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St Mary, Great Bradley, Suffolk

(52°9′2″N, 0°26′43″E)
Great Bradley
TL 674 531
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
medieval St Mary
now St Mary
  • Ron Baxter
14 June 2005

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The villages of Great and Little Bradley are in the Stour valley N of Haverhill; their churches less than a mile apart. St Mary’s has a nave with N and S doorways and a S porch, a chancel and a W tower. The nave is Romanesque; both doorways are 12thc., as are the jambs of the chancel arch, but the arch itself is later and steeply pointed. The nave windows have all been replaced; one on the N is 16thc., the rest are 19thc. The S porch is an attractive brick construction with a crow-stepped gable and niches, dating from the 16thc.. The chancel, and the upper part of the chancel arch, are early 14thc. judging from the S chancel doorway and the form of the windows. The W tower is perhaps 14thc. too, and has angle buttresses and a spiral stair turret at its SE corner. It was heavily modified in the 16thc., however, and the W doorway, the flushwork on the plinth, the bell-openings and the battlements on the main parapet and the taller stair turret parapet must date from the later period. Externally the tower is mortar rendered, as is the entire church except for the S nave wall (of flint) and the E chancel wall (of flint with brick diagonal buttresses and decorative banding) and the S porch of red brick. Of the Romanesque work, the N doorway is plain in comparison with the S, which is modelled either on the Prior’s doorway at Ely, or on the copy at nearby Kirtling (Cambs).


Great and Little Bradley comprised three holdings in 1086. St Edmund’s abbey held one, consisting of two parcels of 60 acres held from the abbey by a total of 12 free men. Richard fitzGilbert held a second holding, and four free men, Wulfwine, Leofric, Leofwine and Bondi from him. The third was Robert de Tosny’s demesne holding of 7 carucates, held before the Conquest by Thegn Ulf. This is assumed to be Great Bradley, and included a church with 15 acres of free land. Robert de Tosny was a collateral of Ralph (of Kirtling) and Roger. At his death his holdings passed to his male heirs Berengar, William and Geoffrey, but all died without heirs, and the estates passed to Roger’s daughters, one of whom, Adelisa, married Roger Bigod. The manor thus came to the Bigods by marriage, and was still in their hands in the later 13thc.

Stourhead benefice, i.e. Barnardiston, Great and Little Bradley, Great and Little Thurlow, Great and Little Wratting and Kedington.


Exterior Features


Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

The attempts to represent the collar of the tunic on the S doorway corbels indicate that the heads were copied directly from the Prior’s doorway at Ely and not from the copy at Kirtling. The capitals have not of the richness of their Ely counterparts, but they are at least foliate, unlike those at Kirtling. The stepped chevron of the arch is another Ely motif; appearing on the arches of the chapel entrances in the SW transept. The N doorway uses the angle roll and face hollow arch moulding familiar from the nave of Ely cathedral, and a parallel for the cushion capital with fluted bell can be found in the Ely nave clerestorey arcade. A date in the 1130s is suggested for the work at Great Bradley.


H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 230.

D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 W Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 83.

N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 234-35.

Victoria County History: Cambridgeshire and the Isle of Ely X (2002), 63-69.

Victoria County History: Suffolk II (1975), 154-55.