St George, South Elmham St Cross, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (2)


The seven South Elmham villages; St James, All Saints, St Nicholas, St Cross, St Margaret, St Michael and St Peter, to which may be added Homersfield, sometimes referred to as South Elmham St Mary, lie in a scattered group between Bungay and Halesworth in NE Suffolk, to the W of the Roman road known as Stone Street. North Elmham (the centre of the see until 1071) is over 30 miles away, to the NW of Norwich, and both apparently took their name from Aethelmaer (bishop of E Anglia 1047-1070) the landholder before the Conquest. This is not certain; Tricker suggests that the name meant villages where elm trees grew. The land here is flat, generally arable and sparsely populated; the villages rarely more than a few houses clustered around the church without shops or pubs.

St Cross consists of a loose cluster of houses around a crossing of The Beck, a stream that runs into the Waveney. The church is on rising ground on the N side of the stream, with a moated hall site 500 yards to the E. It consists of nave, chancel and W tower; both nave and chancel being very tall. The aisleless nave is 12thc. with original doorways surviving on the N and S. The S is under a 14thc. -15thc. porch, and the N is badly damaged and blocked. The original nave windows are all gone, having been replaced by 15thc. windows at upper and lower levels (i.e. effectively a clerestory above the main lateral windows). The E gable of the nave is crow-stepped. The chancel arch is 19thc, but there are windows with intersecting tracery at the N and E of the chancel, suggesting a date ofc.1300. The S chancel windows and the brick S doorway are 15thc. The W tower is 14thc., of knapped flint with chequerwork on the buttresses similar to that at South Elmham St Peter. The parapet battlement is 15thc. and decorated with tracery patterns in flushwork, also similar to St Peter's. Construction is otherwise of flint with traces of render remaining on the nave and chancel, and knapped flint for the S porch. Work on reseating the nave and a W gallery were carried out by J. D. Botwright of Bungay in 1840-41. The two nave doorways are the only Romanesque features.


The land that became the South Elmhams was part of an ancient deanery given to the bishops of East Anglia while they were at Dunwich in the 7thc., and the ruins of the ancient minster that served the area survive in the parish of St Cross. The South Elmhams, known variously as Almaham, Almeham, Elmeham and Halmeham in the Domesday Survey, were still held by the Bishops of East Anglia immediately before the Conquest and in 1086. They remained in the possession of the bishops throughout the middle ages. The Domesday Survey does not allow the different manors to be distinguished with any certainty.

The minster lies a mile to the S of the church, and estimates of the date of the ruins vary between the 7thc. and the 11thc. The Taylors argue for a date in their periods A3 or B (700-950). Between the church of St Cross and the minster, closer to the latter, is the site of South Elmham Hall. The present building is largely 16thc., but it contains 15thc. arches dating from the period when the hall was occupied by the bishops of Norwich.

Benefice of South Elmham and Ilketshall.


Exterior Features


Nave N doorway

Round headed, two orders, blocked. The doorway is badly eroded and has been repaired with mortar and bricks. Its original form cannot be determined with any certainty.

h. of opening (to bottom of wall) 2.82 m
w. of opening 1.12 m
First order

The arch survives, its voussoirs worn but apparently plain and unmoulded. Part of the western jamb also survives, too worn to determine the original profile. The E jamb has been rebuilt in red brick. Based on the surviving evidence the order was probably plain, continuous and unchamfered.

Second order

The arch has an angle roll, as on the S doorway. The E jamb has been rebuilt in brick, but on the W are what may be sections of worn nook-shaft, held in place with mortar liberally applied. If they were indeed nook-shaft sections, they are so worn as to have lost all trace of their cylindrical or octagonal original form, and no remains of capitals, bases or imposts survive. They are also wrongly positioned with respect to the second-order arch. On balance it is likelier that they are simply stones inserted in an attempt to consolidate the worn structure.

Nave S doorway

Round headed, two orders under later porch.

h.of opening (ignoring two modern steps) 2.70 m
w. of opening 1.15 m
First order

Plain and continuous.

Second order

Detached nook-shafts in sections partly but not entirely corresponding to the coursing of the surrounding masonry. They stand on bulbous bases with a chamfer above the roll and a roll necking. The W capital has flat leaves on the angles, their surfaces keeled down the spine and decorated with an overall design of parallel reeding, not quite horizontal. The faces between the leaves are decorated with fans of fluted thin leaves. The necking is single cable and the impost chamfered with a thin roll at the bottom of the face. The E capital is of the volute type; the volutes ball-shaped and the leaf surfaces linked across the faces, their wavy edges defined by a thin edge-roll. In the space between the volutes in the middle of the W face only is a vertical leaf with a groove along the spine and the veins indicated by nested-vee grooving. The necking is a plain roll and the impost as on the W capital. The arch has a plain angle roll and there is no label.


The tall proportions of the doorways, their capital, impost and base forms and the simple angle roll profile of the arch point to a date before 1150, perhapsc.1120-40.


  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 3 E Suffolk. Cambridge 1992.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 427.
  • H. M. and J. Taylor, Anglo-Saxon Architecture. Cambridge, 3 vols, I, 1965, 231-33 (on South Elmham Minster).
  • R. Tricker, All Saints' Church South Elmham Suffolk. London (Churches Conservation Trust) 1996, 1.
Exterior from SE.
Interior to E.


Site Location
South Elmham St Cross
National Grid Reference
TM 299 843 
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: St George
now: St George
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter