At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Catherine, Pettaugh

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Pettaugh, late afternoon


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    I had not been back to Pettaugh for twenty years, and I remembered little about it. The little church is unfortunately set beside the busy A1120 Stowmarket to Yoxford road, which some drivers take as a shortcut between the A14 and the A12 to avoid Ipswich and the Orwell Bridge. There is also an old Roman road which passes through, connecting Winston to Crowfield. It is marked as perfectly straight on the map, but it isn’t quite, for over the centuries smallholders have encroached slightly onto it, marking it with history, I suppose. I tried to imagine Roman legionaries marching along it to their camp at Caistor.

This was likely a 12th Century church rebuilt by the Normans on what may well originally have been a pre-Christian site given its setting on a mound by an ancient crossroads. The 13th Century brought the tower and there was a general elaboration in the early 14th Century which brought window tracery, but that was pretty much it until a major 1860s restoration at the hands of the rector. There was another restoration at the start of the 21st Century, which I knew about because when I was last here I had talked for a long time with the churchwarden. She told me that, a couple of years before, the south chancel roof had lost some of its tiles. As is often the case, once the roof is disrupted they all start coming down, so scaffolding was brought in and an architect went up.

He very quickly came back down again. It seemed that the whole roof of both nave and chancel was in a dangerous state of repair. Some of this had been evident from inside, since water had a habit of pouring into the organ, and the 19th Century ceilings were stained with damp. Everything would need to be replaced. However, this is a small parish, with a congregation that barely ran into double figures, and the eventual repair bill would reach more than 30,000. The nice lady, who was very candid with me (I think she thought I was from the diocese) told me that she had become a churchwarden with a view to her pastoral role, and that fundraising had never been in her plan. However, she prayed about it, rolled up her sleeves, and as far as possible got the whole village involved, churchgoers or not. Amazingly, within a year, the money was raised, and all the bills paid off. The extraordinary thing was that the contributions from the people of the parish, from public and private bodies, and from friends far and wide, came to almost exactly the right amount. It was like something out of a Jimmy Stewart film. And, of course, there were now many people in the parish who had a stake in their village church that they didn’t before. The congregation had actually increased, along with the goodwill. It was a nice story.

Coming back in March 2022 I found a sign on the door telling me that the church was open every day, except that it wasn't. I found the number of one of the churchwardens on the noticeboard, and she came and opened up. She apologised for the church being locked, but she said there were so few of them now, and they got so few visitors. I got the impression that despite the notice they no longer opened the church so regularly, and it seemed like an ending to the story that I had heard twenty years before.

Be that as it may, you step into a church which is immaculately cared for, still crisp from its entire redecoration. I recalled the churchwarden of twenty years before telling me that the parish had put their faith in a young man who had worked alongside building firms on renovations, but had never actually done a church before. He made a splendid job of it. The chancel ceiling is a pale blue, as it should be, the walls an off-white. This is a perfect setting for the great treasure of Pettaugh church, the east window of 1936 by Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson, made at the Glass Works in Fulham.

east window: Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by the Raising of Lazarus and the calling of Zacchaeus (Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson, 1936) east window: Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by the Raising of Lazarus and the calling of Zacchaeus (Caroline Townshend and Joan Howson, 1936)

Christ the Good Shepherd stands at the centre, with two simple tales of redemption flanking him, the raising of Lazarus on the left, and the calling of Zacchaeus on the right. Townshend and Howson were important figures in the Arts and Crafts movement of the early 20th Century, many of whom were women. Like a number of her fellow artists Caroline Townshend was also involved in the suffragette movement, which brought her into friendship with the stained glass artist Mary Lowndes, designer of the suffragette banners and co-founder of the Glass House. In 1913 she met Joan Howson who became her apprentice and later her partner. This is the only Townshend & Howson glass in Suffolk, though they were also responsible for organising and setting the great scheme of early 16th Century glass a few miles off at Gipping.

The late 15th Century font is a good example of the traditional East Anglian style of the time, and there are also a few small brasses reset in a display on a ledge in the former north doorway. They depict members of the Falstoffe family, more memorably at Oulton, and even more memorably in Shakespeare. They are smaller than you’d expect, but one piece of the brass is curious because on its reverse it is a palimpsest of part of a copy of the famous Trumpington brass in Cambridge.

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship the population of the parish was just under three hundred people. Forty-seven of them tipped up for morning worship on the day of the census, not a bad proportion for this part of Suffolk, though incumbent John Kinsman Tucker felt moved to point out that there were a great many dissenters, mainly Baptists and Independents. There were no dissenting chapels in Pettaugh, but most likely they were heading into nearby Debenham, where the Independent chapel on Front Street was regularly host to five hundred people on a Sunday morning.

Simon Knott, March 2022

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font looking east those who gave their lives during the Great War in France and Gallipoli


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