St Mary the Virgin, Preston St Mary, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (2)


Preston St Mary is in the rolling arable land between Bury St Edmunds and Sudbury, towards the W of the county. The nearest town is Lavenham, 2 miles to the W. Preston stands on a low hill above a stream to the E that runs S into the river Brett. It is an attractive village; its main street occupied by houses and a pub, with the church at its southern end, facing the street and alongside the hall. St Mary's has an aisled nave with a N porch, chancel with N vestry and W tower. The nave has a 15thc. clerestory and three-bay aisles with 15thc. windows. The N porch is 15thc. too, but very elaborate with flushwork decoration, niches on the buttresses and a battlemented parapet. The chancel is 14thc. in its details, with one reticulated N window and flowing tracery in the E and S windows. The N vestry is 19thc., with a N window with Perpendicular-style tracery. The tower has diagonal buttresses to the E, a polygonal SE bell-stair and a battlemented parapet with gargoyles below. The W face has a 15thc. doorway with kings as label stops and niches to either side and above for statuary. The bell openings are two-light reticulated with triangular heads. The nave, aisles and chancel are of flint, septaria and reused brick or tile - a typical Suffolk mixture. The tower is of roughly-knapped flints. The church contains an important early Romanesque font.


Preston was held as a manor by Wulfwaerd, a free man under Stigand, before the Conquest; the manor including 2 carucates of land and 9 acres of meadow. There were also three free men here, commended to Wulfwaerd, who held 23 acres between them. In 1086 these lands belonged to Roger de Poitou. There were also three carucates here held before and after the Conquest by a free man of St Edmundsbury Abbey. This holding included 3 acres of meadow and a church with 7 acres of land. A portion of the church of Preston was granted to the Priory of Benedictine nuns at Wix (Essex), possibly in the 12thc. By the beginning of the 13thc., however, the church was held by the Austin canons of Holy Trinity Priory, Ipswich and this holding is confirmed by the Taxation Roll of 1291. In 1335 the priory obtained land at Preston too.

Benefice of Lavenham with Preston.




Located at the W end of the N aisle. The box-shaped bowl stands on a 19thc. neo-Romanesque support consisting of a central octagonal shaft and four elaborate shafts with capitals and spurred bases at the corners. The support stands on a modern step. The bowl is monolithic and carved with heavy angle shafts with double-scallop capitals, sometimes with wedges between the cones, and square neckings. Of the tall shaft bases, those at the SE and SW are best preserved and consist of a bulbous roll with a hollow above. Each face of the bowl is carved in bold relief with a different design, as follows:

E face: Six half-round shafts on bases of the same profile as those of the angle shafts and equally tall, but narrower. The shafts carry fictive double-scallop capitals with wedges between the cones and square neckings, and they in turn carry intersecting round-headed arches.

S face: At the top, a panel carved with a row of four-strand interlace with pellets in the interstices. Below is a taller panel carved with a central annulet interlaced with a four-petalled compass-drawn flower. Flanking this are four simple quatrefoils in squares, two to either side. At the bottom of the face is a thinner panel carved with a running scroll with foliate offshoots.

W face: Carved with a central panel surrounded by a border of fat, single-strand cable. The panel is carved with a foliage design of paired shoots radiating from a point just below the centre, and curving to form hearts that contain lily terminals pointing inwards. Side shoots also terminate in lilies, that point outwards.

N face: Carved with a central panel surrounded by a border of octofoils or (along the bottom edge) quatrefoils in squares. There is one square at each corner and two more along each face of the central panel, making 12 in all. The central panel thus occuoies the four central square of a 4x4 grid, and it is carved with a symmetrical design of stems radiating from the centre and terminating in lilies. The bowl is unusual in having a square basin, which is lined with lead. The block has been broken in two and repaired. The line of the repair is visible all the way round, just below the centre of the bowl. There are also rim repairs at the E and W, where inserts have been carefully carved to match the original designs.

ext. w. of bowl (E-W) 0.71 m
ext. w. of bowl (N-S) 0.71 m
h. of bowl 0.48 m
int. w. of bowl (E-W) 0.52 m
int. w. of bowl (N-S) 0.51 m
overall h. of font (without the step) 0.92 m


The font includes interlace designs, simple flowers in squares related to chip-carving and stringy acanthus foliage motifs, all suggesting a date in the first two decades of the 12thc. The closest comparison for this work is on the S doorway tympanum at Poslingford, which is rather more accurately drawn. The carving here at Preston is accomplished, even if the fields are not always very precisely laid out. The fonts at Little Thurlow, Kettlebaston, Hawkedon and Great Bricett are all similar in having box-shaped bowls with shafts at the angles and relief carving on the faces, which seems to be a characteristic Suffolk type. Those at Hawkedon and Little Thurlow are by the same workshop as each other and have foliage designs on their faces, but are rather later than Preston's. The font at Kettlebaston may be contemporary with Preston, but it is cruder work and only has geometrical carving. The Great Bricett font has a variety of arcading on its faces, including some intersecting arches, but cannot be closely linked to the Preston font. None of these comparisons has a square inner basin. Bond (1908) identified a NW Norfolk group comprising Shernborne, South Wootton, Sculthorpe and Toftrees, to which he connected the Preston font as 'a clumsy copy'. Drake similarly linked it to Sculthorpe and Toftrees.


  • Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 123-25.
  • Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 103-05.
  • F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers, London 1908, 45, 153, 155 and especially 191.
  • C. S. Drake, The Romanesque Fonts of Northern Europe and Scandinavia. London, 2002, 24.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 West Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 170-72.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 396-97.
Exterior from NE.
Interior to E.
Nave to NW.


Site Location
Preston St Mary
National Grid Reference
TL 946 503 
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
now: St Mary the Virgin
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter