St Mary's Church - some history

For those interested in the history of the building the following may be of interest.

A Guide to the Parish Church of St. Mary the Virgin, Glemsford, Suffolk taken from the pamphlet written by Richard Deeks.  An updated guide is available at the church, priced at £3.

The present Church is almost certainly the latest in a series of buildings on the same site which, with the churchyard, are older than the present building. Under it, or close by, there must be some archaeological remains. The Church of St. Mary the Virgin, mentioned in the Domesday Book, was no doubt founded well before the Norman Conquest of 1066. There was probably a stage when Christian worship was carried on in the open air just outside the walls of Glemsford Castle, and even earlier, the site, which is a high point in the countryside was probably used for the worship of pagan gods. The position of the Church on the northern edge of the village, questions the popular belief that the Church was the nucleus of the village, although recent archaeological walks have proved that there was habitation immediately around the Church of the 15th century. The Church is frequently described as being of the late perpendicular style, which means that in the main, it was built between 1350-1539, reflecting the prosperity of the wool merchants. However, it does mean that the walls are older than the windows. Most of them are later insertions.


We begin our tour of inspection through the modern oak gates, dedicated to the memory of the late Revd. Christopher Lawson (Rector 1972-1982) and approach the fine SOUTH PORCH. It is of stone and flint flushwork panelling with three canopied niches with stools which at one time housed figures of the Saints, one of whom was almost certainly the Virgin Mary. Now turn right, and you will see the SOUTH AISLE which is of similar construction with two perpendicular windows with plain shields above, surmounted by one pinnacle above the battlement aligned with the buttress and the whole standing on a geometrical stone base which continues right round the Church. Between the right hand window and the buttress and 1.5 m from the ground a repair has been executed using two sections of a memorial stone with the date 1684 - clearly to be read upside down! We come now to the GOLDING CHAPEL which contains two tracery windows and the Priests Door. On the buttress, immediately to the right of this, about 1.8 m from the ground are the graduations and the hole that at one time held the Gnomon of the Mass Dial which was used for telling the time for the Mass. This was developed from the Celtic days of Solar Worship. The inscription, with the first part obliterated, can be seen just above the windows, and reads "JOHN GOLDING, JOAHN HYS WIFE, TFIE FOUNDERS OF THYS CHAPELL ON WHOS ---- GOD ...... This refers to John Golding, Clothier, who built the Chapel in 1497. It is surmounted by three finials going up through the battlements. We turn the corner and see a large window lighting the altar and again two plain shields can be seen in the battlements.

The EAST END is dominated by the Great East Window which is a Victorian replacement. The gable end is surmounted by an ornate stone cross. Now to the NORTH AISLE or MUNDY CHAPEL. At the east end some panelled flushwork remains, but most has been rendered in recent years. Above the tracery window in the battlements, two East Window. engraved shields can be seen, bearing the woolmark of the founder, John Mundys, Clothier. On its north side two windows differ from the four neighbouring ones because of the different radius arches. Above them, just under the string course the much damaged inscription can be seen -------------- of JOHN MUNDYS and MARGARET HIS WIFE ---------- JOHN MUNDYS SONS OF YE AFORESAID JOHN MUNDYS and MARGARET and ELIZABETH HIS WIFYS --------- ORD MDXX-V (1525)" The remaining four perpendicular style windows are exactly alike (Victorian replacements) with the medieval flushwork rendered over. The battlements are the result of Victorian rebuilding. The NORTH PORCH is of indeterminate date, although it contains some Roman bricks (re-used), and has suffered from the ravages of time. (Restored by The Glemsford Action Group) Its small doorway has a dripstone and faces on the stone stops. Above its roof, projects a hideous gargoyle that conducts the rainwater from the Victorian rebuilt Nave. Under the slates of the nave there is coconut fibre insulation, this was found, in abundance, in Glemsford during the 19th century. We now turn the corner. The tracery window on the west end is the only one of this design in the whole of the Church. The TOWER is 18.6 m high and is built with a mixture of stone materials. The whole was refaced in 1868. The flint buttresses ascend two thirds of the way up. The tower is topped with battlements.

