At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Lawrence, Knodishall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Knodishall Knodishall Knodishall


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This always seems to me as remote a spot as any I have found in Suffolk, and you would not think that we are barely three miles from either Saxmundham or Leiston. The church stands about a mile west of the village of Coldfair Green, which is home to the great majority of the parish's inhabitants, and the first time I ever came here, in the 1990s, I had found it up a sodden, muddy lane. Just beyond the church, the lane was flooded, but the church was set slightly above the road, in a characterful graveyard. Its only company was an old farmhouse across the way. The situation is as remote today, but when I returned next in July 2011 it was on one of the hottest, driest days of the year, and the magnificent copper beech and walnut trees to the south of the church were in full leaf.

I came back on a day in April 2019 to find the churchyard already verdant, the warmth of spring shimmering across it, even if the great trees were still to come into leaf. Sam Mortlock remembers the sound of a stream below rising up through the woods, and in the 1930s Arthur Mee was entranced by a nightingale in the churchyard. No nightingales today, and I couldn't hear a stream after the driest winter in years, but this was still a lovely spot, and I again felt an immediate fondness for it.

There are several suggestions that this building is basically Norman at heart, not least the blocked door to the north. Early 19th century buttresses rather disrupt the south wall, but the array of windows between them are charming. There is a fine 15th century tower, with headstops grinning into the west door. North and south doors are both now blocked, and unusually for East Anglia you enter through the west door into the area beneath the tower.

There is a striking sense of the very late 19th and early 20th Centuries here, that brief period during which the Church of England in general, and the High Church movement in particular, reached the zenith of its influence and power before the slow falling away in the decades after the First World War. Symptomatic of the triumphalism of those times are two windows. The one in the south side is of the risen Christ, which is signed by the Arts and Crafts Movement firm W.B Simpson & Sons. It dates from 1910, and I think it is their only work in Suffolk. To the east is the 1930s glass by GER Smith for the A.K. Nicholson Studios, showing Saint Lawrence and the Blessed Virgin flanking Christ the King, thus revealing something of the churchmanship of St Lawrence at the time. It is interesting to see their rather grave style of that decade, without the airiness which would enter the workshop's work after the Second World War.

A beautiful Art Nouveau candelabra hangs from the chancel roof, and the feeling of the period is further enhanced by two memorials which are in copper rather than brass, perhaps the work of a local artisan. The font is a fine example of the type mass-produced from Purbeck marble towards the end of the 13th century, of which several survive in this area. it is set on a colonnade and a matching modern octagonal base. The screen fencing off the belfry platform was probably part of the roodscreen. The royal arms perches rather awkwardly on top, and would perhaps once have hung from the ceiling at the point where it becomes the scissor-braced roof of the chancel.

Further east, behind the pulpit, are a pair of brasses up on the chancel wall. They show John and Margaret Jenney, who paid for the building of the tower, and they were presumably reset here at the time of the 19th century restoration. It's always a pity not to find these things still in situ on the stone floor, not least because if there is ever a fire here the Jenneys will run down the wall like melted butter. A delightful detail you might not otherwise notice is the Mothers Union banner. These were usually bought in kit form and embroidered locally, but someone here decided to go a stage further. The centre of the banner is hand-painted, depiciting the Blessed Virign and child in front of Knodishall church.

The most famous possession of the church was the painting The Meeting of Jacob and Rachel by William Dyce, the great early pre-Raphaelite. It was donated to St Lawrence in 1948, but the picture hanging above the pulpit now is a life-size photograph of it, because the parish sold the original in the 1980s to pay for essential repairs. This seemed to me an eminently sensible thing to do, although it did occur to me that I might not be leaving any of my extensive art collection to the parish of Knodishall now.

Simon Knott, May 2019

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looking east chancel font
Thy Will Be Done (WB Simpson, 1910) Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by St Lawrence and the Blessed Virgin (AK Nicholson, 1930s) in grateful remembrance of 37 years of happy married life Whitaker St Lawrence Church Knodishall Mothers Union
Glory to GOD & in loving memory of Katherine
AK Nicholson Jacob and Rebecca (William Dyce, copy) W B Simpson & Sons

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