At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Kettleburgh

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Kettleburgh Kettleburgh Kettleburgh

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          This is a church I always look forward to coming back to. I've had a soft spot for it ever since I first visited on a fierce November afternoon towards the end of the last century while cycling from Saxmundham back to Ipswich, and I took shelter here from a burst in the storm. At other times, on other visits, in hot summer sun or in winter snow, in the birdsong of spring or the bluster of autumn's falling leaves, I've found the same pleasing stillness and silence here in this quiet, unremarkable little building.

Until a few decades ago the situation of this church was a remote one, with only a couple of old cottages for company. Arthur Mee describes walking out across the fields to it in the 1930s, but now it is difficult to spot the church unless you know where it is, for now modern housing lines the lane up from the road, and St Andrew has been joined to its straggling village. But for all that, you still enter the churchyard through the narrow gap between two cottages, and to do so is to step back in time.

A mix of Decorated and Perpendicular window tracery suggests that the church was being rebuilt in the decades as the 14th Century became the 15th Century. The big windows of the chancel throw the nave into a more secluded relief. There are clerestories on both sides of the nave but no aisles, which on some churches can create a stark effect, but not here. Were aisles ever planned? A chapel on the north side of the nave has been demolished at some point, you can still see its outline and the piscina in an outside wall of an altar it contained.

You step into a space which is typical of a number of quiet, tidy churches in this area. Not terribly exciting, perhaps, but with a sense of continuity, and of being at the heart of a faith community. All in all a good example of a rural Suffolk medieval parish church, with a sense of its past, a seemliness about its present, and a feeling that it is suitable, for now at least, for the liturgies of the Church of England. It is the Elizabethan Settlement made solid and brought up to date by successive generations, for whom it now acts a touchstone.

In the chancel, a 15th Century bench end depicts a tower. A face peeps out of a window near the top, perhaps representing the act of Visiting the Prisoner, one of the Works of Mercy. A worn figure holds a large object which looks as if it may have been a church, in which case perhaps he was St Botolph. A finely carved monk has lost his head, and whatever it was he was holding. Another figure is a wodewose, an East Anglian wild man.

wild man tower face looking out of a tower
stag iconoclasm - or sheer carelessness? St Botolph monk holding something

There was a busy makeover here in the early years of the 18th Century. This brought us the finely lettered decalogue boards and the royal arms of Queen Anne. The pulpit is from a century earlier, although it was adapted by the Victorians. Even earlier is the font which, as James Bettley points out in the revised Buildings of England, can be precisey dated to 1419 when it was given by Alice Charles in memory of her husband Sir Thomas Charles. 1419 is a pleasing midpoint to the suggested campaign of the building of the church, perhaps giving a date for the completion of the nave.

Kettleburgh isn't perhaps a church on many people's radar, certainly not those ticking off England's Thousand Best Churches or anything like that. But if you fancy a pleasant afternoon cycling around quiet narrow lanes, taking in a few interesting and welcoming churches, you could do a lot worse than come here. Nearby are Brandeston, Monewden, Cretingham, Hoo and Charsfield. And back to Ipswich in time for tea.


Simon Knott, December 2020

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looking east sanctuary font
a Suffolk angel thou shalt not thou shalt not take the Name of the Lord thy God in vain
angel with scroll (fragment) Queen Anne fell at Wancourt

this church is normally open for private prayer

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