At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Icklingham

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Icklingham All Saints

Icklingham All Saints Icklingham All Saints Faith, Hope and Charity

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      The village of Icklingham has two medieval churches, one dedicated to St James and this one dedicated to All Saints, standing at either end of the main street. Remarkably perhaps, they were maintained as the churches of two separate parishes, although the livings was combined in the 18th Century for a single incumbent. Inevitably, in 1972 the parishes were were brought together and the decision was made to close one of the churches. That St James was kept in use and this one abandoned to its fate ironically worked out rather well for it, for the church was taken under the wing of the Redundant Churches Fund, today the Churches Conservation Trust, and has been subject to their lavish care ever since.

All Saints is one of East Anglia's hundred-odd thatched churches, and sits on its mound above the now-closed pub at the eastern end of the village. It is a church of singular character, as we will see. James Bettley, revising the Buildings of England volume for West Suffolk, notes a Suffolk Institute report of 1901 which found the church an extraordinary picture of neglect and desolation. A restoration led by William Fawcett followed soon after in 1903, a happy date, because the remedievalising enthusiasms of the Victorians were now things of the past. The tower is offset at the west end of the south aisle, and the nave is earlier, apparently Norman in date, with the later chancel and south aisle being like the tower of late 13th or early 14th Century origin. This suggests that the 12th Century church had no tower, and that tower and aisle were planned and built together.

Entrance is through the small doorway on the north side of the nave, where a charming door handle is made of the symbols of Faith (a cross), Hope (an anchor) and Charity ( a heart), presumably the work of some 18th Century blacksmith. You step into a large, square space where a milky light falls across old wood, old brick, old stone. It is enchanting, thrilling, almost an antithesis to the faded Victorian glory up the road at St James. The font is a tracery example of the late 14th Century, broadly similar to that up the road at Barton Turf. The simple benches are mostly of the 17th and 18th Centuries, sparsely arranged in the nave and the aisle and facing the 17th Century pulpit and screen. The chancel beyond contains the largest expanse of medieval tiles in any East Anglian church. Geometric patterns are punctuated by lion faces and evangelistic symbols.

medieval tiles Icklingham All Saints tile
tiles medieval tiles

The only coloured glass is notable because it is of the 14th Century, whereas most often in Suffolk you find the work of the busy 15th Century Norwich workshops. The best of it is in the south aisle, two bearded saints standing in canopies as if they were looking out of windows. They both wear green robes and a yellow cloak. One holds a martyrs palm and indicates with his other hand, The other appears to be holding a staff, in which case he may be St James, or possibly even St Christopher. There are three more 14th Century figures up in the chancel, although all their turbanned heads are modern. One holds a spear and is St Thomas, another holds what appears to be a fuller's club and is therefore St James the Less.

saint (14th Century) saint (14th Century) eyes
Saint Saint Saint

This is such a lovely church that you can't help wondering if the newly combined parish made a mistake back in 1972. The choice was partly based on the fact that All Saints had no electricity or running water, but half a century on the gloomy High Victorian clutter up the street at St James is perhaps no longer suited to the simplicity of much contemporary Anglican worship. Here at All Saints the wide open spaces cry out for the quiet contemplative liturgy of the modern age, but even more for the oil lamps and candles of sung evensong in winter, for Christmas carols and Easter morning, for the apple-smelling evocation of harvest festivals, for the continued mark and memory of the long Icklingham generations. But this is not to be. Instead, your footsteps echo as you step through a silent emptiness.


Simon Knott, February 2023

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looking east Icklingham All Saints Icklingham All Saints
font (14th Century) south arcade south aisle
pulpit (17th Century) Icklingham All Saints harmonium


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