SOUTH ELMHAM ALL SAINTS-CUM-ST. NICHOLAS.

Many an expression referring to places or people in Suffolk has so passed into general usage that it fails to arouse the slightest comment, unless, perhaps, it reaches the ears of some wide-awake journalist of the popular Press, in which case his newspaper produces this latest philological discovery as another example of the curious English spoken by inhabitants of these outlandish parts. Whilst readers whose acquaintance with Suffolk is often of the slenderest-a fortnight at Walberswick in August, or a motor dash to Thorpeness for a long week-end-rush into print immediately in order to explain exactly how they heard the word pronounced in the tap-room of the Lamb and Leveret, when the car broke down that Saturday night five Summers ago.

Thus we have the Southelmhams, intcluding Flixton and Homersfield, always called "The Parishes," or "The Nine Parishes," by people living within their boundaries or a short distance away, and I must confess that this somewhat loose term conveyed nothing to me - except, of course, the obvious-until I discovered in the Suffolk Archaeological Proceedings of sixty-one years ago what seems to be a feasible explanation. For the more one considers the matter, the more curious it seems, that out of the five hundred or so parishes of Suffolk, these in particular should be so grouped. The theory of the writer concerned, however, goes right back to the days of the Saxons, at which period the word "parochia" applied to the site of a bishop's see before the land was actually split up into various parishes. Thus the "parochia" of the people who flourished here before the Conqueror's coming, is "The Parishes" of today-an interesting and entertaining philological example, that makes one inclined to wonder why nobody had placed it on record before. At any rate, the originator of the explanation was quite confident of its soundness, for he conveyed that in no other instance could he discover facts which so satisfactorily dovetailed.

Also, as a matter of further interest, ruins in the parish of St. Cross are still called the Minster, which suggests that a religious structure existed here in Saxon times, even although the present remains are probably Norman, whilst quite obviously Flixton takes its name from Felix, the first Bishop of East Anglia both of which facts refute the statements of many historians that North Elmham in Norfolk was the see of the early Bishops-a suggestion which any man of Suffolk would laugh to scorn immediately!

Having said so much, however, it is necessary to discover something about the particular Southelmham which forms the subject of this week's article, the village of All Saints-cum-St.Nicholas, whose double-barrelled name arises from the fact that originally a church dedicated to St. Nicholas existed here and remains of this were to be seen until comparatively recent times. But to-day only a stone cross marks the site, through which the name of this ancient building is, fortunately enough perpetuated.

Actually, the most prominent part of the village of All Saints, Southelmham, is its green, for here is no mere patch of grass dignified by the name, but an extensive plot indeed, on which animals graze peacefully, as though they fear no interference from the outside world in which, undoubtedly, they are on safe ground. Fronting this green are habitations of varied styles and architecture, but the majority of them attractive not only in themselves, but because of their serene surroundings, whilst amongst them, flaunting a sign for all to see, and therefore standing out from its neighbours, is the local hostelry.

But if the stranger imagines that here is all that counts in the scheme of things as far as Southelmham All Saints is concerned, he is very much mistaken, for some distance away is the village place of worship, in which are several signs of an interesting past. Yet no high road leads to the church of All Saints. Indeed, it is to be discovered amidst the fields, quite a distance from the main part of the village, so that its very appearance in such surroundings suggests a building of the lost, a structure which the tidal wave of modernity has left upon a strand far from the crush of life.

However, there is a definite appeal about the church, an appeal engendered by its truly rural environment of cultivated fields and flourishing crops, of straggling hedgerows and green grass closely cropped by browsing cattle Here, in fact, is the fascination which ever reveals itself in the Suffolk countryside, an appeal insistent in its prominence, and so obvious that it seems impossible that there are people who still fail to realise its unrivalled charm.

Near the church is a farmhouse whose fine chimneys convey something of the glory which once existed here. For this particular habitation is actually reared on the site of a moated grange, where in the dim days gone these many years, knights and ladies made merry, and the world-for them, at least-was good to live in.

Perhaps the first impression one receives of All Saints Church is the massive appearance of the tower, as this is no ordinary affair, but one dating from the times of the Normans. Yet the period of its construction is not the only point of interest about the tower, rather it is the tremendous walls, mellowed by age and seemingly gathering strength throughout the years, which attract the attention, so that here seems to exist a building almost fortress-like in its significance, and forming a kind of grim contrast to the quiet rural aspect of the surrounding countryside.

