At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Melton (old church)

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Old Melton church

Melton old church Melton old church Melton old church Melton old church

WWI cross: 2nd Lt A C Skoulding  

Knowing, as you might, that Melton is an industrial suburb of Woodbridge, you will perhaps expect an urban setting, and a church greatly enlarged by the Victorians. But this is entirely not the case. Instead, you leave the village on the road to Wickham Market, and take the turning down into Ufford, and the river valley.

After travelling through woodland and meadows for a mile or so, and shortly before you reach that pretty village, you come across the old church of St Andrew, sitting in a wide, open graveyard.

Here are graves in abundance, and modern ones too, for all Melton still comes here to be buried; but St Andrew is tiny, and you will be further surprised to learn that it has not been used as a parish church for more than a century.

When the railway reached Melton, so did the jobs. The village expanded rapidly. Rather than spend a fortune on a necessary expansion of their remote church, the Victorians did a thing which was unusual in Suffolk: they built a completely new one, up in the main village. New St Andrew (confusingly, the dedications are the same) is much larger, but its site did not allow room for burials.

So, this old church remained in use as a mortuary chapel, until well into the 1970s. To make it more suitable for its new role, the Victorians demolished the chancel, replacing it with an apse. They blocked up the north and south doors, opening up the west door to allow funeral biers access.

After being officially declared redundant in 1977, all sorts of new uses were suggested. Planning permission was granted for its conversion into a study centre, with the installation of a mezzanine floor and roof windows. This would, I have no doubt, have been a sensible use, but there are more important things than pragmatism: loyalty and love, for instance. The people of Melton did not want to lose their church. And so, in 1982, they bought it off of the church commissioners for several thousand pounds. Today, they maintain it as a charitable trust.

The church is kept locked, sadly, but is opened several times a year, for the Melton Old Church Society hold regular events here. In addition, Evensong is celebrated on All Souls Day, appropriately enough for a former mortuary chapel, and there is an annual carol service.

You step inside, and your first sight is of an array of World War I crosses. There are apparently nine of them. They are all different, some of them painted and some of them with stamped aluminium tags. Two of them tell us that the person remembered died of wounds.

WWI crosses WWI cross: 355944 Pte P Chandler WWI cross: 'died of wounds' WWI cross: 1020 L-Cpl C Lloyd
WWI cross: Lieut Garrod WWI cross: Daisy Nunn WWI cross: Lieut A Noll Garrod WWI crosses

Those remembered include Alfred Cecil Skoulding, a Second Lieutenant in the Oxford and Bucks Light Infantry, who died on the 21st February 1917. He was 33 years old. He was the son of Mrs SM Skoulding, of The Rosary, Melton, and he is buried in Meaulte Cemetery on the Somme.

Another is for Percy Chandler, a Private in the Royal Welsh Fusiliers. He was 27 when he died on the 31st October 1917. he was the son of George and Annie Chandler, of Pine View, Melton Rd., Woodbridge, but he lies today far from home in the Beersheba War Cemetery in modern Israel.

A third is to Charles Lloyd, a Lance Corporal in the 8th Batallion of the East Surrey Regiment. He died on the 27th July 1917 when he was 23 years old. He was the son of Henry and Eliza Lloyd, of Wilford Place, Melton. He is buried in Rouen, which suggests that he died of wounds at a hospital behind the lines, and was almost certainly injured during the first days of the Battle of the Somme.

There are three Garrods remembered here. They were the sons of Colonel SIr Archibald Garrod KCMG, Regius Professor of Medicine at Oxford, and his wife Laura. Alfred Noel Garrod (recorded as 'Noll' on his cross) was a Doctor himself, aged 28 when he was killed serving as a Lieutenant in the Royal Army Medical Corps at the age of 28 on the 25th January 1916. He is buried in Bethune town cemetery in Flanders. His younger brother Thomas Martin Garrod had been just 20 years old when he was killed seven months earlier while serving as a Lieutenant in the 1st Loyal North Lancashire Regiment. He is also buried in Bethune town cemetery. A third brother, Basil Rahere Garrod, died after the war in Cologne, Germany, his cross noticeably different to the others, and all three are also remembered on a plaque in the new St Andrew.

Peter Ungerer is remembered on another cross. He was 35 years old when he was killed on the 9th July 1917 during the Third Battle of Ypres. He was the husband of Edith Ungerer, of Toll Gate Cottages, Melton, and lies now in Gwalia Cemetery in Belgium. William Thomas Woolnough, the cross beside his, fought as a Corporal with East Ontario Regiment of the Canadian Infantry, but was killed at the age of 31 on the 25th April 1915. He was the son of Mrs H Woolnough of Melton. He lies today at Mont St-Eloi just outside of Ypres.

I said that there are apparently nine, because the last one of them is not a WWI cross at all. This is the simple wooden marker at the top to Daisy Nunn. Almost certainly, this was rescued from the graveyard outside the church. It is slightly older than the WWI crosses, and it probably marked the last resting place of the Daisy Nunn who died shortly after birth in the Woodbridge registration district during the first quarter of 1896.

These wooden crosses were temporary markers, originally used on the battlefield to mark the places where the dead lay. In the 1920s, they were replaced with permanent stone markers, and the thousands of wooden crosses were made available for families who requested them. Many ended up in parish churches, from where, over the decades, many have disappeared or simply been discarded.

You often come across individual survivals in Suffolk, and there are seven at the otherwise unremarkable church at Leavenheath, but no other church in East Anglia has a collection so big.

On the north side of the nave is a stunning brass, featuring a Priest, and what appears to be his parents. The inscriptions and heraldry are completely destroyed, as is much of the decoration, although this is as likely to be the work of 18th and 19th century collectors, vandals and thieves as anything to do with 16th and 17th century iconoclasm.

father Priest mother

Melton worthies of a later, gentler age are remembered around the walls. Among them are Searles Valentine Wood, who was the author of a work on the Mollusca of the Crag, and died in 1880, and his wife. Their tablet was placed here by their only child, who was also called Searles Valentine Wood, and who died himself just four years later at the age of 54. His is the tablet above, which notes that he was the first geologist to undertake the detailed mapping over an extensive area of the various sub-divisions of the sub-glacial drift, a task of infinite labour and of great practical and scientific importance. The inscription is in a curious oriental style which must have been fashionable at the time, but which I do not think I have seen elsewhere. Opposite, William Negus was the son of Francis Negus, a former MP for Ipswich. The inscription tells us rather poignantly that the younger Negus, although educated in a court... preferred the more private station of a country Gentleman, in which he lived beloved and esteemed, and died lamented.

A stand-alone 19th century altar-cum-reredos sits in the apse. It was probably intended for simply built churches out in the Empire. Cunningly hidden behind it is a doorway into the kitchen added by the Society in recent years, to give this remote place running water for functions.

But the feature which made this church most remarkable is no longer here. This is one of Suffolk's 13 seven sacrament fonts, one of only ten to retain its imagery. Uniquely, it features the martyrdom of St Andrew as its eighth panel. You can still see it - but you will need to travel to the otherwise unremarkable new church in the village, some two miles away. Before you turn back, though, don't forget that half a mile in the other direction is the beautiful church of the Assumption, Ufford, with all its famous treasures.

It goes without saying that the Melton Old Church Society is to be thoroughly congratulated for the care and affection they lavish on this little place. Wouldn't it be great if it could be open more often!

  a priest and his parents

Simon Knott, July 2010

looking east altar and reredos filled several honourable posts in government
a task of infinite labour the Mollusca of the Crag interred in a vault contiguous
most affectionate and deeply lamented the more private station of a country gentleman erected by their only son

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