At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Bartholomew, Finningham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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south porch

    Finningham is a busy village on the back road between Stowmarket and Rickinghall, and the tower of St Bartholomew is a familiar sight to travellers on the main line between Norwich and Ipswich. The church is pleasingly set away from the main road in a little maze of lanes.

Everything is in proportion. This is a small church, an intimate one. There are no aisles or clerestory. The elegant 19th Century glass sets the tone in the porch, and you step into a fairly dim space, the red carpet and dark woodwork creating a sense of seriousness. The hand of the Victorians fell heavily here, but there are still some intriguing medieval survivals, more than you might expect. The best of these is the range of figures reset in the top lights of the east window. They are fragmentary, partly composite, and obviously the survivals of what was a much larger sequence, which may have come from elsewhere in the church, or from another church altogether. Four of the six figures appear to be Apostles, with St James and St Simon obvious among them. A figure with a harp is probably an angel, and another figure is a composite of several angels, one hand holding a cymbal and the other a book.

fragments of angels, composite (15th Century) angel harpist (fragmentary, composite, 15th Century) St James the Less with a book and a fullers club?  (fragmentary, composite, 15th Century) St James the Great with a pilgrim staff and a shell (fragmentary, composite, 15th Century) St Simon with a large fish (fragmentary, composite, 15th Century) female saint with gathered robe (fragmentary, composite, 15th Century)

The other medieval survival of great significance at Finningham is a set of three bench ends. One of them shows a figure in a tower, their head peeping out of the top. This may be part of a set of the Seven Works of Mercy, illustrating Christ's injunction to visit the prisoner. Similar bench ends can be found in several other East Anglian churches. Nearby, another fragmentary bench end may also depict a tower, but I couldn't help wondering if it was actually intended to be a pulpit. A third shows a seated angel holding a scroll. This may be intended to represent the Evangelist St Matthew, but there are several larger East Anglian churches where seated angels with scrolls accompany illustrations from the Seven Deadly Sins, the Seven Sacraments and the Seven Works of Mercy on adjacent benches. If this is the case, it may well be that the bench ends came from another, larger church originally.

pulpit angel with a scroll woman in a tower

There is an intriguing memorial window to the 19 year old James Hatley Frere, who died in 1870. It shows, or appears to show, the young James with his mother and grandmother in a depiction of Eunice sharing scripture with the young Timothy while Lois looks on, each member of the Frere family playing their appropriate part. Unusual, but who was the artist? No one seems to know, but it struck me as similar to some of the minor work of that time by the great Henry Holiday.

There are other memorials, mostly to the Frere family but including one to Sir John Fenn, who had married into the Frere family and was the 18th Century antiquarian who rediscovered the Paston letters. His wife, Sam Mortlock enjoys telling us, was the authoress of earnest books for children written under pseudonyms including Mrs Teachwell and Mrs Lovechild, and as such became the model for Lady Bountiful in George Borrow's equally earnest novel Lavengro.

A recent arrival in the church is the memorial to John Frere, lettered by the Kindersley Workshop of Cambridge. Frere is an unsung hero of English science. Born in 1740 just over the Norfolk border at Roydon, he was MP for Norwich, but was also a historian and an antiquary. He became interested in the ancient stone arrow heads which he uncovered near Hoxne, along with old bones which appeared to belong to completely unfamiliar animals. He wrote a paper for the Society of Antiquaries about his discovery of weapons of war, fabricated by a people who had not the use of metals... The situation in which these weapons were found may tempt us to refer them to a very remote period indeed, even beyond that of the present world...

This contradiction of a strictly Biblical view of human development was considered so radical that the Society suppressed it, and Frere's work did not come to light until the 1860s, by which time the likes of Anning, Wallace and Darwin had confirmed Frere's suspicions about the longevity of the human race and the likely origins of human species. As the Minnesota State University website quaintly puts it, Frere was the discoverer of England's Antiquity of Humans.


Simon Knott, November 2018


looking east chancel looking west
James Hadley Frere with his mother and as Timothy with Eunice (Henry Holiday? 1870s) James Hadley Frere with his mother and grandmother as Timothy with Eunice and Lois (Henry Holiday? 1870s) James Hatley Frere's grandmother as Lois as a servant looks on (Henry Holiday? 1870s) font and organ gallery
he passed through life with ease and innocence and resigned it with composure the immense antiquity of mankind grief
ribboned floral wreath (1880s)


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