||Peasenhall is, for my money,
one of the loveliest and most interesting
villages in Suffolk. It is a curious
place too, for it is that rare thing in
rural Suffolk, a 19th century
industrialised settlement. It was here
that James Smyth invented the seed drill,
and set up the Suffolk Seed Drill
Company. Their factory sits right up
against St Michael's north wall. A drain
or brook runs the entire length of the
high street with its super village shop.
The brook is politely known as the River
Yox, but this is in fact just a
backnaming derived from neighbouring Yoxford,
rather than the other way round.
first sight, St Michael looks pretty much
all of its rebuild of 1860, but there is
more to it than meets the eye. You reach
it by crossing the brook and wandering up
a lane by the imposing war memorial.
approach the church from the north. The residents
of Sibton Hall paid for the rebuilding, which
consisted of the nave and chancel in their
entirety. The 15th century tower was extended,
and the only real survival was the contemporary
north porch. And what an excellent porch it is.
At the end of an avenue of cherry trees, as at
nearby Cransford, there are
Suffolk's best preserved woodwose and dragon in
the spandrels, squaring up to each other.
a sunny day, the interior can be a little gloomy,
but as your eyes adjust to the light you can see
that when it was rebuilt it was furnished and
decorated in a seemly fashion in the evangelical
tradition, with a biblical text above the chancel
arch. The lovely late Norman font, which was
retained from the earlier building, is unusual in
Suffolk. Thomas Willement's glass in the east
window is an interesting example of the 1860s
style, the crucifixion simple, but augmented by
good outer lights. A lavish 1890s brass to Joseph
and Mary Lay records their donation of a tenor
bell and bell frame to the tower.
around outside, you might almost imagine yourself
in the industrial midlands or north; the factory
stands close to the south wall, and workers'
cottages line the churchyard. Perhaps the most
striking feature in the churchyard, though, is
the enormous memorial in the south-east corner.
|It is to Mary Ann Smyth, who
died at the age of 52 in 1877. On a wide
base, a tall pinnacle arises from a broad
pedestal. The pinnacle bears Mary Ann
Smyth's portrait in relief, and is
surmounted by a wreath of roses. What
makes the memorial extraordinary,
however, is that beside the pedestal are
two life-size (death-size?) stone
coffins, one with its lid off and lying
beside it. I do not think I have ever
seen anything quite like it.
A few decades after
Mary Ann's death, in the early years of
the 20th Century, Peasenhall was the
scene of one of Suffolk's great crime
mysteries. A maid was murdered in the big
house beside the church. A local man was
arrested, but the jury could not reach a
verdict. Copies of the book The
Peasenhall Murder can usually be
found in substantial quantities in
Suffolk secondhand bookshops.