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St Mary, Kelsale, Suffolk

(52°13′59″N, 1°29′44″E)
TM 388 652
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
medieval St Mary
now St Mary and St Peter
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Kelsale is a good-sized village in east Suffolk, a mile N of Saxmundham. Saxmundham, Carlton and Kelsale now form a continuous settlement, and all three are bypassed by a loop of the A12. As so often happens, the main road has effectively cut off part of the old settlement, so that the centre of Kelsale is to the E of the A12 while Kelsale Hall is a mile to the NW, on the other side of it. Kelsale is sited on the side of a hill with the church, at its eastern edge, above the rest of the village. The land falls to the S and W towards the valley of a stream that eventually finds its way into the river Alde. Kelsale church has undergone considerable changes since the 12thc. It originally consisted of an unaisled nave and chancel, and possibly a W tower, but in the 14thc. a broad N aisle was added, higher and wider than the existing church and this became the nave, turning the old nave into a S aisle. The new nave was as long as the old nave and chancel together, and the church was lengthened by the addition of a new chancel (rebuilt in the 1870s), perhaps at the same. The old nave was extended eastwards in the 15thc., alongside the new chancel, to form a two-bay S chapel, and a S porch was added to the aisle. The present church thus consists of a nave with a four-bay S aisle and S porch, and a W tower at the end of the aisle, and a chancel with a 19thc. N vestry and a two-bay S chapel. The 12thc. N doorway was set in the new nave, and an elaborate priest’s doorway was added on the S side of the new chancel chapel, constructed of material that perhaps came from the 12thc. S doorway. Construction is of flint except for the chancel and its chapel, which are of knapped flint. The present 14thc. tower has diagonal buttresses, bell openings with complex flowing tracery and an embattled parapet with flushwork decoration. The 15thc. work also included the insertion of new windows on the N side of the 14thc. nave, and the addition of a spectacular W façade with angle buttresses decorated with flushwork and a five-light W window. There was a restoration in the 1870s, when the S aisle (i.e. the original nave) and the chancel were completely rebuilt. Romanesque features described here are the doorways on the N side of the nave and the S of the chancel chapel. The entrance to the churchyard is through a curious Arts and Crafts lych-gate designed by E.S. Prior.


In 1086 the chief landholder here was Roger Bigod. Northmann held a manor here before the Conquest, and in 1086 it was held by Roger Bigod in demesne with four carucates of land, five acres of meadow, woodland for 60 pigs and a church with 30 acres of land. Northmann's manor also had 35 free men with three carucates of land and an acre of meadow, also held by Roger in demesne in 1086. Added to this as part of Roger's demesne was a manor of two carucates and three acres of meadow, held before the Conquest by Wulfgifu. Robert Malet also held one free man here with 30 acres under the soke of Roger Bigod. Bigod was granted a market at Kelsale by William I (VCH I).

Benefice of Saxmundham with Kelsale cum Carlton.


Exterior Features



Smith suggests that the present N doorway was the original S doorway, and the present S chancel doorway was the original N doorway. He may well be right; certainly the S doorway has always been the main entrance to the church, and the present N doorway is very elaborate for its subsidiary position. The beaker clasp and radial billet found on the N doorway are relatively uncommon motifs in Suffolk, and only found together at Kelsale. Elsewhere, beaker clasp occurs at Westhall, ten miles N of Kelsale and Little Glemham, five miles SW. Radial billet is found at Mettingham and Redisham, both near Bungay some 15 miles to the N.

Victoria County History: Suffolk I (1911), 469.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 281.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 3 East Suffolk. Cambridge 1992.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 312-13.
R. Smith, A Short History and Guide to the Parish Church of St Mary and St Peter Kelsale, Suffolk. 1992, revised 1999, reprinted 2004.