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Church of St. Remigius

Hethersett had a church at the time of the Domesday record of 1086. How long before is unknown. There is nothing visible of the early building. Today's church dates from the fourteenth century with fifteenth-century additions. It is built of flints and local field stones with Caen stone dressings and the roof is of lead and slate.

The tower, built in four stages, supports a lead dressed steeple which is topped by a weathervane depicting a dove perched upon a coiled serpent and holding in its beak, loves-lies-bleeding. Chequered flushwork of dressed stone and flints around the plinth and buttress facings contrast with the field stones and small patches of brickwork of the tower walls. There are niches at the lower levels and a fourteenth-century west window with decorated tracery. 

A clock faces the road, and below the battlements, on each face, are fourteenth-century two-light openings. Small quatrefoil openings provide daylight to the tower stairs ascending in the south west corner. A medieval door to the stairs gives access to eight bells cast between 1607 and 1904.

An attractive fifteenth-century porch on the north side is built with broken flints embellished with flushwork. It is entered through a perpendicular arch flanked by side shafts with salamander capitals and angels carved within spandrels. 

Inside, the ribs of a fine vaulted ceiling supporting the priest room above spring from carved corbels. The nave, enhanced in the fifteenth century and restored in 1858 has two roof lines and a shallow clerestory. Both aisles have matching windows. 

The north side is buttressed with dressed stone and flint while at the south, red brick replaces earlier work.

Photograph taken during Hethersett Revealed weekend in June, 2005

Around 1535, following Dissolution, the chancel fell into disrepair. Rebuilding took place in 1897 and at the same time transepts were formed by extending the aisles eastwards. Field stones and flint facings salvaged from the foundations of the nearby ruined hall were used in the rebuild. Diagonal buttresses support the corners. The east window dates from the fourteenth century. Gable crosses adorn the chancel and nave.

Inside, floral decoration and texts are painted above the arches of the arcades, tower and chancel. An early thirteenth century styled piscina with a marble colonette is in the chancel and another, with a trefoil head of fourteenth century origins, in the Lady Chapel. 

The octagonal font with traceried bowl, now stands at the west end of the north aisle. The beautifully painted panels of the reredos depicting saints was the work of Sister Myra of All Hallows Convent, Ditchingham.

In 1858, the stonework was restored and the church refitted with open benches, oak pulpit, etc., at a cost of 1200, raised by subscription, Henry Back, J. H. Gurney and the rector were the largest contributors, the former also restoring the belfry, recasting one bell, and the latter, restoring the south porch and the two altar tombs. 

Mr. Back gave the organ in 1874. There are several memorials inside the church, one of the most striking being that of John Luke Iselin in the form of a black slab of marble in the central aisle of the nave. He was a native of Basel in Switzerland, came to this country in the 1770's and who applied for naturalisation in 1772 after making a success as partner of a wool stapling business.

The earliest headstones are to be found at the west end of the churchyard. There is one to Mary, daughter of John and Mary Bowles, 1708, to Abigail Howes, 1779, and to Sarah, the wife of Robert Harpley, 1791.

The churchyard today is a tranquil place but in the early years of the nineteenth century, when body snatchers were active in acquiring bodies for anatomical dissection, there is a report that on the 2 February 1825, "A body of an old man, buried in Hethersett churchyard was stolen by resurrection men. 

A similar outrage took place in Thorpe churchyard on the same date." An interesting connection to this incident was the fact that on 21 January 1829, there was a Doctors' meeting at the Guildhall about difficulties in pursuing anatomical studies, and that the legislature was to be petitioned.

The weathervane is quite unusual, and an explanation was given in the Sunday Companion of July 1922. The living was in the gift of Caius College, Cambridge, and the design embodies the crest worn by Dr Caius, who founded Gonville College, later, Gonville and Caius, in the late sixteenth century. 

The dove is represented holding in its beak what was the styled flower gentle, otherwise Amaranthus, love-lies-bleeding, a symbol of immortality. It was early in the eighteenth century that Dr. John Gostlin the patron of the living gave the patronage to the Master and Fellows of the College.

John Berney was rector of Hethersett, 1736-1782, also rector of Saxlingham Nethergate and Saxlingham, and Archdeacon of Norwich. In the tithe book for 1737-69, it is recorded that Dr Berney "the liberal benefactor to this living has forborn to add the expenses of the new stable", presumably at the rectory, "the spire of the church, and many expenses in the gardens and yards".

There were three nineteenth-century rectors, Bartholomew Edwards, Jeremy Day, to whom the oak pulpit was dedicated, and William Reynolds Collett. Collett 1855-1903, was very interested in the history of St. Remigius and Hethersett parish, and there are many entries in the parish magazines written by him. 

In August 1874, the rector stated that the earliest parish register was 1616. He estimated the population of Hethersett, then, as about 500. In 1875, he gave his view on the changes in Hethersett church in the turbulent years resulting from Mary's accession in 1553. 

At that time, the rector of the previous five years, Christopher Wilson, was obliged to resign and his place was taken by Edward Jackson, a more compliant man who adopted the usages of the Church of Rome and who then, on Elizabeth's accession, adopted the requirements of the law. He remained rector until 1573.

In September 1880, Collett's notes give some idea of the situation in Hethersett in the late seventeenth century.

