...... the pride of Southwold today is in the church which was its pride 500 years ago. A forlorn-looking place when our century opened, it has been lovingly restored so that we see it much as it was when the rich wool merchants built it. A veritable delight to look upon, it is one of the most perfect barn churches in the land, its nave and chancel and aisles enclosed in walls without a break, its windows magnificent, its medieval tower rising 100 feet with chequer work of coloured flints and stone, giving it a beauty not to be forgotten. Above it swings a fisherman's boat as a weathervane. An inscription in stone with a crown over each letter begs St Edmund to pray for us, and on the arch of the tower door below is a dragon and a leopard.

All round the church is a fine array of heads.

IMAGE0356_red.jpgThe white wolf of Henry the Seventh, who gave Southwold its charter, is on the archway of the two-storeyed porch, a place magnificent, with a grand old door carved on both sides. It has richly panelled battlements and a canopied niche between its upper windows, and in the roof are badges and bunches of fruit, while in a panel is a crowned head and the figure of a cock below the arrows of St Edmund's martyrdom. In the upper room (with a secret latch) is a small museum with the stocks and whipping-post (of which copies are on the little green outside) and a 14th century chest. Inside and outside of this church are about a hundred mason marks, some of them finely cut initials and some curiously like insects.
The splendid porch brings us into a splendour greater still, a church 144 feet long and 56 wide, with the peak of a glorious roof 66 feet above the floor. "What a place to sack" the fanatic Dowsing must have said as he rams in with his hatchets and hammers to smash these windows, to break up these saints and angels, and to wreck what he could of the woodwork. Splendid it all is in spite of him ; the great cast window, with 50 figures in its glass, has 20 tons of stone in its framework. 'I he nave roof' is a masterpiece, with its wooden angels jutting out from the hammer beams.

The church is rich beyond most churches in its screens, for it has three of' the 15th century. The wonderful chancel screen runs across the church, one of the richest and daintiest pieces of medieval woodwork in Suffolk. It has 30 painted panels, which have been restored so that we may see them as their 15th century artists left them; one has a picture of the old church before this. In the panels between the nave and the chancel arc the Twelve Apostles. The lady chapel screen has 12 Old Testament figures, and the Holy Trinity screen has archangels and symbolical figures. The Apostles are all shown with their emblems and a quaint touch is given to the panel of St Paul by a picture of a dog chasing a duck.

The stalls of the chancel are carved with a richness reminding us of those in Henry the Seventh's Chapel in Westminster Abbey. On the arm-rests arc angels, grotesques, and animals, and on one stall is a carving of the mouth of hell. The sedilia and a rather unusual piscina are 15th century. The organ is supported by two flying angels and has three trumpeting angels on the top.

The medieval pulpit draws all eyes to it with its vivid colour. It is one of the finest pulpits in the country, its tracery outlined in gold with flowers and other rich ornament all splendidly restored in our time by the daughter town of Southwold in America. It stands on a slender post which grows into a fan, and each of its eight sides is covered with the delicate craftsmanship of its time. The lofty pinnacled cover of the font is a copy of this old craftsmanship. It rises 33 feet from the floor and is a lovely spectacle in red, green, and gold, crowned by a slender spire. The font itself is one of the medieval group illustrating the Seven Sacraments, of which there are about 40 in the country and 12 in Suffolk. The carving on the huge walnut chest, a splendid figure of St George full of energy, was done more than 500 years ago; the chest itself is one of the best in England. The lectern is a copy of an old one in York. The altar table (with a lovely embroidered modern cloth) is Elizabethan, and above it are five panels painted by a modern artist. Four golden angels hold candles at the corners of this reredos.

Two remarkable portraits on wooden bosses the medieval artists have left us here, looking down from the roof of the lady chapel. One of the bosses is that sister of Henry the Eighth who lies by the sanctuary of St Mary's in Bury St Edmunds, the princess who was driven to marry the king of France, became a widow in a month or two, and married the Duke of Suffolk. The other is the duke himself. Both look down from bosses in this roof, he with a curious forked beard, she with a remarkable square headdress. She was the Queen of France for 80 days, and grandmother of poor Lady Jane Grey, who was Queen of England for nine days.

All through the long life of this great church has stood here a young soldier called Jack the Smiter. He has kinsmen at Dennington, Wells, Wimborne, and other places, and his duty is, like theirs, to strike an hour bell with a sword or battleaxe. Southwold Jack is about four feet high, carved in wood, and wears armour of about 1470. His head is made to turn by the same mechanism that raises his arm to strike the bell. He is in armour of the days of the Wars of the Roses, is curiously painted in the original colourings, his cheeks red, his eyes black and white, and in one hand he holds a sword and in the other a battleaxe. Jack the Smiter, a queer helmeted fellow, is one of the most popular figures in Suffolk.

Hanging from a roof not far from Jack is a perfect model of a lifeboat in full sail, a copy of the Alfred Corry, which was dedicated to this church. It is a thank-offering for 20 years of faithful service, almost a record for this dangerous coast. Preserved in the church is a stone with a reference to two wives, and in the churchyard is the grave of two sisters. The wives were those or Thomas Gardner, a Customs Officer who wrote a history of Dunwich, the stone referring to his book and his wives in this way:

Betwixt Honour and Virtue here doth lie
The remains of Old Antiquity.

The two sisters are Agnes Strickland and her biographer Jane. Agnes, the best known of the nine children of the Strickland family, is famous with her sister Elizabeth for the work they wrote together on the Lives of the Queens of England. Their father lived at Reydon Hall near Southwold, but Agnes was born in London in 1796. The father lost most of his fortune and so it became needful for the daughters to earn their living, and they earned it by writing. Agnes was the most prolific author, and wrote many books on kings and queens and other historic figures. The Lives of the Queens has been steadily read for nearly a hundred years. It is a work of great industry rather than of distinction. Elizabeth, strongly objecting to publicity, refused to have her name on the title page, so that the work is generally attributed to Agnes. Both died in the same year, and the biography of Agnes was written by her sister Jane, who lies with her in this churchyard.

Based on the 1930s entry in Arthur Mee's 'THE KING'S ENGLAND; SUFFOLK'