At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Carlton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Carlton bench security bodged

    I'd had a nice time exploring nearby Kelsale church, but as I headed south again through the fringe of Saxmundham suburbia towards Carlton church, the rain began to fall again in weeping sheets. It had been raining heavily on and off for a fortnight, the great East Anglian drought coming to an end as more rain fell during April than had fallen throughout the whole of the long winter. The landscape dissolved, the fields were under water all across East Suffolk, the lazy Gipping and Deben rivers overflowing their banks and finding their natural levels.

The joint parish of Kelsale-cum-Carlton is on the outskirts of the town of Saxmundham. Kelsale has an identity of its own, a pretty village with old houses separated from the sprawl by at least a field, but Carlton is little more than an industrial suburb these days. But Carlton church is set in a dip in the fields, with hardly another building in sight. To see it, you would not know it is actually just a short distance from Saxmundham high street by foot. To reach it by road you need to go out of the town and then double back on yourself downhill. The track down to the church is in poor condition, on this day of rain little more than two rivulets running in the tractor ruts. I was on a bike, but despite still having my winter tyres on I slid about all over the place in the mud. Eventually, I had to give up, get off and push. I would not have dared attempt it in a car. Eventually, the ground levelled off and, turning to approach the church, became less rutted. I got back on my bike and cycled the last hundred yards or so, and, as the rain stopped, I became conscious of the great silence that was surrounding me.

Kelsale church, where I had just been, is beautifully kept, and open and welcoming to visitors every day. But I can only think that the same people do not look after Carlton church. I have never found it open, never found a keyholder notice, and neither has anyone else I know. Its fine little red brick tower is striking among the fields, and this could be such a pretty little church if only someone would love it. That nobody does is immediately obvious; although the graveyard is still in use and is well-kept, the church is in a dismal state. The rotting woodwork and crumbling masonry of the porch are immediately obvious for all to see - I dread to think what is happening up there under the roof. As it is, the sagging gutters are another sign of the lack of TLC from which this poor little church suffers.

rotting woodwork rotting woodwork and crumbling masonry sagging gutter

The tower was built in the last years before the Reformation, the blue brick banding typical of the fashion of the times. It was joined to a church still showing clear evidence of two hundred years earlier, the Y-tracery windows survivng to this day, although at least one of them is a modern replacement. Mortlock, who saw inside in the 1980s, thought it unsophisticated, which sounds rather nice. There are 15th Century stalls which may be survivals of Alice Hainault's chantry chapel, which was still employing priests up until the dissolution. A more certain survival of the chantry is a fragment of the founder's inscription, and there are also a couple of brasses from the last years of the 15th Century. One of the figures carries a rosary. I wonder if they are still in situ?

Turning my back on the church, the graveyard was a much more pleasant prospect, and clearly well used - many of the graves were recent, bedecked with flowers and favours. Perhaps Saxmundham people come here to be buried now that the church graveyard there is closed. Perhaps Carlton church could have a future as some kind of mortuary chapel, I mused.

While the church is clearly still in occasional use - a laminated sheet clumsily stapled to the memorial noticeboard gave details of the monthly services for the year ahead - I couldn't help thinking that it won't be for much longer. To be honest, I found it a depressing place, and it wasn't just the weather. Here was a perfectly serviceable little medieval church, soon to be lost to us. Gloomily, I poked around in the graveyard, finding the headstone of Paul Randolph Cobbold, a member of a minor branch of the locally important Cobbold family. Paul Cobbold was the younger brother of the Reverend Robert Henry Cobbold, a celebrated far eastern missionary who was also, incidentally, the only Cobbold to have rowed in the Oxford v Cambridge boat race. They would have been cousins, I think, of that more famous Reverend Richard Cobbold, the author of Margaret Catchpole. A student at Trinity College, Paul Cobbold died at the age of just 22 in Cambridge. 1849 was the year of a major cholera outbreak in the city, so perhaps he succumbed to that. Curiously, he seems to have found the time and opportunity to marry. Almost certainly, he would have gone into the church if he hadn't died.   sign of the times

Simon Knott, November 2012


former grandeur Paul Randolph Cobbold

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