The Oxford Dictionary of English Place Names informs us that ‘Brundish’ comes from the Old English ‘burna’ and ‘edisc’ meaning stream with pasture. The stream referred to is almost certainly the River Alde, which rises in Brundish and flows along the eastern boundary of the churchyard.
The church has an idyllic SETTING, towards the eastern border of the parish, away from the main centre of population and with only the Chantry Farmhouse for company - so called because in mediaeval times there was a Chantry at Brundish. That stood not far from the church and was built for prayers and masses for the soul of Sir Robert de Ufford, Earl of Suffolk. It was founded by Sir John Pyeshall, rector of Cawston (not Caston, as is sometimes thought) in Norfolk. He was one of the Earl’s executors and he left provision for six chaplains to pray for his soul and the souls of his benefactors. When Henry VIII dissolved the Chantry in 1545, its yearly value was £13-0s-7½p. Any evidence of it has long disappeared, but it is thought that the Chantry and the parish church were once enclosed by a moat, of which a small part still remains.
For over 400 years Brundish shared a parish priest with Tannington, until 1951, when it was held with Wilby. During the 18th and early 19th centuries it appears to have been regarded as a chapel-of-ease to Tannington. It now has full parish church status.
People have worshipped on this spot for at least 900 years and today St Lawrence’s is still in regular use for Christian worship. It continues to inspire all who come here by its beauty, antiquity and atmosphere - a sermon in craftsmanship, made sacred by centuries of prayer and care.
There was certainly a church here in Norman times and the lower three-quarters of the tower dates from the late 1000s. It seems that this early church was transformed between c.1360 and 1480, when the tower was heightened and the present handsome nave, chancel and porch were built.
The church stands in a large and picturesque CHURCHYARD, which has received much praise for its management. A large variety of wild flowers and birds may be found within its limits. Its eastern boundary is marked by the River Alde, which has its source in Brundish and flows into the North Sea at Aldeburgh. It contains many memorials, which were researched by the staff and pupils of Framlingham College in 1993 and a plan of the churchyard hangs inside the church on the west wall of the nave. The GATES are a memorial to the Revd Sydney Ward, who was rector of Tannington and Brundish from 1908-47. These were restored in 2009.
Like most Suffolk churches, the walls are constructed of flint rubble, gathered from the fields, with dressed stone for the windows, doorways and corners, which was imported (as far as possible by water) from the east Midlands. Here and there are renovations using bricks of varying vintages. Until 1826, the nave and chancel roofs were of lead, which was sold that year to help pay for new slate roofs and for various internal repairs.
The earliest part of the building is the bold western TOWER, much of which has stood since the late 1000s. Like several early towers its corners are not strengthened by buttresses, but consist only of stone quoins. A careful look at the walls in the lower parts will reveal that there are areas where the flints are set in layers. Layered masonry such as this is 11th century work and is part of the original flint facing. Evidence of blocked Norman single windows may be seen above the west doorway and at this level on the north and south sides. At a higher level are pairs of blocked single windows which may have been the original belfry windows.
On the eastern side is a simple two-light early Norman belfry window, the sides and arches of which are decorated with simple nail-head motifs and are divided by a central shaft with a capital.
The tower was drastically altered during the late 1300s, when the single windows were blocked, the west doorway added and the tower was heightened. New belfry windows were provided on the north, south and east faces and the tower was crowned with an embattled parapet, beneath which are fine gargoyle faces on the north and south sides to throw rainwater clear of the walls.
The NAVE and CHANCEL appear to have been rebuilt during the late 1300s and the 1400s and are lit by lofty Perpendicular windows. The north and south nave walls each have three matching two-light windows and a three-light window to the east. The south-west nave window was partially blocked when the porch was built. The windows are linked by continuous stone string-courses which rise to form their hood-moulds. The north doorway is similar in design to the west doorway and retains its original mediaeval door.
The north and south sides of the chancel each have two double perpendicular windows and the width of the east wall is almost filled with a superb five-light east window, with embattled transoms in its fine tracery. The chancel was sensitively restored in 1880 (as can be seen on the iron hopper-heads at the top of the downpipes). A careful look shows where the stonework has been replaced in the east window, also in the priest’s doorway in the south wall, which was given a new arch (decorated with little flowers), hood-mould and corbels. The south chancel buttresses are decorated with original flushwork chequer patterns in flint and stone.
The south PORCH shows good late 15th century architecture, although parts have been restored with brick and its side windows are now almost blocked.
