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St Mary, Swilland, Suffolk

(52°7′55″N, 1°11′43″E)
TM 188 530
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Swilland is a village in central Suffolk, 5.5 miles N of the centre of Ipswich. It extends along a side road off the B1077 Ipswich to Debenham road running approximately N-S, with the church and hall at the N end and Swilland manor 0.3 mile to the NW. The landscape here is the typical arable farmland of the East Anglian plain.

St Mary's is striking above all for the treatment of the top of the W tower by J.S. Corder in 1897. This consists of a brick and timber-framed structure with a double-pitched tiled roof with gables to E and W and large dormers to N and S. From the centre of the ridge rises an open octagonal lantern of timber with a tall lead spirelet like a witch's hat. Corder was also responsible for the vestry at Tuddenham St Martin. The brick tower below it has diagonal buttresses, a polygonal S stair and Perpendicular W doorway and window, suggesting an early 16thc. date. The nave is of flint, its height increased with brick, and has a 12thc. S doorway under a modern brick and timber porch. The N doorway is blocked, and a shed has been built alongside the nave wall where it was. There are early-13thc. nave windows in the N and S walls, and a later 13thc. cusped tracery window in the S wall. Inside, the tower arch is tall and there is no chancel arch. The chancel of brick and rendered flint, and was shortened in the 19thc. and the E end rebuilt in brick. It has a three-light reticulated E window. The S doorway is the only Romanesque feature of the church.


Before the Conquest Swilland was held by Queen Edith as a manor with 2 carucates and 40 acres of ploughland, 4 acres of meadow, woodland for six pigs and a church with 5 acres of land. In 1086 it belonged to Walter the Deacon, who held it in demesne. Walter also held the manor of Wix (Essex), and his children Walter Mascherell, Alexander and Edith founded a priory of Benedictine nuns at Wix some time in the reign of Henry I. The church of Swilland was later granted to Wix priory by Walter de Windlesores. In the taxation of 1291 the priory held land at Swilland as well.

Benefice of Clopton with Otley, Swilland and Ashbocking.


Exterior Features



Pevsner hated Corder's turret; 'alas, the most prominent feature of the church - an extraordinary Victorian contraption'. Mortlock found it 'beguiling and would miss its half-timbered eccentricity'. Cautley makes no mention of it. The doorway has a simple chevron type in combination with chip-carving, billet, cushion capitals and simple mouldings; all features suggesting a date ofc.1120-50, but none of them particularly unusual. Chip-carving is not common in Suffolk, and a doorway at All Saints, Honington combines it with cushion and scallop capitals on nook-shafts and imposts with a similar profile, but there is no chevron and the similarities are not enough to suggest a common workshop. Honington is 23 miles to the NW of Swilland, near Bury St Edmunds. No parallel for the curious voussoirs at the ends of the label has yet been found.

Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 123-25.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 322.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 208-09.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 458.
D. Stanford, Suffolk Churches. London 2005, 94-95.