POCKET HISTORIES OF SUFFOLK PARISHES.
No. 306. SOUTH ELMHAM ST. JAMES.

Again we find ourselves amongst the nine parishes originally forming one township, the village in this case being Southelmham St. James, although, to be strictly truthful, there is not a great deal here which can be described a village at all. Yet it would be altogether wrong to imagine that St. James lacks features of interest, for, as one naturally expects of a place whose story is anciently linked with that of the Bishop of Norwich, the parish possesses a rather attractive church-a building whose existence goes back even further than the days of the Normans-back, in fact, to the time when the Anglo-Saxons were in power.

Old cottages, leaning somewhat through the weight of years, add a touch of the picturesque to the neighbourhood of the church, and around the churchyard are tall trees; whilst in the Summer months the air is made very fragrant by the numerous rambler roses which exist in such profusion, even on the walls of the church itself. And the latter is a much larger place than one expects to find, bright and somewhat imposing, a building which possesses a dignified air and a certain suggestion of nobility in its very appearance.

Naturally enough, the church is dedicated to St. James, and consists of chancel, nave with South aisle, South porch, and Western tower, the latter lacking buttresses and providing the link with the Saxon period already noticed. For the string-course of this undoubtedly dates from that particular time, and, if for no other reason is therefore worthy of notice.

Perhaps the first item to attract the attention is the stoup for Holy water which still remains in the porch, and which; despite its over five hundred years of existence, is in quite a good state of preservation-a remark which can be applied, fortunately enough, to many of the early days to the relics belonging to this attractive building.
Amongst these must be mentioned the brasses, for St. James’ is somewhat rich in these, no less than three being in existence and although it is true that they are not all complete, yet they still exercise a certain appeal.

One is on the floor of the nave, and exhibits the effigy of a man in civilian clothes and a woman, these particular specimens probably dating from the beginning of the sixteenth century; whilst another can be seen at the West end of the building near the font, and retains an inscription, from which we find that it refers to Edmund de ffrevyll, who lived and died about the same period, or perhaps a little earlier.

The most interesting brass of all, however,-in one respect, at least-exists in the chancel and commemorates William Grudgfield, who as the remaining part of his inscription states, "gave X pounde to be payed by his executors to ye church wardens within 2 yeres after his decease for ye bying of 5 milsh kyne.

Moreover, apart from the charitable bequest recorded, the brass is interesting because William Grudgfield was connected with a manor here, which manor was known as Rawlings, and like most of the property in the district, belonged in early days to the Bishop of Norwich. And that this worthy prelate had more than a casual acquaintance with Southelmham St. James is proved by the fact that he owned a fairly extensive park in the parish, where, presumably, he spent as much time as his other activities allowed.

It is in 1579 that we first find William Grudgfield mentioned in connection with the manor, and at his death it was vested in John Berney, although the latter was only here for a very short period, as about two years later Thomas Gotts was in possession, whilst, later owners were Stephen Blomefield and Walter Plummer, although eventually, of course, it became the property of the Adair family.

I have briefly touched upon the manor, but now it is time to return to the church, and although there are no more brasses, several floorstones are in evidence, three of those being near the civilian brass. All of them are connected with the same family, one referring to Thomas Greene, who died in 1615, and another commemorating John Greene whose death occurred seventy years later. The other slab covers the, remains of his widow who lived until 1712, and attracts the attention through the difference in the spelling of the surname, the final "e" being omitted - a common enough occurrence at that time, of course, when many people wrote by ear rather than eye.

A list of rectors commences in 1334 with the name of Robert de Stratton, but several items in the building to-day were there when he officiated. One of these is the font, of the square rugged type-the type which seems to suggest the age in which it was produced. For the font, of course, belongs to the Norman period, and although it has suffered slightly it would be ridiculous, of course, to expect otherwise-it still exhibits the original arches on the bowl, somewhat worn, rather faint, but visible enough for those who care to look.

The cover of this splendid survival is of a much later time, as it dates from Perpendicular days, being constructed, probably, in the first half of the fifteenth century. This, however, is also a fine specimen of its kind, its carving being exceptionally delicate and in a remarkable state or preservation -a relic of the past which any church would be proud to possess.

