All Saints’ Church is situated in a large, tree-shaded churchyard framed by the old school house and a group of attractive cottages. Its ancient cream washed walls and flint tower blend into a setting of which any English village would be proud. Yet the building you see in this picture-postcard setting is of infinitely greater significance than it might first appear. It represents a remarkable record of the development of Christianity down the centuries, reflected in both the interior fittings and furnishings and in the records and memorials relating to the people of Darsham who have worshipped here.
The church has been a place of worship for almost a thousand years. It is still in regular use by the people of the parish for prayer, worship and social gatherings, remaining a source of spiritual strength for the whole community.
The building you see today is largely of Norman origin. It has two main areas, a western nave and an easterly chancel. The walls of the nave and chancel were built around 900 years ago and the tower about 400 years later. It was about this time that the main building was made higher and the windows enlarged to make it lighter.
Throughout its history, the building has served as a meeting place for the local community and as a place of worship where the presence of God can be felt. The development of religious thought in the community is reflected in the way this ancient building has been adapted and modified through the ages.
The tower was added in the 16th century. It is built of flint from local fields, and septaria, layers of chalky mudstones outcropping in cliffs along the Suffolk coast and widely used in our Norman churches, perhaps suggesting re-used stone from earlier building. We know that several local people left legacies between 1460 and 1505 in order to pay for the building of the tower.
Running up the southwest corner of the tower is a spiral staircase giving access to the ringing chamber. The small windows that light the stairway can be seen on the west and south walls. Higher up are the windows giving light to the chamber itself. The oldest bell is the St. Thomas Bell. The dedication is written on its rim. It dates from 1460 – 1480 and demonstrates the prestige of Darsham in medieval times.
Bells were costly items but ringing bells had important social and spiritual functions. A bell was rung for the praise of God; it marked the Sabbath and various festivals. It mourned the dead and was tolled for funerals, but it also summoned the people of the village, and was thought to drive away the plague and even to subdue thunderstorms.
By 1656 it would have been rather a disgrace that there was only one bell to toll. Three further bells were cast and a new bell frame was erected in the tower that same year.
The main road from London to Great Yarmouth passed directly by the church, and custom dictated that bells were to be rung when someone important went through the village. It was even known for dignitaries to levy fines against a village if bells were not rung to acknowledge their progress.
The bells still hang in their pre-restoration frame. They are now chimed using an Ellacombe Chiming Apparatus which was installed in 1977.
Stepping inside the church, you will see that the nave has an arch braced roof, supported on miniature wooden pillars (called pilasters) rising from stone corbels.
The plaster ceiling in the chancel is a rare survival of medieval work, it retains its wooden wall plate with its embattled cornice.
The arched opening high on the wall to the south of the chancel arch is all that remains of a stairway, rediscovered during recent renovation work. The bottom is now sealed, but the stair would have led up to a platform spanning the chancel arch, part of a highly decorative rood screen separating the chancel from the nave
The octagonal, 15th century font is of a style common in East Anglia. The excellent quality of the workmanship may suggest it was part of the large scheme of improvements made to the building at the beginning of the 15th century
There are some fine examples of wood carving in the church, dating from medieval times up to the 20th century. You will find twenty early bench ends with traceried panelling and carved ends. Benches would once have been placed round the walls for the sick or elderly – hence the phrase ‘the weakest go to the wall’.
In front of the organ stands part of a set of communion rails from St. Stephen's, Coleman Street, London; bombed in the Second World War.
The Organ dates from 1946, moved to the church and rebuilt by Raysons of Ipswich. It has eight speaking stops on two manuals and pedal board
The bell that stands in front of the WW1 Roll of Honour is the bell of HMS Darsham, The ship's badge is on display on the wall above. A pair of brushes is prominent in its design signifying the ship's role as a minesweeper. She patrolled the coastal waters off Hong Kong after World War II. She was named as a tribute to Darsham children who had sent comforts to the Royal Navy during the conflict
The skills of local craftspeople have made an important contribution. Members of the Martin family and Ronnie Gallant worked on the woodwork of the building. The kneelers were worked between 1972 and 1975, and in 2011 the door curtains were embroidered, depicting village institutions as well as the stained glass in the church windows.
People have been equally generous in maintaining the church with £26,781 raised within the parish from fewer than 300 people for the restoration of the tower in 1991. Most recently national funding organisations have played a part in funding the re-ordering of the west end of the church as a community area, and building a toilet in the churchyard, and in paying for major repairs to the chancel roof.
We hope that this building is a fitting tribute to the tremendous support that it receives from all those who live in the locality, and beyond. By far the most important impression that should be conveyed by a church building today is that it is there for everyone. We hope you find peace within the walls of this place, and as a result may experience something of the universal love of God.
The above are extracts from The Darsham Church Guide written by Mr Andrew Campbell and published in 2015. This is currently on sale in the church price £2.50