A Brief History of Saint Peter's Church, Baylham

A Brief History of Saint Peter's Church, Baylham, Suffolk PDF Print E-mail From the booklet written by Roy Tricker 1988.

Parts of the building have stood for at least 890 years although there was a thorough restoration and re-ordering of the church in 1870-1.

Early 1100s: The Norman doorway on the north side of the nave and the layered flint work which occurs in parts of this wall would date it from this time and therefore possibly also the cores of the other nave walls.

1280-1300:  The south chancel window remains from this period, and the former east window had intersecting tracery, also from this time, when possibly the chancel was either rebuilt or refashioned.

Early 1300s:  The western tower was erected and the beautiful two-light window, with curvilinear, was inserted in the south wall of the nave. Possibly the nave received its roof  during this period.

1400s:  The font was installed and the Perpendicular style windows inserted; the north-east nave window (of two lights) and the north-west window (of three lights) although these are not in their original positions.

Early 17th century:  A brick porch, similar to that of Nettlestead, was built on the south side of the nave.

1643:  The Puritan ‘Inspector’ of churches, William Dowsing, visited the church in search of ‘superstitious pictures and inscriptions’ to destroy. He reported that ‘There is a Trinity in a triangle on the font, and a cross, and the steps (to the chancel) to be levelled, by the Minister, in 21 days’.

1824:  David Elisha Davy visited St Peter’s, and his notes give us a picture of the building before its restoration. The nave and chancel had plaster ceilings and the Royal Arms were fixed above the chancel arch. The nave was filled with box pews of deal (which were painted to resemble wainscot), facing a hexagonal pulpit, and there was a ‘neat’ west gallery. At the east end, the communion table was not raised on a step above the chancel floor, but was railed off. On the east wall were two frames containing the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Commandments, painted on canvas. There were ‘small remains’ of a south west window and the west window of the tower contained figures of two headless angels in medieval glass. In the floors were two ancient burial-slabs which had the indents of lost brasses; one had a helm, inscription and five shields, whilst the other had a chalice and inscription (obviously for a priest). Davy also ascended the tower and noted that the third bell had fallen out of its frame. A ‘modern’ brick vestry had been erected to the north of the chancel, over the Acton vault.  

1859:  A visitor came to a service conducted by the Rector (the Rev William Colvile), who was described as being aged between 50 and 60, with sharp features ‘marked by a frown of melancholy expression’, who preached to his rustic congregation wearing black kid gloves. He was ‘well-bred to a fault… he displays that insipid formality which clergymen so often assume’!

1870-1:  The Rector at the time (the Revd W E Downes) was determined to restore the church, which was reported to have suffered from ‘neglect and injudicious care’. Its floor was occupied by deep pews, the roof was hidden with plaster and the gallery blocked the tower arch. The restoration took place during the closing months of 1870 and the church was reopened on Friday 13th January 1871, having undergone a transformation outside and in. Upon the removal of the plaster ceilings, the main roof timbers were found to be in a good state of preservation, and were cased in matchboards of English chestnut. The west gallery and the box-pews were taken out and this operation revealed parts of the medieval oak rood screen which had been incorporated into the pews, and which were reused in the front panels of the reading desk and in the new-tower screen. The church was seated with new oak benches and the nave floor was laid with Maw’s tiles. There were alterations also in the structure of the building. The brick vestry was replaced by a flint-faced north transept, which was fitted with benches for use by the school children, and a matching transept was built on to the south side. The three-light window in the south wall of the chancel was moved to the north nave wall, and the two-light Perpendicular window was moved to its present position. The east wall was restored and its new window was given glass by Clayton & Bell in memory of the Revd W Colvile. A new porch was built and the external walls were renovated.  The architect for this work was Frederick Barnes of Ipswich, who restored many East Suffolk churches and who designed Melton Church, and the railway stations at Needham Market and Stowmarket. The stone work was executed by Mr Vine and Messrs Daniel & Day of Eye.  The collection at the Reopening Services came to £46.10s.4d – a very considerable sum in those days. The work cost just over £1,000 of which £500 had been provided by the Acton Family, who had been Lords of the Manor. The five bells which had been re-hung, rang out to celebrate the occasion, and 40 widows and widowers were entertained to dinner by Miss Colvile, the daughter of the former Rector. 

20th  and 21st  Century  The work of 1870-1 had left the church much as we see it today, although a great deal has been done since then to maintain and beautify it. In our own times it has been completely re-roofed externally, and the visitor will soon become aware of the love and care which it receives from its present day custodians. It serves a community of about 200 people.


