History of All Saints' Church

A church is mentioned in the Domesday Survey of AD1086. All Saints was rebuilt c1400 in the Perpendicular style. Very little evidence of the earlier church remains, but there are odd pieces of 13th/14th C stonework incorporated in the aisle walls. The arcades would have been constructed outside the original walls, these being removed later, which probably accounts for the fact that the arcades are not symmetrical. It is thought the tower, which is slightly older than the present church was originally separate.

The list of rectors is headed by William Wymer in 1311 and the first vicar, William de Pampesworth, was appointed in 1321. After thirty years of negotiation, the church and its advowson (right to appoint the vicar), was presented to Gonville Hall (now Gonville and Caius College), Cambridge in 1393/4.

There is evidence in wills of the 15th century that several people left money towards improvement of the church building. In the early 16th century, Robert Foster, a wool man, left money for the Lady Chapel to be built. His memorial slab (originally in the chapel) lies under the carpet in the nave aisle. The stone bears a brass depicting Robert and his wife, Audrey, the latter wearing the ‘fly away’ headdress of the period. Unfortunately, the brass inscription has gone. The stone was reused as a memorial to a vicar, William Brabant, who died in 1688.

From other wills of the 16th century, it is noted that the South porch was the designated place for monetary transactions including the quarterly payments of legacies to individuals.

Inevitably, changes have taken place over the years. In 1723 a dispute arose regarding the removal of the pulpit, verger’s seat and lectern from a ‘dark corner’ at the East end of the nave to the most easterly pillar on the South side. This had been decided by the vicar and churchwardens, but one John Eagrum objected. The findings of the Ecclesiastical Court are written in Latin in the second Mattishall Parish Register 1702-1768 and found in favour of the vicar and churchwardens. A rough translation of the final sentence reads, “… pulpit and lectern with the verger’s seat … should remain in their present position … forever under penalty of the Law and Contempt…” Sometime in the late 19th or early 20th century the pulpit was moved to the North East of the nave!

The churchwardens’ accounts dating from 1652 record the names of the craftsmen and the cost of keeping the church in repair. A major innovation appers to have taken place in 1737 when ‘the Reverend Mr. Thomas Tanner, son of the Right Reverend Father in God Thomas late Lord Bishop of St. Asaph, did set up the altar piece in the chancel of Mattishall in testimony of his love to this town where he was nursed in his infancy…” His father was at one time chancellor of the Norwich diocese. In fact, he was a signatory, with the bishop to the court decision mentioned in the paragraph above. However, no further evidence of the family residing in Mattishall has come to light so far.

During restoration in the 19th century, this altar piece with the present oak reredos, carved by local man John Parling. Other work included dismantling the old box pews and reseating the nave and aisles. Apart from two small square pews for vicar and Reader, the chancel was furnished with a number of loose forms for the use of the Sunday School children. Later the choir stalls were added. The musicians’/singers’ gallery, said to be ‘unused and unsightly’, jutted out from the present ringing chamber and was removed. The ground floor  level of the tower was a foul-smelling place having been used to store the coal ‘which was periodically doled out to the poor of the parish who were recipients of the fuel charity.’

In 1894 Sir James Bailey donated the organ in memory of his mother, Sarah née Dunthorn. William Bailey, a farm labourer, and Sarah lived in Mill Road after their marriage. Later the farm now known as Kensington House became the family home.

The churchyard was closed for burials in 1894. Between 1661 and 1893 (except 1769-1773 which years are missing from the burial register), there were 3645 burials recorded. A few of those would have been in the crypt of the church, but most in the churchyard. Assuming burials had been taking place there for at least six hundred years earlier, the need for a cemetery was apparent.

In 1903 the six bells were rehung in a massive oak frame designed to house eight bells. It is understood that two more bells had been promised, but the gift never materialised. A new clock in memory of Dr. George Taylor was given to the church in 1919. He was medical practitioner in Mattishall for forty-six years.