It has four louvred windows and a large tracery window in line with the Sanctuary. Small Nortram shaped windows light the bellringers floor, and small lancet windows light the spiral staircase which terminates halfway up the tower. There are three dripstone courses and an O.S. Bench mark at the base. The WEST END of the SOUTH AISLE is a fine example of medieval flushwork and is in good condition. Finally, on our outside tour, is the WEST West Window. FRONT which is almost untouched since its erection. It has two rows of vertical flint panels surmounted by a row of plain shields which, no doubt, were intended to be engraved. Now let us rum to the INTERIOR. Entering by the South Porch, if you look up you will see a fine tie beam roof carved with pomegranates which is repeated on the arch braces which have short vertical posts resting on stone corbels, indicative of their early 16th century origin. At each side of the magnificent traceried south door, which has a folded leaf border, are depicted in stone the heads of Henry VI and his Queen, Margaret.

Once inside you will see above you a plain Victorian roof (completely restored in 1985/6). Turn right and mounted on the wall is a memorial to those Glemsfordians who lost their lives in the armed services in World War Il. The marble plaque is in memory of John George Coldham, son of George Coldham, one time Rector of Glemsford, and the adjacent stained glass window is in memory of the former's son who died in 1880. The rush seated chairs in the GOLDING CHAPEL, and the main processional cross, were purchased in memory of Richard Garrett Johnson, rector from 1929 to 1937, when he was tragically killed in a road accident. just on your left in front of the pews, is a Jacobean Coffin Stool. The stools always went "in pairs". The other one has long since. disappeared. The one we have now is used for vessels at the Holy Communion service. The altar rail was placed there in memory of William and Sarah Playle in 1936, by their daughter, and the pyx which occupies the centre of the Altar table was made by the late Harold Garwood to house the reserved sacrament; Mr. Garwood also made the posts that support the curtained reredos, to celebrate his Silver Wedding in 1964. The kneelers and the Banner are the work of the Glemsford branch of the Mothers' Union. The yellow glass in the window behind the Altar table was replaced during the last war after damage caused by land mines which destroyed Broom Farm early in the 1940s. Turn left, into the Chancel, where you will see some fine oak Victorian Choir Stalls and a main altar rail, as well as prayer desks and Bishops Chairs. One of these desks was given by Mr. and Mrs. Raymond Eve as a thanksgiving offering for their second son Roger's recovery from a serious illness in 1958. Made by the late Mr. E. Younger with oak cut from Court Wood, Glemsford.

The main altar reredos was erected in 1913 in memory of the Revd. George Coldham T (Rector 1833 -1887) and was given by his surviving daughters. On the north wall of the Sanctuary is a memorial to the Kerrington family. On the north side of the Chancel there is a Victorian door and screen which provides entry to the Vestry (normally locked for security reasons) which has an arch braced cambered tie beam roof with wall posts resting on stone corbels with small canopied figures. The beams are carved with folded leaf and pomegranates and dates from 1525. On the north wall there is a marble tablet to Rev. John Bigg and his wife Ann, who died in 1798. The family coat of arms is also depicted. The vestry also contains a fine old oak coffer, used for the storing of Altar linen. The Chancel also contains the Foster and Andrew's organ, installed in 1877. in front of the Rector's stall, on the south side of the Chancel is a modern lectern given in memory of C.E. and F.C. Fincham of Park Farm in 1961. To the right of the Chancel steps you will see two blocked up doors which were the entrance and exit to the medieval Rood loft and beam (long since removed) where candles were lit, which drew people's eyes to the mounted figures there. The Pulpit is hexagonal, of English oak, panelled and standing on a stone plinth, and belongs to the Stuart period (1603-1625).