St Peter’s is set quite high and is visible for a considerable distance across the Gipping Valley. It is worth pausing in its pretty and peaceful churchyard to admire the surroundings and to view the church as a whole in its setting. There are several attractive headstones in the churchyard, also three chest-tombs which stand side by side near the south transept. The northern tomb has its side faced with stone, which is beautifully carved with a coat of arms and a skull set amidst crossed palm fronds. Although its inscription is now difficult to read, Davy noted it as commemorating John Acton, who died in 1695 and was the third member of this family to be Lord of the Manor here. His grandfather purchased the Manor of Baylham in 1626 and several members of the Acton family are commemorated inside the church. The middle tomb is that of Elizabeth and Nathaniel Acton (died 1741 and 1745), and the southern tomb of Mary, widow of Thomas Wingfield of Woodbridge and daughter of John Fowle of Brome (died 1872). The exterior of the church itself shows much work of 1870 alongside the medieval work, and careful observation will easily distinguish the ancient work from the modern.

The western tower, dating from the 14th Century is not buttressed, but is sturdy and well-proportioned. The west window has beautiful curvilinear, or flowing, tracery, of c.1320-30. The ringing chamber is lit by single openings with brick at the sides, and each of the attractive two-light belfry windows has a hood mould, resting upon curved corbel heads. Intriguing gargoyle faces peer out from beneath the parapet of the north and south sides; they were carved to throw the rain water from the tower roof away from the walls. In the north wall of the nave is a blocked Norman doorway (c.1100). Its semicircular arch is filled with a tympanum which is embellished with a diaper of lozenge shapes. Also in parts of this wall the flints are set in layers – all showing that people have worshipped on this spot for maybe 900 years. In this side are two 15th century windows in the Perpendicular style, both moved to their present positions in 1970 and both have hood-moulds which rest upon corbel heads.

What is perhaps the church’s most beautiful window is in the south nave wall, east of the porch : a Decorated window of two-lights, again with lovely moulded curvilinear tracery of c.1320-30. It is from this, and from the tower west window, that some of the 19th Century transept windows were copied. The single west window of the porch was inserted in 1870. The transepts (1870) have two-light east and west windows, and three-light north and south windows. Over the doorway to the south transept is the inscription; ‘Domus Dei Porta Coeli 1870’ (This the House of God and Gate of Heaven). The chancel exterior was much renewed in 1870, although an original tall and two-light window remains on the south side; this has cusped ‘Y’ tracery of c.1300. The three-light east window shows a development of the Decorated style. This 19th century window replaced one with intersecting tracery. Its corbels display the IHS and XP emblems of the name of Jesus Christ. The south porch is entirely 1870 work; it is small and is faced with knapped flints. It has single lateral windows and its outer entrance has corbels with shields showing the three mitres of the Norwich Diocese (to which Baylham belonged until 1914) and the crossed keys of St Peter. Inside is an attractive roof, studded with flower bosses. The hood mould of the 19th century south doorway rests upon corbels with a face and shield with a cockerel.


