The church of St Edmund King and Martyr, Southwold, Suffolk, UK
Canon EOS1000D RAW processed using Topaz Adjust in PS CS5.
The parish church of Southwold is dedicated to St Edmund. It is considered to be one of Suffolk’s finest. The church lies under one continuous roof. It was built over about 60 years from the 1430s to the 1490s, and replaced a smaller 13th century church that was destroyed by fire. The earlier church dated from the time when Southwold was a small fishing hamlet adjacent to the larger Reydon. By the 15th century Southwold was an important town in its own right, and the church was rebuilt to match its power and wealth.
The church is renowned for its East Anglian flushwork, especially that of the tower. Knapped and unknapped flints are arranged in patterns, textures and designs and create the stone work. The curving letters over the west window are most famous: SCT. EDMUND ORA P. NOBIS (St Edmund pray for us). Each letter is crowned, and set in knapped flints. The church has a copper clad roof with an easily recognisable flèche (or spirelet), above a clerestory of eighteen windows. The flèche was purely for display, and has never contained a bell. The tower has no parapet and is a very fine piece of architecture, with its large bell openings. The roof of the nave is so high that it makes the tower seem shorter than it really is; but it is at least 100 feet high. Southwold does not have any surviving medieval glass, thanks to its destruction by William Dowsing in 1644. In fact, the only windows in the church that have stained glass are the East windows over the altar (1954, by Sir Ninian Comper), and the West window below the grand tower. In World War 2 the church was narrowly missed by a German bomb that destroyed houses in the nearby Hollyhock Square. The bomb did not do much damage to the building itself but did blow out most of the windows – another reason why the church has very little stained glass. The church was tidied very quickly for the funerals, a short while later, of the people killed by the bomb.
In the interior, the Southwold rood screen is considered by many to be the finest in the county. It stretches all the way across the church, and is three separate screens; a rood screen across the chancel arch and parclose screens across the north and south chancel aisles. A 15th Century clock jack stands at the west end. He has an axe and bell which he uses to strike the time, and has a twin at Blythburgh. The Southwold jack is special because it has a name – Southwold Jack – and he is one of the symbols of the Adnams brewery. The font has been badly mutilated but is still very impressive with its large ornate cover. The roof in the chancel is painted and its height gives the church a very open feeling. The present-day church community life is extremely diverse and makes good use of St Edmund’s Hall (also destroyed during the Second World War and rebuilt) to the rear of the church.