There has been a church in Badwell Ash for perhaps 1000 years. The current church is almost certainly the oldest building in the village. The earliest part - the Chancel - probably dates back to reign of Edward III, in the early fourteenth century.
The church is built almost entirely of Suffolk blue flint, which abounds in the village. Stone and gravel were pushed here by the glaciers of the last Ice Age, and then left as a deposit as they retreated northwards. We are probably just on the edge of where some glacier reached before retreating again. The stone which built the church was probably taken from the land between the church and the river, which over the centuries has become marsh meadow land.
In 1476 building work on the tower started. The porch was built between about 1480 to 1500. During the Reformation wallpaintings were covered in limewash, and a lot of the colour and carvings disappeared in a show of puritanical zeal. Some of the flavour of the Medieval church survives however: the angels (restored) on the hammerbeam roof; the 14th Century font; some 15th Century window glass. From 1849 onwards major restoration started and continued for many years. In 1899 the bells were overhauled and rehung.
The church has many interesting features, including an unusual revolving lectern, and two beautiful stained glass windows. One of these is in memory of those from the village who gave their lives in the during the two World Wars. Most villages erected memorials to their dead, but the people of Badwell Ash decided to have their memorial inside the church. This window, in the Lady Chapel, has in its centre Christ on the cross with St. George and St. Michael on either side. St. John is shown kneeling beside the cross. Fifteen people from the village died in the First World War. A great sacrifice for so small a village.
Nikolaus Pevsner's ‘The Buildings of England: Suffolk' (2nd Edition, Penguin 1974) has this entry for Badwell's Church:-
'St Mary. The PISCINA in the S aisle is of c1300, ie has not ogee forms yet. The arcade between nave and aisles with tallish octagonal piers and double-chamfered arches. The chancel is Dec* too. The tracery in the two-light windows has the motif of the four-petalled flower. The N nave windows are Perp**, tall, of two lights. On the S side at that time the clerestory was built or rebuilt with seven windows as against the four bays below. Roof with alternating hammerbeams and tie-beams on short arched braces. Both rest on wall-posts with small figures. Against the hammerbeams bigger figures. The W tower is Perp too. Flushwork emblems on the base, flushwork panelling on the battlements, and an inscription asking for prayers for John Fincham and his wife. Perp finally the S porch. This has a façade with flushwork panelling all over. In the spandrels of the entrance arch St George and the Dragon. Flushwork emblems on the buttresses; for instance a plough and the blacksmith's tools. One niche above the entrance. - FONT. Octangonal, Dec. Shields on the stem. On the bowl ogee arches carried by heads. Embattled top. - PLATE. Elizabethan Cup and Paten.'
* Dec = Decorated. A style of Gothic architecture used from c1250-1350)
**Perp = Perpendicular. A style of Gothic architecture used from c1350-1550)
It has become customary on Christmas Eve to hold a Carol Service at 5 pm, when up to 200 candles are used to illuminate the church. This service has become so popular that there is usually only standing room left by the time the service begins. Unfortunately, this attendance is not shown during the rest of the year. However, anyone wishing to come along to any of the services will be made very welcome.
St Mary's is part of the Benefice of Badwell and Walsham, which comprises 6 churches. The other 5 are: St Bartholomew's Finningham, St Mary's Langham, St Mary's Walsham-le-Willows, St Margaret's Wattisfield and St Margaret's Westhorpe.
The churches share services, given by readers or the Priest in Charge, the Rev Philip Merry. Dates and venues for the services can be found here, or in the 'Hexagon' - a bi-monthly Magazine distributed to homes in the Benefice.
from an original article by Roy le Grice