St Mary, Nettlestead, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (2)


Nettlestead is a tiny settlement, just the church and a few houses, in rolling farmland 5 miles NW of the centre of Suffolk. When David Elisha Davy visited in the early 19thc. he noted the remains of the hall nearby. To the W of the church is the pasture of Church Meadow, and to the S a pond with a stream that runs into the river Gipping near Bramford, W of Ipswich.

St Mary’s has a tall W tower and a single nave and chancel with no chancel arch, although the chancel roof is slightly lower. The nave has a 12thc. N window; the remaining windows being 15thc. insertions restored in 1898. The blocked N doorway is 14thc. and the S doorway 15thc. under a brick porch displaying the arms of Thomas Wingfield (d.1632) and his wife Alice Poley (d.1628). The chancel windows are all 15thc. except for the E window ofc.1850. The piscina is 15thc. too. The 15thc. W tower has a Perpendicular W window and bell-openings, a polygonal S stair and a battlemented parapet. It is constructed of a mixture of flint, pebbles, bricks, septaria and reused dressed stone fragments, and among the last are three pieces of 12thc. carved window heads, similar in design to the surviving N nave window. The remainder of the church, except the porch, is rendered with cream-coloured mortar. The church was restored, re-floored and re-seated by Herbert J. Green of Norwich in 1898. He took down part of the N wall of the nave, inserting a new window. The tower, roof and other parts of the church were damaged in 1940 when a German bomb exploded in the road outside, and it remained derelict until 1950, when it was reopened after a restoration by Ernest Barnes of Ipswich to H. Munro Cautley’s designs. The tower and porch were restored by A. F. Knights of Debenham in 1986-87.


Nettlestead was held as a manor by Goti before the Conquest. In 1086 it was held by Erland from Count Alan. There were 5 carucates of ploughland, 8 acres of meadow, a mill and a church with 8 acres of land. Earl Ralph Guader (who forfeited the Earldom of Norfolk and Suffolk in 1078) enlarged the manor by adding 2½ carucates of land, 34 free men, 3 acres of meadow and a church with 70½ acres. A smaller manor here, just 60 acres of ploughland and five acres of meadow, was held by Humphrey from Count Alan. By the 14thc. it was in the hands of the Tiptofts. From John de Tiptoft it passed to his son Robert (c.1340-72), and when Robert's daughter Elizabeth married Philip (IV) Despenser it passed to that family. Again the succession was to follow the female line, through Philip and Elizabeth's daughter Margery (1397-1478). She married Roger Wentworth in 1422, and the manor apparently came to their family at her father’s death in 1424. The Wentworths were Lords of the Manor from untilc.1645, and a brass ofc.1500 in the nave is believed to commemorate a member of this family, although its inscription is lost.

Benefice of Great and Little Blakenham with Baylham and Nettlestead.


Exterior Features


Nave, N window

Round headed, of single order. The window is in the N nave wall, just W of the easternmost of the three 15thc. windows. It is made up of a monolithic head, large jamb stones, four on the W jamb and three on the E, and a sill. There is a slight chamfer on the inner edge. The head alone is carved in low relief with three concentric bands of ornament. The innermost is a row of drilled beading, then a running scroll with furled leaves to either side, then an arcade of round headed intersecting arches. The interior is plain and deeply splayed.

Exterior Decoration


Re-set window head

On SW face of turret, approximately 6 m above the ground, part of a carved window head carved in low relief, consisting of approximately 90° of arc. The intrados is intact, but there are large losses to the left and right of the extrados and none of the outer edge survives. The decoration consisted of a row of palmettes with fluted lobes, each clasped towards the intrados with a short beaded clasp. Each palmette is enclosed by a grooved stem, the ends of which emerge from the beaded clasp. Each looped stem is clasped to the next in the row by another beaded clasp. In the outer spandrels between the looped palmette motifs are trefoil leaves. The fragment contains most of one motif and part of a second. Measurement was not possible, but the stone clearly came from a window of similar size to III.2.(i).

Re-set window head

On SW face of turret, 2.85 m above the ground, a quadrant-shaped section, apparently complete radially and comprising approximately 90° of arc (i.e. half the head). It is carved with a row of plain beading at the intrados, then a row of intersecting round arches with a drilled bead in each field, and a flat fillet at the extrados.

h. of block (radial dimension) 0.13 m
max. w. of block (approx.) 0.20 m

Re-set window head

On S face of turret, approximately 6 m above the ground, part of a carved window head carved in low relief with the same design of palmettes as (ii) above. In this case the extrados is preserved but not the intrados, and the trefoil leaves in the spandrels are better seen. The fragment contains most of one motif and part of a second. Measurement was not possible, but the stone clearly came from a window of similar size to III.2.(i).


The four windows represented by the one in-situ and the three fragments were similar in type but varied in the design carved on their heads. Another window head carved with concentric bands of ornament is found 14 miles to the NW at St Michael's, Hunston, and although this too includes drilled beading the execution in general is less precise and the ornament simpler with no foliage motifs.


  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 299.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 172-73.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 375.
  • R. Tricker, St Mary's Church, Nettlestead. Church guide undated (post-1987).
Exterior from S.
Interior to E.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TM 089 494 
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 Mary
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter