A history of Halesworth, Suffolk, UK, through the ages.


Volume 2


The Development of Halesworth Parish Church 

We know that there was a Saxon church standing on the present site of St. Mary's before the Norman Invasion of 1066, because when William I ordered the Domesday Book to be compiled in 1086, a man named Ulf, who was the priest, held 40 acres of land, which in later years was known as the Rectory Manor.

The original church was probably a small 'two-cell' building with a nave and chancel, and the unusual carved stone panel, known as 'The Danestones' near the High Altar, probably dates from those times. The 'Danestones' were found in three broken sections inside the old Chancel Arch which was being replaced in 1889, and the Rev. A.R.Upcher had them reset into the wall on the south side of the altar as a credence table. The date of the 'Danestones' is uncertain, ranging from 9th century to the 11th century, but they certainly must pre-date the round tower which was built on to the west end of the nave in the twelfth  century. This was discovered during the restoration of the Church in the 1880s as its foundations were located where the font stands at present. This must mean that the west end of the original nave stood at least 16 ft away from the present tower, as the round tower would have a diameter of about 10ft (3metres) and the walls 3ft (1metre) thick.

An enormous enlarging of the Church took place in the early 14th century, as it was in the style of the Decorated Period which covered 1300 - 1400. The nave was extended, the South and North Aisle built, the Chancel probably lengthened and the South Chapel and North Transept erected. The South Chapel, now the Lady Chapel, was dedicated to St.Loye or St.Louis, the Crusader French King, while the North Transept was a chapel or chantry dedicated to St. Anne and endowed by Edward Mylls and Robert Randolph with lands which produced a rent of 4.12s (4.60p) per annum.

It was in the 15th century that an even more thorough rebuilding took place which gave the Church the predominately Perpendicular style of architecture it has today. The round tower had at some point been demolished, and the 15th century tower which replaced it built in square shape west of its site and completed in 1430. The North Porch was also built at this time. The Nave and the two aisles were extended beyond the point of the Round Tower and it is also likely that an earlier South Porch, rebuilt in 1868, was erected at that time. The walls of the Nave and Chancel were heightened and new clerestory windows in Perpendicular style inserted.

The new Perpendicular North Lady Chapel was built with the shields and figures of the Argentein Family on the right-angled buttress on the North East corner, and the rebuilding was probably financed largely by the Argentein Family who were lords of the Halesworth Manor during the period. Shortly afterward a vestry was built on the north-east of the Lady Chapel, with a door to it from the north side of the Chancel. Over the doorway is written in latin a dedication, which translated reads  'Pray for the souls of Thomas Clement and Margaret his wife who built this Vestry'. Thomas Clement died in 1438. On the opposite side of the Chancel is the South side priests' door which was probably used by the Chantry Priest who must have lived in the 'Chauntry House' on edge of the Churchyard.

During the late 18th century, the increased use of the Church caused a gallery to be built on the south side to accommodate more worshippers, and also a west gallery where the organ was positioned. When the outer North Aisle was built in 1824, a further overflow gallery was built along the length of the North Aisle, and the Church remained in this form until the 19th century restorations.


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