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This ancient parish church (Grade I listed) forms part of the Benefice of South Elmham and Ilketshall, which is made up of eleven parishes situated along the edge of the 150 ft contour south of Bungay. St Michael’s is the most easterly of the six South Elmham churches. It is a small pantiled structure overlooking a large green to the south and west. It’s main structural components comprise a Chancel with heavily buttressed east gable, a fine interior timber roof to the Nave, a timber-framed south porch, and a simple square west Tower in flint with stepped flushwork and stone panelled parapet. The churchyard is surrounded by a deep ditch on all sides and there is a large brick pantiled Sexton’s hut in the north-west corner.
The nave was formerly thatched as can be seen by the outline of the roof pitch on the east side of the Tower. The south porch dates from the late C15th/C16th, and its roof is covered with plain tiles. The Tower roof is leaded. There are Belfry sound-holes (the mullions and mullion springers are now missing from the south and west sides and the north and east facing sound-holes are bricked up). There is fine stonework in the Nave and Tower windows. On the exterior of the south Nave wall is a sundial, though it is now 15 minutes slow.
The main entrance to the church is through a magnificent C12 south nave doorway with wonderful Norman mouldings. It sits inside a larger doorway visible from within. Inside is a C15th Suffolk “lion” font, and the church’s baptismal records go back to 1559. A wonderful brick floor leads down to the Sanctuary and the clean lines of the C13th Y-traceried east window. This used to contain coloured glass, but nearby wartime bombing on the Green on the 17th and 23rd August 1940 blew it out, as well as stripping tiles from the roof. The replacement of clear glass has made the interior of this church delightfully light and airy.
In the south wall of the Chancel, next to the Priest’s door, is a large blocked-up window, completely out-of-scale with the rest of the church. East of it is a small piscina which would have been used for rinsing the communion vessels.
The altar Reredos portrays local saints, St. Felix and St. Fursey kneeling either side of the church’s patron saint, St. Michael the Archangel. St. Felix became the first bishop of Dunwich in about A.D. 630. Fursey was an Irishman who migrated to East Anglia about A.D. 633 and settled at Burgh Castle, near Yarmouth.
Pevsner’s Guide dates the pulpit as C18th, but it could be a composite of earlier panels. Certainly the pedestal and strings of the step look like part of the back of a C15th bench.
The harmonium (American organ) has recently been fully restored and is in use.
A fine crested ledger stone in the floor of the Nave dates from the C18th, and commemorates Henry Lone who died 24th November 1727, and his wife, Rebecca, who died 4th December 1735.
On the south wall of the Nave is a memorial stone which tells us of bereavement and adoption. It commemorates Robert Chase (died 15th June 1842) and his wife Elizabeth died 18th August 1858) who, on the death of their daughter, adopted her son, John Simonds. It was John who erected the memorial stone, but we are not told why it was that his grandparents had to adopt him, nor the reasons for the absence of his father.
St Michael has the distinction of being one of the country’s 14 Doubly-Thankful Villages – the only one in Suffolk – where all the serving men came back from both the First and Second World Wars. Their names are recorded in a frame on the north wall of the Nave.
The communion Cup dated 1567 (not kept on the premises) is still in regular use, and bears the inscription Towne of Saint Myghells in South Ell .
The brackets around the walls and the three long poles hanging from the Nave roof beams hold the oil lamps with which the church is still lit for Winter services.
There is much wildlife within the Churchyard, and the area is maintained with this aspect of conservation in mind.
At the present time the Church is well attended with very warm fellowship and worship, and refreshments are served afterwards. The Church doors are open every day so anyone can use the Church for private prayers or just to visit. In the past this has been very much appreciated and used accordingly.
The Church is easily accessible for physically disabled persons.
S Elmham St Michael
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