Letheringsett Church History
It was one of the peculiarities of the great 18th century historian of Norfolk, the Rev. Francis Blomefield, to refer to water as being the derivative of so many place names. In the case of Letheringsett, and also perhaps with Letheringham in Suffolk, he may be right, for both places are situated beside streams, and the name Laringaseta, Leringsete, or Latheringsete, as it is variously spelt in the middle ages, may have a connection with an old-English word meaning “sound” or “melody” though the Oxford Dictionary of Place Names gives an alternative “the set of Leodhere’s people.”
Laringaseta is the name given in Domesday Book (1086) and it was not long after that time that the round tower of the church was built. Round towers are very common in Norfolk for the reason that it is easier to build a tower of that shape with the local pebbles, and hewn stone, necessary for the corners of a square one, was hard to come by. At this period large blocks of car-stone found in West Norfolk was sometimes used, but it is unsuitable for carving and the stone employed in most of the churches in the district throughout the middle ages came from Barnack in Northamptonshire. Half way up the tower there is a small window which is probably contemporary with the tower itself and, at the top, between the belfry windows, which are 15th century insertions, and the parapet, can be seen traces of circular windows outlined in brick.
In 1236, a Peter Jordan gave an estate in Letheringsett to Binham Priory (a few miles away to the west). Such grant refers to “lands abutting those of Roger le Veyle” which name has been preserved in The Manor of Letheringsett Laviles, the Manor House of which is the Old Hall Farm standing in the meadows to the north-east of the church. At this time also Binham Priory obtained a share in the presentation to Letheringsett Church, and it was about then that the existing church was added to the round tower. Except for a few 15th century alterations the plan of Letheringsett Church has remained much the same, and to this period belongs the bowl of the purbeck marble font, very similar to the fonts in the adjacent parishes of Langham and Stody. The Chancel, continuous with the nave with no chancel arch is an unusual feature at this period and for the nave arcades with their graceful, clustered columns it will be noticed that for some reason unknown, the easternmost pillar on the north side, though of similar design, is much smaller than the others, and the arches are not quite regular which is probably due to an error of setting out, understandable at a time when even the simplest calculation had to be made with roman numerals. The fine 13th century piscina on the south side of the high altar is worthy of notice.
In the middle of the 14th century, Letheringsett, along with most other parishes in East Anglia, was decimated by the Black Death and the Register of Bishop Bateman of Norwich, who was often resident at his grange in the adjoining parish of Thornage, shows what a terrible mortality there must have been among the clergy alone. Some parishes, no doubt, never recovered from this scourge and the Register of William de Swynflete, Archdeacon of Norwich who made a visitation of the 350 and more churches in his Archdeaconry in 1368, shows how many churches had gone to decay. In the Register the Archdeacon gives a list of all the possessions of the churches at that time, and in addition to the usual liturgical and musical books Letheringsett possessed a copy of the “The Service of St. Margaret and St. Andrew” which probably contained supplementary matter for additional festivals of these saints which were observed in this parish and which would not appear in the ordinary service books. Dom. Aelred Watkin, who edited the Archdeacon’s Register for the Norfolk Record Society, suggests that as Letheringsett Church is dedicated to St. Andrew it is possible that the feast of his translation was kept on May 9th, and St. Margaret of Scotland on July 8th.
It will be noted from the List of Rectors that Binham Priory continued their interest in Letheringsett and it was not until the middle of the 15th century that it passed to the Heydons who came into prominence during the period immediately following the Wars of the Roses and had almost a century of greatness and influence in the locality – the century of the Tudor monarchy. About that time also the Curson family acquired the Manor of Letheringsett Laviles. Both families were benefactors to the church and by his will in 1502 Philip Curson, a Norwich merchant who had been Sheriff and a Parliament Man for the city, who died at Easter time 1504, directed that his body should be buried before the altar under a slab with the inscription:-
Orate p. aia Philippi Curson generosi qui obiit s. paschale tempus in Anno Dom. M V IIII cujus aia ppietur deus. [ Pray for the soul of Philip Curson, gent., who died at Easter time in the year of our Lord 1504 on whose soul may God have mercy.]
This was in existence in Blomefield’s time (c.1730) but has subsequently disappeared.
By the 15th century two Guilds had their altars in the church. That of St. Andrew and St. John the Baptist, and the Lady Altar was, no doubt, situate at the east end of the south aisle. The blocked-up four-centred doorways in the east wall of the north aisle and above the pulpit show where once was the rood stair leading to the loft above the rood screen. During the 15th century also were the north and south aisle windows inserted.
From the Inventory of Church Goods for 1552 it can be seen to some extent what was the spoliation of Letheringsett Church at the time of the Reformation and as the 16th century proceeded this village, along with many others in Norfolk, became a stronghold of the Puritans. The Heydons having gradually dissipated their wealth disposed of their estates in Letheringsett. The Manor was separated from the Advowson (or right of presentation to the rectory) which has been the case ever since. Sir Henry Sidney of Walsingham (cousin of Sir Philip who wrote “The Arcadia”) became the Patron of the living and the Heydon estates passed to the Jermys of Bayfield; and it is with Robert Jermy who took a leading part in the Parliamentary cause in this district during the Civil War that the first extant volume of our Registers begins in 1653, Jermy signing the Marriage Register as Justice of the Peace.
