Our church has stood in Semer for around 700 years and whilst wandering through the village I often wonder, why was it built here, what went on before? A number of folk have posted the same question, my reply is that "I don't know but would dearly like to". People from the Bronze Age took up residence in the field on the other side of the Bildeston Road (go down Dairy Farm Lane and look to the land rising on the left), a pot from that period with the bones of a cremated female were found near to the old water mill and Dairy Farm House. Aerial photography shows marks in the fields of this area that indicate human activity and possible barrow sites.
The site of All Saints was likely to have been old before our church was constructed in the 14th C, perhaps it replaced a wooden Saxon church for the village had been in existence a while before the Domesday Book. Look at the board naming rectors on the South wall, you will see that John was Installed here in 1314, would it be this church or perhaps the one before. This building likely had a crown post and collar purlin roof, see original mark on the tower outside where the earlier and steeper roof connected. In the late 19th C James Y Cooke restored the interior and removed the last traces of the previous timber roof like other churches from the 1530's it would have suffered at the hands of the officers of Henry VIII and may have lost wall paintings, stained glass and perhaps a rood screen. One advantage gained was that the King ordered that all church records, forthwith be written in plain English and we have in Semer to original church records from 1538 listing all the births, marriages and deaths to the present date I also wonder how Peter Barron coped with the pressures of religious changes in those times; another of his colleagues was taken to task by his bishop for working in the open fields in his shirt. The earliest bell was made in Norwich around 1440, more information about this and the other two bells can be found in the Semer Book, written especially for the millennium, a copy can be found in the church and you may purchase your own for only £5, all the money going towards church funds. In the 17th C a John Goodale left twenty shillings a year for bread to be given to the poor, firstly given at the church arch, later in the 19th C the poorer folk collected the bread from the Mission Hall, just beside the old church school. Through the village is a tiny parish the name became well known for the workhouse built on the east side of the village overlooking Hadleigh, we need to remember the many hundreds of people from the surrounding villages who are interred there in the two burial grounds from 1806 to 1923. The workhouse was erected in 1780. The workhouse had its own chapel and another place of worship was the congregation Chapel on the corner of Ash Street and Dairy Farm Lane, built in 1877. Pocket history of Semer Village, Domesday Book “Seamera”
Formerly boasting a somewhat larger population than the present day, Semer has always been known for its “House of Industry”, which was founded in 1780, and contained room for some 500 inmates, although fortunately the average number was only a third of this. As will probably be remembered, the building was razed to the ground in January 1926; but previous to this it had lost its original purpose. During the period which followed its erection, however, the Workhouse was a place of industry in very truth, for in those days before the rear and rattle of machinery superseded the work of human hands the inmates were chiefly engaged in the task of spinning yarn for Norwich, an occupation which the ratepayers of the district had every reason to bless. For, although, when the place was built, a loan of £8000 was necessary, so active were its inhabitants that within 10 years, most of this sum was repaid. Also, it is pleasant to note that according to a menu dated 1784 the unfortunates here were excellently well fed. They lived better than many a poor labourer of the fields outside- whist their education was not neglected, for one of the inmates was a schoolmaster, who was only too anxious and pleased to earn a little in return for mentally assisting his less fortunate brethren.
Moving to the church, by crossing part of a meadow and entering the churchyard, one discovers a mighty tree, with the piping of the blackbird and of the thrush within it's boughs. Standing like some giant of old, gnarled and worn and taking his rest after days of strife, the tree, approximately 350 years old, is a red chestnut tree, 50 ft high, and measures 18 ft girth at chest height; this tree must have been planted as a sapling as it is a hybrid and the seeds (conkers) do not produce. But trees seem everywhere in the Semer churchyard, so that the place appears cut off from the outside world, although where a clearing exists can be seen the rolling green-tinted with the shooting crops.
The Church of All Saints is a building of flint with stone dressings consisting of chancel, nave, south porch, an embattled western tower. Near the edifice is a small mere, and from this village Semere (in the old accounts) is believed to have derived its name. In 1899, the south porch- formerly a structure of wood- was rebuilt, but this was performed in such good taste that it fails to upset the general fine appearance of the building. Unfortunately, however, the interior of All Saints disappoints, for although the outside surroundings are so inviting, the building has not only been modernised to a certain extent, but contains little of particular interest. Various restorations have in fact been necessary on several occasions. In 1873, the chancel, being rebuilt with encaustic tiles, whilst other improvements also occurred including the insertion of a fine oak pulpit, the rebuilding of windows and the addition of a vestry. Again, in 1899 other renovations were undertaken, and the building re-seated with well -crafted oak benches and beautiful chancel screen of oak being added. This screen, in fact, shows its youth in no uncertain manner, but on the walls near the roof of the building are traces of old wood, which seems of suggest that All Saint once contained more items of interest than is the case today. The font is also old and although plain, has a cover with good carving. Anciently, the lordship of Semer belonged to the abbey of Bury St. Edmunds, and was granted to the Cellarer of that place, but it eventually came to the Reverend Thomas Cooke, A.M., for 40 years, rector of the parish, and also, as a tablet on the south wall of the chancel records, “An active and useful magistrate for this county.”. He died in 1793, and Jane, his wife, is also commemorated, whilst the other memorials is one to his successor, the Reverend Charles Cooke, whose death occurred in 1838, and besides being incumbent for 5 years longer than his predecessor, followed in his footsteps as a J.P. Another holder of the living of much earlier days is commemorated by an inscription in Latin, on the North wall of the chancel. This was John Bruning, who was instituted in 1622, and at his death in 1663 was succeeded by Samuel Bruning. The church also contains of a list of the 35 men of Semer who participated in the Great War (1914-18). A splendid average for a population of 200 or so.
There is a Congregational Chapel, erected in 1877, and several charities but unfortunately Semer contains little of interest from a historical aspect, and probably it is only because of the Workhouse, which gave it a certain industrial activity, that Semer is comparatively well-known, when villagers of a similar size are scarcely even heard of.
Compiled by Malcolm and Liam Self
Adapted from research by Michael Thorogood (Village Recorder)