At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Lawshall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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          The back lane that leads down through Nowton and Hawstead keeps pace with the main road from Bury to Long Melford and Sudbury a mile or so to the east, but it is so much quieter, most of the time. It swerves and rolls through the tightly packed fields, its calm broken only occasionally by locals hurtling at breakneck speed towards some impossible corner. Eventually you reach the large village of Lawshall, sedate along its long, wide main street. The church sits beside it alongside the school and near the pub, the three forming the heart of the community.

All Saints church is almost all of a Perpendicular piece, built in one single campaign of the 15th Century, and there are intriguing insights into its story, as well perhaps into that of country churches in general, from a series of wills made from the late 14th Century onwards and recorded in more recent times by Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton. There seems to have been some concern as early as 1386 that the building was not fit for purpose, for in that year William Sadyngton, the vicar, left a bequest to the emendation of the defective church at Lawshall. It seems to have taken a while for this nettle to be fully grasped, but in 1426 William Hanyngfeld left the enormous sum of 40 to the building of the church at Lawsell in Suffolk on the condition that his ancestors to be prayed for. Nearly twenty years passed before William Everard's 1444 bequest of a noble towards building the new church, suggesting work was underway by then.

In 1470 there began a series of bequests for fixtures and fittings, when Thomas Peek the elder left money to the purchase of a new missal and to the purchase of a new bell if it is bought within a short time, suggesting a likely date for the building having been completed. Thereafter came bequests for a chalice for divine worship (1489), to the painting of the tabernacle of St Thomas when it is begun (1511) and to the covering of the font at Lausell when they begin to make it (1523), all in all giving a picture of a parish going about its business in preparing for itself a great church within its midst, little knowing of course that by the middle of the 16th century all the liturgical glories would be over.

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship the population of the parish of Lawshall was a little over nine hundred. One hundred and fifty of them attended morning worship on the day of the census, another two hundred and eighty being there for the afternoon sermon, this congregation augmented on both occasions by the fifty scholars who had no choice but to be there. In answer to the question about 'sittings' in the church, which is to say how many places there were for people to sit, the Reverend Evan Baillie recorded that about 50 sittings are appropriated to (that is, paid for and reserved by) certain farms and the rest are free. He then expanded on his answer in an interesting way, which perhaps gives us a hint of the state of the church at the time. Church might be made to hold about 400, he continued. It is difficult to state exact number of 'sittings' as poor often sit very close together, and in an old church many corners and other places are made use of to sit in which cannot strictly be called sittings.

Obviously something had to be done. In 1857 a major restoration of the church took place at the capable hands of William Butterfield. He carried out a reordering and refurnishing of the nave and completely rebuilt the chancel in an Early English style, creating an impression that it is older than the nave against which it is set.

You enter the church through a substantial south porch and step into a spacious, light interior with the urban feel you might expect from a Butterfield restoration of a large church. Looking up in the nave, courses of angels survive above the arcades from the 15th Century church, repainted in the 20th Century, a bit garish but not unsuccessful. The 15th Century tracery font, painted at the same time, is perhaps more alarming. Unfortunately the font cover for which parishioners made bequests in the early 16th Century has not survived.

The blues of the cathedral-style glass in the chancel fill it with a numinous light on a sunny day. It dates from Butterfield's restoration, and James Bettley in the revised Buildings of England volume for West Suffolk attributes it to Horwood Brothers, a Somerset firm presumably chosen by Butterfield for the job. I do not think I have come across their work anywhere else in Suffolk. The late 20th Century glass in the south aisle depicting a medley of liturgical symbols is likely to be an early work by the East Anglian stained glass artist Pippa Blackall, I think.

.A curiosity beside the tower arch is a Dutch-style glazed tile memorial to Johannes Van Mevdag, Dutch pilot officer in the Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve who fell for the liberation of his country in March 1945. It is signed by the Royal Goudewaagen factory of Gouda, Holland. Another memorial remembers Captain John Henry Edmund Trafford-Rawson of the West Yorkshire Regiment who was killed in action in France on the 18th day of September 1916 while gallantly leading his company in an attack upon the enemy. He was just 21 years old.

Simon Knott, February 2022

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looking east painted font
St John the Baptist Abraham St Stephen liturgical symbols Resurrection
Royal Goudewaagen, Gouda, Holland fell for the liberation of his country killed in action in France
painted angels above the chancel arch painted angel All Saints Lawshall


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