There are now seven bells in the belfry. The Angelus bell, weighing approximately 3 cwt, which previously hung in the cupola, was made in Norwich c1530. It is used for chiming, not full circle ringing. Inscriptions on the other bells are as follows:-

Treble: Thomas Newman made me 1743;

Second: Zechariah Howlett & John Hewitt C-Wardens 1743;

Third: John Draper made me 1617;

Fourth: John Draper made me 1629 : In memory of George Taylor, surgeon, Mattishall RWP, CHP WHP who renewed me in 1903 : Mears & Stainbank, Whitechapel;

Fifth: John Brend made me 1652;

Tenor: Thomas Drape me fecit 1583 : Praise God upon the well tuned timbrels : Praise him upon the loud simbal.

The church terrier (inventory) records the weights of these six bells ranging from approximately 5-15 ctw.

Electric light was installed in 1936 and electric heaters fitten in twenty-four pews in the nave in 1940/41. Later the redundant oil lamps were given to Brandon Parva church. The organ continued to be hand-pumped until 1948 when electric blowing equipment was installed.

During the 1939-45 war, All Saints sustained blast damage from bombs which exploded nearby. Inspections and tests for movement were carried out over a period of years revealing the extent of the damage to the fabric of the church and tower. It took until 1952 to complete the repairs.

The possibility of a war memorial was considered in 1951, but the project did not come to fruition until c1960. No doubt this was the time when the Royal British Legion chapel was dedicated although this is not noted in the Parochial Church Council minutes.

It was reported at the Annual Parochial Church Meeting in 1954 that the farmers had ‘straightened the stones in the churchyard.’

Early in the 19602, the Mothers’ Union undertook to beautify the Lady Chapel. Further changes were made in the 1970s when the floor was levelled and a blue carpet laid. It was unfortunate that this meant covering some memorial stones.

An appeal entitled ‘Tower 85’ was launched to raise a large sum, which together with grants, enabled repointing of part of the tower, repointing ang gilding the clock faces (?) and restoration of the cupola, including provision of a new weather-vane. A committee was set up to administer the fund to which many local people contributed. The work was put into operation and completed by 1985.

A sound system (with loop for the hard of hearing) was installed in the 1980s and new heating arrangements replaced the pew heaters. The reception area was created during this period too and the tower vestry equipped with storage cupboards.

The pews were removed in 2008 and replaced with movable chairs to enable the church to be used more extensively. However, the old poppy head pew ends have been retained and re-used in the making of several wooden seats.

Latterly, alterations have had to be made to accommodate a new heating system. Changes to the Lady Chapel have uncovered some of the memorial stones and the reception area has been dismantled.

The church is inspected at five-yearly intervals by an architect. His report informs the Parochial Church council of work which needs to be done, starting with the most urgent requiremnets and suggesting a time-scale for less pressing repairs. Needless to say, restoration work is alwys on the agenda!

There are interesting memorials and ledger stones in the church and gravestones in the churchyard which remind us of our predecessors who worshipped here and helped to preserve this historic building for us to use and enjoy. No doubt, among them, those who provided the wherewithal and the craftsmen who created this find edifice for the worship and glory of God.

Footnote: Comments relating to the rebuilding c1400 based on the knowledge of (?) Alan Carter.

Thomas Tanner – altar piece -written into the Burial Register 1741.

Details of 19th century restoration – the Revd John Barham Johnson, Rector of Welborne 1844-1883.

Sir James Bailey born Mattishall 1840.


Used by kind permission of Iris Coe © 2003 / 2012.


Email Updates

Always be the first to know. Tailor your email update to suit your preferences. You can set it to check for updates to the site at a frequency that suits you. You will only be mailed when there is new content.

Sign up / Sign in »

Get in touch

Comments? Good or bad experiences of the site?
Phone: 01362 858873

Online contact form »