St John the Baptist, Saxmundham
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
There is a crisp 19th century feel to the church in this sea of headstones. It was subject to an 1870s restoration at the hands of Diocesan architect Richard Phipson. However, Phipson was more sensitive to the need to preserve medieval survivals than his successor Herbert Green, and so the church is also full of interest. More recently, at the start of the 21st Century, there has been a splendid reordering and restoration of the nave, and so you step into wooden floors and modern chairs set sparingly in the light. I had remembered this as rather a gloomy space, and so coming back in early 2018 I was pleased and surprised.
The simplicity and sensitiveness of
the modern reordering allows the 19th Century windows to
be a feature, and they are all good of their kind. Most
are to members of the Long family of Hurts Hall. In the
south chancel aisle, the former Swans Chapel now set
aside for prayer, is Harry Ellis Wooldridge's window of
1875 for Powell & Sons depicting the Sermon on the
Mount, full of character and interest in an early Arts
and Crafts style. Dominating the west end of the south
aisle is a vivid depiction of the Ascension made by the
O'Connor workshop after George Taylor had taken over as
its boss. It is believed to have been designed by the
Pre-Raphaelite artist Louisa Beresford. The setting of
the new kitchen area beneath it is slightly surreal,
though not unsuccessful.
The font, though considerably recut, is one of the best Suffolk examples of the 15th century East Anglian style. There are feisty little wild men around the base, and one of the shields features the instruments of the passion. Another medieval survival here, and a rare one, can be seen in the most easterly windows of each of the clerestories. This is a pair of stone corbel ledges that once supported the canopy of honour over the rood. They are both carved elaborately, and the northern one is castellated. The inscription on the southern side reads Sancta Johnannes, Ora Pro Nobis ('St John pray for us').
When the antiquarian David Elisha Davy visited the church on Thursday 21st August 1834, he was rather overwhelmed by what he found. This was, of course, before Phipson's restoration and the installation of the present stained glass windows. Rather, Davy got bogged down with memorials to, and records of, the Long family, and ran out of time, because the carriage he was travelling by was only stopping in the town for two hours on its way from Yoxford to Ufford, while the horse was baited. I found so much that I was obliged to leave a part undone, Davy complained, and Mrs Long's death which took place the evening before will, probably, add somewhat to the novelties which I shall find on my next visit.
Simon Knott, April 2018
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