At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Mary, Little Wratting

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Little Wratting, late September

Little Wratting Little Wratting

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    On the map Little Wratting church appears to be set in a fairly remote spot, down a narrow lane away from the point where the busy Newmarket to Haverhill and Haverhill to Bury roads meet in the hills of south-west Suffolk. The pretty little church sits in an idyllic little churchyard, though the meat processing plant visible beyond the trees in the valley below, and the noise of traffic on the roads, bring the 21st Century a little too close as you stand in the churchyard. There is no tower, and the bellcote-surmounted tiny nave makes this appear a dolls house of a church, a reminder of how close we are to north Essex here where this little church would be quite at home.

Intriguingly, a bequest of 1424 survives in which the rector John Howlett left in his will the residue of goods to building the church of Wrottyng Parva and its tower. Since both nave and chancel appear in their origins earlier than this, and there is no tower, it seems the work was never carried out unless the tracery of the chancel windows is from this time. Indeed, the fabric here tells of an age much earlier than most Suffolk churches, for above the south doorway is part of a Saxon dedicatory inscription. Of course this may not have come from this church originally, but Pevsner also pointed out the Saxon origins of the chancel, and we are on a hilltop in a circular churchyard, so this is likely an ancient site. You can make out the towers of two other hilltop churches from the edge of the churchyard, although towerless Little Wratting church's bellcote is a fruit of the substantial 1895 restoration.

The ironwork of the south door appears to be late Norman, and perhaps the woodwork is too. You step through it into a small space which inevitably has a feeling of being crowded and perhaps even a bit gloomy, the floors replaced by 19th Century tiles, but still it is rustic and moving. There is a fair amount of old woodwork, albeit knocked about a bit over the centuries. A large 18th Century box pew has been cut into the back of a line of 15th or 16th Century benches, the one closest to it braced against it. The view to the east is dominated by a curious faux-Norman chancel arch which Pevsner attributed to the 1890s restoration. Its deep interior surface is flat and patterned in brick, and it looks very much in the style of the early century to come. An elegant little screen is set inside it and you step into a chancel which is much lighter than the nave.

Here, the tiles, sanctuary rails and candle holders, and the clear light from the east window, give the feeling of a dusty chancel that is frozen in time, captured at the end of the 19th Century as if it might still be home to the Prayerbook liturgy and the Anglican revival of those years. Before the restoration there was a ruinous chapel on the north side of the chancel for the Turnour family. Nothing of it survives, or of their memorials, except for a single kneeling figure rescued from the churchyard and now set on the windowsill on the south side of the chancel, the saving remnant.


Simon Knott, October 2021

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looking east chancel Little Wratting
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