Church History

 Norfolk-historically speaking. It is certainly not surprising that Norfolk should have witnessed human activity since the earliest times. Easy communications, a favourable climate, lush vegetation, proximity to coasts, manageable terrains all contributed to ease of access. The period following the last Ice Age naturally saw an influx of animals, pursued by nomadic hunters, later followed by the first farmers and miners (eg. Grimes Graves at Thetford)  from the earliest times. We know that Norfolk was home to powerful Iron Age tribes, notably the Iceni as close as Sedgeford, trading with Europe, their dominance rudely interrupted by Roman occupation. Roman coastal forts were constructed, treasures were buried at the approach of new Saxon invaders in anticipation of return, only to be unearthed around 1500 years later, at Snettisham for example. The wealth of regional place names, the -hams, -fords, -tons, -bys testify to these new invaders from the Saxon states, and it would surely be reasonable to assume that the first Christian churches appeared at this time, only to be diffused by the Danish and Viking invaders who followed, prior to the golden age of documented land ownership and church building with the arrival of the Norman landlords, even the notoriously treacherous fenland region around Ely and Lynn eventually giving way to technology. Norfolk certainly heralded a rich background to rapid medieval growth. 

Church Exterior

Although a Saxon or Norman church probably pre-dated the current building, the first documented record derives from a covenant dated 1248 for the building of a chapel dedicated to the blessed Virgin Mary. The main structure of the church, originally cruciform in plan with a tall, narrow nave (without aisles,) chancel, low transepts and a substantial central ‘crossing’ tower consequently dates from the late 13th century; aisles, clerestory, the south porch and an enlarged west window were added in the 14th and 15th centuries. 
The materials used reflect the variety of local rocks and stones available - flint, carstone (local sandstone containing iron), limestone, chalk and brick, as well as a small amount of glacial crystalline rock. 
Over time the tower became unsafe, resulting in the ‘filling-in’ of the chancel arch in 1712; in 1802 the large buttress was added, with lesser structures on the south side. In the photograph (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.
Following decay, the chancel is now just two-thirds of its original length. In 1894 the west gallery and organ were dismantled and in 1928, the ceiling above the nave and chancel were opened up by the removal of the false ceiling 

 


St Mary's Heacham
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