At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Wickham Market

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Wickham Market

Wickham Market Wickham Market Wickham Market 

of such is the kingdom   The onset of hypothermia is an unsettling experience. Despite my natural inclination to exaggerate discomfort, the real thing is something I have only experienced twice in my life. Once was in the frozen waste near Leningrad as an impecunious student in the cruel winter of 1985, as the temperature plunged to minus thirty degrees outside of Pavlovsk. The other time was in Wickham Market.

It was the day of the Suffolk Historic Churches bike ride, back in 1998. I'd set off in sunshine from Felixstowe that morning, in high hopes and a Celtic football shirt, but by lunchtime a tremendous thunderstorm had rolled in from the sea, drenching the east of the county. I could have stopped, I suppose, but I was determined to break my record for churches in a single day. By early afternoon I was so wet, so utterly soaked to the skin, that, like Macbeth with the blood, it was as easy to go on as to turn back.

Sixty three churches after leaving the coast, I arrived in Wickham Market for the sixty fourth, tired, reasonably happy, and very, very wet. I had a quick look in the church and got my form stamped. Given that I had just visited 63 other churches, and my camera had run out of film long since, it is not unreasonable that I don't remember a whole lot about it. What I do remember is sitting in the market square across the road, waiting to be rescued by my long-suffering and saintly wife. This was when the shaking began. My body began to do a kind of shaky dance as I struggled to control it; I started to sweat, and my peripheral vision began to blur. Never again would I cycle any distance without a thermal jacket in my paniers.

I have been back on occasions since, and it was a delight to return here again in 2011 on a gentler, fairer day, when the wisdom that comes with age banished all thoughts of breaking records. You enter through the porch beneath the tower, which stands to the south of the nave. This is quite common in this part of Suffolk, but what is unusual here is that the tower is octagonal, all the way to the ground. The octagonal tower slenders into a splendid lead spire, with a bell on the west side that is probably not in its original place. Indeed, Mortlock wondered if it had come from the magnificent sanctus bell turret on the east gable end of the nave. The shape of the aisles adds to a sense of clustering, familiar from Rickinghall Inferior. To your right is a pre-Reformation red brick Tudor aisle, built as a chantry chapel to Sir Walter Fulbourne. The wall plates of the beams have figures on them that might once have been angels, but they are vandalised, or restored badly, I'm not sure which.

Opposite is a 19th century north aisle, which you won't be surprised to learn is the work of Edward Hakewill, who had a thing about north aisles. The view to the east is most attractive in a Lavers, Barraud and Westlake kind of way. There is a restored set of sedilia and piscina in the south wall, and curious chancel aisles, which must have served some purpose.

I have always liked the sentimental Victorianisation of this church. Above the chancel arch is that quote from the Book of Genesis, more usually found outside over doorways: This is the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven. There is something similar at neighbouring Pettistree. Beyond, the reredos is a delight, all gorgeous gilt and Art Nouveau fluidity. Come back into the nave, and take a look at the pulpit with its relief of St John the Evangelist, surely by the same workshop as the reredos. I think it the best of its kind in the whole of Suffolk.

Tucked away in the south aisle chapel is a curious 19th Century convex brass inscription remembering a charity donation remembering the gift of the sum of fifty pounds... directed to be invested and the interest therof to be laid out in the purchase of bread to be distributed at Christmas or such other times as the minister and churchwardens should think fit, amongst the most needy of the poor of the said parish, preferring those attending Divine Service in this Church, the last clause no doubt a safeguard in this strongly non-conformist corner of East Anglia.

As I write this, All Saints is preparing itself for a major reordering. A kitchen and meeting room are to be built at the back. The Victorian benches will go, to be replaced by modern chairs in the half-round which will accentuate the openness of the space between the two aisles. Such reorderings are often controversial, and there was a vigorous debate going on in the visitors book between those who deplored it and those who wanted it to happen.

Looking at the plans, I must say I thought it looked excellent. It will have a far less deliterious effect on the church than Hakewill's restoration did, and it will ensure the continued use of the building by this evangelically-minded congregation for decades to come. I look forward to coming back and seeing it.

  hole in the head

Simon Knott, January 2012

war memorial altar looking west
looking east suffer little children suffer little children font
suffer little children James Henderson Whiteley he being dead
the sum of fifty pounds headmaster of Reigate Grammar School William Welton John the Evangelist

William Ferdinando Motum the human remains the founder of the iron works in this parish broken memory

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