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Article 7 in the St. Nicholas Loop

Welcome to the Church of St. Nicholas, Feltwell - we hope that you will enjoy the visit.

On the western edge of the village is a small hill, and in former days, before the Fens were drained, the sea washed over its lower slopes. Standing on the top of the hill is the Church of St. Nicholas - Patron Saint of Navigators and Sailors (also of children).

The village is recorded in the Doomsday Book and St. Nicholas is the only Church in the Grimshoe Hundred mentioned in this book.

Built of flint with freestone dressings, the Church is in the Perpendicular Style of Architecture, which suggests a 15th century origin. It fell into decay in the 16th century and was repaired in 1834, though the Chancel was subsequently taken down in 1862. It seems that the original Saxon Church (built about 683 A.D.) was partially pulled down and rebuilt by the Normans about 1072. The tower remains and the west wall are Saxon. The Side Aisle 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.

The remains of the round tower and West wall incorporate the oldest part of the building, almost certainly being Saxon. In the 15th century an octagonal belfry was built at the top of the Saxon tower, one of the eight corners of this belfry lies on the floor just inside the tower arch, which contained five small bells. Round Tower Churches are peculiar to East Anglia as the building of round towers was due to the difficulty and expense of obtaining quoins for the angles of square towers in the stoneless regions of East Anglia. Unfortunately the tower collapsed on the 25th October 1898 whilst undergoing repair, when three bells were broken beyond repair. One of the bells salvaged, Bell No 4, known as "The Etheldreda Bell" was presented to Ely Cathedral, where it was dedicated to St. Etheldreda and stands in a place of honour. The other big tenor bell was sold to a new church and is in St. Mark's Church, Gabalfa, Cardiff.     In the 1970's the tongues of the three broken bells, which had lain, rusting, since the collapse of the tower, were restored and fixed to the west wall to the right of the tower arch (do not miss the poem). The remains of the tower were riled in 1985/6.

Another relic of the Norman church is the carved pilaster let into the wall to the left of the altar. In the south aisle there is a 13th century piscine and the broken stone, before it may have been the original Mensa or altar, which for many years formed a step in the porch.      The south arcade is also 13th century, the north 14th.  In the north aisle is a seat along the wall for the infirm and ailing, since there would originally have been neither pews nor benches in the church (hence the saying "The Weak to the Wall"). In the right hand corner of the porch can be seen a short pillar on which a stoup used to stand when this Church was Catholic.

The organ, a real gem, is by G.M. Holdich a well known organ builder of 42 Euston Road, Kings Cross, London, which is dated 1849, and originally came from St. Mary's Church, although the front pipes are a substitute for the originals.

The large bible is extremely interesting as this is a "Basket" bible, covered in goatskin and was printed in 1717. John Basket described himself as "Printer to the King's Most Excellent Majesty for Great Britain and the University MDCCXVII (the King was George I). Please handle this with care.

Earnst Bojahr, a German prisoner of war, carved the crucifix on the Altar when the Church was provided as a place of worship for the prisoners during the Second World War. This is a remarkable piece of sculpture as the only tool used was a penknife, since knives and sharp instruments were barred to prisoners.

At high level on the south side of the Church, as you approach the Church, there are six stone panels in the flint work - these commemorate benefactors or churchwardens at the time, during the 15th century, when the clerestory was built.     The checker pattern in the easternmost side is associated with Earl de Warrenne (died A.D. 1089) a loyal supporter of William the Conqueror who had forcibly annexed certain lands belonging to the monks of Ely. No 1 on the left is merely ornamental and No. 2 bears a capital S entwining a small t. (as in Saint) surmounted by a crown. No 3 bears the name of Jonathan DO and Nos. 4 and 5 give us the names of Tomas DEYE.    These two gentlemen were farmers in the village and were either churchwardens of the day or the main benefactors when the clerestory was build. To the right of this hangs the Gleaners' Bell - in the appropriate season this bell was tolled twice a day to let the villagers know when they were permitted to start, and finish, gleaning the corn from the fields.

The east window, with its attractive glazing pattern, was saved and re-erected when the chancel was demolished. The north wall is largely of brick, from a restoration in 1830, and there is a greater variety in the dark puddingstone and other materials used in the tower. In 1977, when the members of the Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society were levelling the site of the former chancel and vestry to make the Chancel Lawn a stone was unearthed near the south east corner of the site - this stone is now standing on the wall seat in the North Aisle. On this stone is reads "ROBERT DEY..DYED 9 AUGUST 1698 AGED 7-{either 70, 76 or 79). He was, according to the Burial Register, buried the next day. Unfortunately the earlier register for this Church perished in a fire about 1664 so we cannot trace Robert's baptism. Under the terms of his grandfather's Will (dated 14th February 1654) this Robert inherited 19 acres of arable and pasture land in Cromer and four acres of arable land and halfe an acre of pasture lyinge and beinge in Hoc(k)wold and Wilton......    About 150-200 years before Robert was born, one of his ancestors, Tamas Deye (note no H in Thomas), together with Jonathan Do were the chief benefactors when the clerestory was built in the 15th century. The Dey family home is now known as "Hill House".

The fine 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 the service began.      On the right hand side of the doorway are what appear to be the remains of a Stoup for Holy Water.   In the ornate roof of the Porch, below the rafters, are spandrels enriched with foliage. The Porch was built in 1516 and leads into a building that surprises with its lightness, as well as its breadth.   As the chancel and vestry had been demolished in 1862, the building now has an oddly truncated look and is broader than it is long, which is most unusual in an old Church, the approximate length is 35 ft and the breadth is 47 ft. Formerly the Nave was covered in lead and the Chancel thatched.

In the North Aisle is a large stone coffin, which was dug up outside the North Door in 1830 when the Church was repaired. From the shape of the coffin and, because it is possible to trace a cross on the lid, this indicates it was made for a priest's burial.   After 1270, stone coffins no longer tapered toward the feet - as this one does -so we know that it is over 700 years old.

Leading from the Nave into the Tower is a beautiful large round Arch of early Norman work.

The Royal Air Force transported and bore the cost of re-erection of the font from a small Church at Stanton, near Bury St Edmunds about 1962/63. The Pulpit came (as a gift) from St. Martin's Church, Cambridge about the same time.

The first recorded rector was in 1290 AD and the Church was united with St. Mary's Church in 1805. The last marriage was solemnised in November 1855 and the building was finally closed about 1864 for services other than funerals.

St. Nicholas was declared redundant in 1973 and was vested in The Redundant Church Trust (now known as the Churches Conservation Trust) in 1975. On behalf of the trust, the Church is now looked after by the Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society. The Society hold two services per year - a Patronal Service on or about the 6'h June and a Carol Service during December.

These brief notes of St. Nicholas Church were compiled by Peter Cooper, Secretary of the Feltwell (Historical & Archaeological) Society from his own research and notes of other past historians of the village.

Continue on the St. Nicholas Loop or go to Written Records or join the Tour