At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Margaret, Ilketshall St Margaret

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Margaret Ilketshall

St Margaret Ilketshall priest door

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          Ilketshall St Margaret sits where the Ilketshalls and the South Elmhams meet, the only one of the Ilketshalls to the west of the Halesworth to Bungay road. It is a small village, and its church is small too, although its story made the national press back in the early 1990s. One of the many funding bodies to which churches may apply for grants to finance repairs is Heritage England, formerly known as English Heritage. However, taking the money from them is conditional on them being given a role in future decisions about the building. Here, English Heritage decided that the round tower should be rendered. One of their experts insisted that flint towers had originally been finished like this.

As the guide to the church observes, complaints poured in from local people and specialist historians alike. The historians called it an act of vandalism, the locals who had to help fund the project felt, not unreasonably, that their money was being wasted. After many protests, English Heritage agreed that they had been wrong, and offered to remove the dubious grey cement and repoint the tower to its original form at no cost to the parish. The parish, after much heart-searching, declined the offer, feeling that the 20,000 of public money required could be better spent elsewhere. The church guide concludes that the white tower remains, a unique symbol, to remind us all of the need for more study, more co-operation and a sharing of knowledge, leading, hopefully, to a greater awareness and more careful restoration of our ancient churches.

The tower is one of Suffolk's earliest, and the round windows are still visible. There are, apparently, four more blocked ones in the belfry stage. The whole thing probably dates from the early 11th Century. There is a curious archway to the priest door in the south wall of the chancel which is probably an example of 18th Century 'Gothick', one of those fancies beloved of antiquarian gentlemen of the period, and although wholly ignorant of proper ecclesiological forms, it is a rare thing in Suffolk, and rather lovely too.

The interior is entirely restored, and if it is not particularly exciting, it is pleasing and seemly. The brick floor and the large windows create a devotional atmosphere filled with light and space. The wooden facing of the chancel ceiling is pleasant enough, but I recall that Mortlock found it painted brightly in the early 1980s. Since my last visit about ten years ago the 19th Century decalogue boards have been reset either side of the east window. One important survival here is the fine set of Royal Arms to Queen Anne with their Semper Eadem legend, and the date 1704. At the time of the 19th Century restoration a large number of wall paintings were recorded. None are visible today, but you can't help wondering if they were similar in quality to those nearby at South Cove and Ilketshall St Andrew.

Simon Knott, February 2022

You can also read a general introduction to the churches of the Saints.

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looking east ilk margaret (10) chancel
font looking west Queen Anne royal arms
candle bracket those from this parish who laid down their lives


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