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St Mary, Great Bricett, Suffolk

(52°7′1″N, 0°58′36″E)
Great Bricett
TM 039 507
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Great Bricett is a village in central Suffolk, 5 miles S of Stowmarket and 9 miles NW of the centre of Ipswich. It stands in arable farmland on a minor road that runs from the village to the buildings of Wattisham airfield, immediately N of it. The priory church is in the centre of the village, to the W of the main street, with a moated site 300 yards further to the W. The church is a very long, low aisleless building under a single roof of modern tiles. It has no chancel arch, but the position of the division is marked by an external buttress and a change in masonry, as well as a slight northward change in orientation at the E end and N rood stair. Only the S side of the church is accessible; to the N lay the cloister surrounded by the usual priory offices but after the Dissolution a manor house was built directly onto the NW angle and this covers most of the complex. The nave had a 12thc. W tower, the blocked tower arch surviving inside with a blocked window above it, visible inside and out. The W façade is now plain and gabled, and is partly hidden by the 16thc. manor house built against it. On the W gable is a plain, rendered single bell-cote of 1907. The outline of a blocked, plain S doorway is visible to the E of the S porch. That must be the original doorway ofc.1110; the present S doorway is ofc.1160-70, under a modern flint and timber porch. The S nave windows are largely ofc.1300 with Y-tracery, although there are remade round-headed windows at either end, and the remains of a blocked window immediately E of the porch. The priory church had short transepts with E chapels at the W end of the chancel, and an apsidal E end (discovered by excavation, see Fairweather (1927)). The transepts were apparently removed in a remodelling ofc.1300, when chapels were added further E and a square-ended presbytery. Finally the chapels were removed, although their blocked arches remain, now housing small windows. The presbytery was removed and the present E wall with its five-light flowing tracery window was built in 1868. Pevsner suggests that this window is a copy of what was there before. Three restorations are known after that of 1868. In 1905-07 there were general repairs to the walls and roof by E. H. Sedding of Plymouth, in 1932-34 more general repairs were carried out under H. M. Cautley, and in 1950 the contractors Cubitt and Gotts cariied out unspecified repairs. In one or other of these campaigns the side walls of the chancel and the E end of the nave were repaired or raised with courses of red brick. The S doorway is an important Romanesque feature, not least because of its inscription naming the original dedication of the priory church, and the church also has an elaborately arcaded late-12thc. font. The author is grateful to John Higgitt for his advice about the inscription.


Following the account given by VCH, the priory was founded by Ralph fitzBrian and his wife Emma about the year 1110 as a priory of Austin canons dedicated to St Leonard. The foundation charter endowed the priory with the tithes of Bricett and of 'Losa' and its chapel, with half of the church of 'Stepla' and the church of Stangate (Essex) as well as other lands in the vicinity. The gifts were confirmed by both by the son and grandson of the founder and by Sir Almaric Peche, who had married the great granddaughter and heiress. The founder had enjoined that the priory should be under the protection of the Bishop of Norwich, but in the early 13thc. it was claimed as pertaining to the abbey of Nobiliac in the diocese of Limoges. The grounds of this claim are not known, but in 1295 Bricett became an alien priory, an arrangement confirmed by the Bishop of Norwich in 1310. Between 1331 and 1346 the manor of Great Bricett was assigned to the priory. When the alien priories were suppressed, Bricett passed to the crown, and in 1444 Henry VI granted all its possessions to the College of SS Mary and Nicholas, Cambridge (afterwards King’s College). The grant was confirmed in 1452 and by Edward IV in 1462.

Now parish church (benefice of Ringshall with Battisford, Barking with Darmsden and Great Bricett)


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches




The S doorway has been re-erected in its present position, and the stones carrying the inscription do not course with the rest of the jamb. Fairweather noted this and inferred that the stones might not be in their original sequence, or even their original location in the church. The chevron on the S doorway at St Nicholas, Stanningfield, 10 miles to the NW, also has decoration in the elbows of the inner order. The doorway there is less elaborate and has simple volute capitals, but it has similar bulbous bases, though without the sawtooth and beaded decoration found at Great Bricett. The S doorway at Thornham Parva, 15 miles to the N, has sheathed scallop capital with beaded decoration that continues on the block alongside, but has no chevron ornament. The font is certainly the finest arcaded example in the county, and little else can be compared with it. Withersdale font has a variety of arcaded forms, but the intersecting arcading is oddly conceived and the only trefoil-headed arcade was added later.

Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 94-95.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 232.
F.H. Fairweather, 'Excavations on the site of the Augustinian alien priory of Great Bricett, Suffolk', Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History, 19 (1927), 99ff.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 96-98.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 235-36.