These small double windows have decorated tracery of the early 1300s, possibly re-used from the earlier porch when the present one was built a century later. It is strengthened by buttresses and fine gargoyle faces drain the water from the east and west parapets. The south face has fine flushwork panelling in flint and stone, with trefoil-headed panels and quatrefoils. Above the entrance is a handsome niche for a statue, which has pinnacles and a central finial. The fine entrance arch rests upon moulded and embattled capitals and is framed by a square hood-mould with carved roses and foliage in the spandrels (between hood-mould and arch) and tiny flowers around the border.
The PORCH ROOF retains some solid mediaeval timbers and the rough wooden BENCHES each side of the porch, although not exactly beautiful, are of considerable age. Beside the entrance are the remains of the HOLY WATER STOUP, with moulded stonework in its stem. Here people dipped their fingers in Holy Water and made the sign of the Cross as an act of symbolic cleansing and re-dedication upon entering the sacred building.
The entrance ARCH is contemporary with the north and west doorways and is similarly moulded. Its mediaeval DOOR has been opening and closing to admit worshippers and visitors for maybe 600 years. One of the fine old keys which unlocks it is 9½ inches long and may well be the same age as the door.
The interior is spacious, beautifully proportioned and flooded with light from the clear glass in the windows. The NAVE is almost 30 feet wide, which is a considerable span (the broadest unaisled nave in Suffolk, at nearby Laxfield, reaches 36 feet). Its walls were redecorated in 2002 by a team of volunteers following the granting of a faculty for the work. A specialist paint (Classidur) was used, which allows the walls to breathe.
The TABLE by the tower door, although rather domestic-looking and much altered, contains some 17th century woodwork and probably served as the Communion Table until 1897.
The old BRICK FLOOR (of 1827), the plastered walls and the oil lamps all enhance the atmosphere of rustic antiquity which this church possesses. Yet it is clear that great care and attention to detail have been exercised by its mediaeval builders. The arches of the doorways and windows, for instance, are all framed by internal hood-moulds and their design and tracery are of the highest quality. The blocked section of the south-west nave window retains, in situ, its original iron GLAZING BARS, which nobody bothered to remove when the porch was built.
The ROYAL ARMS of King George III, painted in 1765, hangs on the west wall of the nave, and was skilfully restored by Christine Easton of Bedfield. It is a flamboyant and striking work of art. The TOWER ARCH, with its semi-circular head, dates from the late 1000s. In the late 1700s or early 1800s it was filled in and was given its present rather rustic door.
It is worth going into the tower base to look at the other side of the Norman arch, which cuts through a wall some 4 feet thick. Amongst the items stored here are three BIERS, used for transporting the coffin at a funeral. The smallest is a children’s bier and is at least 200 years old. The TOWER STAIRCASE DOOR on the north side is probably six centuries old. Although a modern hasp and padlock have been fitted to prevent unaccompanied access on safety grounds, its mediaeval lock is still in place.
The tower contains two BELLS. The tenor, weighing 7¾ cwt, was cast by Brasyer of Norwich about 1480 and is inscribed ‘Quefumus Andrea Famulorum Suscipe Vota’. The treble weighs 5 cwt and was cast by Brend of Norwich in 1606. There were once four bells, but two were cracked and were sold in 1827 towards a debt of £120 after repairs to the nave.
The simple FONT (placed at the west end near the entrance to symbolise our entry, through Baptism, into the Church Family) has a shallow octagonal bowl, resting upon a circular shaft and an octagonal base. Although clearly ancient it is difficult to date and may well have been altered over the years. The stem suggests the 1100s or 1200s, but the bowl may well be a century later. A fine font cover was made from blonde oak in 2008 by Peter Taylor of Wickham Market. It is dedicated to his friend, the late Patrick Blake of Needham in Norfolk. Like Peter, Patrick Blake was a skilled craftsman who, before his death, happened to have provided the timber used for the font cover.
The north-west corner of the nave now serves as a VESTRY. Inside it, on the west wall is a CONSECRATION CROSS which has clearly been repainted, but probably replaces an original, which marked one of the places where the Bishop anointed the wall with Holy Oil when he re-consecrated the rebuilt nave in the 15th century. Another may be seen on the eastern nave wall, to the south of the chancel arch. Also in the wall near the vestry entrance, and behind the organ, the plaster has been cut away to reveal rough crosses scratched into the stone.
