St Michael, Peasenhall, Suffolk

Feature Sets (2)

Description

Peasenhall stands in hilly arable land in E Suffolk, between Saxmundham and Halesworth. The village is clustered around the crossing of two Roman roads. One is now the A1120 and the other formerly linked Harleston and Saxmundham. The church stands at the crossroads in the centre of the village and immediately to the S is the factory of Smyth and Sons. James Smyth invented an improved seed drill in 1800, and his vigorous promotion of a genuinely better product led to expansion within the village and to the building of workers' terraced housing, as his drills became the brand leader throughout southern England. Smyth's enterprise is the reason for the unusual presence in rural Suffolk of what is essentially an industrial village. The surrounding land was always farmed, but the farmhouses are now outside the village centre.

St Michael's consists of a nave, chancel and W tower; the nave and chancel of knapped flints and the tower of flint. The nave has a N doorway under a 15thc. porch with diagonal buttresses, niches and flushwork decoration. There is no S doorway. At the W end is a gallery, erected in 1894 as an organ loft and to house the choir. The chancel has a S vestry. All of this work, except for the W tower and the N porch, result from a restoration of 1860-61 paid for by J. W. Brooke of Sibton Park and using R. D. Chantrell of London as architect. He took down the old nave and chancel and rebuilt them. He also heightened and repaired the tower. The newer masonry is clearly visible and includes the bell openings and the embattled parapet with its flushwork decoration. The church was seen by Henry Davy before the restoration, and his NE view was published in 1843. The most obvious differences are in the nave, the tower and the chancel. Chantrell lengthened the nave by approximately ten feet, so that Davy’s print shows only two windows E of the porch rather than the present three. The tower was not so tall in 1843 and had simpler bell openings, but a similar parapet, which Chantrell presumably reused. The chancel E window was formerly smaller, and there was a small window at the W end of the N wall rather than the present window at the E. The only Romanesque feature is the late-12thc. font, which was moved to its present position in the nave from a site under the tower in 1909.

History

The Domesday Survey records that the overlords of Peasenhall were Robert Malet and Roger Bigod in 1086, but no church was noted. Before the Conquest, Leofsige held 40 acres as a manor with an acre of meadow and woodland for ten pigs. In 1086 Fulcred held it from Robert Malet. Another six acres were held by a free man before the Conquest, and by Walter de Caen from Robert Malet in 1086. Two further manors were held by Northmann before the Conquest, with two carucates of land. He continued to hold them (from Roger Bigod) after the Conquest. In addition to the ploughland they contained woodland for 200 pigs and four acres of meadow. In the same place four free men held 40 acres with woodland for eight pigs. Ranulf fitzWalter also held 60 acres from Roger Bigod with woodland for 40 pigs. By 1291 Sibton chapel had been given to Sibton Abbey, along with the rectory of Sibton-cum-Peasenhall.

Benefice of Yoxford, Peasenhall and Sibton. Now a parish church. Formerly a chapel of Sibton.

Features

Furnishings

Fonts

Now positioned at the W end of the nave towards the S. The stem is a heavy cylindrical shaft of ashlar blocks, with four clustered thin shafts engaged at the NE, NW, SW and SE. The stem stands on a base carved to follow this lobed plan, with waterholding mouldings, and this on a modern octagonal step. The monolithic bowl is carved to include capitals of similar form to the bases, and the lower part of the bowl itself, above these capitals, has the same lobed plan and is carved with a band of irregular pointed arcading in relief encircling the bowl. Above this, the lobes above the attached shafts of the stem terminate in hemispheres against flat chamfers, so that the central section of the bowl is effectively octagonal in plan. On the S face only, the lower part of this register is decorated with a row of deeply chip-carved lozenges. Finally, near the rim, each face is chamfered so that the plan of the rim is 16-sided. The upper edge is chamfered. The basin is lined with lead.

Dimensions
ext. w. of bowl at rim (E-W) 0.725 m
ext. w. of bowl at rim (N-S) 0.72 m
h. of bowl 0.38 m
h. of font (without step) 0.99 m
int. diam. of bowl 0.56 m

Comments/Opinions

Cautley dates the font to the late 12thc., but I know of no other font in Suffolk that combines a three-stage transposition in plan from square with lobes, through octagonal to 16-sided. The arcaded decoration suggests the later 12thc., but it is the only feature that does. The base and capital profiles, with their deep hollow mouldings, belong more to the 13thc. than the 12thc. and the curious hemispheres to neither. It may be the result of more than one phase of work.

Bibliography

  • Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 89-91.
  • Anon., The Church of St Michael and All Angels, Peasenhall. Church Guide 2004.
  • Anon, 'The reopening of Peasenhall Church', Illustrated London News XXXIX (Sept. 7th) 1861.
  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 304.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 3 East Suffolk. Cambridge 1992.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 392.

Location

Site Location
Peasenhall
National Grid Reference
TM 355 692 
Boundaries
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Suffolk
now: Suffolk
Diocese
medieval: North Elmham (c.950-1071), Thetford (1071-94), Norwich (from 1094)
now: St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
Dedication
now: St Michael and All Angels
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Chapel  
Report authors
Ron Baxter