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St Mary, Wissington, Suffolk

(51°57′49″N, 0°50′39″E)
TL 955 333
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Wissington (also known, most notably on the signpost to the church, as Wiston) is a parish of dispersed houses and farms on the N side of the river Stour, which forms the border with Essex. It has no village centre, although there are a few houses and a farmhouse near the church. This stands on raised ground in a moated site alongside the farmhouse. St Mary's is a simple two-cell church with a rectangular nave and a lower, narrower chancel with an apsidal E end. The present apse and its arch are entirely 19thc., but built on 12thc. foundations; a view of 1832 shows the church with a flat E end. The S priest's doorway in the chancel straight bay is 19thc., but this bay also has small 12thc. lancets and its original chancel arch, elaborately carved with chevron archivolts and decorated nook-shafts. The nave has carved 12thc. N and S doorways; the S under a timber porch, and the N now inside the 19thc. vestry. Small round-headed lancets survive in the N and S nave walls, but all of the nook-shafted windows, in both nave and chancel, are 19thc. work. Over the W gable of the nave is a 19thc. timber bell-turret with a pyramid roof. The church is of flint, the exterior mortar rendered and the interior plastered, with the remains of 13thc.-15thc. wallpaintings in the nave. Four 12thc. corbels have been re-set in the interior and exterior walls; one over the chancel arch, one over the apse arch, and on the outside, one above each of the chancel straight bay windows. There are several loose stones, at present behind the pulpit. The only one with 12thc. carving is a nook-shaft base.

The present appearance of the church is largely the doing of Charles Birch, Rector from 1832. He removed the 15thc. windows he found and replaced them with the present neo-Norman ones; he replaced the square-ended chancel with an apse, and added the S porch. He also added the wooden mock-Romanesque gallery at the W end of the nave, and the oak benches. Birch also uncovered the medieval wallpaintings, but covered them again as he thought them distracting to the congregation. They were uncovered again by Professor Tristram in 1932, but the wax treatment he applied to conserve them had the opposite effect because it trapped moisture.


Wissington is not recorded in the Domesday Survey, although the parish probably existed at that time. It may well have been included in the neighbouring manor of Nayland, held by Godbald from Swein of Essex in 1086. Before 1135 (under Henry I) the church was given by the lord of the manor, Robert, son of Godbald, to the Cluniac priory of Little Horkesley, Essex (less than a mile away). By 1300 a vicar had been appointed, and when the priory was suppressed in 1525 the advowson passed to the crown.

Benefice of Nayland with Wissington.


Exterior Features


Exterior Decoration

Corbel tables, corbels

Interior Features


Chancel arch/Apse arches

Interior Decoration


Loose Sculpture


The sculpture of the chancel arch and doorways is elaborate, with particular care lavished on the nook-shafts — in a harder stone than the clunch used elsewhere. Despite this there is nothing to suggest a date after 1140, and the use of opus reticulatum with chip-carved decoration in the S doorway tympanum — stylistically perhaps the earliest feature — tempts the author to attribute the church to the patronage of Robert son of Godbald, and to link its construction to the gift to Little Horkesley in the reign of Henry I. The motif of cusping over an angle roll as seen in the third order of the doorway is an unusual one. Something similar is found at St Andrew's, Sapiston but this is in the far N of the county and may not be related.

Victoria County History: Essex II (1907), 137-38.
H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 346.
R. Knox, Guide Book to St Mary's Church Wissington. Wissington 1988.
D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 2 Central Suffolk. Cambridge 1990, 234-36.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975,