The Civil War affected nearly every parish in England and here it was fought out in miniature between the Jermys of Bayfield and the Hobarts of Holt, and in the autumn of 1650 Edmund Hobart and his brother William attempted to declare for the King. But their rising, if it can be called such, was soon put down. William Hobart was executed along with three other leaders and Edmund escaped with a heavy fine. In 1645 the Book of Common Prayer was superseded in favour of The Directory of Public Worship and in that year the Jermys presented Richard Thompson to the Rectory of Letheringsett who was, no doubt, consenting to the Puritan policy of recasting the Church of England into a Presbyterian mould. Thompson held the living until 1655 when John Lougher was presented by John Jermy. He was succeeded by Joseph Cutlove who held it only for a few months (during which time according to the Register he buried a little daughter Anne) and was deprived on his refusal to be ordained according to the ceremonies of the Church and to subscribe to the Act of Uniformity. Subsequently he seems to have conformed and perhaps through the kindness of the new Bishop of Norwich, Edward Reynolds the erstwhile Presbyterian renowned for his generous treatment of persons suspected of Puritan opinions, was admitted to the Rectory of Onehouse near Stowmarket in Suffolk on May 16th, 1661. At Letheringsett he was succeeded by John Bond who had been ordained according to the Prayer Book Rite in 1643 and was Rector of Holt from 1646 when the Royalist incumbent, Hammond Claxton, was deprived. But on Claxton’s reinstatement Bond’s Puritanism commended him to the Jermys, but in a few months he was dead and Edward Worsley became Rector of Letheringsett. To have been presented by the Jermys, Worsley must have been of Puritan sympathies and he was succeeded by Nathaniel Palgrave, a member of the Puritan family of that name at North Barningham. But the old animosities were fading away and Worsley’s son Charles, afterwards Rector of Salthouse, married Beatrix Claxton a relation of the old royalist parson of Holt. Their monument in Letheringsett Church has recently been restored to its original position on the north wall of the chancel.
Besides the Worsleys there are two other memorials to people who lived in Letheringsett in the 17th century. On the floor of the vestry are two leger slabs, originally in the chancel, one with a brass inscription to Richard Fytz, Cursitor of the Court of Chancery, who died on January 28th, 1630; and another with a well-cut coat of arms for William Donne who lived at the Old Hall Farm and was a son of a Mr. Thomas Donne of Holt Markett, Dornix Weaver. This William Donne was the great grandfatherof the poet William Cowper on his mother’s side. Cowper himself believed his mother to have been descended from the great Dr. John Donne and wrote to his cousin Mrs. Bodham about “our venerable ancestor, the Dean of St. Paul’s ” but this cannot be proved.
With the coming of the 18th century Nathaniel Burrell, whose arms and epitaph are on a leger slab in the north aisle, was rector and his family lived here for nearly a century. He was succeeded by Nathanial Burrell II whose widow presented to the living Dr. Henry Briggs, Rector of Holt and Chaplain to King George II. He was succeeded by Robert Leek who held it during the minority of a John Burrell who became Rector in 1759. It was he who built (or enlarged) the spacious parsonage house, now known as “The Lodge” which faces due north down the Blakeney Road. His initials J.B. can be seen in brick on the western gable and this house succeeded an earlier parsonage built by Worsley – the pleasant 17th-century house on the Blakeney Road now called Meadow Farm – and this in its turn had taken the place of an earlier parsonage still which stood somewhere about the site of the cedar tree in the Hall garden due south of the church. Mr. BurreU’s house served as the parsonage until the present rectory was built for the Rev. Charles Codd about 1840.
Early in the 18th century the Girdlestone family became possessed of much of the Letheringsett estate and what was in Blomefield’s day a table tomb to Richard Girdlestone stood in the churchyard to the south-west of the tower. Only the top of this remains however, with a very worn inscription, level with the ground. John Burrell II, who became rector in 1786, an eminent entomologist and Fellow of the Linnean Society, disposed of much of the estate to William Hardy who established the brewery in the village and also purchased the Girdlestone property.
It was in the nineteenth century that Letheringsett took on an entirely new and its present beautiful appearance. Hitherto the village street came straight through a ford, along by the windows of the house which stood on the site of the present Hall, and close to the churchyard wall on the south side where there was an entrance directly opposite the south porch. But William Hardy altered the whole lay-out. The ford was covered by a brick bridge, the course of the road changed to allow for pleasure grounds in front of the Hall, and another entrance was made to the churchyard in its present position. The palladian colonnade was added to the front of the Hall and a tunnel passes under the road to the gardens on the south side which command a pleasant prospect over the valley to the south and east. But William Hardy’s most abiding memorial is that, in the words of his epitaph in the south aisle, “he clothed these once barren hills with foliage.” William Cobbett who visited Letheringsett in 1821 says in his Rural Rides that the valley was almost entirely devoid of trees but thanks to Mr Hardy, and others like the Rev. John Burrell, who made notes of his planting in the Church Register, Letheringsett has become one of the most attractive villages anywhere in the district.
