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St Mary, Benhall, Suffolk

(52°12′15″N, 1°28′12″E)
TM 372 619
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Benhall is in central E Suffolk, 1½ miles SW of Saxmundham in rolling arable land on the E side of the Alde valley. St Mary's is a flint and septaria church with a nave with a S porch and a large transeptal N chapel, a chancel with a separately roofed N chapel that communicates with the transept, and a W tower. The nave has a chevron-decorated 12thc. S doorway under a 15thc. porch of flint and knapped flint. The nave windows are 15thc. and there is a wooden W gallery that partly conceals the tall, pointed tower arch. The transept and N chapel were built in the 19thc. to house a vestry and schoolroom. The organ now occupies the N transept, and the entrance arch from the chancel to the N chapel has been blocked. The chapel, and the space in the transept behind the organ are now given over to vestry uses, and are accessed through a doorway at the E end of the N chancel wall. The chancel windows are in a 15thc.style, as are the N windows of the 19thc. transept and chapel. On the S side of the chancel, the priest's doorway is protected by a little gabled porch, also 19thc. The nave, chancel, transept and chapel all have diagonal buttresses with flushwork panels. The two-storey W tower is unbuttressed and has long and short quoins at the SE, NW and NE angles and a shallow buttress-like projection on the S wall marking the bell stair. This also has long and short quoins, and the lower part of the tower thus probably dates from the later 11thc., although Mortlock suspected that it was substantially a 19thc. rebuild. At the SW angle the long quoins have been replaced in brick, and there is a later inserted W doorway. The upper storey has 15thc. bell-openings, and the inserted W window is also Perpendicular. The battlemented parapet has flushwork decoration. The only Romanesque sculpture is on the elaborate S doorway.


The only manor listed in Benhall in the Domesday Survey was in the holdings of Roger Bigod in 1087. Before the Conquest it was held by Wulfnoth, and consisted of 40 acres and an acre of meadow. In 1087 it was held by Nmann from Roger Bigod. Nmann also held from Bigod a parcel of 16 acres and an acre of meadow, held by a free man, Beorhtmaer, before the Conquest. Finally Bigod's holdings contained 8 acres in demesne, held before the Conquest by Eadric. Count Alan held 44 acres, held by seven free men before the Conquest. In the holdings of Robert Malet are listed 8 acres in demesne, formerly held by 4 free men; 15 acres formerly held by one free man, and 20 acres formerly held by two free men and held by Hubert from Malet in 1087. Another acre formerly held by one free man was held by Robert de Glanville from Malet in 1087, and Malet held 17 acres in demesne, formerly held by three free men.

Benefice of Sternfield, Benhall, Snape, Great Glemham and Little Glemham, Blaxhall with Stratford St.Andrew and Farnham.


Exterior Features



The doorway here dates fromc.1150-60. Similar point-to-point chevron is found on the S doorway of St Mary's, Wherstead, on the southern edge of Ipswich and 18 miles SW of Benhall, but the two doorways have little else in common and no direct link can be assumed.

D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 3 E Suffolk. Cambridge 1992.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 98.