After the Restoration of Charles II in 1660, property here as elsewhere changed hands. Thus the manors of Hethersett, which had been settled on Thomas Flowerdew of London, merchant, after having been mortgaged to William Gostlin, were sold in 1678 to Captain John Aide of Horstead. The advowson had since 1639, been in the hands of the Gostlin family, and in 1670, Caius College, Cambridge, presented Mr. Thomas Church to the Rectory. Some indication of the character of the man.... May be inferred from an entry in Register Book No. 2... 1671 I came hither to reside in May, during the vacation of the living, and the time before the residence the burials and the christenings were unknown to me. 

The churchwardens at the generall at Windham were required to give a note of them, and promised to doe it." Then follow some imperfect records of burials, and this note in the same hand: "Mem. I have required the parishioners to finde a clerke that might bee able to write the names of such as are to bee registered. And also required by myself and the present clerke or sexton that such as are concerned should give me the names of ther children and friends deceased and borne, that they might bee better registered. But as yet cannot see any effect. Thomas Church. (The spelling is transcribed exactly)

"On Tuesday March 26,...1895... the Parish council met again and received ... a report that they had inspected the Documents now belonging to the council, and kept in the Church Vestry, and received an acknowledgement signed by the Rector and Churchwardens, that they have in the Iron Chest :

1. Hethersett Award and Map (in a wooden box), dated 1800

2. Assessment or Valuation of the Parish 1834

3. Survey 1834

4. The list of the population 1801; and there are besides in the Vestry, Assessment Books from 1815 to 1834. These, according to the arrangement made on Feb.5th are to remain where they are open, of course, to inspection at reasonable hours like the documents belonging to the Rector and Churchwardens which are kept in the same place."

And in October 1899, "An effort is being made to obtain lectures by various speakers on subjects of general interest on some of the coming moonlit evenings." This is a reminder that winter events had to be planned around the phases of the moon.

Canon John Still followed the Rev. Collett as rector, 1903-14. During the late nineteenth century he had been a missionary at the time when cannibals were still active in Melanesia, now the Solomon Islands. He became rector in 1903 and died on 19 August 1914 during the 8.30 am service whilst preaching in front of the pulpit. The place of his collapse is marked with a marble inlay.

The Back family were generous benefactors of the church. In 1860, two pieces of land were sold to the church. Later, three pieces of land to extend the churchyard, were given, the first on 2 March 1888 on the south side, reserving part as a family burial site, on 29 October 1920, a strip on the east side, and in 1943, land between the present B1172 and the sunken roadway.

A vestry meeting held in June 1897 resolved to form a committee to plan the rebuilding of the chancel of St. Remigius. However, it appears that this was a continuation of proposals formulated about 1877 as the new committee had already had sums of 1753.10s paid or promised, and architects' plans of 1877 and 1881 were available. The 1881 plan furnished by the late A.E.Browne, provided for the addition of an organ chamber at the end of the south aisle and a vestry on the north side. 

The parish magazine of July 1897 goes on to state that "the east window will be restored to its original position, and beneath it, as now, will fit into the present reredos erected in 1866." There was an estimate of 2000, which, the writer says, will be forthcoming freely. (The final account was to be 2600.)

The rebuilding of the chancel began on July 12 1897, the first step being the removal of the east window and much of the east wall. The foundations of the old chancel were apparently firm and good and the new walls were raised on them. In clearing these foundations at the east end, workmen found and replaced in situ the sills of two small windows which gave light to a chamber below the high altar. The then rector said that the new walls were to be two feet three inches in thickness, about eighteen inches of which being nine inches Peterborough brick, with a nine inch outer facing of flintwork. 

He also reported that about 35 years previously, when windows were removed, signs of a Norman chisel were revealed, and that a few years previously, (presumably. previous to the date at which he was writing, November 1897), traces of a Norman doorway were discovered in the north porch. This would have been some 300 years before the present building was erected by Sir William Bernack and confirms the documentary evidence found in the Domesday Book.

The parish magazine of November 1897 states that the best of the flints used to rebuild the chancel were taken from the foundations of an old hall which many years previously became deserted and allowed to fall into decay. It was known as "Mockbeggar Hall" because its ancient reputation of helping the poor had been lost. 

Apparently, the Hall had once been owned by a wealthy man but eventually was occupied by the squatters of the time and thus needy travellers were disappointed at finding no succour, hence the unusual name. The site of this important building seems to have been on the left side of a footpath leading from the south east corner of the churchyard over a bridge to the lane from the high road to the station.

The rebuilt chancel was opened and dedicated on St. Peter's Day, June 29, 1898 to the memory of Mrs Mary Collett, the rector's wife who had died in December 1896. The sermon was preached by the Bishop of Travencore, an Indian diocese. 

The service commenced with the singing of Psalm 24 and after prayers, a Te Deum was sung. The alms collected were not for the chancel just rebuilt, but for a fund for the restoration of the roof of the original nave, which, as the rector states, " was altered by the greedy man, (Flowerdew), who threw down the chancel just rebuilt, and who did even worse by destroying the beautiful choir at the east end of Wymondham Church. The monks were not faultless, but they were not so base as that selfish destroyer of Churches." 

The final ceremony took place on Sunday, 3 July, when the chancel was decorated by flowers which were then distributed to many mission rooms in London.

In 1937, the clock on the north side of the tower was placed to commemorate the Coronation of King George VI and Queen Elizabeth. Recently, since 1990, kitchen and toilet facilities have been provided. Other work under consideration includes a glazed screen behind the pews which will support a balcony and floor giving access to other rooms above.

More images of St Remigius are included below. They were taken during the Hethersett Revealed weekend in June, 2005.

See also the Then and Now section by clicking here.

St Remigius re-opened after renovation work in 2007. Full story by clicking here

List of rectors of St Remigius Church 1260 to present. Click here