William Dowsing

In 1644, Parliament had ordered the speedy demolition of all images and superstitious monuments in all churches together with “…things illegal in the worship of God…” that is contravening the second commandment not to make any graven image. William Dowsing’s instructions to supervise this took him to 98 churches in Cambridgeshire and 42 in Suffolk.

On 8th April 1644 he visited Rushmere, Mutford, Frostenden, South Cove, Reydon, Southwold and Walberswick. His journal records that at Southwold “…we brake down 130 superstitious pictures; St, Andrew; and 4 crosses on the four corners of the vestry; and gave orders to take down 20 angels and to take down the cover to the font...”

Rood Screen - Top: defaced angels. Below: damaged images of apostles

Visiting Southwold church today, we can see 36 defaced Rood Screen panels, 12 Angels across the North side, 12 Apostles across the Nave and 12 prophets across the South Aisle. The 20 angels which were taken down from the roof have been replaced by good modern carvings.

The roof boss angels have been replaced.

The Southwold historian, Thomas Gardner, writing 110 years later accused Dowsing of “…blind zeal, ignorant superstition and obstinate bigotry…” Was this a fair assessment ? This was no blind fanaticism but resolute enforcement of what the Bible and Parliamentary injunction had ordered. Dowsing “…was no mindless vandal but a man driven by personal conviction…”