The interior of St Peter’s is in many ways a Victorian period piece, although several older features do survive. The nave and chancel, of equal width, are divided by a broad central arch; the transepts have wide and shallow arches of 1870, but the simple tower arch is the original 14th century one. The walls of the (particularly the south wall) lean outwards, betraying their great age; this can be seen best when viewing from the east. Looking up into the roofs, we see mostly work of 1870, although the framework hidden by the boarding is medieval, as are the sturdy tie-beams which straddle the nave, also the cornices at the top of the nave walls. These are wagon-roofs; that in the nave is supported by crown posts, and the chancel and transept roofs are studded with carved wooden bosses of flowers and foliage. Frederick Barnes’ work of 1870 is tastefully designed and very worthy of its period. The floors are faced with Maw’s tiles and those of the crossing, transepts and chancel, in true Gothic Revival fashion, display colourful patterns. Into the tower screen, Barnes incorporated 15th century woodwork from the former rood screen, which can be seen in its top tracery.  More tracery from this screen can be seen in the carved front of the reading desk. The benches are of oak; those in the transept and choir stalls being simpler in design than those in the nave. The altar is also of this date, as is the pulpit, the tracery panels of which were clearly inspired by the south chancel window. In the south wall of the sanctuary is a medieval piscina drain, set beneath a restored cinquefoil-headed arch. Here the water from the washing of the priest’s hands at the Eucharist was poured away. On the east wall, above the altar, are the words, “Holy, Holy, Holy” and flanking the east wall are double arches framing the 10 Commandments on the north side, and Lord’s Prayer and Creed on the south. This, together with the Communion rails (by Hart & Co) is all work of 1870. The octagonal font is a good (though rather defaced) example of a typical 15th century Anglian font. Around the stem are lions with defaced heads and mutilated  angels support the underside of the bowl. There is fine carving of the bowl panels, some of which have tiny flowers in their borders. Here we see two lions, four Tudor roses, and angels with shields, displaying the emblem of the Trinity (south) and the Instruments of the Passion (north). These last two motifs are very defaced, so clearly Dowsing’s orders in 1643 were carried out! On the north nave wall hangs a List of Rectors of the parish, complete from 1687. Further east is the blocked 15th century doorway to the rood loft staircase. The north transept now serves as a vestry and here may be seen the 17th century communion table which was the High Altar of the church until1870. The organ, by Thomas S Jones of Pentonville Road London N1, was installed in 1901. It has two manuals, pedals and ten stops. Hanging before the altar is a sanctuary lamp, which was given in 1956 in memory of William Richards, who was People’s Warden here from 1937-1954. Its red light reminds us that this is a holy place. The few fragments of medieval glass which have survived have been assembled in the top of the west window of the tower. The east window contains 19th century glass by Clayton & Bell, given in1870 as a memorial to the Revd W Colvile. It shows the Risen Christ, flanked by the women with their spices and ointments and the two disciples at the tomb. The south-east chancel window, showing Jesus as the Good Shepherd, commemorates eight-year-old Margaret Barry, who died in 1902 at Bangalore, India. The tower contains a ring of six bells. The 3rd, 4th and 5th were cast by Myles Graye of Colchester in 1636, although the 4th was recast by Alfred Bowell of Ipswich in 1911, when he also cast the treble bell. The 2nd was cast in 1865 by John Warner & Sons of London, and the tenor (which weighs 10cwt and has a diameter of just over 39 inches) was cast by Pack & Chapman of Whitechapel in 1772. MEMORIALS Several Baylham people from the past, who were part of this church and parish, are commemorated on the walls and in the floors here. Several of these memorials are to members of the Acton family. John Acton of Bramford Hall purchased the Manor of Baylham in 1626. He was the son of William Acton, clothier and Portman of Ipswich, who has a fine monument in St Mary at the Elms Church, Ipswich. John continued to live at Bramford, but his son, (also John) resided at Baylham and inherited the Manor upon his father’s death in 1662. His son (a third John) in turn inherited it in 1695 and the manor remained in the family well into the 19th century. On the south wall of the sanctuary is the splendid wall monument of Elizabeth Acton, wife of John, who died on a certain 27th March, aged 36. The year is not recorded and there is no inscription for John. The monument appears to date from the early years of the 17th century and at present it is not clear exactly whom it commemorates, but it is worth of careful examination. The effigies of John and Elizabeth kneel facing each other across a prayer-desk, presided over by a fearful skeleton, holding an hourglass and symbolising death and mortality. Beneath them are their five sons and two daughters, flanked by cherubs’ faces. There are shields in the borders, one bearing her arms (the other blank), also a spade and pickaxe (other emblems of mortality) and at the summit is a handsome crest and coat of alms.

The following wall plaques may be seen:-

  • Chancel, south: Brass plaque to the Revd William Downes (died 1899), Rector here for 40 years.

Nave, north-east: Marble plaque to Nathaniel Acton of Bramford hall (1795), his two wives and other members of his family, many of whom are buried in the vault beneath the vestry. This memorial was erected by his daughter, Harriot, Lady Middleton.

In the rood-loft staircase doorway: Brass plaque recording gifts of burses, veils, lectern and pulpit falls in 1969, by members of the Richards family in America, in memory of Billie and Minnie Richards.

Nave, north: Marble plaque commemorating five Baylham people killed in WW1  and another in WW2. The Roll of Honour hangs opposite.

In the floor are these burial slabs and ledger slabs: - Near the font:

  1. Medieval burial slab with evidence that it once contained a brass. 
  2. Ledger slab to Maria Lund (1689), the wife of Thomas Lund, who was Rector here. Near the altar rails. Several of these have fine coats of arms.  

Moving south to north:

  1. John Acton (1688) 
  2. William Acton (1699) 
  3. John Acton of Bramford (1703) 
  4. Mary Acton, daughter of Sir John Rous of Henham (1717) 
  5. Susan, second wife of Nathaniel Acton of Hemingstone (1720)
  6. William Acton (1743). (Partly hidden beneath the pulpit) He was for a time MP for the Borough of Orford and was High Sheriff of Suffolk in 1739.