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All Saints, South Elmham All Saints, Suffolk

(52°23′36″N, 1°25′23″E)
South Elmham All Saints
TM 330 828
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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The seven South Elmham villages; St James, All Saints, St Nicholas, St Cross, St Margaret, St Michael and St Peter, to which may be added Homersfield, sometimes referred to as South Elmham St Mary, lie in a scattered group between Bungay and Halesworth in NE Suffolk, to the W of the Roman road known as Stone Street. North Elmham (the centre of the see until 1071) is over 30 miles away, to the NW of Norwich, and both apparently took their name from Aethelmaer (bishop of East Anglia 1047-1070) the landholder before the Conquest. This is not certain; Tricker suggests that the name meant villages where elm trees grew. The land here is flat, generally arable and sparsely populated; the villages rarely more than a few houses clustered around the church without shops or pubs. All Saints is the easternmost of the South Elmham villages, consisting of some twenty houses and three or four farms on a triangle of lanes. The church and Church Farm, with a 17thc. moated farmhouse, lie off the road to St Cross more than half a mile W of this cluster. A further half mile to the W was the church of South Elmham St Nicholas, now entirely demolished, although traceried windows at St Peter's Hall may have come from there (see South Elmham St Peter). The parish of All Saints was united with St Nicholas in 1557, by 1620 St Nicholas's church was abandoned, and in 1737 the combined parish of South Elmham All Saints-cum-St Nicholas was formed based at All Saints. In 1978 All Saints was declared redundant and its care was assumed by what is now the Churches Conservation Trust.

The flint church stands isolated in a thicket of trees surrounded by arable farmland. It consists of nave, chancel and round W tower. A S aisle runs the length of the nave and chancel, and both are tall with clerestories on the S and windows at two levels on the north. The W tower is of two storeys divided by a string course at the level of the apex of the nave roof. There is a round-headed lancet low on the W face, and further round-headed lancets around the top of the lower storey in the cardinal and diagonal directions. Those in the cardinal directions are wider and longer than the diagonal ones, and the E window is inside the church above the tower arch. The bell-openings in the upper storey are single and round-headed too. Above is a battlemented parapet with gargoyles, and in the angle between the tower and the nave on the N side is a round stair turret, also lit by small round-headed lancets. Sketches of the N elevation by D. E. Davy (1814) and of the S by Isaac Johnson (c.1818), however, show a different state of affairs. In these the lower storey rises well above the nave roof, and only one window is shown, in the position of the present upper N window. The second storey shown in the drawings is octagonal with a battlement and bell-openings, possibly with Y-tracery, and there is no stair turret. It is clear therefore that little of the present exterior is original, and that the fenestration is not to be relied upon. Inside, the tower arch is round-headed and entirely plain. The continuous N wall of the nave and chancel has features that are apparently Romanesque, but they must also be treated with care. At the NW angle of the nave is a shaft with a cushion capital and base, and there are two round-headed N lancets, low down towards the E and west. Tricker 1996, 2-3 points out that the windows do not appear in Davy's sketch of 1814, and takes the view that the shaft may be reused from elsewhere in the church. It would certainly be unusual to employ such a short angle shaft in this position. He nevertheless concludes that the wall is Romanesque on the basis of the layered flint masonry. The windows on this side all date from a restoration of 1870. There are three small late-13thc. upper windows with cusped heads, obviously replacements, the two replacement lower windows already mentioned, and two large two-light windows with late-13thc. style geometric tracery that, following the evidence of Davy's sketch, replaced two three-light 15thc windows. The S aisle is divided from the nave and chancel by arcades ofc.1300 with octagonal piers and moulded capitals; two bays in the nave and two more in the chancel, forming a S chapel. The section of wall between the two arcades is pierced by an arch dating from the 1870 restoration. The aisle windows have Y-tracery of the same period, the neo-Romanesque S doorway dates from 1870 and the 15thc. knapped flint porch is decorated with flushwork chequers. There is no chancel arch. In the chancel is a piscina ofc.1300, and there is another in the S wall of the S chapel. From this it should be clear that the only architectural sculpture that is reliably Romanesque is the shaft at the NW angle of the nave, which may not be in its original setting. There is also a late-12thc. font of Purbeck marble.

As indicated above the church is heavily restored. The major restoration of 1870 was responsible for the odd fenestration on the N side, the replacement of the stonework of the S aisle windows, and the replacement of the window E of the porch, previously square-headed, in a style to match the others. The S doorway is also of 1870, and the S clerestory was unblocked at this time. The octagonal upper storey of the tower may have been removed before this, Tricker suggests the 1830s. The tower was again restored in 1912, by A. M. Durrant of Rye, and the present parapet, the bell-openings, the string courses and the stair turret date from that restoration. Further repairs were carried out in 1980, supervised by M. Gooch, including the re-pointing of the tower and the relaying of all the roofs (the aisle roof in stainless steel). More repairs to the structure were carried out by S. Kholucy in 1995.


The land that became the South Elmhams was part of an ancient deanery given to the bishops of East Anglia while they were at Dunwich in the 7thc., and the ruins of the ancient minster that served the area survive in the parish of St Cross. The South Elmhams, known variously as Almaham, Almeham, Elmeham and Halmeham in the Domesday Survey, were still held by the Bishops of East Anglia immediately before the Conquest and in 1086. They remained in the possession of the bishops throughout the middle ages. The Domesday Survey does not allow the different manors to be distinguished with any certainty.

The church is now in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust


Exterior Features

Exterior Decoration





All Saints provides evidence of the extent of the changes that restorers may make to the fabric of a building, and a salutary warning against assuming that their concern is always the preservation of what they find. It is unusual to find three separate restorations on a single building, all of which are deceptive to later generations, but that is what we have here. The detailed comments of Tricker and the author on the fabric appear in section II above. The font is dated by Tricker toc.1200. It might be earlier but not by much.

H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937.
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, 426-27.
R. Tricker, All Saints' Church South Elmham Suffolk. London (Churches Conservation Trust) 1996.