At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Darsham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Darsham will be familiar to many as the name of a railway station on the Ipswich to Lowestoft line. Although in Darsham parish, the station has survived because it serves the nearby large village of Yoxford, to which it is closer. The station name is an accident of history, for the Victorians named their railway stations for the nearest post office, but perhaps Darsham does have a curiously cosy, suburban feel to it that may be explained by its proximity to the railway. Darsham station is on the busy A12, beside the former Stradbroke Arms Hotel, but the village straggles eastwards of here, and you travel for more than a mile before you reach the church. The road makes way for the churchyard, diverting widely to get round it, as at Rendlesham. This is a sign of antiquity, and All Saints presents a grand aspect as you approach it from the west, its 15th century tower rather more slender than we're used to, and its narrow buttresses very elegant. Bequests were left for it in 1460 and 1500 by members of the Lewich family. The latter bequest specified battlements, so we may assume that the tower was all but complete by then.

There is a large cast iron pedestal memorial to the east of the chancel, similar to the one at Dunwich and probably the work of the Leiston iron foundry. The porch is one of those built to celebrate the 1887 Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. When I first visited in the summer of 1999 the interior walls of the church had been damp and peeling, but a lot of care and love has been lavished on this church in the past twenty years, and today you step into a church which feeels bright and alive, full of light, the brick floors lending an organic quality which overcame any crispness of the 19th Century restoration or more recent repairs.

There are three good brasses in the church, the most interesting of which is to Anne Bedingfield, which lies brightly in the middle of the chancel. She wears her widows weeds and carries a large purse, but already you can see a deterioration in the style from the similar figure of Ann Butts at Redgrave from some thirty years earlier. The inscription reads Here lies ye body of Mrs Anne Bedingfeild late wife of Eustace Bedingfeild of Holme Hale in the Count of Norf: Esq who put off her mortalitie the 29 day of March Ao 1641 being of age 80 yeaes and 7 monthes. Mortlock thought she had probably died while visiting her cousin Sir Thomas at the Hall. The inscription is not as crude as some of this decade, but still you might imagine from it that the Bedingfields were rural oafs rather than people of consequence. As I have observed elsewhere, inscriptions like this were produced at a time when the Renaissance was in full flower in continental Europe, and are a telling reminder of the price which the English paid for their Puritanism.

Mrs Anne Bedingfeild (sic, 1641) Mrs Anne Bedingfield

From a little over a century earlier, the font carries a dedicatory inscription, as at neighbouring Middleton - indeed, the Darsham and Middleton fonts are so similar they must surely have been the work of the same hand. Westleton's too, probably. The inscription here asks for prayers for the soul of a former resident of Darsham and priest of Bradwell, one Galfri Symond. The two pre-Reformation brasses in the church also carry requests for intercessionary prayers, anathema to the Anglicans and Puritans alike. So, they have done well to survive. Perhaps Catholicism had powerful friends in this parish, or perhaps it was simply that the ordinary people here, despite any protestant sympathies, were disinclined to desecrate the parish dead, and amen to that.

There is an image niche set in the window splay on the south side of the nave. The white light piercing the three narrow lancets at the east end creates a sense of mystery in the chancel. This is a proportionately long church as is often the case in east Suffolk, and the windows the length of the south side, in both nave and chancel, are filled with some good glass, some of it signed by Cox & Buckley and dated 1910. The most interesting glass is a continental roundel on the north side. It depicts Christ and St Peter, with St Peter attempting to follow Christ's example by walking on the waters of the sea of Galiliee, as recounted in chapter 14 of St Matthew's Gospel.

When the church underwent its major early 21st century renovation, the old roodloft stairs were opened up. Inside were found a number of skulls, which proved to be medieval. They had probably been disturbed by building work in the 19th century, and were sealed in the rood loft stairway as a joke on future generations. You will be pleased to learn that the proprieties of the modern era ensured that they were given a quiet and respectful burial.

Simon Knott, July 2019

looking east looking east Darsham
Blessed Virgin St Peter tries to walk on water (20th Century copy?) St Peter tries to walk on water St John
Darsham King David King David (Ward & Hughes) decalogue, creed and war memorial
Orate pro anima ('pray for the soul of')

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