Norfolk Museums

Church of St Mary the Virgin, Heacham

The much loved Church of St Mary the Virgin was built in the 13th century, making the church the oldest building in the village.  It is a true reflection of the village's history since it stands very much at the heart of the village.  The church is surrounded by many buildings made from local chalk, carrstone and a terracotta brick once  manufactured in the village. Churches designed like St Mary the Virgin of Heacham, with a central tower built on the crossing, are a rarity in Norfolk as buildings designed in this manner required a strong foundation base using good strong building stone.  Buildings of this design often collapsed because of poor quality local stone.  Others were reduced in height, but St Mary's has survived more than 800 years.

In the photograph of St Mary's, Heacham (first church photo on the right) you can see how transepts rising to a great height were designed to support the tower, but these transepts were not well maintained over the years resulting in the extraordinary buttress on the north side being built to support the tower circa 1800.

The church belfry has circular openings on each side which appear small in proportion to the massive tower.  This particular feature of the church indicates its great age as belfry openings grew in size over time.  A cupola crowns the top and contains the original 12th century bell - regarded as the oldest in East Anglia.  Glorious Byzantine style brass lanterns hang from the ceiling identical in design to those of the Basilica in  St Marks Square, Venice.
Throughout the church's life, it has enjoyed local support and it continues to retain its place as the hub of the community.   It  maintains a very active congregation and has a busy and varied calendar of events throughout the year. The Village waits to welcome a new Vicar in 2007 following the retirement of  Canon Patrick Foreman after 8 years of dedicated service.
 
Local legend has it that the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, worshiped at the church  when  John Rolfe  returned with his extraordinary wife and young son, Thomas to England from Virginia.  Although the British Court took Pocahontas to their hearts, they planned to return to Virginia. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend, Kent  aged 22.  Rolfe then returned to his land in  Virginia leaving their son Thomas in England for his formative years.

Coats of arms of  prominent members of the Rolfe family are located inside the church. A sculpture of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress by Otillea Wallace, a pupil of Rodin hangs on the wall above a plaque dedicated to John Rolfe’s father.

There are many interesting memorials in the church which are well worth reading.  One such memorial is an unknown knight in armour made of London brass (1485).  The figure stands 27 inches and, unlike many Norwich made brasses, is not deeply etched. The north clerestory wall hatchments display the arms of three local gentlemen.  Opposite on the south wall are the arms of their widows.
 
St Mary's  church organ was built in 1914 by T R Spurdon Rutt & Co of London for the East Finchley Congregational Church.  It arrived in Heacham in 1970 with assistance from local organ builders, A J Shaw  & Sons.  In 1992, the organ was  improved by Holmes & Swift.  It now has 3 manuals with electro-pneumatic action.

An extension was added to the north elevation of the church in the early 1990s, providing a small meeting room, a kitchen area and toilets with disabled access.

Church of St Mary's, Old Hunstanton

(2nd church photo on the right) Just outside the main entrance to the park of Hunstanton Hall is one of the largest churches in this part of Norfolk, the original Hunstanton parish church of St Mary.  This was the home of the Le Strange family which, for many generations, greatly influenced the church and the whole district.

Frederick Preedy, a cousin of Henry Le Strange, built a chapel in the new town, and today St Edmund's is a parish church in its own right. However, St Mary retains a special place in the area with its sheer grandeur and Victorian style. Frederick Preedy was responsible for the restoration of St Mary.

Nineteenth century architecture abounds through St Mary's, although internally the arcades remain from the earlier church. The tower too, stands in its original position showing the north aisle was the site of the original church. Today the building is greatly enlarged in size with the Norman font set on a high pedestal in a spectacle of glazed 19th century tiles.  Major 19th century restoration works are noted by the standard of work on its glass.  St Mary's glass depicts a fine tree of Jesse, effectively Christ's family tree, a unique expression of 19th century theology. You will also find some very good scenes from the Old Testament: Abraham greets three angels while his wife Sarah watches from behind the door. Nearby, there is a scene of an angel arriving in time to save Isaac from his father's sacrificial knife. A third shows Abraham sending Hagar into exile with her son Ishmael. There are some excellent medieval influences in evidence in the church, particularly the wonderful rood screen showing the twelve apostles on its panels. This lovely church shows that is is very much loved and used and is full of colour.

Church of St Edmunds, Hunstanton

(No photo shown at present) Close to the centre of the new Hunstanton, the large Church of St Edmund, an unremarkable, although attractive church.  The church building feels larger on the inside than out. The aisles and clerestory against the nave closely imitates other village churches and the windows are rendered in a Transitional style.

The west end of St Edmunds is wide and open with stark 19th century benches. The former west entrance is used as a baptistery. The font is lovely, with lead and brass used around the top as a frieze. The church's war memorial windows illustrate St Nicholas standing outside the church of St Margaret in Kings Lynn, St Francis standing outside of Blakeney church, and St Christopher crossing the Wash with the very familiar cliffs of Hunstanton behind him. Beneath their feet are ships, fish, and, beneath St Christopher, a delightful scene of 1960s traffic. Just off to one side is a little chapel to Our Lady of Walsingham.

To the east, everything devotional continues to be of the highest quality. A sequence telling the life of St Edmund runs around the windows, starting with a window (by Ninian Comper) showing a young Edmund (aged 14 years) landing in Hunstanton. You will see other windows here including one illustrating Edmund being shown into Heaven by St Felix. However, most of the windows in St Edmunds Church (dating from first half of the 20th century) are by William Lawson. There is also one window by Lawson's son John, who also did the baptistery windows. The ravages of sea salt air and high winds led to recent restorations to a major stained glass window in this Victorian seaside church. The massive window, standing 5m tall, 4.4m wide and weighing 0.45 tonnes, is a highlight feature of St. Edmunds. Work was carried out by Fisher•Bullen of Fakenham and Cromer to the glazing areas including complete re-leading, repairs to the stonework casings, forming new lead sills and the quarries were all cleaned, polished and reset.

The Le Strange family originally paid £3,700 for the building of St Edmund's (roughly £750,000 today). As was everything else in the Victorian holiday resort of Hunstanton, the Church St Edmund's was very much planned out. Work began in 1865 and took four years to build. The architect for St Edmund's was Frederick Preedy, a cousin of the Le Strange family. Preedy also worked on several other churches in this part of Norfolk including the restoration of St Mary the Virgin of Old Hunstanton.

Church of St Mary's, Ringstead

3rd church photo on right


Church of St Mary's, Sedgeford

4th church photo on right  


Church of St Magdalen's, Sandringham Estate

5th church photo on right 


Church of St Mary's, Snettisham

(6th photo on right) It is believed that there may have been a church in existence on the same site as the Church of St Mary's, Snettisham.  This idea is supported by the fact that the church was built circa 1340 and the record of Vicars of Snettiisham (a list is located inside the church) pre-dates this period.   The church is stunning to look at both inside and out and it a very obvious landmark in the village - you can see the spire for miles around.  It is built of flint and its spire measures 175 feet.  Building of the spire was interrupted due to the Black Death which troubled Norfolk during 1348-49.  In the past, St Mary's Church extended beyond the current east window by a further 40 feet.  However, the chancel was destroyed in the late 16th century.


Norfolk County Sign St Mary's Church, Heacham by Keith Winsor St Marys Church, Old Hunstanton, by Rob Topliss St Mary's Church, Ringstead, by Peter Goddard Sedgeford Church, by Peter Goddard Church on Sandringham Estate, by Rob Topliss Church of St Mary's, Snettisham by Stella Gooch

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