Going now into the North Aisle, You will see the roof is of the same construction as the Vestry and (unlike other parts of the building) suffered little or no damage from the visit of the Puritan iconoclast Wm. Dowsing and his assistant Francis Jessope on February 26th 1643. The altar and rails and brass lectern come from the Mission Room at Finstead End which was pulled down in 1949. Above the altar are the early 18th century copies of the 10 Commandments ordered to be placed in all churches at the time. . On the North Wall you can see two marbled memorials, one in memory of Elizabeth Morgan, daughter of James Watson of Glemsford, who died in 1776, together with the coat of arms, and the other dated 1806, again a Watson memorial. Near the North door notice the huge 14th century iron banded poplar chest, which was used, until quite recently, for the storage of parish documents. It has three padlocks. By tradition one had to be unlocked by the Rector and two Churchwardens in turn. Moving into the Nave, you will see it has a high pitched close boarded roof of Victorian vintage, but not so fine as that of the Chancel of the same date (1865). It has a three bay arched colonnade supporting the derestorey and six Victorian windows on each side mounted on octagonal columns with differing capitals. Standing in the transept, looking east at the first column on the north side, you can easily see how much it is out of upright, with the arch having moved from its centre. This movement is reflected in the outside wall, but such movement must have occurred at least a century ago, as the Victorian pine bench pews still fit the column! Look West at the Tower and you will see a semicircular line, which denotes the old roof line and, just below it, in the centre a large bulge in the plaster conceals the Sanctus window. Affixed to the bench ends in the centre aisle are two Churchwardens staves of office made and presented by Mr. Charles Pettit in 1955.

The oak light pendants were made and presented in 1958 by the late Mr. E. Younger. Going along the transept towards the south door, there is a memorial plaque to the late Revd. C. Lawson and on the south wall a colourful memorial to those who fell in the First World War. Continuing west you will see a large framed photo of the Rogationtide procession of 1962. The 15th century octagonal Font stands at the end of the central aisle. It has a traceried shaft with angel supporters and the bowl has carved panels depicting the Virgin Mary enthroned, a mitred bishop's head and two evangelists emblems. Two panels have been destroyed. Entering the Tower through the Victorian arch, look up, and on each side you will see a row of Bequests Boards dating from 1572 which tell of the gifts to Charity made by various parishioners. The west window reveals the thickness of the walls. The Tower is at present used as a Choir Vestry (Now refurbished with lavatory facilities). Above are two more floors, the top one housing the six bells on an oak frame. Some of the head stocks were renewed by Harold Garwood, so the bells could be rung for the Coronation in 1953. The bells are inscribed as follows:-

1. Thomas Mears of London, fecit 1830.

2 & 3. Miles Grey made me 1659.

4. Thomas Gardiner, Sudbury fecit 1754

5. Thomas Mears of London, fecit 1830.

6. Charles Newman made me 1686.

For your interest here are two extracts from the Wills of John Golding and John Mondes which relate to the Church of St. Mary the Virgin:-

Extract from the Will of John Golding of Glernsford the [email protected] Clothmaker, dated 27th June, 1495.

------ to be buried in the churchyard above John's altar on the south side in Glemsford. ------ to the high altar of the same town for my tithes forgotten and not paid 13s. 4d. ------ my exors to dispose in alms deeds to priests, clerks and to poor folk at the day of my burying 6 mks. ------ a chapel to be made over me where that I shall lie in the said churchyard, to which £40 it to be made as soon as the money may be allowed.

Extract from the Will of John Mondes of Glemysforthe, 30th April 1533.

------ to be buried within the new chapel of Our Lady which 1 late builded within the Church of Glemysford. ------ to the high altar of the same church in recompense for any offering and tithes by me negligently forgotten 20s. ------ for buying a pair of cruets, to be silver and parcel gilt, to serve and be occuped in the Church of Glemysford 40s. ------ for buying a canopy of silk to hang over the sacrament of the altar within the church 40s. ------ to the buying of an altar clotch to hang before the high altar with a fronlet to the same, each of them to be of cloth of gold and of velvet £10.


Kellys Directory 1925 Edition and 1874 Edition

The English Medieval Church by G. H. Cook

The Domesday Book by Philimore 1968

Suffolk Churches by Suffolk Historical Churches 1976

Discovering Church Architecture by Mark Child, Shire Publications Ltd. 1976

A Short History of Glemsford by K. W. Glass 1962

The Davey Manuscript of Glemsford 1831 Extracts from the Wills, the Peter Northeast Collection

The Church Bells of Suffolk by John Raven, D.D. 1890

Suffolk Churches and their Treasures by H. Monro Cautley, A.R.I.B.A.