The church, which is Grade 1 listed, has its origins in the 13th century and was originally dedicated to St. Andrew. It is believed that it was re-dedicated to St. Mary in 1855 but the reason for its re-dedication is not known.
Entry to the church is through the low 15th century south porch. The oak double doors were installed in 1991 in memory of three long service parishioners. Within, in the near left corner, lies a stoup, a ‘vessel for Holy Water’. This was originally set in the wall to the right of the inner door and was probably removed during the Commonwealth.
Opening the ancient heavy oak single one gains entry to the church at the west end and close by the 15th century font. This is of a familiar local design, the gift of Robert Kinge, but the panels are all defaced and the inscription round the base is no longer legible.
The nave was rebuilt in the 15th century and given a superb double hammerbeam roof. This church suffered particularly severely during the Commonwealth, as at the time a noted Royalist and Malignant, Sir John Cotton, son of the Lord Mayor of London, was Lord of the Manor and resident in the Parish.
Dominant to the south side of the chancel arch is a striking Jacobean pulpit with blind arched panels and strapwork under the canted book ledge. Above the backboard is a hexagonal tester. Until 1890, the congregation were seated in Jacobean box pews which occupied the whole nave around the pulpit either side of the aisle and through into the chancel.
As the 13th century chancel was rebuilt, an older east window (a water colour of which hangs in the vestry) was replaced and the present glass installed in 1899, a gift from Sir Auckland Colvin.
In 1888 T.G. Jackson identified the communion table and rails as ‘of oak and very good of their kind and the rails seem to be the original ones of Archbishop Laud’s time’. He advised they should all be cleaned from paint. Sadly it is clear they did not survive this, because the present rails are a patent fine example of T.G. Jackson’s own work. The altar table now in use appears to be part of the memorial to Canon Abbay. The reredos (by Mowbrays of London) and panels fixed on the east wall were added in 1929 as a memorial to the late Canon Abbay - see the inscription carved in the top left hand corner of the panels.
To the north of the chancel arch, tucked in to the left of the organ is a modern window in glowing colours showing St. Edmund and St. Felix, a further memorial to Canon Abbay and other members of his family. The beautiful glass was one of the last commissions of Margaret E. Aldrich Rope of Leiston.
Returning to the chancel steps, one sees the fine but cumbersome oak lectern, another of Sir Auckland Colvin’s gifts. The more practical lectern usually standing below the pulpit is a recent gift in memory of Rev C.G. St. Claire Tisdall.
The kneelers throughout, including those at the communion rails were worked by parishioners in the 1980’s.
Electricity was first installed in the church in 1927. The candelabra now handing throughout the church are the work of Hector Moore of Brandeston, internationally renowned blacksmith.
The tower has a peal of six bells, the oldest of which, like the tower itself, date from about 1470. The bells were rehung in 1898 and again in 1976 (at a cost then of £4000) and are still rung frequently. Entrance to the bell chamber is through the medieval door and up a steep spiral stone stairway. For reasons of safety this door is generally kept locked.
Leaving the church as one entered, one’s eye may well turn to the huge untrimmed yew tree which comprehensively excludes sunlight from within the church throughout much of the day. Beyond it there is a Wellingtonia pine grown from a seed brought from California in 1875. The churchyard has been closed for burials since 1878 but there is a small memorial garden reserved for the interment of ashes on the far eastern edge, in which modest commemorative stones are added.
Churchwarden of St Mary's - Earl Soham:
John Elmore 01728 685814
Parish Email contact: email@example.com