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St Michael, South Elmham St Michael, Suffolk

(52°24′13″N, 1°26′29″E)
South Elmham St Michael
TM 342 840
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

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.

South Elmham St Michael consists of a few houses along the minor road running S from St Peter's to Home Farm, which marks the end of the village. The church is off this road to the E. It comprises nave, chancel and W tower, all of flint but mortar rendered on nave and chancel. Both nave and chancel have been raised, with courses of brick at the top of the walls. A mark on the W wall of the tower shows an earlier, steeper roofline. The nave has a 12thc. S doorway under a timber-framed porch, mortar rendered on the exterior. The N nave doorway is blocked and gives no indication of its date. The nave windows date from c.1300 and have two lights with Y-tracery. The chancel S and E windows are of the same c.1300 type (there are no N windows), and the priest's S doorway and piscina are contemporary. There is no chancel arch. The tower, of unrendered flint, has W window and bell-openings of c.1300, and the tower arch is tall and narrow. The only Romanesque sculpture is on the S doorway.


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.

Benefice of South Elmham and Ilketshall.


Exterior Features



The best comparison for the doorway is with the N doorway of St Andrew's, Wissett, three miles to the S. The Wissett doorway is a more elaborate version but it shares the hyphenated scalloping on the arch face, the double billet label and volute capitals. It also has the same shallow inner order as the doorway here, and must be by the same craftsmen. The doorway at St Peter's, Holton, also nearby, has a plainer version of the arch scalloping. The doorway at Creeting St Mary, more than 20 miles to the SW has the scalloped arch face too, but no other comparative features and may not be related.

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, 429.
R. Tricker, All Saints' Church South Elmham Suffolk. London (Churches Conservation Trust) 1996, 1