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St James, South Elmham St James, Suffolk

(52°22′46″N, 1°24′42″E)
South Elmham St James
TM 323 812
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
medieval St James
now St James
  • 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.

South Elmham St James consists of a scattering of houses alongside a minor road. A pair of farmhouses mark the ends of the village, and the church is towards the E end. It consists of a nave with a S aisle, chancel and W tower. The nave has a late-12thc. N doorway; all that remains to indicate its early date. The four-bay S aisle was added at the end of the 13thc.; its piers are octagonal with octagonal moulded capitals and chamfered arches. The S doorway is of the same date, as are two of the aisle windows. The remaining aisle window, the N nave windows and the porch are 15thc. On the S side is a rood stair. The chancel is early 13thc., to judge from one lateral window and the S doorway. The piscina is 14thc. and the E window 19thc. in imitation of an early 14thc. intersecting window with cusping. The two-storey tower is tall and unbuttressed; perhaps 12thc. in its lower part but with no diagnostic features. The upper storey has Y-tracery bell-openings (c.1300) and the parapet is decorated with arcading in flushwork. Construction is of flint throughout. The only Romanesque sculpture is on the N doorway and a Purbeck marble font.


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. Park Farm, on the S side of the village, was the deer park of the Bishops in the 12th and 13thc.

Benefice of South Elmham and Ilketshall.


Exterior Features





The font is probably an import, bought from Purbeck whence similar products were supplied to various parts of England in the later 12th. and early 13thc. The round-headed arcading and square format indicates that this is a later 12thc. model. The segmental pointed arch of the N doorway is unusual (although there is a blocked example at South Elmham St Margaret) but there is nothing in the masonry to suggest that it is not original. The billet motif is ubiquitous throughout the 12thc., but the pointed arch and chamfered jambs point to a date ofc.1180-1200.

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, 428.
R. Tricker, All Saints' Church South Elmham Suffolk. London (Churches Conservation Trust) 1996, 1.