St Mary's Church Combs
How old is the Church?
Ancient churches tend to have evolved over the years as people from different periods and traditions have altered and developed them.
The main historical landmarks for St Mary's, as may be detected from looking at the building itself and what little documentary evidence we have, is given below.
1086. The Domesday Survey mentions the existence of 'one church at Combas'. No evidence of this building remains but it shows that there has been a church here, and almost certainly on this spot, for maybe 1000 years.
c.1300-1345. During this period the core of much of the present church took shape. The west window of the south aisle dates from c.1300. The much restored chancel arch is of a similar date.
The north and south doorways are early 14th century, also the bold arches in the base of the tower suggest that it was begun about this time. Above these arches are carved the engrailed cross of the de Uffords, who were Lords of the Manor here from 1216 - 1381. Around 1330, or just after, the chancel took shape.
The 1400s. There was a great period of church building in Suffolk and here at Combs the nave, aisles and tower assumed their present appearance. The nave was heightened and received a new shallow-pitched roof. Its walls were pierced with elegant clerestory windows. The north and south aisles were altered and possibly extended. They were given their three-light perpendicular windows. The tower was also completed and received its belfry windows and parapet.
c.1500. The South porch was built of Tudor brick, although it received a new entrance arch in the 18th century.
The 1600s. Before the Reformation, the interior must have been a kaleidoscope of colour and carving, providing a host of visual aids to teach the faith to ordinary people who could not read and were not Latin scholars. In the mid 1500s much of this was removed by the reformers. The Puritans in 1640s destroyed a great deal more in their zeal to rid our churches of 'superstitious images and inscriptions'.
1851. The Census of Places of Worship taken this year records that the population of the parish was 1,148. On the census Sunday the morning congregation was 48+49 scholars whilst the afternoon congregation numbered 187+48 scholars. Holy Communion was celebrated four times a year with an average of 34 communicants.
1871. An explosion at the gun-cotton works at Stowmarket blew out much of the church's remarkable 15th century glass.
1885-1886. The church underwent a very thorough restoration to the designs of Herbert J Green of Norwich. The Society for the Protection of Ancient Monuments was consulted and the work was carried out very sensitively. The church was closed for 12 months, when services were held in the Board School or in a large marquee in the churchyard during summer months. The reopening service took place on 16th June 1886. The preacher in the morning service was Canon Samuel Garrett, vicar of St Margaret's Ipswich and the preacher in the evening service was Rev J C Girling, Rector of Coltishall, Norfolk.
The 20th Century. Much has been done over the past 100 years to keep this church intact. In 1943 the large candlesticks were given for use in the sanctuary and the two commandment panels were moved from the sanctuary niches to their present position at the west end of the church.
In 1952 the 15th century glass now in the south-east windows of the south aisle finally came back to Combs. A good amount of stained glass at St Mary's survived both the destruction of the Reformers and also the explosion at Stowmarket gun-cotton works in 1871. The hundreds of assorted fragments were stored in two wooden boxes in the church. The Archdeacon of Suffolk had them deposited in the Victoria and Albert Museum, where they were seen in 1939 by Miss Joan Howson, a stained glass expert from Putney, who offered to reassemble the fragments free of charge. This was delayed by the war years, when the glass was hidden away for safety in a mine at Portmadoc, North Wales and also delayed by a commission for Miss Howson to repair damaged windows at Westminster Abbey. The work was completed in 1952 and the glass was replaced in the two south aisle windows.
In 1963 the present organ was installed by William Bogis of Diss.
In 1995, through the generosity of Mr Clifford Cook, the western sections of the aisles were transformed by the building of a kitchen and toilet facilities on the north side and a vestry and meeting room on the south.
The 21st Century
In 2005 a new heating system was installed in the church.
In 2008 the new disabled ramp and steps were installed at the North entrance.
And so the church building has always adapted to the prevailing needs of the congregation and community. Although this is an ancient building, it will go on evolving and changing to meet the needs of the work of the gospel of Jesus Christ.