Churches are like people – each one is unique and has its great own individual character, moulded over the years by a great deal of love and care, and sometimes a little rough treatment as well! All Saints, like most mediaeval churches, displays workmanship of several periods and architectural styles, as successive generations have altered and beautified it.
The Domesday Survey (1086) indicates that there was a church at Kesgrave at that time and it is likely that a place of Christian worship stood here in Saxon times, a major rebuild took place about 1280 and the core of the mediaeval nave and chancel dates from that time. The original chancel windows survive; these are in the Early English style of architecture and are a rare survival of Early English work in this county.
About 1300 a flint tower was added at the west end, its west window having a ‘Y’ tracery, characteristic of the early of the early years of the Decorated period, c.1300. Maybe the tower was never finished or, more likely, it was completed and either collapsed or partially taken down a later date. The south porch was added a little later in the 14th century and has more advanced Decorated tracery, together with ball-flower ornament over the entrance arch.
During the 15th century the two-light Perpendicular window was placed in the north wall of the nave (also another in the south side); these windows allowed more light to enter than did the Early English windows which they doubtless replaced, and also gave better scope for artists in stained glass. To provide even more light, the small double windows were placed in the nave wall, just beneath the roof. This may have taken place when the nave received its fine hammerbeam roof.
The upper stages of the tower were constructed during th
e early years of the 16th century. Money was left towards the “reparation” of the church in 1535 and maybe the tower was being built at that time; the bell was cast about 1510, possibly for the new tower.
The interior by this time was resplendent with carving and colour, with murals on the walls, painted glass in the windows and a fine rood screen dividing the nave and chancel, above which stood the great Rood, showing Our lord on the cross, flanked by His Mother and St. John.
After the Reformation, the interior was greatly altered to meet the liturgical requirements. Many of its mediaeval adornments were destroyed in the 16th century and further desecration took place during the Puritan ‘purge’ in 1643. William Dowsing, the Parliamentarian inspector of churches visited All Saints to search for “superstitious images and pictures”. He “took down 6 superstitious pictures (in stained glass), and gave order to take down 18 cherubims (angels on the roof) and to levell the chancel”.
Throughout the 17, 18th and early 19th centuries the church was furnished with tall box-pews in the nave and chancel. A small Communion Table was railed off at the east end, above which hung framed tables of the Lord’s Prayer, Creed and Commandments. The square deal pulpit was an important feature at this time, when the emphasis was placed upon the preaching of the Word, with Communion for times per year at the most!
During this period the fabric of our churches was often neglected. When David Elisha Davy visited Kesgrave in 1807, he recorded that the church was not only unfit for worship but was also probably unsafe; the walls were covered with green mould. When he returned in 1843 however, things had improved. The walls had been replastered and the damp corrected. Also the base of the tower had been fitted as a vestry and a new stone font was being made to replace the wooden basin on an octagonal wooden pillar, which had served as a font for several years.
During the great wave of church restorations in the second half of the 19th century, All Saints was thoroughly restored and again altered. In 1873, the roof was repaired, a new roof was placed on the porch and other repairs were done to the fabric. In 1884, the interior was refurnished with new benches, altar, lectern, etc.
It is difficult to realise when we see the extent of Kesgrave today, with its population of about 14,750, that even as late as 1920 All Saints was quite a lonely wayside church, serving a parish whose population had barely risen above 100 souls in its entire history. The church, which (excluding the tower and porch) measured only 65′ x 16.5′, was then quite adequate for the population.
In 1980, to celebrate the seventh centenary of the church, the foundation stone was laid to mark the beginning of the southern extension of the nave and the new vestry complex to the west of it. It was providential that the south nave wall was in need of urgent restoration at the time and this provided an excellent opportunity for a major building programme. The Church in its extended and re-
ordered form was the work of the architect Derek Woodley. He did a great work for the people of the parish – and it is also a sad thought that he recently died at his home in Felixstowe. Along with valuable help from grant-making bodies, the people of the Parish themselves responded magnificently with direct giving.
The result is a tastefully furnished and spacious building, which is thoroughly adaptable and is well-suited to modern liturgical needs, with the old chancel, now screened off, providing a chapel for payer and for small services.
Such, briefly, is the story of All Saints, where craftsmanship of our own time rightly takes its lace alongside ages of past.