At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Yoxford

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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what's new? - a journey through the churches of Suffolk



Old Father Time with scythe and draped urn under a draped canopy (1811) skull and crossed bones, 1725 cherub with flaming torch and trump

Annunciation   I hadn't been back to Yoxford for years. If you are a cyclist, it isn't the easiest place to get to. There are few Suffolk villages which are only approached by main roads, but Yoxford is one of them, and it wasn't until August 2017, more than fifteen years after my previous visit, that I took my life in my hands and cycled down the A12 from Darsham. And yet, I'd always liked Yoxford. I remembered writing on the occasion of my previous visit that if, against all my better judgements, a day came when I tired of my shameless hedonistic urban lifestyle and decided to retire to the country, and money were no object, then Yoxford would be pretty near the top of my list. It was big enough to have three decent pubs, a few good shops, one of which was one of Suffolk's best second-hand book shops, and even had a railway station half a mile to the north. And after all, the A12 didn't actually run up the high street. There were some pretty houses and even a park. And it was still a village. What more could I want?

The name of the village means a ford where oxen can pass (as, of course, does the name of the city without the Y in front). The little stream that comes down from the industrial village of Peasenhall a couple of miles off is referred to locally as the River Yox, but this is a backnaming, the stream named after the village rather than the other way around. Yoxford proclaims itself 'the garden of Suffolk' as a result of the intensive fruit farming that began here a couple of centuries ago. And it will come as no surprise to learn that Yoxford is alphabetically last of Suffolk's 500-odd parishes.

Well, the second-hand bookshop has long gone, and so has one of the pubs. I couldn't tell you if either of the others are still decent, as I didn't call at them. But St Peter is still a fine sight with its grand spire, so unusual in Suffolk. Obviously, given the dedication, there is a cock on top of it. This church is one of the last of what I think of as the large southern Suffolk churches you meet heading north, before hitting the Blythburgh/Southwold/Covehithe group which give a new meaning to grandeur. And yet, stepping inside, it is hard to shake off the impression that this is a town church, for it has an urban quality to it. Partly, this is because of the 19th Century restoration at the hands of Richard Phipson, but it is also because of the monuments and brasses that line the walls. Significant names from Suffolk history can be found on them, for important people seem often to have lived around here.

One of them not buried here was Charles Brandon, Duke of Suffolk, who was the second husband of Henry VIII's little sister Mary, who had previously been married to the King of France. Their grand-daughter was Lady Jane Grey, who for a brief, teenage week in 1553 was proclaimed Queen of England by the desperate protestant advisers to Edward VI, aghast at having a dead young king on their hands. Their cunning plot to impose extreme protestantism on England was foiled by the popular acclamation of the accession of Mary I, who was staying a few short miles away from here at Framlingham. Mary's reign would prove to be short and unhappy, and young Jane paid with her life for the treasonable actions of those scheming old men. But if the protestants had succeeded in their plan, England would have been quite different today. There certainly would not have been a Church of England, for instance.

The view to the east is of wide open spaces, with aisles running down to meet the chancel. The focus is the War memorial east window of 1920 by Lavers & Westlake, depicting Christ in Majesty flanked by St George of England and St Edmund of East Anglia. What makes it so interesting is that the names of the Parish dead are also in glass in the lower part of the window.

war memorial window: St George (Lavers & Westlake, 1920) war memorial window: Christ in Majesty flanked by St George and St Edmund (Lavers & Westlake, 1920) war memorial window: the names (Lavers & Westlake, 1920) war memorial window: St Edmund (Lavers & Westlake, 1920)

It was almost half a millennium before, at the end of another great war, that Thomasina Tendrynge died in 1485, the year of the Battle of Bosworth Field and in which the accession of Henry Tudor would kickstart the dramatic events of the next two centuries for the English people. Thomasina was the daughter of William Sydney, himself an ancestor of the family who would find favour with Henry's grand-daughter Elizabeth a century later, being given Penshurst castle in Kent.

