THE PARISH CHURCHES OF FELTWELL
Dedicated to St. Mary and St. Nicholas
Unlike most villages Feltwell has the distinction of having two Parish Churches - one a large handsome building dedicated to St. Mary the Virgin, and the other smaller and plainer, dedicated to St. Nicholas, the Patron Saint of Travellers, Sailors and Children. The former is used throughout the summer months and for all major services, and the latter during the winter months, since it is easier to heat. Most funeral services are held in the Church of St, Nicholas,
THE CHURCH OF ST. MARY (Photo page)
(Article 1 in St Mary's Church Loop)
The Parish Church of St. Mary stands in the centre of Feltwell Village. The exact date of the origin of the Church is not known, but since the oldest part of the building, the Chancel, is in the Decorated Style of Architecture, which prevailed about 1275 to 1375, then it is safe to assume that St. Mary's is six hundred years old or more.
St. Mary's achieved historical mention, though hardly laudable, in 1602, in the list of Ruined and Decayed Churches in the Deanery of "ffyncham and Cranwich". The Church was subsequently repaired in 1834 when Feltwell had less than three hundred houses. Some years later, in 1862, the north aisle was rebuilt and the building generally enlarged to its present dimensions.
The Church consists of chancel, nave with clerestory, aisles, south porch, and a massive square embattled tower which contains a clock and three bells. Each of these three tenor bells has a diameter of over three feet and the oldest one bears the inscription "John Draper made me in 1621". The remaining two were both made in 1711, one by Thomas Newman and the other by Thomas Thickpenny and Peter Drak.
Slates roof the Church and there are floriated gable crosses at the east end of the Chancel and the south aisle. The lofty tower is beautifully wrought in stone, and there are several sculptured figures surrounding the copings. Some twenty shields are carved under the battlements bearing the arms of Moundeford. Barry and Fincham.
On either side of the South Porch is an Early English window, and this offers a foretaste of things to come, for there are some excellent windows in the Church. The most notable of these is a fine decorated East window which contains five lights. These were restored in 1864 with stained glass and depict Scriptural Scenes, mainly from the New Testament. Quatrefoils surmount the remaining windows of the Chancel. Five two-light windows adorn either side of the clerestory, while those of the aisles are three-lights. The windows on the north side of the nave once bore the shields and arms of Moundeford, Mauning, Grey, Southwell and Newcome, but these have all since disappeared.
Beneath the easternmost window on the southern side of the Chancel are three graduated sedilia. These are stone seats intended for the priest and his two attendants, the Deacon and Sub-deacon at Mass. There was a side chapel dedicated to St. Catherine which was in the south aisle where a piscina can still be seen.
The Church has a timber roof of great beauty. The spandrels under the beams are enriched alternatively with finely carved angels and pierced tracery. Also on the beams are figures of angels with outstretched wings.
Five bays compose the Nave, and their arches are supported by clustered stone pillars, each with well-carved capitals. In best English tradition the roof of the Nave is oak, and on the principals figures of angels have been carved, The rood screen is also of carved oak, but-it is partly modern. On the screen panels there are seven figures, each of whom is laying a musical instrument. To the side of the screen are the original stone stairs leading to the Rood-loft. Rood is the old word for the Cross. Almost all Rood lofts were taken down in the reign of Queen -Elizabeth I
The Church will seat 680 persons, and although most of the seats are modern, and typical in their open bench design, there still remain some late 15th century seats with finely carved poppy-head bench ends. The County of Norfolk surpasses all other counties in the number and sometimes the beauty of these pre-Reformation benches. They are found in districts such as Feltwell, where, before the Fens were drained, the timber used in their making could be brought by water from distant parts. The dimensions of these fine old benches at St. Mary's suggests that the people living in those Tudor days were definitely smaller than most people of today. It is also worth noticing that the carved figures on the bench ends have been mutilated, doubtlessly by misguided fanatics in the Reformation of 1643 when untold damage was done to our Churches.
In the same wave of destruction several of the brasses on the floor of the Church were ripped up because their inscriptions were regarded as popish. Originally the Nave and Aisles of a Church had not seats. and it was not until late in the 13th century that wooden seats were introduced for the congregation to sit in. The early pews at St. Mary's belong to the great age of English woodwork and are magnificent examples of the carpenter's art, which excelled in East Anglia.
Memorials and Heraldry and their associations
Many inscriptions and monuments recall the history of Feltwell through the benefactors of the Church.
On the south wall of the Chancel is the monument of a kneeling figure in armour with his two wives kneeling beside him. This is the effigy of Osbert de Moundeford, and is the most conspicuous of the tablets and brasses to various members of the family. Originating from nearby Mundford in 1208, a branch of the family played an important part in the history of Feltwell, until the family line ceased towards the end of the 17th Century, There is an interesting brass to the memory of Margaret Mundford who died in A.D. 1520. She is wearing the headdress of that period known as the Kennel Headdress from its resemblance to the gable end of a dog kennel, while from her girdle hang her beads, her purse and pomander, i.e. a box containing an aromatic ball carried as a preservative against infection.
