At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Mendham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Mendham from the Norfolk bank south porch Mendham
Mendham porch headstop serpent and apple lion

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No parish church in Suffolk is closer to Norfolk than that of Mendham, sitting as it does beside the Waveney facing across to the northern county. Mendham was birthplace and home to the artist Sir Alfred Munnings, and the village pub is named after him. The first impression is of a neat, substantial building, aisled and clerestoried with an upright square tower. As at neighbouring Weybread the church was probably much as it is now by the first decades of the 15th Century, although that wasn't the end of the story. In 1417 Thomas Preed, the vicar, left 26s 4d to the fabric of the church that is to say the porch, a fine buttressed structure with flushwork panelling and three niches. In 1455, 1458 and 1459 there were bequests to the fabric of the new candlebeam, which is to say the roodscreen, suggesting that the physical structure of the church was complete by this time. Richard Phipson led the 1860s restoration here at the same time he was working at Weybread. Here, the chancel was completely rebuilt along its original lines, but otherwise the restoration does not seem to have been so heavy handed as at that at the neighbouring church. The headstop carvings on the porch are reminiscent of those at Phipson's St Mary le Tower, Ipswich, one of them depicting a serpent with an apple.

You step into a wide, clear space that feels its size thanks to the small amount of coloured glass. The interior furnishings are largely the work of Phipson's restoration, of a high quality that may be a consequence of the lay rector here being Sir Shafto Adair of Flixton Hall whose wealthy influence fell on a number of churches in this area. Indeed, his head forms a slightly bizarre finial on the choir stalls. An earlier family whose mark fell even more heavily were the Frestons, whose early 17th Century brasses are in a row across the chancel along with ledger stones.

Cecilia Freston, 1615 Richard Freston, 1616 Richard Freston, 1634
'left behind him his dear consort' Cecilia Freston, 1615 Richard Freston, 1634

There are also memorials to the Frestons on the chancel walls over the next century and a half, after which they seem to have married into the Rant family who are found in a number of East Anglian churches. The chancel is lit by somewhat imposing glass in the east window depicting the Ascension of Christ flanked by angels. It's by Ward & Hughes and dates from 1886, just after Thomas Curtis had taken over the company and perhaps before he had really imposed his familiar style on their output, giving it more character than their later glass would have. A woman working in the church told me that since my last visit a group of vandals had been caught throwing conkers through it, and it had cost more than ten thousand pounds to have it repaired. She had lived in Mendham all her life and always known the glass, so it had been a particularly traumatic experience for her. Looking closely at the glass, which I remembered well and had photographed extensively before, I found that it wasn't possible to see where the damage had been done, which was pleasing.

At Weybread, Phipson had used a Norwich firm to produce stone corbels for the rebuilt roof, but here at Mendham the corbels are wooden and more delicate, depicting angels holding Instruments of the Passion. James Bettley in his revision of the Buildings of England volume for East Suffolk tells us that they are by Robert Godbold and John Groom. Back outside again, this churchyard has something you won't find in any other churchyard in Suffolk. The western edge drops away to the Waveney, and against this edge is a pill box, a machine gun emplacement from the Second World War (or, at least, I'm guessing it was built to repel Nazi invaders, rather than anything that might come across from the Norfolk side).

Simon Knott, March 2022

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looking east sanctuary looking west
font angel with a lance angel with a sponge on a stick crucified
Freston Rant, 1728 Richard Freston, 1722 Ascension (Ward & Hughes, 1886) Edward and Bridgett Freston, 1708/1727 17th Century Frestons

churchyard pillbox


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