St Peter, Palgrave, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (2)


Palgrave is in the N of central Suffolk, half a mile S of the river Waveney that forms the border with Norfolk, and less than a mile S of Diss. Half a mile to the S runs the A143 linking Bury St Edmunds with Diss and Norwich. The village has spread out from its nucleus, with the church in the centre, and is surrounded by arable farmland. There was a second church in Palgrave, still surviving in a ruinous state in 1721 but entirely gone now. This was the chapel of St John, staffed by priests from St Edmundsbury Abbey, and it stood to the N of the road to Wortham, a mile to the SW, near the present St John's Farm.

St Peter's has a nave with a N aisle, chancel and W tower. The nave is of knapped flint, and its S windows are 15thc. but heavily restored. The 15thc. two-storey S porch is also of knapped flint and is decorated with flushwork. The N aisle was added in 1861, and has a five bay arcade. A N porch was added at the same time. The chancel arch dates fromc.1300, but the flint and septaria chancel, with its curious round-headed Y-tracery windows must be post-medieval. Pevsner suggests early 19thc., but notes that the antiquarian Tom Martin mentioned a new chancel in 1729. It was, in any case, restored in 1861. The flint and septaria tower and its tower arch are 14thc., and a knapped flint battlemented parapet has been added. The only 12thc. sculpture is on the elaborately carved font.


St Edmundsbury Abbey held Palgrave as a manor before and after the Conquest. In 1086 the estate included four carucates of ploughland, six acres of meadow and two churches with 30 acres of land. In the same place, 29 free men held two carucates of land less 12 acres; the soke and commendation belonging to the abbot. The abbey held the manor until the Dissolution.

North Hartismere benefice, i.e. Palgrave, Wortham, Burgate, Thrandeston, Stuston and Brome with Oakley.




Located at W end of nave. The bowl is of limestone and is square, supported on an octagonal central shaft and four slim cylindrical shafts at the angles. The capitals of the angle shafts are integrated into the carving of the bowl, and are cushions with their shields outlined by a groove around the lower edge. Further grooves cut into the bell form broad triangles at the angles. The roll neckings are also integral to the bowl, their lower edges forming part of its bottom edge. The angle shafts stand on triple roll bases, which stand on an octagonal plinth with a step towards the W. Each face of the bowl is carved with a row of four scallops along its lower edge, each scallop being similar to the capitals at the angles (but without neckings). Above this, on each face, is a roundel carved with a cross patee, its terminals triple scalloped, surrounded by a ring of dished scalloping. On all four faces the roundels are incomplete at the top, clearly as a result of a later shaving of the upper surface to remove most of the signs of lock removal. At each angle of the bowl, immediately above the capital, is a human head carved in full relief in a field bounded by a roll moulding. These heads belong stylistically to the later 13thc. or early 14thc., and are almost certainly later embellishments. Their situation, in recesses at the angles, would make this perfectly possible technically. The heads are nevertheless described here, as follows:

NE angle: Beardless male head in a flat-topped low hat with a brim. Locks of wavy hair protrude to left and right. The mouth is slightly open and there is a marked philtrum. The eyes are drilled.

SE angle: Beardless male head in a low, domed hat without a brim. The lower edge of the hat is fluted. Locks of wavy hair protrude to left and right. The mouth is full-liped and slightly open. There is a marked philtrum. The eyes are drilled.

SW angle: Beardless male head in a low, conical, flat-topped hat, fluted around the crown. Locks of wavy hair protrude to left and right. The mouth is short, straight and closed and there is a marked philtrum.

NW angle: Beardless male head in a crown consisting of a row of zigzag above a fillet. The hair consists of long, lank forked strands. The small mouth is closed and has its ends turned down. The upper lip is long with a marked philtrum. The nose is narrow and the eyes drilled.

The bowl is lead-lined, and the rim has some lock damage at the S and a repair at the N, but it seems likely that the upper surface has been shaved and chamfered to remove most of the signs of damage.

ext. w. at top (E-W) 0.78 m
ext. w. at top (N-S) 0.79 m
h. of bowl 0.49 m
h. of bowl and shafts 0.94 m
int. diam. of bowl 0.64 m
overall h. of font 1.27 m


Paley dated the Palgrave fontc.1180. Bond (1908) dated the bowl to the close of the 12thc. and the supports toc.1300, at which period, he thought, the corner masks were also carved. He related the fonts of Palgrave and Preston (both Suffolk), and Hunstanton (Norfolk) to the celebrated NW Norfolk group, including Shernborne, Toftrees, Sculthorpe and S Wootton. A formal connection certainly exists, although the Palgrave group is less plastic in its carving and relies more on geometrical decoration. Pevsner calls the font late Norman, and a S-Western rather than an East Anglian type, presumably thinking of fonts of the Bodmin type. Mortlock follows Pevsner on this point, but Bond's Norfolk connection is more convincing to the present author.


  • F. Bond, Fonts and Font Covers, London 1908, 57, 95-97, 151, 155, 191.
  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 61, 303.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 West Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 169.
  • F. A. Paley, Illustrations of Baptismal Fonts. London 1844 (not paginated).
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 390.
Exterior from SE.
Interior to E.
Font from SE.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TM 116 785 
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 Peter
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter