St Gregory, Sudbury
www.suffolkchurches.co.uk - a journey through the churches of Suffolk
All Saints lies to the south of the town, and St Peter is on the market place. Until the Reformation, it was a chapel of ease to St Gregory, before being given its own parish, until redundancy came calling in the 1970s. All Saints and St Peter both have wholly urban settings, hemmed in by shops and housing. But St Gregory's aspect has been revealed by the construction of the ring road, which necessitated demolition of many houses in Gregory Street and Croft Street. With the Croft, a large grassed area leading down to the River Stour, and Leonard Stoke's jewel-like 1890 Church of Our Lady and St John beside it, St Gregory has a lovely setting.
It looks grand from a distance. Close up, it is a large and rather battered old lady. The lower parts of some windows are bricked up, probably an attempt to conserve heat when the church was a preaching house, so that people could endure the long sermons without freezing. The same thing can be seen at Blythburgh. The tower has a stair turret rising above the battlements, in the approved Stour Valley manner. A bequest of 1446 left the money for its construction.
The best approach is from the south, along the line of Gregory Street. Once past the rather alarming war memorial, we enter the graveyard through an avenue leading to the great south porch, contemporary with its clerestory above. The shape is similar to nearby Glemsford, except that here the porch and south chapel are combined, built together. The chapel is flush with the southern entrance to the porch, unlike the same at Stonham Parva, where intruding buttresses reveal that they were built separately.
The chapel formerly contained the shrine of Our Lady of Sudbury; this has been restored recently, four centuries after its destruction, by the adjacent Catholic church. There seems to be a good relationship between these two churches, incidentally; on several occasions recently, St Gregory has been used by the Catholic congregation, who no longer fit into their own church.
This is perhaps the grandest entrance to any Suffolk church, and you step into an interior which is rather pleasingly shabby; one is so used to Stour Valley Perpendicular being trim and shipshape, but here the patina of age survives, as well as a sense of continuity of use. Directly ahead of you is the magnificent font cover, much recoloured, and with its statues replaced. If those at Ufford and Southwold did not exist, it would seem grander. The 19th century restoration here was under the great William Butterfield, his best work in the county. There is a fine sequence of late 19th and early 20th century Saints in the nave windows, which are imposing without being overwhelming.
Look out for the talbot badge here and outside - this dog, similar to a modern greyhound, is the symbol of a rather unsavoury character called Simon of Sudbury, of whom more in a moment. The dado of the roodscreen survives; unfortunately, it has been completely repainted with sentimental early 20th century figures. Other repaintings include the chancel roof and canopy of honour, which are both splendid and memorable. They are done well, and the respect for continuity is like that at Southwold, albeit on a smaller scale.
In contrast to this enthusiasm are the fine medieval benches in the chancel. They are one of the few survivals of the earlier medieval church, before the cloth industry wealth of this town in the 15th century led to the almost complete rebuilding of St Gregory. The earlier church was the work of Simon of Sudbury, Archbishop of Canterbury and Lord Chancellor of all England. His association with this church ended in a traumatic way, as we shall see. The south arcade also survives from his church, completed in the year before his death.
St Gregory has two great survivals, one of which is on permanent display, and the other viewable by appointment.
He founded a College of Canons in 1365 and
rebuilt the chancel to accommodate them. He co-founded it
with his brother John. The college was a secular College
of Canons, dedicated to St Gregory, and the church, which
had formerly been in the gift of Nuneaton Priory, became
the collegiate church. If you step through the gateway to
the west of the church, the buildings in front of you are
the former Union Workhouse of the 1820s - this was the
site of the College, and supposedly the cellars survive
under the workhouse, now private houses.
Simon Knott, 2000, updated 2008