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Church Post Code PE32 2HX

Open to visitors

Visited April 2021


It had been a tough winter! The situation in the UK covid wise had been very challenging; the what was to become known as the delta variant leading to a second national lockdown for much of the winter months. By early April, some restrictions were still in place but we were allowed to travel again.

A very pleasant and warm early April day was spent in Norfolk, and I will begin this page with a revisit to St Mary, Great Massingham, a church that I had visited on a cold and misty December day in 2020, not too long before the second national lockdown.

What a glorious village! I had liked it before, in the depth of winter but here, with the sun out and spring in the air it was beautiful! The cyclists, walkers and the odd churchcrawler had emerged from winter hibernation/lockdown and the large village green in front of the church was packed with people enjoying the chance to get out and about. There are quite a few ponds here, with some of these starting out as fish ponds which used to be part of an 11th century Augustinian Abbey.

A picnic table was set up in the church grounds and half a dozen cyclists had taken it over, having a well earned break before they headed back to Kings Lynn. As is often the case, they were interested in what I was doing and why I was doing it. The church was open to visitors, as was most of the ten churches in the GMC Benefice that weekend. 


On my previous visit here, there were several people helping to prepare for a forthcoming Christmas service. The Christmas trees were up and it was a lovely time spent with friendly and welcoming people. There wasn't a soul about this time though, and I spent an enjoyable time exploring this church in solitude, and in considerably better lighting than before!

The church of St Mary sits in the centre of the village, with much of it dating from the 15th century. The fine south porch though dates from earlier, dating from the early 13th century. This used to be used as a school room and Robert Walpole, who became Britain's first Prime Minister in 1721 attended school here as a child. The font also dates from the 13th century. Other medieval survivals include a wonderful carved bench end depicting a grimacing woman holding prayer beads, which one of the locals was keen on showing me on my previous visit. Also of great interest is surviving fragments of medieval stained glass. As always, I look at what glass is left today and wonder what things would have been like in pre reformation days before so much was destroyed.

There was much Victorian restoration here. Walking to the chancel this is large but quite plain with clear glass at the east end. The sanctuary alter has a large cross and the reredos behind depicts Christ crucified, the Virgin Mary and John standing either side. 

Moving back outside, and feeling a pleasing amount of heat on what was turning in to the most glorious of days, I took in the exterior. The perpendicular square tower is battlemented and buttressed, and has flint flushwork at top. bottom and on the buttresses. A mythical beast sits contentedly, looking out to the west from the south porch. High up, and not so content, an ancient looking gargoyle looks out in distress. A very lovely church, which I enjoyed visiting very much. I also enjoyed the locally sourced sausage rolls from the village shop next to the church. Strange how my memories of churches visited go hand in hand with quality food consumed!



Church Post Code PE32 2JT

Open to visitors


We headed off in the direction of neighbouring Little Massingham, just less than one mile to the north. The church had scaffolding up on that April visit and we popped back a few months later to find the scaffolding gone and the church open to visitors. Photographs used are from that early autumn revisit.

A little historical guide to the church that I saw on the internet stated that Great and Little Massingham were separate parishes at the time of the Domesday Survey and that it is suspected that there was a church here in Saxon times. I checked both Great and Little Massingham on the Domesday Survey website and neither had a church listed.

The official listing states that the church here dates from the 14th and 15th centuries, with much here dating from the 15th century, with much Victorian restoration. The church of St Andrew consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

This is a church of pleasing dimensions; with the south porch being ornately carved. The south clerestory wall is distinctive, being made with red Hunstanton chalk. Evidence of the pre clerestory roofline can be seen on the east wall of the nave. To be fair, the chancel could not be seen as a thing of great beauty but this is a good honest small village church!

Moving inside, there are three bay arcades to north and south, with octagonal piers and capitals. The church shows the work of the restorers throughout with Victorian pews and the pulpit dated 1857 by Thomas Jeckyl. The carved reredos covers three walls of the chancel.

In the south aisle there is a piscina with ogee head with a hagioscope; a squint which allows those at the altar at the east end of the south aisle to keep track on what is going on at the high altar. There is no stained glass here.

A pleasant church and it was good to be able to see inside it!



Church Post Code PE32 2RJ

Open to visitors

Back to the April crawl, we moved on, arriving at Tittleshall, and the church of St Mary, early in the afternoon. This was another church to be open and it was good to see a higher percentage of churches being open at this point. 

I stood to the south of the church taking in the exterior, a friendly dog running across the field behind me. A couple trailed along behind. 'he won't hurt you' the lady shouted across to me. My safety hadn't even crossed my mind to be honest as the friendly looking dog sprinted across the field towards me, tongue hanging out as he ran. 

I spent a very pleasant few minutes with the couple who were rightly proud of their church and the fact that it was open again now, and had been where possible during these challenging times. The pews were taped off and out of bounds, as was the sanctuary, but apart from that this there was freedom of movement within this glorious little church.


The church itself dates as far back as the 14th century. The square, three stage west tower dates from that time; this being heavily buttressed with clock facing out from the west face. In some ways this is an unremarkable church. There are no aisles nor clerestory but memorials to the Coke family in the chancel are exceptional and will live long in the memory.

The Coke family were the Earls of Leicester with Edmund Coke being the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Solicitor General and the Attorney General. Of great importance, he led the prosecution against Sir Walter Raleigh and the Gunpowder conspirators. He died in 1634 and his elaborate tomb rests against the north wall of the sanctuary, and was therefore out of bounds on the day.

By the side of this is an alabaster memorial to his first wife Briget. She passed away in 1598 and is depicted kneeling on a cushion; Bible resting on a desk in front of her. Her hands are both missing but would have been raised in prayer. 

Below her, all facing to the east lined up behind a single prayer desk, are eight children; six boys and two girls. The boys are at the front with the two girls behind. The boys have hands raised in prayer; the girls hands are missing. Curious if deliberate!

The quality of this memorial in breathtaking. I was drawn to the depiction of the older of the two girls. Damaged yes, with chipped nose and hands missing but a finely detailed depiction with every strand of her hair highlighted. 

Every so often I get particularly taken by something that I see; this memorial being one of these. So much so that, a few weeks later, we were in the general area again and I popped back just to see this memorial again.


The fine east window has Christ in Majesty central; enthroned and crowned, hand raised in blessing with wounds visible on hands. He holds open a book upon which is written the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. He is flanked by the four Gospel writers, all of whom are equipped with a book and a quill. Up in the tracery is a kaleidoscope of colours with angels holding banners glorifying God.

Elsewhere we have a three light window which again has Christ central, this time as the Good Shepherd. He is flanked by St Peter, who holds the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven. By the way, I am always interested in to why Peter is often depicted with more than one key. Biblically, I am not sure why this would be the case. To the right as we look at it is St Paul, who holds a sword downturned.

Just a mention also of a memorial against the south wall of the chancel to another member of the Coke family, this being to Jane who passed away in 1800 aged 47 years. The symbolism here is interesting; with Jane leaning on a broken column, this symbolising a life that has been cut short; not lived to its full extent. A book is open, as if death has come quickly. She is attended by an angel who points upwards and almost seems to be urging her as to the fact that she has passed on and it is time to go! 


It was an absolute delight to have been able to have seen this church. As we came out of this church I said to Gary, who is not a churchcrawler that I liked this church as much as the church at Trunch! This meant nothing at all to him (and to be honest I think that he had turned off as soon as we started off the day at West Bilney) but this was high praise indeed! One of my favourite Norfolk churches! Our Norfolk churchcrawl continued...

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