At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Little Wenham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Little Wenham

Little Wenham Little Wenham Little Wenham

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    It is the remote and hidden churches that entice me the most, and Little Wenham church sits more than half a mile from the nearest road. You reach it by a dirt track which turns off by the Queens Head pub, and then meanders through farm buildings and fields before entering a curious fen-like area, over which it is a causeway. You do not need much imagination to detect the remains of a lost settlement here. At last, it opens out into what was clearly once an ancient farmyard, with the church high on its mound to the east.
This churchyard is one of Suffolk's secret places. The tower, its top repaired in red brick, stands high above the nave and churchyard. The porch itself is a little 15th Century wooden structure, although it does have two unusual features. Above the entrance, three image niches are set in the wood, in a way familiar from stone ones found elsewhere in Suffolk. Also, the entrance contains slots for a drop-bar gate, existing elsewhere in Suffolk at Badley, a similarly remote church. Its purpose was probably to keep animals out.

But we are able to step inside. This is one of those churches which thrills with its idiosyncratic character and richness of interest. The remains of the medieval stone rood screen, existing elsewhere in Suffolk only at Bramford, lead you through to the chancel, where you stand before  some of the loveliest wall paintings in all Suffolk.  Because the church was built pretty much all of a piece in the middle of the 13th Century, and because the original early Decorated east window is still in place, it is safe to assume that these wall paintings are the original decorations, painted for the building's consecration when it was first built.

To the south of the window are saints Margaret, Catherine and Mary Magdalene. To the north, the Blessed Virgin and child, flanked by angels. The most striking thing about these beautiful flowing figures is that the centuries have oxidised their skin tones quite black. They are exquisite.

St Catherine (13th Century)donor (13th Century) Blessed Virgin and child (13th Century) Blessed Virgin and child (13th Century)
St Margaret, St Catherine, St Mary Magdalene (13th Century) St Margaret  (13th Century) St Catherine (13th Century) St Mary Magdalene  (13th Century) St Christopher and the Christ child

And, as if that were not enough, the chancel also contains one of Suffolk's best pre-Reformation pairs of figure brasses. Thomas Brewse of little Wenham Hall, who died in 1514 and his wife Elizabeth lie before the altar, stately and proud, confident in their position and in the perpetuity in which Masses would be said for their souls. In fact, those Masses would last barely thirty years. Interestingly, someone at some point has attempted to scratch out the rose shapes on Elizabeth's girdle. Perhaps they thought it was a rosary. Beneath them, their children stand, boys to the left, girls to the right. The girls have long, flowing hair, showing that they were unmarried at the time of their father's death.

The Reformation would result in a different kind of memorial, where civil power could be legitimately expressed. The Brewses held the hall into the 18th Century, and were patrons of this church. Either side of the altar are two other memorials to them. To the south is John Brewse, who died in 1585. He is in good condition, and finely crafted. He kneels at prayer, a different kind of piety to that of his great grandfather on the chancel floor. He looks as if he might get up and walk away at any moment. To the north of the altar, what was plainly an Easter Sepulchre, a pre-Reformation tomb for another member of the Brewse family (it bears an earlier form of the shield across the chancel) but for which one is now unknown. However, in 1785 it was pragmatically reused for John Brewse, a descendant of the other Brewses in the chancel.

Thomas Brewse Ann Brewse Brewse weepers Thomas and Ann Brewse three little maids praying hands
Brewse brass: Blessed Virgin Brewse brass: Christ three little maids

This is a church it's hard to resist returning to as if it were an old friend. And yet, it almost didn't survive for us to see it. In the late 19th Century it was quite derelict, and a decision was taken to demolish it. At the meeting held to discuss this, it is said that the sexton swayed opinion by stating that "the old girl's been around such a long time, it seems a shame that she should fall down now." His eloquence led to its restoration, and a photograph of this hero can be seen to this day, beneath the tower arch.


Simon Knott, August 2020

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looking east sanctuary looking west
font and bier (birth and death) John Brewse dieu come plaist cherubs and flowers
Alice Waker pulpit pray without ceasing tomb recess

window brick tomb in afternoon sunshine

Francis Beresford Moncreiff Francis Beresford Moncreiff severely wounded on the Somme

the bodys of 2 sons and 2 daughters


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