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St Bartholomew, Orford, Suffolk

(52°5′42″N, 1°32′9″E)
TM 423 500
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Orford is a tiny coastal town in the sandlings of SE Suffolk, 16 miles due E of Ipswich. It was not mentioned in the Domesday Survey, but there was a successful port at the mouth of the river Alde and a market here by 1138. The town received a boost from the building of the castle by Henry II between 1165 and 1173, but its importance fell as the port silted up; the sea throwing up the long sand bar that now extends for over 5 miles from Orford Ness down to Hollesley. The town is simply laid out around the market place, with the church at its E end and the castle 0.27 km W of the market at the edge of the town. The road from Sudbourne runs right through the centre, alongside the market, to end at the quay at the town's S edge.

St Bartholomew's was originally a cruciform 12thc. church with an aisled chancel and two-bay transepts with a square-ended E chapel on each. Excavations by Fairweather, reported in 1934, demonstrated that the chancel aisles were five bays long, the central vessel one bay longer, and all terminated in square east ends. The form of the Norman nave is unknown; it must have been aisled too, and there was a crossing tower over the transept. In the 14thc. the old nave was replaced with a new aisled nave, and the church was given a W tower. The old tower was taken down at that time, for the new aisled nave was built to extend as far as the east crossing arch, and the new aisles absorbed most of the width of the Norman transept. The old aisled chancel remained in use as late as 1621, when the Rev. Francis Mason was buried there, but by 1720 it was ruinous and his memorial was brought inside the church. By 1772 the chancel arcades were still standing but the roofs and outer walls were gone, and the nave had been blocked off with a gable and a two-light round-headed window in the central vessel wall. This is the state shown in Hooper's 1785 engraving reproduced here. The east walls of the nave were rebuilt in 1896 and 1899; the central vessel walling being of ashlar and the aisle walls of flint with much reused material in the N aisle blocking. The roofed part of the church now comprises a 14thc. aisled nave with five-bay arcades and quatrefoil clerestory windows above the piers. This has N and S doorways, the S under a 15thc. porch and the aisle windows are three-light reticulated, indicating a date of c.1320-30. The east wall of the nave has been closed off at the position of the former east crossing arch, and now has a 19thc. five-light window, and the two easternmost bays of the nave have been screened off and an altar fitted to act as a chancel. The E part of each aisle is set up as a chapel, although the N aisle contains a vestry and organ room too. The tower is now of four storeys with diagonal buttresses. The belfry stage collapsed in 1830 when the SW buttress gave way, and although the upper parts were consolidated it was not properly rebuilt until 1962. In its present state, the bell-openings are in the third stage with a band of flushwork arcading at the top of this stage. The top stage is blind and has a parapet with another band of flushwork decoration. The main 19thc. restoration of the church was by J. T. Micklethwaite, a pupil of Sir G. G. Scott, and took place in two phases. In the first, completed in 1897, the nave and aisles were re-roofed and the new E wall was built. In the second, finished in 1900, the E wall of the S aisle was rebuilt, the porch re-roofed and new interior fittings installed. The tower was restored between 1962 and 1971, the architect being Bruce George.

The surviving 12thc. work consists, on the exterior, of the chancel arcades of four complete bays and the beginning of a fifth. Nothing is visible of the S transept on the exterior, but inside the present nave aisle one shaft of the arch to the chancel aisle has survived with its capital. The N aisle has fared better. Inside the church the arch to the chancel aisle has survived complete, along with the window above, and to the north of this is one jamb of the arch to the transept chapel, again with the remains of the window above. All of these features can be identified on the outside of the wall too, although this has been much rebuilt. 12thc. moulded stones have been reused in the blocking. The final traces of the 12thc. church are found in the former crossing. The W responds of the NE and SE crossing piers survive; the former with its capitals still in place. There are also two loose stones: an engaged capital and part of a decorated shaft.


Orford is not recorded in the Domesday Survey, but after the Conquest it formed part of the Honour of Eyes and was administered with it as a possession of the Malet family. A market was recorded here in 1298, held by Robert de Ufford.

Wilford Peninsula benefice, i.e. Alderton, Bawdsey, Boyton, Bromeswell, Butley, Chillesford, Eyke, Hollesley, Iken, Orford, Ramsholt, Rendlesham, Shottisham, Sudbourne, Sutton, Tunstall and Wantisden.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches


Interior Decoration


Loose Sculpture


The Romanesque church is assumed to date from the period of the building of the castle (1165-73) when the town was laid out afresh with a market place. The waterleaf variant capitals would fit a date ofc.1170 very well. Within the county, the fleshy waterleaf capitals of the chapel arches also occur at Cookley and Ubbeston nearby, and in both of these churches centripetal chevron also occurs; point-to-point at Cookley and combined with an angle roll (as here) at Ubbeston. Pevsner noted that the decoration of the chancel piers is a development from the earlier incised decoration seen at Durham and Norwich cathedrals and Waltham Abbey. This kind of applied decoration is also found at Compton Martin (Devon) and Pittington (County Durham).

H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 300.
E. A. R. Rahbula, 'St Bartholomew’s Church, Orford', Archaeological Journal CVIII (1951), 148-50 (with plan).
F. H. Fairweather, 'Excavations in the Ruined Choir of St Bartholomew, Orford, Suffolk', Antiquaries Journal XIV (1934), 170-76.
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, 383-85.
R. Tricker, Saint Bartholomew's Church, Orford, Suffolk. Brief Guide. Revised ed. 2005.
V. B. Redstone, 'Orford and its Castle,' Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology X Part 2 (1899), 205-230.
V. B. Redstone, 'The Sandling. (I) Sutton : (II) Staverton and Butley Gateway : (III) Orford,' Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology X Part 1 (1898), 56-96.