Directly the interior of the church is gained,however, one appreciates that the building is typical of many others to be discovered in various out-of-the-way spots in Suffolk county - buildings which suggest the atmosphere of the places they serve, and in whose very aspect the whole life of the populace seems to be irretrievably intermingled. First, of all, naturally enough, we have the porch-incidentally, the edifice consists of chancel, nave, South porch and aisle, and the round tower already noticed - but the porch apart from claiming our early attention has an attraction all its own, even although it dates from recent times. The original porch was certainly an impressive affair with its upper storey, but unfortunately it was in such a bad state just over sixty years ago that demolition became necessary, and the present affair is the outcome. However, the inner doorway of the porch - which possesses mediaeval benches with weird and wonderful carvings -has been copied so faithfully in the style of its Norman predecessor that it still exerts a definite appeal, for apparently it is of exactly the same type of building as the original without embellishments or nineteenth century additions.

As one enters the nave a floorstone near the porch reveals itself, and upon closer inspection its inscription is easily distinguished. It refers to Robert Harvey, one time resident of Ditchingham, who was buried in 1756 "in hopes of the Resurrection of the Just," whilst Margaret, his wife, who outlived him some nine years is also commemorated.

Next to this is another slab of the previous century, although, unfortunately, much of the inscription is indecipherable, whilst close by are older relics still which in their very appearance seem pathetic. Here are three stones, on which brasses once existed, and, in fact, one of them retains the matrices of a man, a woman, and shields, but of the people buried here there is no inkling, although perhaps the stones cover the remains of some of the Throckmorton family, once resident at the Grange, nearby, whose successor on the same site we have already noticed.

The round tower is not only interesting so far as its outside appearance is concerned, but through its interior Norman arch with its delicately carved screen, whilst there is a tablet stating that the tower was restored in 1912 by the then rector, the Rev. Horatio Millett, R.N., to the memory of his sister. Also the influence of the Normans in the church is very apparent, more especially in the font, for here is is an affair which even a casual glance reveals the ruggedness allied with a certain rude beauty of craftsmanship one associates with the period. A square bowl, supported by a pillar at each corner and a central pedestal, is decorated with arcades, and so well has it been preserved, so clean-cut its workmanship that except for its style it is almost impossiblle to realise that nearly nine hundred years has passed since it came into being.

Other relics of the Normans can be seen in several of the windows, queer little affairs, and fascinating, and which always seem to suggest a mediaeval fortress rather than a church. One of the most noteworthy survivals of which this house of worship can boast, however, is to be found in the chancel-which, incidentally, has no arch for here is a treble piscina, which in view of its rarity is certainly worthy of comment, whilst in other ways it is undoubtedly remarkable. Then other attractive features here are good benchends, delicately carved, and in excellent condition.

Now, however, we must leave this house of worship, set amidst the fields so far distant from the main portion of the village, whose inhabitants have worshipped beneath its roof for centuries past-leave it to its quiet and its memories. For it is advisable to touch lightly upon the manor, which, spread over the "nine parishes," was presented to Felix the Burgundian Bishop, by the King of the East Angles somewhere about 680. When the Domesday Survey was brought into being, however, Robert Malet was in possession, and later it came to William de Nevery, who in the second year of the twelfth century sold it to Hubert de Losinga, Bishop of Norwich, and in the hands of the latter and his successors it remained until 1535, when it was taken over by Henry the Eighth in exchange for other lands, although in this case one rather wonders whether the adage “exchange is no robbery” applies! At anyrate, soon afterwards, we find Sir Edward North in possession, also through exchange. He was treasurer of the Court of Augmentations, and in 1553 was summoned to Parliament as Lord North, and twelve years later the manor passed to his son and heir, Roger. The grandson of the latter and third Lord, Dudley, sold in 1613 to Sir John Tasburgh, Knight, and it was this Sir John who was responsible for the erection of Flixton Hall-not, however, the one existing to-day, for the earlier building was destroyed by fire nearly ninety years ago, when in possession of the Adair family, who bought the manor of Southelmham in the middle of the eighteenth century, and are there at the present time.

As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, however, it is the way in which the existence of an ancient diocese has been perpetuated through the Southelmhams still being designated locally "The Parishes." which seems strangely intriguing. There they are, pleasant little villages sprawling over North-East Suffolk, and yet in themselves of an historical importance rather extraordinary, simply because throughout the centuries the inhabitants have stoutly stuck to a designation which connects the Southelmhams with the prelates who wrought here in the early days of England's Christian story.

Yeoman
September 1st 1933

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