St John the Baptist, Wantisden, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (4)


St John's is a remote church standing in flat arable land in SE Suffolk, 6 miles E of Woodbridge. There is no village and no dwellings near the church; the nearest settlement being Tunstall, a mile to the N. Wantisden Hall, a 16thc. brick building, is 0.6 mile S of the church. There has apparently never been a village of Wantisden, and at the beginning of the Second World War the entire area was requisitioned as an airfield: the USAF Bentwaters base. It remained active during the Cold War, and was closed in 1993, but much remains to the W of the church. The church is significant in having one of only two coralline crag towers in the county (the other is at nearby Chillesford), a 15thc. structure with diagonal buttresses and a polygonal S bell stair whose top has been rebuilt without battlements. The nave and chancel are of mixed flint, pebbles and crag rubble. They are 12thc. and from that period they retain a narrow chancel arch, a N chancel window and a S nave doorway. The N doorway is later, plain and pointed, and neither doorway has a porch. The nave has a later medieval SE rood stair, and the other nave and chancel windows date from the 14thc. to 15thc. There is also a 12thc. font, unusual in being constructed of ashlar blocks.


The Domesday Survey provides a picture of an extensive parish with a church, but without a manor and divided among many landholders and overlords. It is striking that Count Alan, Roger de Poitou and the Abbot of Ely all had demesne land here. In 1086, 22 free men held 121 acres and half a church with 20 acres of land from Robert Malet. Also held by Malet were seven acres formerly held by two free men, Alwine and Alflaed, along with a quarter of the church. A further four acres previously held by Aelfric was held by Gilbert from Malet in 1086. Aelfric, Beorhtic and Eadhild, free men, held 11 acres, held by Northmann from Roger Bigod, and Northman also held the last part of the church with ten acres from Bigod. In 1086, Count Alan held 74 acres in demesne that had previously formed two holdings, 14 acres held by Edwin and the remainder held by 16 free men. Roger de Poitou held 40 acres in demesne, held before the Conquest by 14 free men commended to the Abbot of Ely. Twelve acres in Wantisden formed part of the Abbot of Ely's demesne of Sudbourne, and Morwine held two acres from the abbot, before and after the Conquest. Wantisden church, or part of it, or the advowson, was given to the Priory of Austin canons at Butley by Sir Ralph de Glanville, Justiciar of England, as part of the foundation endowment in 1171. In 1235, William d'Auberville, Glanville's great-grandson, gave the priory his third of the church. The house was wealthy and became reasonably large, and it retained Wantisden until the Dissolution in 1538.

Wilford Peninsula benefice, i.e. Alderton, Bawdsey, Boyton, Bromeswell, Butley, Chillesford, Eyke, Hollesley, Iken, Orford, Ramsholt, Rendlesham, Shottisham, Sudbourne, Sutton, Tunstall and Wantisden.


Exterior Features


S doorway, nave

Round-headed, of two orders.

h. of opening 2.26 m
w. of opening 1.05 m
First order

Plain and continuous with a chamfer.

Second order

Engaged (coursed) nook-shafts without visible bases, carrying badly eroded cushion capitals with angle tucks and plain neckings. The W impost is quirked hollow chamfered and cut back on its inner face; the E is worn beyond description. The arch has an angle roll and face hollow. Outside it is a chamfered label with a row of sawtooth on the face and another on the chamfer. There are grotesque human head label stops and a similar head corbel interrupts the label at the apex. All three heads are worn, but all have large oval eyes, drilled for pupils and wide mouths. The E head has a mouth open at the ends and closed in the middle; the apex head appears to have a curly moustache and a cleft upper lip. The heads are flat at the top and do not fit well in their present locations; they may be reused corbels.

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Chancel arch

Round headed. There is a single jamb order to E and W, and the W arch has two orders and a label.

First order, E face

The imposts of the W face continue across the reveals and onto the E face of the arch, although there is no moulding on the E faces of the imposts. The E arch and jambs are plain and unmoulded.

First order, W face

Engaged nine coursed. Nook-shafts with no bases visible, carrying double-scallop capitals with pyramid wedges between the cones and sheaths on the angle cones. they have plain chamfered neckings and hollow chamfered imposts with an angle roll, cut back on their W faces. In the arch is an angle roll and face hollow.

Second order, W arch only

Lateral centrifugal face chevron consisting of a roll with two thin steps outside it and a chevron hollow at the extrados. It has a cogwheeel inner edge. The label is plain and chamfered, and its N and S sections are missing.



Located at the W end of the nave, under the tower arch. It consists of a cylindrical bowl on a cylindrical shaft, both constructed of ashlar blocks. The shaft stands on a circular waterholding base, on an octagonal brick step. Only the bowl and its shaft are 12thc. The bowl has an angle roll at the upper rim, and the lower rim is scalloped with wedges between the cones and a groove outlining the shields. Below the scallops is a plain necking. The bowl is unlined.

ext. diam. of bowl 0.77 m
h. of bowl 0.39 m
h. of bowl (incl. shaft and base) 0.87 m
int. diam. of bowl 0.59 m


No close comparison can be found for the font in Suffolk, but the form of the scallops associates it with the chancel arch capitals. All of the Romanesque work belongs together, and dates from c.1140-60.


  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 334.
  • 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, 476.
Exterior from SE.
Distant view from N.
W tower from S.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TM 363 552 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Suffolk
now: Suffolk
medieval: North Elmham (c.950-1071), Thetford (1071-94), Norwich (from 1094)
now: St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
medieval: not confirmed
now: St John the Baptist
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter