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Church Post Code IP26 4AB

Open to Visitors

Visited October 2023

Redundant : Cared For By The Churches Conservation Trust

October 2023 and it was drawing to the close of what had been a very successful Norfolk churchcrawl; the highlight of which was a visit to see the medieval glass in the east window at East Harling, a page for which can be found in the Norfolk section of this site.

We had visited a dozen or so churches and there was still some daylight left; our list of churches to visit was completed and we started to head for home, with the intentions of trying to find a couple of open churches on the way.

We found ourselves at Feltwell; a large village which recorded a population of 2,919 at the time of the 2021 census. We are not too far from the Cambridgeshire border, with the cathedral city of Ely some 16 miles away to the south west, with Downham Market a little further distant to the north west.

There are two churches to be found in the village here; St Nicholas being found at the north of the village with St Mary central. The latter is the working Anglican church in the village, with St Nicholas being declared redundant in the early 1970’s and being cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.


We aimed for St Nicholas first, with a glance at the clock, which was approaching 4pm, the scheduled closing time for the church according to the CCT website. It was still open, but the keyholder arrived shortly after we did; and was happy to let us explore whilst giving some insight as to the history of the building.

The church that we see today has origins dating back to the 11th century and it is obvious that the church here has led a hard life. 

The 12th century round tower has pretty much gone apart from the lower stages; collapsing during building work in 1898 and the chancel was taken down in 1862. What we are left with is a 13th century nave which was rebuilt in the 15th century, with north and south aisles and clerestories and early 16th century south porch. Some intricate 15th century flushwork panels probably remember the donors of the 15th century rebuilding.


John L’Estrange, in his look at the church bells of Norfolk, which was published in 1874, noted that there were five bells in the ring here. The first was cast by Michael Darbie in 1661. Darbie was an itinerant founder who set up temporary foundries close to where he was due to cast a bell. Evidently, the quality if his work was not too good, with L’Estrange including the following quote from a Mr Raven which says ‘It was said that his wretched bells were found in many districts for one specimen of his casting appears to have been enough for a neighbourhood’.

The second and fifth of the ring were each cast by John Draper from his foundry at Thetford in Norfolk, these dated 1621 and 1614 respectively. The third and fourth did not include a maker’s name but L’Estrange suggests them to be cast by Richard Brayser of Norwich making them mid 15th century. The third bore the inscription  ‘Virginis Egregie Vocor Campona Marie’ which translates as ‘I am called the bell of the excellent Virgin Mary’ The fourth was inscribed ‘Etheldreda Bona Tibi Dantur PlurimaDona’ which reads ‘Many gifts are given thee by the good Etheldreda’ she being an East Anglian princess who founded the Monastry of Ely’.

There is enough surviving to visualise what the church here would have looked like. This was never a large church but today, battered and bruised and showing the scars of a hard life, it is rather beautiful!


Moving inside, the work of Victorian restorers in evident with the flooring through dating from them. Wooden benches point towards a small, basic altar, which contained simply a Bible, prayer book and candlestick.  Further benches run along the aisles from west to east. The whole of the east wall was rebuilt in 1862, when the existing chancel was taken down; the east window consisting of three lights of clear glass, this being reset, I daresay being part of the previous chancel.

there are three bay arcades to north and south; the south arcade dating from the 13th century with the north arcade from the 15th century. At the west end of the nave the tower arch, tall and wide with rounded arch, dates from the 12th century.

There is a medieval piscina which would have been used in washing the holy vessels used in the mass in pre reformation days. Another ancient survivor can be seen at the east end of the north aisle, with a carved section of 12th century stonework mounted in to a recess.

Carved in to the wall is an elaborate daisy wheel or hexfoil design, a six petalled flower the same as we used to do at school with compass and pencil. It is thought that these were carved in top walls as a mark of protection.

One other interesting piece of information passed over to us is that a cross in the church was carved by a German Prisoner of war, when the church here was used for Catholic mass by prisoners of war during the Second World War. A fine church!



Church Post Code  IP26 4DB

Open to Visitors

We moved the short distance south east to the church of St Mary. Our friend at St Nicholas had told us that St Mary would normally be open to visitors. It was late in the day though and we suspected that it would be closed at that time. However, the doors were open with some very friendly locals inside setting up for an event the following day.

There was a good welcome and I enjoyed my brief time there very much. The builders were in though, working on the north aisle so I was limited as to where I could go. The intention was to pop back at some point after the builders had finished to look around properly; with this return visit taking place in May 2024.

The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north chapel, south porch and chancel. The west tower dates from the 15th century, as we shall see in a few moments this was rebuilt at that time after a disastrous fire, with the south aisle also being built at that time. The large north aisle is Victorian, being built between 1861 and 1863.


We parked up and approached the church from the west; the impressive nature of the north aisle, with its impressive four light west window, immediately evident. The three stage tower is heavily buttressed with polygonal stair turret to the north east. The church clock looks out from the west.

At the top of the tower is a finely carved parapet, which carries the shields of the donors; with crocketed pinnacles on the four corners of the tower. A single gargoyle, positioned centrally, peers out from each side; the grotesque beast to the south looking far from happy.

Looking at the church from the south, the clerestory stage is rendered and moving around a little the previous roofline from before the clerestory was added can be seen on the east wall of the tower. The roof of the north aisle runs level with the top of the clerestory and the roof of the north chapel is a little higher than the chancel. The west end of the south aisle has been patched up at some point in time and the south porch is a delightful mix of building types.

There are four bells in the ring here, but at the time of L’Estrange’s study of Norfolk bells mentioned earlier, there were three in the ring. The first two date to 1711 and were each cast by Thomas Newman of Cambridge, with the second of these having the names Thomas Thickpenny and Peter Drak, the church wardens of the day. The third was by John Draper of Thetford, cast in 1621.

