St. Mary's Church
People have worshipped in St. Mary’s Church in Worlingworth for possibly a thousand years and the church has borne witness to many memorable events and notable local people. Ostensibly an ordinary parish church, St. Mary’s, to the keen historian, possesses an abundance of fascinating history. The chancel is the oldest part of the present church (late 13th century) and is of the Early English Decorated style. The nave is in the Perpendicular style from the 15th century and possesses a magnificent double-hammerbeam roof.
At the west end of the nave stands the 15th century font with its glorious font cover, which reputedly was brought from the Abbey at Bury St Edmunds. Equally impressive are the handsome lectern and pulpit and the elaborately-carved Jacobean pews.
The chancel was thoroughly restored in 1866 when a new roof, east wall, and two new buttresses were added at a cost of £800. The restoration work was well documented at the time, with a specification of works and accounts of the Rector, who paid for half of the cost of the work. These documents still exist and are held at the Suffolk Records Office.
Of particular interest to the historian are the many memorials within the church which commemorate past worthies and one or two curious artefacts; amongst these is the original parish fire engine, given to the parish in 1760 by Sir John Major of Worlingworth Hall and in use until 1927. The hose end was said to eject a jet of water as high as the bell-tower.
Another artefact, an ash beam used as an ox spit at the great Worlingworth Jubilee Feast of 1810, stands in the corner of the nave. It was recalled by James Newson, a carpenter and wheelwright of the Victorian era, that because the wood was newly cut, when the ox was roasted, sap oozed from the timber and tainted the meat. Newson was present and was also the craftsman who took down the western gallery of the church in 1866.
The ornate memorials in the chancel mainly commemorate the Majors and Hennikers of Worlingworth Hall and Thornham Hall and also the relatives of the Reverend Frederick French, 54 years the Rector of this parish during Queen Victoria's reign. There are also a number of interesting burial slabs, some of which were moved from the chancel to the west end of the nave during the 1866 chancel restoration. Fragments of medieval glass can be seen in the topmost lights of the nave windows. The more modern stained glass (from French's rectorship) commemorates some of his children and is beautiful and tasteful.
The history of Worlingworth is not just about its gentry and clergy - a walk around the churchyard will take you past the graves of the farmers, tradesmen and craftsmen and their families who shaped the development of this rural community. Much of the work of the History Group has been to research the lives of some of these people (such as the Cordy family of shopkeepers) and bring these otherwise forgotten stories into the public domain.
The church and its graveyard are well maintained and cared for by its congregation. An index of the identifiable graves in the churchyard is kept and the recording of many of the monumental inscription verses and epitaphs has been progressing. A booklet of these inscriptions has to be produced. There is also a church history guide, which has recently been completely updated by the History Group.