About Us

St Mary’s Church Cavendish.

A short guide

Welcome to the parish church which is dedicated to St Mary. It has stood at the heart of the small Suffolk village of Cavendish since the middle ages. Worship continues to this day, though it may be a little different to that when the church was first completed. As you wander around, pausing for a closer view of some of the suggested items of interest, take a moment to offer a prayer for those who first brought these items into church , caused them to be made or created them. We hope you enjoy your visit to St Mary’s and appreciated the simplicity and brightness of the church, with its atmosphere of peace and tranquillity.


A Saxon Church at Cavendish is mentioned in the Domesday Book. 

The present building dates from about 1300 to about 1485, with some 19th century additions and alterations.

1300: The Tower, the Porch and the lower parts of the walls of the aisles.

1350: South Aisle walls rebuilt to present height and new windows inserted.

1385: Chancel rebuilt with the help of a bequest from Sir John Cavendish who was Lord Chief Justice of the King’s Bench and who was beheaded during the Peasants’ Revolt in 1381.

1425: North aisle rebuilt with new windows and ceiling.

1485: Nave arcade and clerestory built.

1862: Demolition of ruined chapel in NE corner. Rebuilt to form the Rector’s vestry and the organ chamber. Much restoration carried out.

1924: Church offered to display the temporary crosses from the 33 villagers who fell in World War 1. 13 were offered by the next of kin and can be seen in the refurbished Lower Tower Room.

1933: Electrics first installed in Church with electric heating re-placing two braziers at the back of Nave.

1981: Clock Tower windup mechanism electrified 

2005: New Servery at rear of Church and disabled toilet near North Porch. 

2008-2010: New main and side aisle roofing & security system with help from English Heritage 

2017-2020: Refurbishment of the Church tower, clock, bellcote , Sanctus bell, weather vane, flag pole and lightning conductor due to failing repairs following damage in the 1987 storm. Helped by local people, Suffolk and national charities .

Suggested tour

Access is restricted by steps into the nave through the South West door. A portable ramp is available just inside the door

Start from the South Door which dates from the 13th century and has a sanctuary ring.

On your left as you enter is the Font (14th C) with images of the four evangelists, badly defaced in Cromwellian times, as was the stained glass.  The Font was in the south aisle in Victorian times.

The Nave

Stand and admire the view towards the large East window and note the step down into the chancel - a very unusual feature. Behind you through the glass doors, you can see on the west wall 13 wooden crosses, the temporary markers of the graves of villagers who fell in Flanders and France in WW1. Nearby there is an interpretation board and a book of photographs of their final resting places.

Above you there is a small window which gives onto a room in the tower in which there is a fireplace so that it could be used as a priest’s room, it is now the bell ringers’ room.

North Aisle

Note the fragments of medieval glass in some of the windows. The Reredos on the wall has a 16th C Flemish representation of the Crucifixion with a Victorian surround designed by Comper. This was originally from the chapel of Athelstan Riley who wrote several well-known hymns. It was presented to St. Mary’s by his niece Mrs. Brocklebank in 1950.


The Lectern is brass late 15th C. – rumoured to have been the gift of Queen Elizabeth I. There is also a 17th C wooden lectern. In the sanctuary there is the tomb of Sir George Colt who died in 1570. He received Elizabeth 1 and her entourage on her journey through to Norfolk honouring notable protestants, and was knighted in the process. On the tomb is scratched a board for playing “Alquerque”. Note the small “squint” window in the north wall, through which the priest could view the altar from the chapel.

The ceiling was boarded in 1811, and the painted design added in 1890.

Return to the Nave and the South aisle.

The Pulpit is 19th C, but note the Hour Glass nearby by which the priest could time his sermon. The stained glass windows were put in as memorials during Victorian times. The circular tablet on the wall is a memorial to Sue Ryder and her husband Leonard Cheshire VC. Lady Ryder had the headquarters of her foundation in the village and lived here for many years.

The Exterior

As you go out look for the Scratch Dial or Mass Clock at the top of the East pillar of the arch of the porch. You can also see the ornamental cistern heads of the down-pipes, one having the Tudor device of a rose between two leopards heads. The stone outside the porch is understood to have been from the original altar until the Cromwellian visitation.

The Tower was built in the 14th C and has contained six bells since 1930 when a new bell frame and a tenor bell was put in. Previously it only held five bells, the name of the adjacent pub. The clock was included in 1871 and was made by a firm in Long Melford. At the top of the tower you can see the chimney from the fireplace in the priest’s room, and also the weather-vane staff and Bellcote which houses a Sanctus bell which could be used to mark the raising of the host during mass. 

The tower underwent major restoration from 2018 to 2020 mainly to get it to be compliant with Health and Safety requirements.

Ongoing Repairs and maintenance

We are grateful to many within our local community, as well as generous visitors who continue to support the ongoing maintenance, repairs and restoration.  

We are especial indebted to The National Churches Trust (https://www.nationalchurchestrust.org/) who contributed £23,500 of the total £136,000 towards the recent Tower Restoration Project. 

In the past we have also been a recipient of a generous grant from Heritage England who provided gave c. £250,000 to re-lead the nave roof in 2010/11

You are most welcome to all of the churches in the Stour Valley Benefice.