At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Wickham Skeith

At the sign of the Barking lion...

home index e-mail what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk

Wickham Skeith

Wickham Skeith south porch chancel door

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

    The word 'Wickham' comes from the Old English words wic and ham, both of them meaning a settled community, the first suggesting that it had some special purpose such as a farm or dairy. It can be assumed that villages with the word as part of their name are among the longest continually occupied settlements in England. With slight variations, East Anglia has twelve parishes with this word in, the three in Suffolk differentiated from each other by a suffix. Here, this is 'Skeith', and it is rather unusual, for the University of Nottingham's exhaustive Key to English Placenames tells us that it is from skeiš, the Old Norse word for a racecourse. Before we get too excited, the Key goes on to suggest that it might be used to simply denote a boundary. In any case, it appears not to have been in use before the 14th Century, by which time the Vikings were long gone, so it perhaps it refers to a previously named field or other area of land.

Given the antiquity of its name, there is likely to have been a church at Wickham Skeith since at least the 8th Century. At the 11th Century Domesday survey there was 1 church with 12 acres worth 2s, and as the church today sits with the Hall it probably did so then. Indeed, it is directly behind the Hall from the village street, and so if you did not think to look for it you might easily miss it. It is signposted off near the Hall gates, and you head eastwards along a track which leads you directly to the church, with the view in the photograph at the top of this page. The tower you head towards is the oldest part of the current fabric, probably dating from the early 14th Century. The nave beyond came a century later, the tracery betraying the work of the master Mason Hawes of Occold whom Birkin Haward identified as busy at about a dozen churches in mid-Suffolk. Pevsner noted that the chancel tracery is a 19th Century copy of the same thing. There are no aisles, and the two imposing porches to the south and north suggest that none were ever intended. The south porch is referred to in John Brackstret's will of 1459, when he left 6s 8d to the new porch on the S side of said church, but then added plaintively that if no porch to be built there, the 6s 8d to the fabric of the church. Brakstret would be pleased that the porch was indeed built, and it still stands there today.

You step through it into a surprisingly open space given that there are no aisles, full of light thanks to the lack of coloured glass in the nave. The overall feel is of the 1850s restoration, which James Bettley tells us in his revision of the Buildings of England volumes for Suffolk was by Daniel Penning of Eye. His were the furnishings and the pammented floors, although the west gallery was erected earlier in the century. Overall, the effect is of a pleasingly rural space with none of the urban polish that a restoration later in the century might have brought. The font is a curiosity, for while the badly damaged stem has the familiar late medieval East Anglian wild men, apparently alternating with Evangelistic symbols, the bowl itself is in better condition and has tracery patterns which suggest it is earlier. I did wonder if it is actually made up of parts of two fonts put together, the bowl 14th Century and the stem 15th Century. The other medieval survival in stone in the nave is a set of three image niches to the north of the chancel arch.

Stepping into the chancel, the only coloured glass in the church is in a south window. It was made in 1998, and depicts Christ with the fishermen in the palest of colours, a dynamic design that's signed Walter Wilson hoc sculpsit ('Walter Wilson etched this'). Wilson was an Anglican priest who had been the chaplain of Ipswich School. In later life he retired to Wickham Skeith, and as far as I know this his only stained glass in a church. In the heads of the lights are crisply drawn symbols, one set being Instruments of the Passion and the other those of St Peter. It is unusual, and deserves to be better known I think. The stone reredos in the sanctuary imposes more than it needs to, but the altar rails which hem it in with their lathed balusters are late 17th Century, soon after the Restoration of the Church and thus one in the eye for the local Puritans, of whom there had been many.


Simon Knott, July 2023

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

looking east chancel looking west
font symbol of St Peter Christ summons the fishermen (Walter Wilson, 1998) triple image niche
instruments of passion symbols of St Peter
all of whom lie buried near this spot Walter Wilson hoc sculpsit 1998


The Churches of East Anglia websites are non-profit-making. But if you enjoy using them and find them useful, a small contribution towards the costs of web space, train fares and the like would be most gratefully received. You can donate via Paypal.