L’Estrange noted that in 1494 the Bishop of Ely had offered 40 days indulgence, a reduction in the amount of time spent in purgatory after death, for anyone who helped with the rebuilding of the church or the recasting of the bells following a fire which badly damaged the church. An extra bell was added in 2004, cast by Taylor of Loughborough, giving the ring of four that we see today.


The church was open to visitors, with a sign on the south porch directing the visitor to the door in the west wall of the tower. The south arcade dates to the 14th century and is of five bays, with quatrefoil piers and moulded capitals. The 19th century north arcade is of similar style. A chancel screen separates nave from chancel, this originally dating from the 15th century but much altered since.

The nave has a collection of 15th century pews, with several poppyhead bench end carvings, several of which feature creatures that have been damaged, I daresay by iconoclasts, with heads removed. One figure of a faceless man is crawling on all fours.

Others depicts some of the seven works of mercy; including burying the dead, with three figures standing over a shrouded figure, tied at top and bottom which was awaiting burial. One of the figures carries a torch with the burial taking place at night. One further depicts feeding the hungry, with a woman holding rosary beads giving food to another woman. We also see depicted visiting the prisoner and sheltering the homeless. These acts of mercy are less damaged than the other carvings but the head of the person visiting the prisoner has been removed, for reasons unknown!


Moving in to the chancel, there are life sized statues of Mary, Joseph and the baby Jesus against the north wall, which I can’t recall seeing anywhere before. There is graduated medieval triple sedilia against the south wall under ogee arches, with the seats rising in height as they progress towards the east; the holiest person taking the highest seat during the Mass. Immediately to the east of the sedilia is a piscina, also under an ogee arch, in which the holy vessels would have been washed during the mass. The official listing describes these as being ‘flamboyant’.


The church here is noted for its stained glass, which was made by two French workshops; that of Didron and Oudinot, each of who worked out of Paris. These were made between 1859 and 1863, and installed at the same time that the north aisle was built. This north aisle was built by Frederick Preedy, who was also involved in work at the same period at St Nicholas across the village.

The benefactor of this glass was Edward Sparke who was the Rector here between 1831 and 1879. He had plans to introduce stained glass to the church here in the style of what he had seen himself on a trip to France in 1858.

The east window is by Didron and is of five lights, and looks at the events of Holy Week. At the top in the tracery is Christ In majesty with St Andrew and St Thomas below, carrying saltire cross and spear respectively, this denoting the manner of their martyrdom. Central, running vertically from top to bottom, are four lozenges which depicts the crucifixion, Pilate washing his hands of Jesus’ guilt, Judas betraying Jesus with a kiss and the Last Supper.

Surrounding these are 16 other scenes from Holy Week, including two scenes from just before Jesus’ arrest; the disciples asleep while Jesus prays in the Garden of Gethsemane. Two other adjacent panels show Jesus’ body being taken from the cross and prepared for burial. My favourite panel on this window is a depiction of Jesus washing Peter’s feet; with Peter not being comfortable with this, hand on head in despair.

A closer look around the central lozenges shows several other scenes which included Moses parting the Red Sea and Abraham about to sacrifice his son Isaac.


Another three light window, this one again from Didron, shows nine scenes from the life of Christ; starting with Jesus teaching in the Temple as a 12 year old, moving on to baptism and temptation in the wilderness. We also see a couple of Jesus’ miracles, the turning of water in to wine and the wedding in Cana and a delightful depiction of restoring sight to the blind. We see Jesus recruiting Matthew from his tax collectors booth to become one of the 12 disciples, talking to the woman at the well and Jesus asleep in a very small boat which is being tossed about on the waves.

Didron produced a further window for the east end of the north aisle, which looked at the resurrection and the ascension. As with the east window, three larger central images run vertically; the resurrection of top, Jesus meeting the two on the road to Emmaus central and the lower depiction split between the resurrection and the scene On Easter morning when Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene. He is show carrying a spade; this being a reference to where she does not recognise him but thinks that he was the gardener.

Again we have smaller scenes to either side, which include the angel of the Lord appearing to the three Mary’s ‘He is not here He is risen’ and Peter and John peering in at the empty tomb.

One further from Didron tells the story of the Prodigal Son, with two panels being particularly interesting, each of which show the son wasting his inheritance. One shows him consorting with women and the other shows him gambling, sitting bare chested, having gambled away most of his clothes.


A further window of three lights, this one from the workshop of Oudinot shows nine scenes illustrating the birth of Christ; starting with the annunciation, with the Angel Gabriel appearing to the Virgin Mary, followed by Mary meeting Elizabeth, pregnant with John the Baptist, the nativity, Jesus being presented at the Temple, epiphany with the wise men arriving, the flight to Egypt and finally the slaughter of the innocents. A quite exquisite window!  Another from the same artist tells the story of the Good Samaritan in nine panels. A window under the tower arch telling the story of Adam and Eve is also the work of Oudinot.

good samaritan1.jpg

On the revisit in 2024 the work on the north aisle had been completed and it had been officially opened a couple of weeks previously; providing a fine space for church and community functions, which hopefully will help this church going forward.

That was the end of our Norfolk churchcrawl; a total of 14 churches visited with all but a couple being open to visitors. It was time to head back towards home to the west of Peterborough, just over 50 miles away to the west as the crow flies. This was rather more of a circuitous ride home though, scouting out a few churches to visit on a forthcoming churchcrawl on the way.

Both of the churches in this village are open to visitors and are well worth taking a look at.

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