildings bear witness to this; but if you expect St Peter to be a riot of flushwork you'll be disappointed. Perhaps the most striking things about it are the sea of limestone gravestones, mainly 18th and early 19th century, and the impressive squat tower that sits at the west end. This church was almost entirely rebuilt in the 14th and 15th centuries, but there is something unusual about the tower; the stair way seems to have been added as an afterthought, a doorway cut into the wall and not so much a turret as a bulge.

At the east end are two magnificent spired turrets which appear to serve no other purpose than decoration, and perhaps access to the chancel roof. St Peter is kept locked all day every day, and no keyholder listed, but there are several churchwardens and an OLM listed on the Diocesan website, and I eventually trackd down one that was prepared to let me in.

Like most of Suffolk's town churches, St Peter underwent a proper going over in the 19th century. Mortlock bemoans the fact that all the considerable number of monuments were removed, and presumably destroyed. I'm not a great one for monuments, but it did seem curiously bereft without them. Despite the general air of decay in the town outside on this bleak November afternoon, the inside of St Peter was well-kept and welcoming, all polished and swept. Part of the warmth of the interior comes from some fine late 19th century and early 20th century glass, especially the two north windows in the chancel. They are signed Leonard Walker; St Peter and St Paul are in one, St Luke and St John in the other. I wondered if Mark and Matthew had also been intended at some point. They are richly coloured in the Arts and Crafts manner, dating from 1898. The artist was only 19 years old, apparently. The war memorial window by Heaton, Butler and Bayne is also good, although it does seem to suggest that World War I was fought in the middle ages. Click on the images below to enlarge them.

Leonard Walker: John and Luke. Leonard Walker: Paul and Peter. Heaton, Butler & Bayne: St George and St Michael.

The Walker windows in particular help relieve the burden of the heavy stone reredos, which might appear oppressive in another setting. Instead, the chancel is full of light and colour.

The screen is very restored, and almost entirely rebuilt above dado level, but again it is done sympathetically. There are a couple of holes on the south side which may be peepholes, although nothing as elaborate as the window-shaped one at Santon Downham. There is some old woodwork in chancel and nave, and I loved the little headless chicken in the south aisle. It seemed a metaphor for something, I'm not really sure what.

A metaphor?

The devotional character is clear from a splendid icon set in a former doorway in the aisle, an echo of another icon at St Thomas of Canterbury across town. That St Peter is still a patron of the arts is shown by the modern font cover, which Mortlock says is by Reeve of Lawshall.

As I wandered around I was struck by a feeling I have had several times in the parish churches of north-west Suffolk: I have been here before. It was perhaps thirty years ago, as a small choirboy singing with a Cambridge choir that often performed in churches like this, perhaps evensong on a winter's evening in the early 1970s, a world ago.

And then out, into the failing light.

Looking up: residents of the tower.




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