On the opposite wall of the chancel is a brass in memory of' the Rev. William Newcome who was the eldest son of the Lord Primate of Ireland, and Vicar of Sutton, Nr. Ely, until his death in 1846.
On the tablets on the wall of the south aisle are coloured shields and inscriptions to the last members of the Clough family, who lived at Feltwell Hall for over 200 years.
The Church Registers
To complete the Church's historical record are the registers which date back to 1562, which was the fourth year of Queen Elizabeth I's reign. The date on the cover of the first register reads "A.D. 1359" but the first two leaves have long disappeared and their records inevitably lost.
Continue on the St. Mary's Loop or go to Written Records or Join the Tour
THE CHURCH OF ST. NICHOLAS (Photo Page)
Article three in the St. Nicholas Loop
On the western edge of the Village is a small hill, and in former days before the Fens were drained, the sea washed its lower slopes. Standing on the top of the hill is the Church of -St. Nicholas which is one of the three hundred and seventy odd churches dedicated to this venerated Saint in the British Isles.
St. Nicholas is also the Patron Saint of Children and is known to children everywhere as Santa Claus. This is the German form of the Saint's name and was introduced into this country when Queen Victoria married the Prince Consort in 1840. Yet this venerable Saint was regarded as the Patron of the Russian Empire, or Pawnbrokers, and also looked upon by thieves as their Patron-an astonishing combination.
Built of flint with freestone dressings, the Church is in the Perpendicular Style of Architecture, which suggests a 15th Century origin. Like the Sister Church of St. Mary, it fell into decay in the 16th Century, and was similarly repaired in 1834, though the Chancel was subsequently taken down in 1862. This was presumably to assist in the renovations and extensions taking place simultaneously at St, Mary's. It seems that the original Saxon Church was pulled down and rebuilt by the Normans about A.D. 1072. The Side Aisles and Clerestory would have been added during the 15th Century.
In the latter half of the 15th Century much of the Church was destroyed by fire and in 1494 there is recorded a grant of forty days' indulgence by John, Bishop of Ely, to all those who would contribute to the rebuilding of the Church and bell tower and the re-casting of the bells.
St. Nicholas' had a tower which was round at the base with an octagonal belfry containing five small bells. Unfortunately the tower collapsed in 1898 whilst undergoing repair, when some of the bells were broken. The tower is still in ruins, while the bells are now on the floor of the Church.
Architecture and Features of Interest
The east window used to be of two lights and there was a two-light window on the south side of the small chancel. In contrast to the comparative splendour of those at St. Mary's the windows remaining in the Church are of plain glass and only two lights.
The Porch, which is in the Perpendicular style, is partially brick built and has no side windows. It has stone benches on either side for people to rest themselves after walking to Church, before Service began. On the right hand side of the doorway are what appear to be remains of a Stoup for Holy Water. In the roof of the Porch, below the rafters, are spandrels enriched with foliage.
Outside, between the clerestory windows on the south side, are inscriptions wrought in memory of John Do and Thomas Deye, who were probably early benefactors of the Church. Originally the Royal Arms of "G. IV R" were on the west inside wall of the Church above the Norman arch, but these have since been transferred to St. Mary's.
St. Nicholas' once had its own Communion Plate, but no records of its whereabouts exist, and presumably it was removed or sold. Subscribing to the general eclipse of St. Nicholas as the Feltwell Church is the entry in the Church register to the effect that the last marriage to be solemnized there was in November, 1855, and the building was finally closed about 1864 for services other than funerals. About 1950 it began to be used again for other services on account of the difficulty of heating St. Mary's. In 1959 the Church was licensed for the solemnisation of Marriages and in December of that year the first marriage for over a hundred years took place there.
In the South Aisle is a piscina belonging to a former side Altar. At the East end of the Nave, between the pillar and wall, is a shaft or small pillar with zig-zag fluting; it is beautiful work and a part of the old Saxon Church. Leading from the Nave to the Tower is a large round headed arch of early Norman work which expert opinion dates at A.D. 1072.
The Nave is greater in breadth than in length, which is unusual. Formerly the Nave was covered with lead and the Chancel thatched.
In the North Aisle is a large stone coffin which was dug up outside the North Door.
Originally in the Parish Churches the Aisles and Nave were clear of all seats except a few stone benches around the walls for the infirm. These stone benches are the origin of the saying "The weak to the wall". The stone bench running the length of the wall in the North Aisle is one of these.
Continue on the St. Nicholas Loop or go to Written Records or Join the Tour