At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Peter, Spexhall

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Spexhall

Spexhall flying buttress Spexhall

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It was the end of March, and the first properly warm, sunny Saturday of the year. I caught the early train up from Ipswich to Halesworth, and cycled off into the hills. Incidentally, anyone looking for a cure for stress could do a lot worse than going for a bike ride around the lanes about Halesworth. Here, the deep green encroaching of the fields and copses in spring, the angelica and the birdsong, and the silent heat of the dusty road, are guaranteed to lower the blood pressure and raise the spirits. Better for you than valium or prozac as well.

St Peter at Spexhall is a particularly idyllic spot. This largely Victorianised little church sits in a sweet little graveyard behind a fence and gates. In spring, the long grasses and Mary's Lace boil up around the walls, and if you sit down on the slab of a tombchest for a while, you'll know that there's nowhere else on earth you'd rather be. Lichened 18th and 19th century gravestones peep up for a little sunshine, and beyond rests the church, a neat little building looking all of JK Colling's 1870s restoration. He put a flying buttress over the chancel door, a witty borrowing from neighbouring Blythburgh. The round tower is from a later restoration, being rebuilt in 1910. However, there is one significant survival from earlier days, a great curiosity. This is the lattice pattern set in brick into the east wall. This dates from when the chancel was rebuilt in the early 18th century, presumably because it had fallen into such a bad state. This is so like the same thing in 15th century flint at nearby Barsham that it surely must be a copy.

The tower replaced one that fell in 1720. The base is possibly Saxon, at the very least early Norman. There is also a surviving blocked Norman north doorway. It is all very well looked after, and obviously loved. There is a sense in which St Peter has re-invented itself as a kind of wayside shrine, a place for passers-by to seek spiritual refreshment. As the sign in the porch says, it is always open, and you step into a light, pretty interior that is far more than just a posh venue for a Sunday club. This seems so obviously the way forward for the Church of England. The parish churches are its most visible act of witness, a powerful one, reminding us of something outside of the busy, materialist world of the 21st century.

Simple 19th Century tiles and benches give the interior a rustic feel. The Jones & Willis glass in the east window is good and a bit unusual, depicting Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by Miriam and the Widow with her mite. There is more glass by the workshop in the north aisle, although it was obscured on my most recent visit by a rather good patchwork of houses in the parish.

There are 15th and 16th century brass inscriptions, and one lady and her children reset on the wall, but more moving is a surviving WWI battlefield cross, returned to this parish by the Imperial War Graves Commission when it was replaced with a permanent one in the years after the First World War. It marked the grave of Lt. J D Calvert of the Rifle Brigade, who died on the 15th February 1915. These crosses are increasingly valued survivals. Pretty much no one now is left alive with a memory of the Great War. Just as this church is a touchstone to the past, so these crosses spark a remembrance in the heart.

Simon Knott, March 2019

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looking east sanctuary font
Miriam (Jones & Willis, 1902) The Widow's Mite (Jones & Willis, 1902) Good Shepherd flanked by Miriam and the widow's mite (Jones & Willis, 1902) battlefield cross war memorial (pressed copper and marble, 1920)

cock, 1771 Edward Thurlow afloat

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