St Mary, Kelsale, Suffolk

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Feature Sets (2)


Kelsale is a good-sized village in east Suffolk, a mile N of Saxmundham. Saxmundham, Carlton and Kelsale now form a continuous settlement, and all three are bypassed by a loop of the A12. As so often happens, the main road has effectively cut off part of the old settlement, so that the centre of Kelsale is to the E of the A12 while Kelsale Hall is a mile to the NW, on the other side of it. Kelsale is sited on the side of a hill with the church, at its eastern edge, above the rest of the village. The land falls to the S and W towards the valley of a stream that eventually finds its way into the river Alde. Kelsale church has undergone considerable changes since the 12thc. It originally consisted of an unaisled nave and chancel, and possibly a W tower, but in the 14thc. a broad N aisle was added, higher and wider than the existing church and this became the nave, turning the old nave into a S aisle. The new nave was as long as the old nave and chancel together, and the church was lengthened by the addition of a new chancel (rebuilt in the 1870s), perhaps at the same. The old nave was extended eastwards in the 15thc., alongside the new chancel, to form a two-bay S chapel, and a S porch was added to the aisle. The present church thus consists of a nave with a four-bay S aisle and S porch, and a W tower at the end of the aisle, and a chancel with a 19thc. N vestry and a two-bay S chapel. The 12thc. N doorway was set in the new nave, and an elaborate priest’s doorway was added on the S side of the new chancel chapel, constructed of material that perhaps came from the 12thc. S doorway. Construction is of flint except for the chancel and its chapel, which are of knapped flint. The present 14thc. tower has diagonal buttresses, bell openings with complex flowing tracery and an embattled parapet with flushwork decoration. The 15thc. work also included the insertion of new windows on the N side of the 14thc. nave, and the addition of a spectacular W façade with angle buttresses decorated with flushwork and a five-light W window. There was a restoration in the 1870s, when the S aisle (i.e. the original nave) and the chancel were completely rebuilt. Romanesque features described here are the doorways on the N side of the nave and the S of the chancel chapel. The entrance to the churchyard is through a curious Arts and Crafts lych-gate designed by E.S. Prior.


In 1086 the chief landholder here was Roger Bigod. Northmann held a manor here before the Conquest, and in 1086 it was held by Roger Bigod in demesne with four carucates of land, five acres of meadow, woodland for 60 pigs and a church with 30 acres of land. Northmann's manor also had 35 free men with three carucates of land and an acre of meadow, also held by Roger in demesne in 1086. Added to this as part of Roger's demesne was a manor of two carucates and three acres of meadow, held before the Conquest by Wulfgifu. Robert Malet also held one free man here with 30 acres under the soke of Roger Bigod. Bigod was granted a market at Kelsale by William I (VCH I).

Benefice of Saxmundham with Kelsale cum Carlton.


Exterior Features


Chancel chapel, S doorway

Round headed, of single order. The doorway has been re-set in the 15thc. chapel wall. It is set well above the ground, reached by steps, and is of shelly sandstone. The jambs have angle rolls without capitals but with worn bases of indeterminate form. The imposts are quirked hollow chamfered with a low roll at the bottom of the face. The arch has an angle roll and a deep quadrant hollow outside it, and on all the voussoirs except the three immediately above the imposts on either side, the quadrant is bridged by centripetal units of lateral chevron; flat but rebated around the edge. There is a heavy label carved with a row of centripetal face chevron with angle rolls to the flat triangular units and a serrated inner edge. At the ends of this are label stops in the form of dragons’ heads. The W stop is complete, with bulging almond-shaped eyes, cats’ ears, a single central horn at the crown of the head and a long, broad snout with wrinkles. It is probably 19thc. The E stop is similar but has lost its snout and any ears or horns it might have had. It is certainly 12thc.

h. of opening (to foot of blocks below bases) 1.98 m
w. of opening 0.81 m

Nave, N doorway

Round headed, of two orders. The doorway is re-set in the 14thc. N wall. It is of shelly sandstone.

h. of opening 1.95 m
w. of opening 1.01 m
First order

Angle shafts in the jambs with pseudo-cushion capitals and worn bases, possibly of the same type. The capitals support quirked hollow chamfered imposts. The arch has an angle roll and the face is decorated with a row of centripetal chevron in low relief, surviving only on a few of the voussoirs. At the extrados of this order is a raised row of scalloping.

Second order

Heavy en-delit nook-shafts on bulbous bases with roll neckings. They carry badly eroded scallop capitals with tall cones and small shield, and chipped and broken roll neckings. The E capital may be a triple scallop and the W a double scallop with some form of embellishment at the angle and between the cones of the N face. The imposts are as the first order. The arch has a heavy angle roll with plain chamfered beaker-clasps resting their tips on it. The label has two rows of radial billet.


Smith suggests that the present N doorway was the original S doorway, and the present S chancel doorway was the original N doorway. He may well be right; certainly the S doorway has always been the main entrance to the church, and the present N doorway is very elaborate for its subsidiary position. The beaker clasp and radial billet found on the N doorway are relatively uncommon motifs in Suffolk, and only found together at Kelsale. Elsewhere, beaker clasp occurs at Westhall, ten miles N of Kelsale and Little Glemham, five miles SW. Radial billet is found at Mettingham and Redisham, both near Bungay some 15 miles to the N.


  • Victoria County History: Suffolk I (1911), 469.
  • H. M. Cautley, Suffolk Churches and their Treasures. London 1937, 281.
  • D. P. Mortlock, The Popular Guide to Suffolk Churches: 3 East Suffolk. Cambridge 1992.
  • N. Pevsner, The Buildings of England: Suffolk. Harmondsworth 1961, rev. E. Radcliffe 1975, 312-13.
  • R. Smith, A Short History and Guide to the Parish Church of St Mary and St Peter Kelsale, Suffolk. 1992, revised 1999, reprinted 2004.
Exterior from S
Exterior from NW
Interior to E
Interior S aisle (former nave) to E
Interior S aisle (former nave) to W
Interior nave to W
Lych Gate from W


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TM 388 652 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Suffolk
now: Suffolk
medieval: North Elmham (c.950-1071), Thetford (1071-94), Norwich (from 1094)
now: St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
medieval: St Mary (1224)
now: St Mary and St Peter
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Ron Baxter