We then drove a few miles to see the church of St John the Baptist, Mildenhall – SU210696 – the name is pronounced and often written as Minal. It is listed as one of Simon Jenkins England’s Thousand Best Churches – wouldn’t it be lovely if someone made an app out of that book. It is part of the Marlborough Team Ministry and has it own website – you can download the church leaflet too. It is beautiful from the outside – lovely surrounding, despire a very grey day (and it chucked it down while I was in the church). There are traces of a Saxon window in the tower, and I missed the sundial “said to be seven minutes ahead of Greenwich (as in Wiltshire it should be)” to quote Jenkins.
In 804 AD the Abbot Glastonbury bought land here for a church, and in Domesday the Church holds Mildenhalle and Edward holds it from the Church. About 200 people lived in the village. Inside we will see that the six main arches in the nave, together with the stone columns, are pure Norman – the main stone building was started in the C11 and the tower arch dates from 1250. The earliest known Rector was Johannes de Knovyle in 1297. There are some wonderful carvings.
In a 1948 broadcast, Sir John Betjeman, who had studied at Marlborough School, said “You walk in to the church of a Jane Austen novel, into a feast of magnificent oak joinery”. John Piper, a year later, wrote “the colour as a whole is that of an old fiddle”. It is magnificent.
In 1816, twelve of the wealthier members of the parish – all land-owning farmers – realised that the church was decaying. Working with the Rector, Charles Francis, they decided to refurbish the interior. They employed a master carpenter and a stone carver to design and build the shoulder-high pew stalls, the matching pulpit and reading desk and the gallery. Gardner, a carver, was paid sixpence for every flower leaf he carved. The total cost was £2,000. The names of the twelve are recorded on a set of shields, now under the gallery. Let’s start at the west end by the font, then move east enjoying the wood.
This portrait hangs in the NE corner of the church. It is of George Morley (1641) who went on from Minal to become the first Bishop of Worcester and later Bishop of Winchester. There are some lovely memorials.
And finally, in the porch of this wonderful church there is a lovely stone plaque of the Lamb of St John the Baptist, commissioned from the sculptor Sebastian Brooke. It was installed on Millennium Eve 1999.