At the sign of the Barking lion...

Sacred Heart, Southwold

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Southwold Sacred Heart

from a distance

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Any Catholic priest who finds himself posted to this parish may be forgiven for thinking that he has truly fallen on his feet. Not only does he find himself in the most pleasant of all East Anglian coastal towns, but he gets to live in the grandest of all the presbyteries in the diocese. Although the church is on Wymering Road to the south of the High Street, the frontage of the house faces out across a wide green called the Paddock facing out to sea, the tower above the east end of the church beside the house making a castle of it. The parish itself is a large one, stretching from the coast to beyond Halesworth, where there is a chapel of ease.

Although Sacred Heart church and presbytery are very much in the Tudor style, there is a baronial splendour about them that is echoed in several of the town's larger houses. There is also a grittiness about them that is partly a result of the unfamiliar stone, but also the quasi-industrial leanness of the lines, especially to south and west. The whole package was the 1916 work of Benedict Williamson, an architect who had become a Catholic Priest. He was responsible for some of the more dramatic Church architecture of the period, including Farnborough Abbey and St Ignatius, Stamford Hill in London. The windows here are in the conventional 15th Century Suffolk Perpendicular, but the stair turret is placed oddly in the middle of the eastern face of the tower, which is also provided with arrow-slit lancets. The turret rises above the tower like a chimney.

Inside the building is more conventional, still retaining its original integrity with a chancel separated from the nave by communion rails. Everything is painted harmoniousy, and even the stone pulpit, which appears to be used for flower arrangements, is not too intrusive. I looked around for a while with a nagging feeling that there was something missing. Eventually, I realised that it was the font. I found it in a room marked 'confessional'; obviously, this had been intended as a baptistery, but now serves a double purpose, or perhaps even a triple one, as an office desk had also been shoe-horned in.

Until recently the parish priest who was here kept bees, and you could buy jars of honey and beeswax candles. I've not been back since he moved on - I wonder if he took his bees with him?


Simon Knott, January 2021

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looking east altar and reredos

Catholic honey


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