At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary and St Peter, Kelsale

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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 Kelsale hobbit hat lychgate hobbit hat lychgate Kelsale
 handle Arts and Crafts mock-Norman dragon hobbit hat lychgate

Tree of Knowledge: Adam and Eve   Of all the parish churches I visited in Suffolk around the turn of the millennium, and I visited them all, I think Kelsale's was the one I was least prepared for. The earlier entry for the church on this site leaves me floundering embarassingly, and coming back here on a dreary day in April 2012 I wondered why I had not returned here before. I cycled out from Saxmundham, a much-improved little town since my previous visit to Kelsale, and just as Carlton's factory units gave way to fields there was the delight of Kelsale's old village centre off to the east of the road. It had taken me less than ten minutes from Saxmundham railway station - why on earth had I left it so long?

I crossed the little high street, which must once have carried the main road from Yarmouth and Lowestoft to London, and crossed the bridge over the stream. Ahead of me, even before entering the churchyard, I could see one of the most interesting features of this church, ES Prior's lychgate of about 1890.

It is probably the single finest Arts and Crafts movement structure in the whole of the county. Mortlock, with uncharacteristic understatement, describes it as 'one of the best in Suffolk'. Prior also designed the lychgate at Brantham, on the other side of Ipswich, but that isn't as exciting as this one, I think. Coming closer, I was a little disturbed to discover that the lychgate is in much poorer condition than I remembered. Later, I discovered that it had recently been added to the local authorty's 'Buildings at Risk' register.

It had begun to drizzle again. it had been raining on and off for weeks now, and the churchyards were already a rich, verdant green. I hastened up through the avenue of pollarded limes. St Mary and St Peter has a rather curious aspect, with the tower at the west end of the south aisle as at Westhall. It is so for similar reasons; a large new nave was built to the north of the old on in the 14th century. In the 15th century, a fine porch was added to what was now the south aisle, and somehow a shield with the instruments of passion on it has survived in the spandrels. When the chancel was rebuilt in the 1890s, the south aisle was lengthened to create a reading room, intended for the education of children and their accomodation during services. It is still used for those purposes.

Stepping through the south aisle into the west end of the nave, I entered a memorably lovely open space, cleared of all clutter. Stone flags on the floor, and glorious light flooding in through the massive west window gave it an organic, prayerful feeling. The great font sits on the stone flagged floor; it is of typical Suffolk design, but of quite different proportions, as though a giant hand had squashed it. on the south side stands the statue of Samuel Clouting, an inscription detailing his charitable donations.

There were two important 19th Century restorations here, both in their own way unusual for rural East Anglia. The first was in the 1870s by Norman Shaw, that architect and artist much beloved of Betjeman. Shaw was a great influence on the burgeoning Arts and Crafts Movement, and it was during the full flowering of that movement in the 1890s that a second major restoration would be carried out by Shaw's pupil ES Prior, designer of the lychgate.

Standing at the west end is one of the fruits of the first restoration. This is Shaw's reredos, which sits below the vast window. It is extraordinary to think it comes from such an early date. It was installed behind the altar, but it cut off much of the east window. Prior shifted it to the side of the chancel, and then in the 20th Century it was moved to its current position. The crucifixion is flanked by Old and New Testament scenes around the theme of trees - the Tree of Knowledge depicts Adam and Eve, the Tree of Life has Christ and St Paul. Scenes below depict Biblical scenes including the Visitation and a tender Presentation in the Temple.

Tree of Life: Christ and St Paul Tree of Knowledge: Adam and Eve Tree of Infamy: Crucified
Presentation in the Temple: Simeon holds the infant Christ Visitation: Mary and Elizabeth Presentation in the Temple: Mary holds two doves (Anna's hand on her shoulder)

It is a taste of things to come. Turning east, the view is of a clean, wide and ornate open space, the result of Prior's restoaration of twenty years later. The benches are jolly garden furniture, and they face an exquisite screen of wrought iron and brass, reminiscent of the parclose screens at near-contemporary Lowestoft Our Lady Star of the Sea. The screen is surmounted by Prior's jewel-like rood group; bronze figures shocked into relief by their wrought iron settings, angels that mount either side of a firmament of stars, dizzy in the space.

The great pulpit is 17th century, and was famous enough to serve as a model for the one at Aldeburgh. At the east end of the south aisle sits its upturned tester, now a table surrounded by chairs. On the window sill behind stands a quaint Victorian reminder that there is a time to speak, and a time to keep silent.

The late 19th Century glass is good. Moses and St John on the north side of the nave are by Ford Madox Brown, and were installed as part of Shaw's restoration. Madox Brown would later work for William Morris & Co, but the company was here in the 1870s as well for the figures now reset in the north chancel window of the Blessed Virgin (Edward Burne-Jones) and St Peter (William Morris).

The patterned glass which successfully lights the west end of the nave and aisle was made by Powell & Son for the second restoration, although it must be said that the other windows by Burlison & Grylls (nave and chancel) and Heaton, Butler & Bayne (east window) are nowhere near as interesting. Perhaps it is just that they are not as unusual. Best of all, perhaps, is the clear light from the vast west window.

The curious dedication of this lovely church is, obviously enough, a modern invention, as at Barham and Stowmarket. It's not clear to me exactly why - these things usually happen when a nearby church is lost and the two parishes combined, the one dedication subsumed into the other. I had previously thought that the St Peter part of the dedication came from the church at neighbouring Carlton, the two now forming the joint parish of Kelsale-cum-Carlton, but Cautley found the joint dedication already in use in the 1930s, and in any case Carlton church appears to be still (just) in business. Perhaps it comes from the lost church at Buxlow, a few miles to the east. The medieval dedication of the church was probably to the Assumption.

  font angel

Simon Knott, November 2012


looking east sanctuary nave altar art nouveau gates
 font font font Samuel Clouting
looking west Samuel Clouting every Lord's-Day for ever M U west window
pierced heart Moses by Ford Madox Brown Moses and St John by Ford Madox Brown St John by Ford Madox Brown St Peter's cock
St Peter Blessed Virgin the raising of Jairus's daughter baptism of Christ Christ preaching in the temple 
pregnant Blessed Virgin pregnant Elizabeth of such is the kingdom (detail) of such is the kingdom (detail) the raising of Lazarus
St Mark angel angel angel St Luke
St Peter and the Blessed Virgin of such is the kingdom (detail) of such is the kingdom (detail) suffer little children Visitation: Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth, both pregnant 
agnus dei Resurrection and scenes from the life of Christ angels bearing symbols of St Andrew, St Peter, Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth Ascension
V R 1837 new life another year

Samuel Clouting William Denney

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