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St Mary, Kettlebaston, Suffolk

(52°6′57″N, 0°52′12″E)
TL 966 503
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Kettlebaston is a tiny, remote village in west Suffolk, 3 miles E of Lavenham and 11 miles SE of Bury St Edmunds. It stands on a hill in rolling arable land and consists of a cluster of houses around the church. The bright interior of St Mary's, with its rood screen painted with figures of saints by Enid Chadwick in 1954, flanked by altars to the Virgin and the Sacred Heart, betrays its Anglo-Catholic background, and until the retirement of Father H. C. Butler in 1964 the Roman Mass was said here every day. The church consists of a nave, chancel and W tower. The late-12thc S doorway, under an 18thc. brick porch, and one blocked N window testify to the Romanesque origins of the nave. The remaining windows are 15thc., and the N doorway is plain and probablyc.1300. Inside, there is a rood stair to the NE of the nave, and the splay of the blocked N window has 13thc. foliage wallpainting. The nave is of flint, newly mortar-rendered at the W end of the S wall, and with traces of old render on the N. Brick buttresses have been added to N and S. The chancel is of flint and very long, with old mortar render on the N wall and a brick vestry added there too. The chancel is apparentlyc.1300 in origin; the sedilia and piscina date from this time, and there is a 14thc. Easter Sepulchre on the north side. One of the S windows is 14thc. too - an unusual two-light composition with ogee heads, but the remainder are either 15thc. (one N window partly blocked by the vestry) or 19thc. replacements. The three-light reticulated E window is a replacement. The W tower is of flint and has diagonal buttresses, a polygonal stair on the S and a battlemented parapet. Its bell-openings are reticulated, and the tower arch also indicates a 14thc date. It once had a small spire. The church is recorded to have been built anew in 1363 (Tricker), and this work apparently included the rebuilding of the chancel and the construction of the tower. There were repairs to the chancel (1864) and the nave (1879). There was a restoration including repairs to the roofs and floors by H. J. Wright of Ipswich in 1901-02, and in 1902-03 the chancel was reordered to the designs of the Anglo-Catholic priest / architect, Ernest Geldart. restorations in 1922 and 1924-25 by Hunt and Coates of Bury St Edmunds, aimed at repairing the nave walls and the roof, and underpinning the chancel east wall, and further repairs in 1943-44, 1951-52 (by B. A. Hatcher of Ipswich) and 1963-64 (by Caroe and Partners). Romanesque sculpture is found on the south nave doorway, and there is a carved 12thc. box font that, unusually, retains its staples and still has a lockable lid (dating from 1929).


The Domesday Survey records that before the Conquest, St Edmundsbury abbey held four free men in Kettlebaston and Manton, with two carucates of land and six acres of meadow. In 1086, Gamas held one carucate and Humphrey one carucate in 1086, and that others held land there too. No church or priest was recorded. The manor is known to have passed to William de la Pole, Earl of Suffolk, in 1445 when he married the widow of Sir John Phelep, the former lord.

Benefice of Monks Eleigh with Chelsworth and Brent Eleigh with Milden and Kettlebaston.


Exterior Features





Pevsner calls the doorway Transitional, noting that the scallop capitals, shafts and bases are purely Norman, while the arch is pointed and chamfered. Apart from the chamfer, all the carved motifs on the doorway could have been carved before 1150, and the obvious signs of modification around the top of the arch indicate that it has been rebuilt at some time. Nevertheless, the curve of the voussoirs could not produce the round arch that one might expect, and their elongated form is commoner around 1200 than in the first half of the century. On balance it seems safest to suggest that the doorway dates from the end of the 12thc, and that old-fashioned decorative forms have been used. With this in mind, it is also possible that the font bowl is contemporary with its supports, but this seems extremely unlikely in view of the irregularity of the bowl itself and of its carved motifs. It is suggested here, therefore, that the bowl dates fromc.1120-40 and the shafts are 13thc. Tricker dates the font to 1160-80. It should be compared with the more elaborate font at Preston St Mary, a mile to the west.


H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 282.

D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 West Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 127-28.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 317.

R. Tricker and A. Gourlay, A Guide to the Church of St Mary the Virgin, Kettlebaston, 2004. Available on the web at http://www.kettlebaston.com/Tricker_s_Church_Guide_-_illustrated.pdf