Woodwork, moreover, is exceptionally to the fore in this particular place of worship, for the pulpit is Jacobean, and although it has been somewhat altered, it still bears all the attractive features embodying the remarkable craftsmanship of that golden age - as far as work of this description is concerned at any rate. Then there is what is undoubtedly the greatest treasure of all, the fourteenth-century parclose screen next to the tower, which screen is not impressive through its beauty of carving but because of the rugged grandeur it so strongly exhibits.

For this screen is of that strong and sturdy type one occasionally discovers, a thing of some splendour through its very severity.

Moreover, it has another claim to interest, for it once formed part of the rood which anciently existed in the church and is therefore exceptionally uncommon.

And whilst on the subject of woodwork it is as well to notice the two chests, one at the West end, iron-bound and almost challenging in its appearance of strength, and the other, smaller and newer looking, which is in the vestry.

In contrast to all this ancient work, however, there is some of quite modern date, and what is more it reflects great credit upon the inhabitants of the village for their enthusiasm and what may be termed local patriotism in the cause of the church in which they and their ancestors have worshipped. For the screen, the lectern and the panelling of the chancel all owe their existence to the painstaking efforts and clever craftsmanship of members of the congregation, people who have followed in the footsteps of those stout devotees of old who never spared themselves in their endeavours to beautify their own particular house of worship. Also, as a matter of further interest, the depictions of owls which grace the lectern were the personal contribution of Sir Shafto Adair, the patron of the living.

Originally, there is no doubt that St. James' Church possessed a considerable quantity of coloured glass, and the fact that only a very little remains at the present time is probably due to the destructive hands of the Puritan iconoclasts, who were responsible for so much damage to many of our sacred edifices. Also, the North wall of the nave at one time exhibited paintings, but these have, unfortunately been covered over.

One of the most interesting survivals in the church is undoubtedly the reliquary, which can be seen in the West wall, the reliquary, as its name implies, being a receptable in which holy relics were at one time preserved. However, reliquaries are seldom discovered in places of worship at the present day, and therefore this particular item can be described with every justification as exceedingly rare-so far as Suffolk is concerned, at least.

Two piscinae are in evidence in St. James' Church, and there again the building is somewhat fortunate, for most structures retain one only, although another is met with occasionally. But, as will be gathered from these notes, the church of St. James' possesses several interesting relics which other edifices-larger, perhaps, but less attractive from an historical point of view-are without.

One of these piscinae is in the chancel, whilst the other can be seen in the chapel at the East end of the aisle, which chapel, or rather the aisle itself, is connected with the ancient guild of St. John the Baptist. Also, the chancel possesses sedilia in close proximity-the usual position, of course-to the piscina.

Amongst the other items which attract the attention in the church of St. James are the rood-loft stairs, for unlike those in many other buildings, they are there for all to see. Damaged slightly, perhaps, through the passage of time; a little worn by the feet of various priests who have trod them in days gone by; such things must be expected after the lapse off so many years. And yet these stairs are in much better state of preservation than one usually discovers, so that one can look upon them and mentally visualise something of their story, and in the doing appreciate the antiquity of the church itself.

However, there is little more to say about this extremely interesting building-or rather, there is no space to notice all its features. There is a priest's doorway here, with excellent moulding; there are some interesting windows; but having said so much we must leave the church of St. James to itself and to its past.

Even so, however, it is impossible to finish entirely with the building without again emphasising the most prominent feature about it -at least as far as the stranger is concerned. For here we discover an edifice comparatively large and certainly inviting, which seems almost disproportionate to the village it serves -a structure of dignity, impressive and expansive, and possessing an appeal rather beyond the ordinary.

Such, however, is often to be found in our Suffolk parishes, where our ancestors built nobly, not only for themselves, but for posterity. And when it is remembered that here in South Elmham St. James was once an estate of the great Bishop of Norwich, it will be realised that this village-to-day almost unimportant-was in olden times of some consequence. Now, however, it is quiet and unassuming, a place which keeps very much to itself, and like many human beings in a similar position, is probably the happier for its aloofness.

Yeoman Reprinted from the Suffolk Chronicle and Mercury, March 31st, 1933


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