By a zeal for landscaping was followed by what was so often a very misguided zeal for gothic architecture and the extensive and, more than drastic, restoration of Letheringsett Church carried out in the eighteen-seventies under the direction of the eminent architect William Butterfield not only swept away much that was of interest but has spoilt the internal proportions of the building.
The south porch was entirely rebuilt by Butterfield and, though the flint work is well done the yellow bath stone of the outer archway and string course contrasts a little oddly with the grey ashlar in the rest of the building.
The Jodrell Family of Bayfield are commemorated by these restorations as well as by monuments in the north aisle and baptistry. That to Henry Jodrell (1814) in the north aisle was made and signed by J. Bacon Jnr. who was responsible for imposing works in St. Paul’s and Westminster Abbey.
The organ set within the north wall of the chancel is dated 1922. It was rebuilt in 1963 and later completed with a pedal board in memory of the Rev. Canon Gordon Paget. In 1999 four new draw stops were provided; the intention being to bridge the gap between soft and loud and secondly to add versatility, colour and brightness. These recent additions were presented by Audrey Kimbell in loving memory of her family. All this work was carried out by Richard Bower & Co., organ builders of Weston Longville.
During the years 1956/58 the altars in the north and south aisles were restored. The 17th century table in the south aisle is one of the most interesting pieces of furniture in the church. It was brought from North Barningham Church in 1957, in pursuance of a faculty obtained for the disposal of some of the furnishings there. Its introduction into Letheringsett Church is appropriate as a renewal of the connection which existed between the two parishes in the 17th century when Nathaniel Palgrave held the rectory of Letheringsett in plurality with that of North Barningham. In 1993 the lovely retable with the carving of five crosses representing the five wounds of Christ was given by Susan and Wallace White.
Windows by the great master of Victorian stained glass, Charles E. Kempe, and his most able gifted pupil, Herbert Bryans, are as follows:-
- C. E. Kempe (1837 – 1907) Studios
- 1900 South aisle, east window – 2 lights – “The Annunciation” (no trade mark)
- Herbert Bryans (1856 – 1925) 1914 South aisle, south wall – 2 lights – “S.S. John the Baptist and Steven” (no trade mark)
- 1914 South aisle, south wall – 2 lights – “S.S. Peter and Andrew” (N.B. “Running dog” trademark in scroll around St. Andrew’s head)
- 1906 North aisle, north wall – 2 lights – “S.S. Cecilia and Gregory” (trademark in the dedication panel).
The east window by Frederick Preedy (1876) is worthy of mention. In 1958, the two windows on the south side of the chancel were filled with stained glass. That nearest the altar representing the Transfiguration is by Christopher Webb of St. Albans and was given by the Rev. C. L. S. Linnell and his mother in memory of Lawrence Gale Linnell. The other window above the reading desk contains panels of old glass which belong to the 15th Century school of East Anglian glass painting which can be seen here in fragments and in all its splendour in the churches of St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich; East Harling, North Tuddenham and Ringland in Norfolk, and Long Melford, Suffolk. Where this glass originally belonged is unknown, but there is a record that it filled the windows of a small building known as “The Hermitage” which stood in Letheringsett Hall garden about the year 1820. Subsequently it was inserted into the windows of a summerhouse, but was removed, re-assembled and placed here together with a St. Andrew’s Cross in new glass by Lady Cozens-Hardy.
On the south wall of the nave are memorial tablets to the Cozens-Hardy family from Raven Hardy 1768-1782 to the last Lord Cozens-Hardy 1907-1975. The tablet to William Hardy the Younger 1770-1782 is worth reading.
Restoration work was carried out in 1978/80, and at that time the choir stalls were removed, the chancel opened and the grave slab in the chancel floor was revealed.
The oak communion rail was given by the Cozens-Hardy family in memory of Lady Cozens-Hardy, and the handrail on the chancel steps in memory of Brigadier Douglas Phelps. The embroidered kneelers were designed and made by parishioners and friends of the church in the early 1980’s, and various additions have been made in subsequent years. Designs and details of this work are recorded in a book at the back of the church.
In 1996, a major restoration took place when the roof had to be stripped and re-tiled and the interior redecorated at a cost of £83,000. The photographic record and the Roof tile Book are of great interest and are also available at the back of the church.
In January 2000 a priest’s chair in English oak was placed in the chancel. The chair was given in memory of Piers Currie, M.C., M.A., priest, and has four saltires and the inscription carved on the back. It was made by Simpsons of Norwich
To celebrate the Millenium a sapling yew tree was planted in the churchyard by Alex High.