At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, South Elmham St Peter

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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St Peter

selm peter (3) selm peter (2)

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          St Peter is at the heart of the Saints, and what a bleak heart it can be on a winter's day! Narrow lanes thread across flat fields, and whichever way you cycle seems to be into the wind. In summer, the sky is wide over the hedgeless barley fields, but the road drops away beyond the church to cross a bridge over a stream. Here you find most of the parish's houses, because in terms of population this is one of the smallest parishes in East Anglia.

This is a pretty little church, mainly of the 13th and 14th Centuries. In the porch there is what appears to be a brick-lined charity dole table. As with several of the Saints, you step through a Norman south doorway into an albeit Victorianised rural interior. There are cusped image niches either side of the chancel arch, and the late medieval font has a Jacobean cover. Peter Northeast and Simon Cotton recorded a bequest of 1473 which gives an insight into the richness of life in this parish in the late medieval period, and indeed of England in general. John Tasburgh left instructions in his will that my body to be buryed in the Chapell of oure lady mary virgine in the north syde of the seyd church if sent petrys be fore the ymage oof oure sayd lady... I beqwethe to the glasynge of a wyndowe in the west ende of the stepille... I bequethe to a tabylle of alabaster and the making of the reredoses for the seyd tabylle with other costs to bene done in the sayd chapell that is to the sayde tabylle nessessary. The chapel stood on the north side of the chancel, but there is no trace of it today other than the marks of its entrance.

The loss of the two young men named on the war memorial must have made a considerable impact on such a tiny parish. Other than the churches, there are only two buildings of note in the South Elmhams, and one of them is St Peter's Hall, on the road from this church to South Elmham St Margaret. It is a large 16th Century building, the origins of which are uncertain. It was the home of the Tasburghs, and was probably built by them. But it looks ecclesiastical, and there are devotional symbols in the window masonry. However, there was never a Priory or an Abbey here. The great windows and other stone may have come from Flixton Priory, three miles away, after the dissolution. Some may even have come from the now-vanished church of South Elmham St Nicholas.

The Tasburghs are gone now, and, after many years as a farmhouse the building has a new lease of life as St Peter's Brewery. It is odd to think that this tiny little parish sends its produce to supermarkets all over England. About twenty years ago I recall standing to take a photograph of it when out of the corner of my eye I saw a stoat leap the gap from the adjacent field and scutter across the road in front of me. I looked, and it turned, bared its teeth, and then disappeared into the furrows. What a brave little fellow! I still think of it from time to time.

Simon Knott, February 2022

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looking east chancel
font The Good Shepherd Ecclesiasticus


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