The Church has stood in the middle of the village for 550 years, with the tower reaching a hundred feet into the Suffolk sky. Ten bells ring out to call the parishioners to worship, and on festive days in the church or the nation’s calendar, flags are flown. Seen here is the “Church Flag”, with the red cross of St George, Patron Saint of England, and the shield bearing the arms of the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich of which the Parish of All Saints, Stradbroke, in the Deanery of Hoxne, is part. This flag is used for church festivals, the Union Flag and the St George’s Flag for national events.
The Church has a programme of services and events throughout the year, details of which can be found on the church notice board. Among the annual events that attract many visitors are the Art Exhibition and sale of pictures after Easter, the “Gardens Open” in the summer, and the Church Flower Festival. All Saints Church has gained a great reputation in Stradbroke for the its flower festivals which, each year, provide a colourful opportunity to celebrate an anniversary or to bring a subject of prayerful interest before many delighted eyes.
Before the Reformation
There has been a church at Stradbroke for at least 900 years. The Doomsday Survey of 1086 records the existence of two churches. Nothing survived from the Saxon or Norman church. The oldest work is from the 14th century and most of the fabric dates from the 15th century – the period when so many of our grand Suffolk churches took their present shape, and when the Perpendicular style of architecture was at its zenith. At the time of the Doomsday Survey, it seems that Stradbroke Church was in the care of the Benedictine Priory at Eye, but by the 14th century the advowson of the living (the income and the right to appoint the Vicar) was in the hands of the College of Priests at Wingfield. The first Master of Wingfield College, Peter Brown, resigned to become Stradbroke’s vicar in 1371, and in 1492 Ludovicus Bradley, another Wingfield priest, became vicar here. Stradbroke’s connection with Wingfield brought it into contact with the De La Poles, the Dukes of Suffolk. This family were great church builders and almost certainly had part in the rebuilding of this grand church in the 15th century.
Richard Phipson, the architect of the 1870s restoration, believed the chancel was 14th century, and that the rest of the church was added to this in the 15th century, replacing a Norman or 13th century structure. There were two chantry chapels at the east end of the aisles. That on the north side was for Sir Richard Brewse, whose family owned one of the manors, and the south chapel (founded circa 1306) belonged to the Shelton family, who owned the other manor. These chapels were dedicated to Our Lady and to her mother Saint Anne.
The coronets and roses on the great west doorway, lead several experts to believe that Stradbroke’s glorious tower was built by William De La Pole, who died in 1450.
Records of bequests during the second half of the 15th century, tell us that there was much rebuilding and refurbishment taking place over this period.
From Reformation to the Mid 19th Century
With the reformation in the mid 16th century came new liturgical requirements, which changed the interior decor of churches. Services were now in English rather than Latin, and old visual aids were no longer necessary, so a great deal of colour and craftmanship was destroyed. Among many other changes during this time, the Chantry Chapels were suppressed, roods were taken down, Queen Elizabeth I ordered that stone altars should be replaced by wooden tables, and the wall paintings were replaced by godly texts in English.
Several remaining items of pre-Reformation craftsmanship which had survived, did not escape the eagle eye of William Dowsing, the Puritan inspector of churches for the destruction of ‘superstitious’ images and inscriptions, who had lived in nearby Laxfield.
The 18th and early 19th century saw our churches furnished for the plain and Prayer Book worship of the Established Church. The people sat (according to their various stations and classes) in tall, square, box-pews. Towering above these was the 3-decker pulpit, where the parson preached from the top deck, read the service from the middle deck, and in the lower deck sat the Parish Clerk, who kept his eye on the congregation and led them in responses and the amen.
In 1823 the Reverend William White became Vicar of Stradbroke. He was concerned about the dilapidated state of the church at that time and especially the poor seating. About 1824 he restored the building and had new box-pews made. This was of course well before the Victorian period and the Gothic Revival, so his pew scheme was in accordance with the 18th century fashion of box-pews gathered around the pulpit.
The Restoration in the Mid 1870s
The vicar from 1861-1880 was the Reverend J.C. Ryle, who was one of the leading Evangelicals of the second half of the 19th century. He had restored the Helmingham Church and had preached at the reopening services after restoration of several churches. In 1870, he began to appeal for money to restore Stradbroke Church and issued a tract setting out his needs and asking his friends, admirers, and readers all over the United Kingdom to raise the £2700 which he needed restore his church.
The restoration was a thorough one and much of what we see today in the church dates from that time. In a way this is superficially a largely Victorian church. What was not renewed was carefully cleaned and replaced in many instances. The work was done accurately and sympathetically.
The architect was Richard Makilwaine Phipson, the surveyor to the Diocese of Norwich, who restored many East Anglian churches. The newspaper account of the restoration commented that “Mr Phipson has a horror of doing things by halves”, and this is very true of the work here.