At the sign of the Barking lion...

Sacred Heart, Southwold

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


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Rather starker from this side.

Williamson's unconventional tower.

First sight when approached from the High Street.

Sacred Heart from Wymering Road.

Looking east.

Seemly and traditional sanctuary.

The stone pulpit - it never works.


Suffolk industrial mock-Tudor baronial splendour.

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, the church beside making a castle of it. Although it is technically on a pretty terraced lane to the south of the High Street, the great eastern frontage faces out across a wide green called The Paddock, with the sea in the distance. It is the kind of place aching to have a novel set in it.

The parish is a large one, stretching from the coast to beyond Halesworth, where there is another church. Here in Southwold, the Catholic priests used to minister at the vast 15th century ship of St Edmund, but now that is in the care of the Anglicans of course.

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 most 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 vernacular, 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, rather in the manner of the churches of the Stour Valley.

Inside, the building is more conventional, still retaining its original integrity with a chancel separated from the nave by communion rails - most unusual in an English Catholic church. Perhaps the shock troops of Vatican II are still on their way to this remote outpost. Everything is painted most 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.

I was very pleased to discover that you could buy beeswax candles in several different colours, as well as jars of honey. They are all made by the parish priest's bees. It sounds idyllic.

Southwold idyll.

Sacred Heart, Southwold, is located in Wymering Road, a short signposted walk from the High Street. It is about the same distance from the shops as the Anglican church, but on the other side of the road. I've always found it open.

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