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St Mary, West Stow, Suffolk

(52°18′12″N, 0°40′4″E)
West Stow
TL 820 706
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales) Suffolk
now Suffolk
  • Ron Baxter

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Feature Sets

Discoveries of flint tools give evidence of Neolithic occupation of the area, and the remains of an Iron Age settlement and finds of Romano-British pottery attest to the continuity of its occupation until the 2ndc. AD. Some time in the mid-5thc., Anglo-Saxon settlers established a village here that remained in occupation until c.650. Around that time the settlement moved 1½ miles upriver to the present West Stow village site. The old site was abandoned, and cultivated as ploughland until the end of the 13thc., when a storm covered it with blown sand, effectively preserving the 5th.-7thc. village. From the mid-19thc. onwards, rich finds of early Anglo-Saxon grave goods were discovered in the area of the unsuspected village, but a major excavation was not undertaken until 1965-72, when a team headed by Stanley West uncovered most of the settlement. In 1972, West broached the idea of a reconstruction of the village on site, and this is now open to visitors as West Stow Anglo-Saxon village.

The landscape around West Stow today is almost entirely man-made, and a brief history will be worthwhile. The present village lies on the N bank of the river Lark some 5 miles NW of the centre of Bury St Edmunds. It is a compact village arranged around a green, and the church is at the N end with the hall site and its 16thc. gatehouse around 300 yards to the NW. The village is at the SE corner of the so-called King's Forest, a plantation of conifers begun in 1935 but including some older woods, and covering more than 8 square miles. To the W of West Stow, a series of lakes alongside the Lark are the remains of gravel workings, begun in the 19thc. and left when extraction ended in 1981.

The church is a stately flint building of nave, chancel and W tower standing in an enormous churchyard ('all of four acres', according to Mortlock). The nave is aisleless and its windows reticulated (ie, early 14th..) on the S and Perpendicular on the north, except for one pointed 13thc. lancet in the N wall. Its early 12thc. origin is attested by the N doorway, now inside the N vestry / kitchen of 1903, and only accessible from within the church. The S doorway is 14thc., under a 14thc. porch. The chancel is broad, with reticulated windows and a piscina decorated with crockets and finials set into the SE window reveal. It was heavily restored in the 19thc., and the chancel arch is of that period too. The tower arch is tall and the tower is 15thc., with diagonal W buttresses and lateral E buttresses, a polygonal S stair turret and a battlemented parapet. There is chequered flushwork on the buttresses and the plinth. The N nave doorway is the only Romanesque feature.


The Domesday Survey records that West Stow was held by St Edmundsbury abbey before and after the Conquest, and from the abbey by 21 free men with 2 carucates of ploughland and 2 acres of meadow, owing sake and soke and all customary dues to the abbey, and doing service in Lackland. In the same place in 1086 was 1 free man with half a carucate of ploughland. There was a church with 12 acres of free land in alms.

Lark Valley benefice: Culford, West Stow and Wordwell, Flempton with Hengrave, Lackford, Fornham All Saints, Timworth and Fornham St Martin.


Exterior Features



The heavy roll, simple volutes and tall proportions indicate a date ofc.1100 for the doorway.

H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937.
D. P. Mortlock, Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 1 West Suffolk. Cambridge 1988, 217-18.
N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 481-82.
R. Halliday, 'The Norman doorways at Wordwell and West Stow churches'. Proceedings of the Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and History XXXVII (1992), 367-369.
S. West, 'West Stow: the Anglo-Saxon Village', 2 vols., East Anglian Archaeology Report 24 (1985).