Her brass, and those of her seven children, are set on the south side of the sanctuary. Thomasina is wrapped in a shroud, a striking if not unusual style for brasses at the time. Two things make this one rather uncommon, however. Firstly, she is stunningly beautiful, and she gazes out at us with wide eyes from the elegant curve of her winding. When he first saw her, my young son said that she looked like a mermaid, and so she does. Secondly, although two of her daughters stand beside her in Tudor robes, her five other children are also in shrouds, indicating that they died before she did.

A fine pair of earlier brasses nearby are to John and Matilda Norwiche. We know very little about them, except that they are responsible for St Peter's being here. John was probably a member of the Norwiche family of Mettingham castle. Matilda died childless in 1417. John succeeded to the Lordship of Cockfield Manor in Yoxford in 1422. He never took up the reins however, preferring to remain elsewhere, possibly Mettingham. The Manor was sold, and the proceeds were used to completely rebuild this church in the prevailing Perpendicular style. John himself died in 1428, and these brasses remain as a sign on their patronage.

Two hundred years later, the Manor was in the hands of the Brooke family, and Joan Brooke survives in the form of a characterful brass in the south aisle. There are several others, all worth a look. But these brasses really should not be mounted on the walls. I realise that this is done with the best of intentions, to allow them to be displayed, and to protect them from being walked on. The trouble is, if there was a fire, and these do happen in churches from time to time, the brasses would melt, and run down the walls. Floor-mounted brasses set in stone do not melt, because the heat rises away from them.

Later, the Manor would come to the Blois family, who were remembered in the name of the pub that closed. St Peter still remembers them, with a splendid array of ten hatchments, mostly beneath the tower. There are also a couple of fine wall monuments to the family, one of them to the long-lived Sir Charles Blois, which has been very clumsily relettered at some point. Mortlock tells us that the sculptor was Thomas Thurlow, whose work can be found widely in this part of Suffolk. Sir Charles was ever feelingly alive to the duties of his station, apparently, as well as being faithful and earnest in the discharge of them.

My favourite memorial is a very simple one, but it remembers one of the great and often unsung heroes of church explorers. This is David Elisha Davy. The agricultural depression of the 1820s pushed him into an early retirement, which he spent travelling around Suffolk, sketching and taking an inventory of the exterior and contents of medieval churches.

It is no exaggeration to say that he rediscovered Suffolk's churches, which had mostly been in a state of neglect since the early 17th century. His vast body of research is still largely unpublished, although it is possible to view it in the British Library, and his lively account of his journey is available in a Suffolk Records Society publication. This is an absolute must-read for anyone interested in Suffolk's churches - Suffolk Library Service has loads of copies. Davy created a priceless record of the county's churches on the eve of their Victorian restoration. In many cases, his record is the only one we have of the churches between the Reformation and the modern age.

White's Directory of Suffolk tells us that, by 1844, Davy had already headed off to his other house in Ufford. But Yoxford could still boast no less than five tailors, four milliners, and even a staymaker. The Directory also reveals that this large village (1500 people even then) could sustain a lifestyle considered so harmonious that Anglican ministers of surrounding villages thought it worthwhile abandoning their parishes and living here instead. The Vicar of Ubbeston for example (although that church is now a private house), but also the Rector of Middleton, Fordley, Westleton and Peasenhall, the splendidly named Reverend Harrison Packard. Today, all these villages come within the benefice of Yoxford. Ironically, of course, those 19th Century clergymen moved to Yoxford because of the trappings of an urban lifestyle it could provide.
  Adoration of the Angels (AK Nicholson, 1920)

Simon Knott, August 2017

looking west looking east font
Adoration of the Magi (AK Nicholson, 1920) Christ the Good Shepherd and the Daniell Arms Annunciation Thomasina Tendrynge (1485)
David Elisha Davy died at sea severely wounded at the Battle of Waterloo for many years an active and useful magistrate
ever feelingly alive to the duties of his station Killed in Action during the Battle of the Somme and buried at Dive Copse Captain of H M 2nd Regiment of Provisional Battalion
memoria justi benedicti


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