All Saints was originally a Norman flint and rubble church, built for
the new parish created in the south-western corner of the town at the
time of the growing wool trade to serve the thriving centre of commerce
and industry which Sudbury had become. The ford crossing the River Stour
was quickly replaced by a bridge and a small chapel and dorter, long
since demolished, was established on Ballingdon Hill as a respite for
travellers. In 1150 the church and the chapel with their lands were
bought by Adam the Monk for the Abbey at St. Albans, in whose gift it
remained until the Dissolution, when Thomas Eden, Clerk of the Star
Chamber, became patron of the living in 1551. The church was rebuilt
in the early 1300’s in the decorated style (1280 – 1380)
and again in the 15th century, principally in the perpendicular style
(1375 – 1550) leaving only the chancel from the previous structure.
At this time Sudbury was as important a town as Colchester and Norwich
and extremely prosperous having three fine churches within its bounds
– rare for so small a town.
Outside the building
The perpendicular style tower is supported by three elegant angle buttresses
with the stair turret on the south eastern corner. The clear tones of
the eight bells escape through four large belfry windows. Excellent
views of Sudbury and the water meadows can be seen from the top of the
tower from between the stepped battlements.
The huge West window is above the West doors with their finely carved
tracery panels. Continuing to the north into the grave yard, the Gainsborough
family tomb is easily found. Thomas Gainsborough, the artist, was born
in Sudbury but he is not buried in the family mauseleum, prefering a
more modest plain gravestone at St. Anne's Church, Kew.
At the East end of the building is the two storey vestry, constructed
from the earlier 14th century chapel.
Looking at the church from the South, the way the rebuilding was carried
out can be seen easily. The four windows nearest the tower date from
1440 while the next two were completed about 1500 and light the side
chapel. All the windows have fine tracery and hood moulds with carved
heads as stops.
The church is usually kept locked but there are keyholders telephone
numbers on the door. and on the contacts page.
The building is not currently open except at service times
on Sundays and during Small Saints
The chancel is the oldest part of the building. The clerestory windows
were blocked when the chapels were built. The roof was raised in 1882
when the East window was inserted. (Much of the original stained glass
was destroyed by William Dowsing, the iconoclast; in 1643.) All the
furnishings date from 1882. The reading desks may have been made by
Henry Ringham, to a design by C.F.Sprague, which incorporated panels
from the Rood screen. The Holy Table in the Sanctuary is Jacobean (1603
The North Aisle
The north aisle chapel was probably built in 15th century as a chapel
for the Waldegrave family and then the Eden family. Thomas Eden became
patron of the living in 1551. Although most of the chapel is now taken
up with the organ, a painted genealogy of the Eden family dating from
1622, though faded, can still be seen. There are records of bequests
that helped pay for the construction of this aisle, notably 40 shillings
from each Thomas Schorthose in 1459 and Joan Dennis in 1460. The Widow
Joan also left 20 marks for a low bench for the north aisle to match
the one already in the south aisle. The Burkitt family had a vault in
the aisle. Puritans, they were related to Oliver Cromwell and entertained
the poet John Bunyan when he visited Sudbury.
nave is a well-proportioned arcade of five bays with pillars identical
to those in St. Peter’s on Market Hill. Each arch moulding bears
shields, fleurons and crowns, all once gilded and coloured. The tall
clerestory has five bays. The fine cambered tie-beam roof has lost its
angels but retains traces of the medieval painting of arrows and stars,
best seen through binoculars. It is just possible to see where the inscription
on the wall plate has been erased. There was once a rood screen across
the arch that separates the nave from the chancel. The stairs that would
have given access to the top of the screen have been blocked in but
the remains of the upper door can still be seen.
The oak lectern was given in 1919. It has an angel bearing the scriptures
on upraised arms and wings: a memorial to the men of the parish who
fell in the First World War.
The pulpit 1490
pulpit is one of the best examples from the pre Reformation pulpit rising
on a tall stem, beautifully proportioned and richly carved with paterae
below a castellated rim. Its perfect condition was due mainly to its
having been boarded up and plastered before the Restoration of the Monarchy
and remaining hidden for a long period of time so escaping damage when
the church was used as a prison during war with the Dutch in 1660.
During the 19th century extensive work was carried
out to the building which had fallen into a sad state of disrepair.
The spire was removed in 1822. The pulpit was revealed by accident in
1850 and restored by Henry Ringham. The plinth, monogram and stairs
are modern added to the original structure. In 1855 the pews were installed
as part of the restoration, the old box pews having fallen out of favour.
Thomas Elliston was appointed sexton about this time. He set about restoring
the building. He cleared out the fire engine and buckets that were stored
in the south aisle and began making pews and carving the lively poppy
heads on the bench ends. Their dedication date can be found on the front
pew end in the north aisle. The bench nearest the tower door has a bell
in bas-relief showing it to be reserved for the ringers.
The 15th century font is of a traditional East Anglian pattern. It is
octagonal in shape with tracery panels to the bowl and shaft. The panels
on the bowl have shields and quatrefoils (a representation of a flower
with four petals or a leaf with four leaflets)and a deeply traceried
stem. It may once have had a cover similar to the one at Boxford but
that was replaced over a hundred years ago with the more simple one
you can now see.
The Lectern 1919
The oak lectern has an angel bearing the scriptures on upraised arms
and wings: a memorial to the men of the parish who fell in the First
The South Aisle 15th century
This aisle has a stoup by the South door and the remains of a piscina
by the entrance to the south aisle chapel, the last part of the church
to be built, was originally a chantry chapel funded by the Felton family
in 1500. Its parclose screens are similar to those in St. Peters. They
are tall cusped and crocketted arches with dense tracery above, topped
by a vine trailing cresting.
Under the Tower
The tower arch screen from the 1880s incorporates two more of the panels
from the base of the rood screen. In 1927 Walter Tower, the successor
and cousin of Charles Kemp, Master of Glass, completed the glass in
the west window. This is one of the few Suffolk examples of his work.
The tower has a spiral staircase leading to the ringing chamber,
the bell chamber and the roof. The tower is occasionally opened to the
public for a small charge, as the views over Sudbury from the roof of
the tower are well worth the climb.
The bells have a fine tone and may be heard here.
Treble and second cast by John Warner London 1876.
Third: Henry Pleasants Sudbury 1701
Fourth: Miles Gray Colchester 1671
Fifth: Sancta Katerina Ora Pro Noblis pre 1538
Sixth: Sum Rofa Pulfata Mundi Maria Tocata pre 1538
Seventh Stella Maria Maris Sucurre Pussima Nobilis pre 1538 reputed
as the oldest bell of the three pre-reformation bells
Tenor: Recast by John Warner 1875 from the bell of Stephan Toni cast
in 1576. Stephan Toni was a noted bell founder of Bury St Edmunds. This
is the second heaviest bell in Suffolk.