Redgrave Church

Historical notes

 

 

       
St Mary's Church, Redgrave, is large, fine church set away from the present centre of the village. Its size and quality reflect the wealthy patronage of Bury St Edmunds Abbey, which was the second biggest Benedictine monastery in Britain, and maintained a hunting lodge in Redgrave Park.

The present church was built some time in the first half of the 14th century, replacing an earlier Saxon church. It was built in the fashionable 'Decorated' style of the period, and has a stunningly intricate East window and finely carved sedilia in the chancel. The octagonal font and quatrefoil columns in the nave date from this time. A clerestory was added to the roof of the nave a century or so later, with windows in 'Perpendicular' style and decorative flushwork panels of flint.

We know from surviving wills of parishioners that there was a chapel dedicated to St Edmund in the north aisle in 1471, while the south aisle had a Chapel of Our Lady. Peg holes in the chancel arch are the only traces of the large rood screen which would have separated the nave and chancel. At this time the church was dedicated to All Saints.

Nave, showing quatrefoil pillars,
and clerestory in perpendicular style

 
   

The Church as it looked before 1780

Surviving pieces of Mediaeval stained glass

   

Gargoyle

Foliate head

After the Reformation Redgrave Estate was bought by Sir Nicholas Bacon, who later became the Lord Keeper of the Privy Seal for Queen Elizabeth 1st. In 1561 he founded a grammar school in neighbouring Botesdale, and one of its original desks, carved with the names of pupils, can be seen in a corner of the church. Funeral hatchments of the Bacon family hang in the north aisle, where there is also the imposing tomb of Sir Nicholas Bacon junior and his wife Ann, complete with slumbering white marble figures, dating from 1616. His funeral helmet, sword and gauntlets hang nearby.

Bacon funeral helmet

The tomb of Sir Nicholas Bacon II and his wife

 

A Bacon family hatchment

 
About this time a red brick burial chapel and vault for the family was built on the north side of the chancel. Lady Bacon's mother Ann Butts died in 1609, and there is an excellent brass in her memory, said to be one of the finest post-Reformation brasses in England, set into the floor of the sanctuary.
       

In 1702 the Redgrave Estate was bought by Sir John Holt, the Lord Chief Justice of England. He is famous for putting an end to the witchcraft persecutions of those times. After his death in 1710 an elaborate white marble monument sculpted in Baroque style by Thomas Green of Camberwell was erected in the chancel; the writer Daniel Defoe called it a "most exquisite monument and composition".

A new Bacon family burial vault was constructed at the western end of the North aisle.

 

Sir John Holt's memorial

 
       

In the 18th century an enormous wooden reredos bearing the Ten Commandments was erected over the altar; this can now be seen hanging on the wall of the north aisle. A baroque painting of Madonna and Child hangs underneath it. Both ornaments were probably given to the church by Rowland Holt III. In 1786 Holt paid for refurbishing the soft furnishings .
 
While the body of the church is made of flint and freestone, the tower is a grandiose structure incongruously made of white Woolpit brick. About 1770 Redgrave Hall was rebuilt in this material, and it is thought that the tower was remodelled not long afterwards by Rowland Holt III. It contains six bells, including one made in the village in the early 18th century by John Goldsmith. The tower has four pinnacles, which were once adorned with four gilded weathervanes.    
       
In 2010, the paving over the entrance to the burial vaults in the chancel began to collapse, causing a flurry of interest in the media. Historians and archaeologists had an opportunity to study the vault and its contents.  

Remote camera view into burial vault, showing dilapidated Holt family coffins, 2010. Photo courtesy of Bob Hayward.

 
   
Stacked lead coffins (their decorated wooden casings have rotted away)   Archaeologists Julian Litten and Owen Thompson recording vaults contents, 2011   A gilded escutcheon on rotten wood and velvet from an 18th century casing
 
   
Although Redgrave church is a fine building filled with historical interest, it has been made redundant. However visitors may still obtain a key from the Vicar or the Churchwarden.

For more information about Redgrave Church see the booklet 'History of Redgrave Church' by Joanna Todd, available inside the Church.

       
T.D. Holt-Wilson 2003, 2011
With acknowledgement to Clive Paine for information about the church in Mediaeval times.

 
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