Church of England Diocese of St.Edmundsbury & Ipswich Harkstead

A brief history of our church

This beautiful and much loved rural church has been a place of worship for more than 900 years. Since the first mention of St Mary’s Church in the 1086 Domesday Survey the building has changed and grown in size. Churches like St Mary’s reflect a mixture of architectural styles as they expand to suit the needs of the population. Before the 13th century the church consisted of only the chancel and nave.
You can see evidence of the oldest surviving part of the original building, the two Norman windows and doorway in the north wall.

In the early 1300’s the church was extended in width with the addition of a south aisle and porch. In the late 1400’s, a western tower was built. Expansion continued with the extension of the south aisle to form the side chapel in the 1500’s. During this time the church would have been full of light from the large west window and adorned with beautiful furnishings, coloured walls and carvings. Many of these were removed before the 1600’s when the building was re-arranged for the ‘plain and prayer book worship’ of the established church. By the mid 1840’s the church needed a thorough restoration. In 1867 during the first phase of restoration much of the building’s main structure was re-built with new windows, roof and doorways. The chancel was almost completely rebuilt in the High Victorian Gothic style that was in fashion at the time. Additions at this time were a new pulpit, choir stalls, altar and communion rails.
The second phase of restoration took place in 1875. The oldest surviving part of the church, the north wall Norman windows, was revealed after being hidden for centuries. When plaster was removed from the south aisle chapel walls a piscina and two sedilia were revealed and renovated. At this time a north vestry was built, the pulpit moved from the south to the north side of the chancel arch, new pews replaced the old box pews and the font was restored.
More recently the old north door in the nave was re-opened and an extension added containing a kitchen and toilet. A partial removal of choir stalls created additional space for musical performances, and the removal of all fixed pews from the south aisle provided space for exhibitions and other activities.