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 currently open on Monday and Friday mornings from 8.20 am to 9.45 am and Wednesday afternoons from 2.30 pm to 4.00 pm when coffee and tea are available and at service times on Sundays and during Morning Prayer on Fridays. The tower is not open during these times.
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 – 1625)
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.
The 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
The 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 World War.
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 from time to time when the Suffolk Guild of Ringers visit All Saints'.
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.