At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Leonard, Wixoe

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


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St Leonard from the village street.

Quaint Victorian vestry and chimney.

Looking east beneath the kingpost.

One of those window arrangements which really works.

Flying skull.

Ten foot square.


At last, at last. This is the 600th entry on the Suffolk Churches Site, a number I aimed at with some trepidation in those far off days of 1999 when I first embarked on the site. A significant number then, but is St Leonard a significant church?

Not in architectural terms perhaps, but it so happens that it was the birthplace of the site's greatest mentor. Derek Mortlock, a man I have never met, was born in Wixoe, and first saw the inside of a church here. Despite the fact that he now lives in Norfolk, his three volumes of The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches are the best books ever written about the churches of the county, Cautley and James not excluded. I would be lost without him, and quite probably would never have sustained the energy to get the site this far. So, if you should ever read this Mr Mortlock, thanks for everything.

Wixoe is a tiny village right on the Essex border to the east of Haverhill. Only the infant River Stour protects it from the busy Essex parish of Sturmer, which has not only had an apple named after it but was the birthplace of the racy 1960s actress Charlotte Rampling. Her father was the Vicar there; not a lot of people know that.

Wixoe consists mainly of Victorian cottages scattered along a narrow lane; if you look at it on an old map, you can see that the Colchester to Cambridge railway line ran straight through it, so this church was once a familiar sight. But that is now all gone, and the village is bypassed completely. You would never pass St Leonard unless you intended to.

St Leonard is the patron Saint of prisoners, and only a couple of Suffolk churches are dedicated to him. Despite the entirely 19th century windows, the church is clearly of Norman origins (you just can't disguise it, can you?) and the walls slope significantly towards each other as they approach the east. Perhaps there was once an apse. The bell-turret is a tribute to the proximity of Essex, and inside the south porch the doorway confirms your theory about the Normans.

The Victorians weren't just busy building cottages in Wixoe. This church underwent a major restoration quite late in the century, and the overwhelming feeling inside is of 1880s gloom. This isn't as dull as it sounds; it is neat and well-kept, and provides a document of, and testimony to, parish life over the last couple of centuries. The only medieval survival is the font, but there are a couple of nice 18th century memorials, including one with a splendid skull.

Thanks to Mr Mortlock I noticed the inscribed entrance to the vault, which is curiously specific about its capacity. You can see it in the left hand column.

600 is a lot, but there were many more to go, and so I headed on past the excellent former school house and up through Boyton End to Kedington.

St Leonard, Wixoe, is in the middle of this tiny village signposted off of the road between Cavendish and Haverhill. There are two keyholders, one directly opposite and one on the road to Boyton End - contact me for more details.

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