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St Mary Magdalene, Little Whelnetham, Suffolk

(52°12′21″N, 0°45′47″E)
Little Whelnetham
TL 889 600
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Little Whelnetham stands in the rolling countryside of the Lark valley, some 3 miles SE of the centre of Bury St Edmunds. The village amounts to a cluster of houses and farm buildings on the road from Sicklesmere to Bradfield St George. Curiously, Great Whelnetham its nearest neighbour, belongs to a different benefice.

The church stands on the road through the village. Immediately to the E of the present chancel are the rubble remains of what may have been a round tower. If so, the present church was built to the W of an earlier one, but Pevsner suggests that it may not have been a W tower at all, but a separate watch tower, or an apsidal chapel. St Mary Magdalene's is of flint with a W tower, nave and chancel. The earliest feature is a 12thc. pillar piscina, set in the S nave wall near the E end. It could, therefore, have served an altar against the E nave wall but it may be reset. The nave itself is 15thc. in all its windows and N and S doorways. The S doorway is set under a 15th-16thc. brick porch. The chancel has a plain 13thc. priest's doorway, piscina and aumbry. Its windows and chancel arch are 14thc. The tower is 14thc. too, to judge from the flowing W window. Its bell-openings have been replaced, and a battlemented brick parapet added. The pillar piscina is the only Romanesque feature.


The Whelnethams are not recorded in the Domesday Survey. In the 14thc., we find Maud, the daughter of Sir John de Whelnetham elected prioress of the house of Benedictine nuns at Wix (Essex), suggesting that the lords took their name from the manor, as was common. Henry Drury of Lawsell left the manor of Little Whelnetham to his son Henry in a will of 1586.

Benefice of Bradfield St Clare, Bradfield St George with Little Whelnetham, Cockfield, Felsham and Gedding.



Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


Pillar piscinas are not common in Suffolk, surviving only here and at Pettaugh and Hasketon. The example at St Catherine's, Pettaugh is extremely crude, and that at St Andrew's, Hasketon is in pieces but has a double-scalloped head.

H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 340.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 West Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 144-45.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 342.