On the nave side of the vestry partition hangs an old PRINT by W.E. Bishop of Harleston, showing the exterior of the church in 1833. It is interesting to see how little has changed here since then. Nearby is a framed transcript of the FOUNDATION DEED of the Brundish Chantry in 1385. Also displayed here are the PALIMPSEST REPLICAS of the reverse sides of three of the brasses. Monumental brasses were sometimes recycled by being engraved on the reverse side and thus re-used for another person. Looking at these facsimiles we see that the Colby Brass, east of the altar, re-used parts of the earlier brass of a bishop or abbot (other parts of him have been reused at Paston, Norfolk). A shield on the Colby Brass in the nave re-used part of a man’s face of c.1440 and John Colby’s effigy, north of the altar, has on its reverse part of somebody’s clothing with a dagger and belt c.1370.
By the north door of the nave stands a mediaeval MISERICORD seat. Although now rather worn and not in its original place (misericords formed stalls in the chancel), it is a fine piece of woodcarving, particularly beneath the seat. Misericords were indeed ‘mercy-seats’ for clergy and others during long, sung services. The ledge on the tip-up seat could be gently rested upon, but if drowsiness caused the occupant to lean just a little too hard, the resulting crash would wake him up! Not that 95 year old John Pollard lived in those times. The lettering on the back of the stall dates from the late 1700s or early 1800s. Perhaps this Brundish old-timer sat here, or maybe he repaired this ancient treasure.
The nave has a plaster CEILING, which was replaced in 1993 using traditional lath and plaster construction. One wonders what type of timber roof it hides. The nave had a similar ceiling when D.E. Davy visited the church in 1838. He noticed that it bore the date 1826, the year that the roofs received their new slates.
A noteworthy feature of the nave is its set of 15th century BENCHES, which have carved POPPY-HEAD ends. These are now very worn with age and only the two rear benches have remains of their carved armrests; the north has a seated angel and the south a winged creature. Re-used 17th and 18th century panelling from former box pews has been adapted to form backs for the benches. This was probably done in 1826, when the present set of BOX PEWS was made to the east of the benches. A careful look inside these pews however reveals more mediaeval benches, with poppy-head ends, which have been preserved within them. Incorporated in some of the pews, low down, is woodwork from earlier pews, which can also be seen in the wainscotting which lines the walls.
The box pews were often rented by the families that could afford them, whilst the poor, youngsters and strangers had to be content with the more uncomfortable benches at the back. At the time of the religious census in 1851 there were 120 sittings free of pew-rents and 100 which were rented. Average Sunday attendances were 30 in the morning and 70 in the afternoon, also 30 or so children who attended both services. The Holy Communion was celebrated four times per year, with an average of 15 communicants.
Parts of the PULPIT, which has traceried panels, may well be 15th century. It has a fine 17th century TESTER (or sounding-board, to throw the preacher’s voice outwards rather than upwards) and BACK-PANEL. These have recently been restored and were re-fitted in 2008 after having been absent for some 25 years.
In the window-splay beside the pulpit is a beautiful cinquefoil-headed NICHE with a pedestal for a former statue. In its stonework are faint traces of original mediaeval colouring. Beneath the window is a beautifully-moulded arched TOMB RECESS, which could have marked the tomb of a benefactor of the rebuilt nave. The brass, which does not really belong here, will be described later.
In the south wall, opposite, where the wall is cut away, is the site of the ROOD-LOFT STAIRCASE. This gave access to the loft (or gallery) which jutted out into the nave above the rood screen, dividing the nave from the chancel. The loft, screen and the great rood crucifix which filled the chancel arch have long disappeared (but a remnant of the rood-screen can be seen behind the south door). In the window-splay nearby is another image NICHE. These niches probably contained statues of the saints associated with the altars which stood each side of the chancel arch before the Reformation.
The ORGAN was completed in October 2010 by Peter Bumstead, organ builder of Ipswich. It has seven speaking stops, six on the manual and one on the pedals. It incorporates parts of a small organ of circa 1845 which was rescued from Draycott Methodist Church in Somerset when that church closed in the late 1970s. After many years’ use as a temporary organ by an organ builder in the Bristol area it was acquired by Peter Bumstead in 2001. It now forms the basis of the Brundish organ. The case, designed and made by the organ builder, takes its inspiration from the small number of ’Gothic Renaissance’ organ cases of the mid 19th century by Pugin and his disciples. The angel was carved from limewood by Andrew Beckwith of Northumberland. It was gilded by Daniel Whiteside of Framlingham. The organ has a gentle, attractive and powerful sound, and as can be seen, has been finished in a colour which complements the quiet green-white interior of the church.
