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St Peter, Elmsett, Suffolk

(52°5′5″N, 1°0′13″E)
TM 059 472
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Elmsett is a large agricultural village 7 miles W of the centre of Ipswich. The country here is rolling and arable, with much sugar beet grown. The village suffered casualties in 1941 when a bomb (possibly intended for Wattisham airfield, 3 miles to the NW) destroyed a row of cottages, and there has been some new building to replace them. The church is outside the village centre to the NE, and stands on ground that slopes steeply down to a tributary of the Belstead Brook to the N. The site has been partially levelled by building a steep embankment N of the churchyard and cutting into the slope on the S, for the foundations. Hence the floor inside the nave is much lower than the ground to the S, where the entrance is.

St Peter's has a nave, chancel and W tower. The nave is 12thc., with blocked lancets in the N and S walls and quoins visible at the SE angle. Other windows and the N and S doorways indicate campaigns in the 13thc., 14thc. and 15thc. A roofline on the tower shows that it was once steeper. Inside is a SE rood stair and an 18thc. timber W gallery now housing the organ. The S porch is timber-framed, probably 13thc. The chancel is 14thc., with a flowing three-light E window and lateral windows of 14thc. and 15thc. types and a 14thc. piscina. The chancel arch jambs may be 12thc., like the nave; the are plain with the simplest chamfered imposts. The arch itself is 13th -14thc. Both nave and chancel are of flint, all mortar rendered except for the chancel E wall. The tower is 13thc., with diagonal buttresses. It is of flint and the later battlemented parapet is rendered with mortar. The only Romanesque feature reported here is the font. The author is grateful to Robert Carr for making his report on the church available, and to Allan Mountfield.


Before the Conquest, Elmsett was held by Thegn Tovi as a manor with six carucates of land plus 40 acres . By 1086 it had passed to Roger d'Auberville. There was a church with 15 acres of land, and the soke was held by St Edmundsbury abbey. From 1275 toc.1425 the manor belonged to the Bohun family. In the will of Rev. Richard Glanville, proved in 1668, his manors of Elmsett, Offton and Somersham are bequeathed to his eldest son, also Richard.

Benefice of Elmsett with Aldham, Hintlesham, Chattisham and Kersey.





Draft reports on the structure of the church and its timberwork were commissioned by English Heritage and the diocese from Dr Robert Carr (Suffolk CC Archaeological Service) and Dr Oliver Rackham (Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) in 1997. Mountfield dates the oldest part of the present church, the nave,c.1050 on the grounds that Domesday suggests that Elmsett was wealthier immediately before the Conquest than in 1086, and that Thegn Tovi was a rich and important man, likely to build a substantial church. Carr prefers a date between the 11thc. and the early 12thc., based on the surviving nave windows, which have voussoirs rather than monolithic heads despite their small size, and on the visible quoins at the SE angle of the nave. The quoins (and possibly the windows too) are of a fine-grained limestone that he suspects is Caen stone and thus almost certainly late-11thc. at the earliest. The present author accepts Carr's views. Imports of Purbeck and Sussex marble fonts to Suffolk were common in the late-12thc. and early 13thc.

R. D. Carr, St Peter's Church Elmsett. Notes towards a history of the structure. Draft Report 1997.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 254.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 82-83.
A. R. Mountfield, St Peter's Church Elmsett: a brief history. 2nd ed. June 2002.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 198.
O. Rackham, St Peter's Church Elmsett. Timber. Draft Report 1997.