At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Sutton

At the sign of the Barking lion...

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Sutton

Sutton

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It is unusual for an East Anglian village to have a site of greater antiquity than its parish church, but the age of the largely Victorian-rebuilt church of All Saints at Sutton pales into insignificance in comparison with the nearby barrows of Sutton Hoo overlooking the Deben to the north of the village. Here in the late 1930s, Basil Brown of Ipswich Museum excavated the Anglo-Saxon ship burial, probably the final resting place of Redwald, King of East Anglia. The treasures are now in the British Museum, the burial helmet most familiar among them. It is easy to imagine Redwald's final journey across the heathland from Rendlesham, to this wild bluff overlooking the Deben. And it is possible to visit the Sutton Hoo site, where there is a fascinating museum and excavations are still in progress.

But All Saints is also worthy of investigation. So often, you see a fine medieval church, and go in to the crushing disappointment of a complete Victorianisation. All Saints at Sutton is quite the opposite. This mainly Victorian church conceals one of the finest and most interesting fonts in the county. There is nothing quite like it in all East Anglia. It has the eight orders of the pre-Reformation church around the base, figures representing deacons, priests, bishops and the like. The supporting angels corbelling the bowl have, between them, the instruments of the Mass, paten, chalice, missal, and so on. The figures on the bowl are the symbols of the four evangelists interspersed with Gabriel and Mary at the Annunciation, Mary Magdalene, and a heavily bearded Christ in judgement seated on his throne.

Font: the winged messenger of St Matthew and St Gabriel at the Annunciation Font: St Gabriel at the Annunciation and the winged lion of St Mark
Mary at the Annunciation Font: Christ in judgement and the winged bull of St Luke

The rest of the church is neat and pleasant enough, a typical work by Richard Phipson, one of his earliest in the county. And even if he hadn't refurbished it, there wouldn't be much that was medieval left here, because the whole thing burned down early in the 17th Century. One survival of the fire is the brass inscription to William Burwell, who died in 1596 at the age of eighty. He would have been witness to the whole turbulent process of the Reformation, and the forging of early modern England. The brass is now mounted on the west wall, which makes it easy to view, but also means that it would not survive a fire today.

There is decent glass from the Clayton & Bell workshop in the nave and chancel, but the east window design by William Warrington is the star of the show. He signed it in strapwork along the bottom, telling us that he both designed and painted it. The rood loft stair opens quite high in the north wall, and must have been an impressive sight in this narrow, aisleless interior. The chancel roof beams are picked out nicely between white plaster, which becomes a ceilure in the nave with just the main beams showing, which is very effective. The difference creates the effect of a wide and spacious chancel.

The Millennium project here was a little wooden belfry that stands to the south of the chancel. It replaced a previous smaller turret, and is rather more ambitious than the one at nearby Alderton, but it seems a shame that you can't see the bell inside. But all in all, what a super little church this is. Today, it is little-known, I suppose, but any ghosts here might well have American accents, for we are only a mile or so here from the northern edge of the former Woodbridge American airbase, with Bentwaters beyond that, and during the Cold War these lonely lanes reverberated to the sounds of Air Force activity. It seems strange to think of it now.

       

Simon Knott, March 2021

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looking east The Good Samaritan (William Warrington, 1861) Sutton
The Good Samaritan (detail, William Warrington, 1861) The Good Samaritan (detail, William Warrington, 1861) The Good Samaritan (detail, William Warrington, 1861) W Warrington

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