The wide and lofty CHANCEL ARCH has moulded capitals and is framed by a hood-mould which rests upon original male and female corbel heads. In the responds (sides) of the arch can be seen the plates where the former rood-beam fitted. All roods and rood-lofts were destroyed by law in the 1540s (although sometimes the screen was retained). David Elisha Davy’s notes from his visit in 1809 record that the upper part of the chancel arch was then occupied by the Lord’s Prayer, Creed, Commandments and the Royal Arms.
More destruction took place in the 1640s by order of the Puritans, in their zeal to rid churches of what they called ‘superstitious images and inscriptions’. The Puritan Inspector, William Dowsing (who was born in Laxfield and possessed land here in Brundish) visited the church on 3rd April 1644 and recorded in his Journal: ‘There were 5 pictures of Christ, the 12 apostles, a Crucifix, and divers superstitious pictures. The Vicar have 2 livings’.
The ‘pictures’ mentioned were almost certainly in MEDIAEVAL STAINED GLASS, which must have filled these great windows, providing a host of visual aids to teach the Faith to folk who could not read, nor understand the Latin of the scriptures and services. The Puritans clearly did a very thorough job, because only a very few tiny fragments remain. These can be seen in the tracery of the two centre windows each side of the nave, in the north-east and south-east chancel windows and in the EAST WINDOW. Here we see several original fragments in the three centre lights and in two panels of the tracery, including a king‘s crowned head and a strange little creature, like a devil. This window has a hood-mould with carved corbel heads. A careful look at the wall each side of this window (near the level of the springing of the arch) reveals traces of CARVED LETTERING, which is now almost obscured. What this inscription says has not been discovered, but it is clearly mediaeval.
The chancel underwent restoration during the Spring of 1880 and was re-opened on 13th June. Although the architect’s name is not recorded, it may very well have been the versatile Edward Fearnley Bisshopp of Ipswich, who designed several Ipswich and Suffolk church restorations. Here the plaster ceiling was replaced by the present simple hammerbeam ROOF, also the chancel was given new floors and was furnished with its present STALLS and COMMUNION RAILS.
The altar table was made in 1897, as was the PANELLING along the east wall behind it, in memory of Mary Ann Kemball of Brundish House, which incorporates the earlier panels inscribed with the LORD’S PRAYER, CREED AND COMMANDMENTS, dating maybe from 1765, when the Royal Arms was made.
On the north side of the sanctuary is the 18th century PARISH CHEST. Although plain in comparison with some of our splendid mediaeval chests, it nevertheless has the statutory three locks. Originally the rector and two churchwardens each possessed a key, so that all three needed to be present for the chest to be opened.
The south-east windowsill has been lowered to form a SEDILIA, where the Celebrant, Deacon and Sub-Deacon could sit during parts of the mediaeval High Mass.
Beside it is a beautiful ANGLE PISCINA, dating from the 14th century. It’s handsome ogee-shaped arch is adorned with foliage crockets and terminates in a finial and is flanked by crocketted pinnacles. It is supported upon a circular pillar, which also supports a smaller western arch. Into the piscina drain was poured the disposable water used at the Mass. In the wall to the east are two small mediaeval AUMBRIES, or cupboards.
In the floors and on the walls are MEMORIALS to people of the past who have been part of this church and parish.
Five interesting monumental BRASSES still remain in place, and this church is fortunate to possess so many, although there were more at one time.
1. The most interesting of these brasses is that of Sir Edmund de Brundish, which can be seen beneath the recess of the founder’s tomb in the north wall of the nave. It is thought by some authorities that this was moved here from elsewhere. It dates from about 1380 and comprises the effigy of a priest in Eucharistic vestments (28” x 7½”) and an inscription (20¾” x 3”), in Norman French, which reads:
“Sire Esmound de Burnedissh iadys person del esglise de castre gist icy dieu de salme eit m”
2. In the nave floor to the south of Sir Edmund is another fine brass, consisting of the effigies of a man in armour, with his head resting upon a helmet, and his wife (each 16¼” x 5¾”). Beneath them is an inscription
(16½” x 4¼” ) and groups of four sons and nine daughters (6½” tall). Above them is a shield (7¾” x 6¼” ), whilst at the four corners are three 5¼” x 4¼” shields and the indent for a fourth. The inscription reads:
“Here lieth buried the bodies of John Colby Esquier and Alice his wife, who had yssue betwine them 1111 sonnes and IX daughters and ye said John deceased in Anno 1540 and Alice his wife deceased Anno 1560”.
