At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Fornham All Saints

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Fornham All Saints

Fornham All Saints 15th Century flushwork inscription 15th Century flushwork inscription
winged ugly thing winged lion holding its mouth open winged lion holding its mouth open

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    The urban area of Bury St Edmunds reaches out far beyond its boundaries. Fornham All Saints is a busy northern suburb, but the area around its medieval parish church still has a villagey feel, the building flanked by picturesque cottages and looking very lovely in the sunshine if you can catch it so. There are three Fornhams. Fornham St Martin to the east is bigger and busier, while Fornham St Genevieve, which lost its church to ruination centuries ago, has been subsumed into St Martin and is all commercial estates and golf courses. All Saints is the most pleasant of the three former villages, and its church is the most interesting.

At heart this is an early church, the late Norman south doorway and the late 13th Century tower flanking a nave which probably dated from between the two but which has been almost completely subsumed by later events. The early years of the 16th Century brought two aisles and a transept. Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton identified that this was mostly at the expense of Thomas Edward, who in 1500 had asked in his will that my body to be buried in the south ile of the parish church of all saintes of Fornham aforesaid... I wol that myne executours here undrenamed do make and finisshe uppon bothe the iles of the parissh church of Fornham aforsaid with paving and also do make and ordeyne a table of alabastre stone for the auter in the south ile of the church aforesaid with my proper goodes as sone as it may be doon immediately aftre my decesse. A flushwork inscription on the exterior of the south aisle remembers him and his son William who completed it.

It would be fair to say that Arthur Blomfield's restoration in the 1860s was rigorous. As James Bettley recalls in the revised Buildings of England volume for Suffolk: West, one of the local newspapers observed that so complete has been the restoration that any casual observer would imagine it to have been entirely rebuilt. The top of the tower and most of the chancel are his, though the east window survives from the 14th Century. Fortunately Blomfield was enough of an antiquarian to leave the grotesques on the tower and the aisle flushwork inscriptions unrecut.

The aisle was built against the east side of the porch, and because of this, you step directly into the central part of the nave, creating the pleasing effect of the south aisle being a room going off beyond the arcade. This is accentuated by the way in which the aisle continues east of the chancel arch, while on the north side the aisle opens into a wide transept. There are no clerestories, and the overall result is a somewhat dim and unfamiliar layout. The nave windows are clear and fill the church with necessary light, but the chancel has a decent east window by Hardman & Co of Birmingham. It depicts Christ in Majesty surrounded by his saints, including a number of East Anglian ones.

On the north side, a fleuroned image bracket is matched across the church by a canopied image bracket in the south-east corner of the aisle, presumably for an image to stand beside Thomas Edward's table of alabastre stone for the auter. It must have been for something rather special. There are benches of about the same date, but the castellated bench ends which would have supported figures on clouds of glory as at nearby Rougham and Elmswell were sawn flat and repaired, probably as part of Blomfield's restoration. Blomfield rebuilt the chancel arch and revamped its interior. Its one medieval survival is puzzling, for the set of sedilia and piscina are the wrong way round, the piscina set to the west of the sedilia. Was Blomfield responsible, or is the arrangement original? He would certainly have known which way round they were meant to go. Finally, back to the west end of the church for a fine pair of 18th Century boards. To the south is the decalogue, to the north the creed and the Lord's prayer. They would have hung on the east wall of the chancel before Blomfield came along.


Simon Knott, September 2021

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looking east chancel looking east
St George, St Stephen, St Lawrence and St Augustine (Hardman & Co, 1912) Blessed Virgin and St Clare (Hardman & Co, 1912) St Benedict, St Edward the Confessor and St Edmund (Hardman & Co, 1912) Christ in Majesty south aisle chapel
blessed virgin and child piscina and tabernacle Our Father, I Believe Sir Thomas Barwick, 1599
font and south arcade war memorial The Suffolk Guild this sanctuary was redecorated
mothers union 'Let noe man steale away this brasse but hee whoe knowes himselfe unworthie memorye' (1656) mended iconoclasm


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