At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Great Livermere

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Great Livermere

south porch forkner to King Charles I, King Charles II and King James II bricked up (twice)

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Moving east from the agri-industrial plains to the north of Bury St Edmunds, you reach an area of secretive, pretty villages, and Great Livermere is one of them. It is one of several villages edging Ampton Water, and to the west of the church the landscape is fairly wild and rugged, punctuated by the broken tower of the ruined church of Little Livermere, about half a mile away.

Great Livermere church is a beautiful, organic building, at ease in its rural setting, with the sense of being a touchstone. The thatched roof has recently been renewed. The tower was possibly never finished. Today, it is topped by a weather-boarded belfry, which is both singular and attractive. All around, there are windows from almost every period, but at the heart of it all is a nave which was once, broadly speaking, a Norman church. A curiosity on the north side is the battlemented vestry with its wooden traceried windows, probably a sign of the pre-ecclesiological gothick of the first decades of the 19th Century. The church is an attractive assemblage, despite (or possibly because of) the chancel and the nave looking as if they are separate buildings which just happened to be beside each other.

You step into an interior which is entirely rustic, but perfectly cared for. The building is full of light - there is no coloured glass at all - and this gives it a feeling of being larger than it really is. As well as a couple of consecration crosses, there are some surviving wall-paintings, but most are long gone, and those that remain are faded. The most interesting is opposite the south door, which may not be the St Christopher you'd expect, but possibly part of a 'Three Living and Three Dead', as at Kentford.

The rood screen is strikingly good, dominating the relatively narrow nave. There are gilded eagles in the spandrels. Unusually, low-side windows are set beyond on both sides of the chancel. One set still has its shutters intact. These openings were intended to allow a bell to be rung at the consecration in the Mass, and to increase ventilation and updraught around the rood. There seems to be no valid liturgical or devotional reason for there to be a window in both sides, although it isn't a bad idea.

Cheerful hedgehogs scuttle through the quarterings of the 17th Century Claxton ledger stones in the sanctuary. The three-sided communion rails that surround them are probably a Georgian imitation of an early 17th Century local fashion, perhaps replacing what was there before, but many of the pews are from the previous century. There are still pew numbers around the panelling. The three-decker pulpit is a very fine one, a fruit of the Church of England's confidence in the years after the Restoration of the Monarchy. There is a carved, wooden royal arms for Victoria.

At the west end, a hanging sign depicts a falcon, and records an inscription to be found on a barely legible headstone outside for William Sakings, who died in 1689, and was forkner to King Charles I, King Charles II and King James II. Leaning on the base of the beautiful and simple 14th century pulpit is part of an 18th century memorial discovered under the floorboards. It probably came from outside, because there is one with very similar lettering just outside the south porch.

Church historians and fans of ghost stories alike will pay homage to the M R James memorial in the chancel. The author of the erudite 1920s travelogue Norfolk and Suffolk, and the classic Ghost Stories of an Antiquary, he grew up here, and his father was the Rector.

Simon Knott, July 2019

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looking east chancel three-sided communion rails
screen triple-decker pulpit
font looking west your help is needed
hedgehogs three living and three dead (fragment) image canopy Coke
'death removed her loved and honoured from this scene', 1835 Montague Rhodes James Lathbury
rood screen spandrels

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