3. In the sanctuary floor, to the north of the altar, is the brass of their son, John, showing him in armour, with his head resting upon a helmet (16¼” x 5½”), with a shield (7¼” x 6¼”) above. Two of the four shields at the corners (5¼” x 4¼”) remain and the inscription (20” x 5¼”) reads:
“Within this grave entombed lieth a man of noble fame. / A souldier to the prince was he, John Colby was his name. / He lived thirty yeares and nyne, in credit with the best, / And died such as here yow see, his soule in heaven doth reste. The xxix of November, in Anno D’ni 1559”.
4. To the east of the altar is the brass of Francis Colby and his wife Margaret. That of Francis is a copy, the original being in a collection at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pennsylvania, USA. It is known that both effigies were here in 1853. Margaret, now minus her head, is dressed in an embroidered petticoat (13½” to neck x 6¼“). The inscription is lost, also one of the four 5¼” x 4½“ corner shield. Margaret died about 1570 and Francis lived until 1599.
NB The brass of Francis Colby was the feature of a major article in the ‘Monumental Brass Society Bulletin 95 January 2004’ – see: www.mbs-brasses.co.uk
5. To the south of the altar is another brass, which is complete and consists of the effigy of a young man, in a furred robe, kneeling at a desk (10” x 7½”). Above him is a fine shield (7¼” x 6¾” ) and at the corners are four smaller shields (5½” x 4½”). Beneath the figure is an inscription (14¼” x 8”) to Thomas Glemham, who died in 1571, which reads:
“Yf life in God and like of good, / Yf love of Christ and eke His Word, / Yf strife with vice, as fire with wood, / Yf death with faith in th’ only Lord / Are tokens sure of endles blise, / Which God prepared hath for His. / Then Thomas Glemham here doth lye, / Who rests with Christ in Heauen hye”
Under the matting of the nave gangway are BURIAL SLABS with indents for other lost brasses, including those of a priest, a civilian and some inscriptions. Also in the floors are several LEDGER SLABS, some with incised coats of arms. These commemorate:
1. JAMES WYARD (died 1741). His niece Elizabeth (wife of Caesar Thomas Gooch) placed this slab here to commemorate a man:
“Whose modesty to his Superiors, Sincerity to his Friends, and
benevolence to the Poor, Had justly rendered him Esteemed, Beloved &
Honoured by all who knew him“. (Sanctuary, south)
2. JAMES WYARD (died February 1715) and JANE (died July 1715). (Sanctuary, north)
3. SUSAN WYARD (nee Stebbing of Monewdon), died 1670. (Chancel, south)
4. JAMES WYARD GOOCH (died 1814) and his daughter, DOROTHY GOOCH (died 1811), also the Revd CAESAR THOMAS GOOCH (died 1829). (Chancel, south)
5. JOHN WYARD (husband of Susan), died 1669, having:
“served his Country in ye office of High Sherife at ye time of his Majesty’s
happy returne ... “. (Chancel, north)
6. MARY WYARD (youngest daughter of John and Susan), died 1700. (Chancel, north)
7. JAMES VERDON (died 1711) and MARY (died 1695). (Chancel, west)
The following PLAQUES on the walls commemorate:
1. ROBERT GARRARD of The Grove Brundish (died 1895). (Brass plaque, Chancel, south).
2. WILLIAM BECKFORD MILLER (died 1844). He was a bookseller in the City of Westminster. His son, the Revd Stanley Miller, although rector here, resided at Dennington. (Marble plaque, chancel, north).
3. JUDITH CALVERT (wife of Turner Calvert) of Brundish Lodge (died November 1766). Also her infant son, TURNER (died October 1766). This marble plaque, with coat of arms beneath, has a lovely tribute to her. (Nave, north).
4. Bronze WAR MEMORIAL plaque, by Showell of Birmingham, recording 19 Brundish folk who were killed in World War 1. Two framed lists record the names of those who served in both World Wars, and a small frame records the name of James Abbott, who did not return from World War 2. (Nave, north).
Amongst the furniture in the chancel are several items. A votive candle tray, two flower stands, an advent candle stand and a paschal candle stand. These were given by parishioners in memory of late family members.
Amongst the church PLATE (in safe-keeping and not on display) is a strange two-handled silver cup, without a stand, which is used as a chalice. There is also a paten of late 17th century date and a handsome ewer for water at Baptisms.
The REGISTERS of the church date back to the year 1539. The oldest of these are housed in the Suffolk Record Office, Ipswich, for safe-keeping in accordance with Church of England procedures.