At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Redlingfield

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Redlingfield Redlingfield Redlingfield
Redlingfield John Garneys Redlingfield

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      Redlingfield is a scattered parish in the rolling agricultural landscape of north Suffolk. Its principal settlement gathers at a fork in the road, and one of these takes you out on the road to Bedingfield and Southolt where this little church sits set back from the road, reached by a concrete track over a bridge and then up the side of a field. The hedged churchyard makes of it more of a secret than its proximity to the road would suggest. It's a lovely spot. There's another medieval building just over the hedge to the south of the church, and you might suddenly realise that there is more going on here than meets the eye, for Redlingfield was the site of a medieval priory. It was home to a community of Benedictine nuns, and was here from its foundation in 1120 until its dissolution in the 1530s, which is to say more than four hundred years, roughly the same amount of time from the English Civil War until today, which makes you think.

The church already existed, and was appropriated fairly early on, serving jointly as both parish church and priory chapel. Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton recorded a charming bequest of 1472 by Walter Lyhert, who left to the prioress of the house of nuns Redlingfield 20s and to each nun of the same house 3s 4d. In 1539, Adam Kewe left to my lady of Redlingfield 2s and to every one of her sisters 12d. More intriguingly, a 1534 bequest by Lewes Bradley, vicar of Stradbroke left 6s 8d to the making of a new steeple, but it seems that it was never built before the Reformation intervened. The building beyond the hedge was probably part of the domestic range, and now serves as a barn to the adjacent farm.

The tower is topped off at nave roof level with a timber triangular bell stage. The rest of the church as we see it today consists principally of red brick and flint. The chancel was rebuilt in brick in the 1820s, the nave repaired in brick along the way but, as Pevsner noted, the Victorian restoration appears to have been confined to the interior. Reset on the south side of the chancel is a memorial to a member of the Garneys family, who we have also met at Kenton. It remembers John Garneys, who died in the winter of 1697, and it tells us that it was put in place by his grandson Clere of Hedenham in Norfolk.

You step into the church through the south porch, past the parish stocks lying under the bench. They contain two sets of four holes, set some distance apart, as if the prisoners might prefer not to have each other's company. Nave and chancel are tiled in the approved manner of the 1870s, and apart from one or two earlier survivals it is this century which gives the interior its character. There is a one of the series of 15th Century East Anglian fonts. It has not been recut, and the lions and wodewoses around the stem have had their heads battered away. The angels on the bowl have suffered similar violence. It probably happened in the same decade that the nuns were expelled. Strange to imagine such zealous anger in such a remote spot. There is a large 15th Century piscina set in the nave south wall, but otherwise the wide interior is rustic and full of light, clearly well-loved and much used.

Roy Tricker, in his guide to the church, records the inventory of the priory's possessions at the dissolution. They included a silver chalice, an alabaster table, 3 altar cloths, 2 large and 2 small candlesticks and a Missal. In the Lady Chapel was a hanging for the altar, also a linen cloth and super-frontal, two cruets and sacring-bell. In the vestry were stored a crucifix, a cope, a set of black velvet vestments for Celebrant, Deacon and Subdeacon, also russet damask, red silk and blue silk chasubles. Several of these vestments, however, were described as being of “lytell worthe”. Sam Mortlock reminds us of a sad story of the nuns of Redlingfield. At the dissolution, the members of the community were given twenty four hours notice to leave, and turned out into the world with not much more than their faith to keep them warm.


Simon Knott, March 2023

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looking east sanctuary looking west
font G IIII R benefaction board organ and piscina


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