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St Margaret, Felbrigg


Felbrigg memorial

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    St Margaret, Felbrigg

Felbrigg Hall must be the loveliest of the big Norfolk houses. It dates from the 15th century, and was the home of the historian Robert Ketton-Cremer, and before him other Ketton-Cremers and Windhams, who long ago were de Felbriggs. They have left their mark on the church in a big way, for it has one of the biggest and best collections of brasses in all of Norfolk, and this in a part of the county where every parish church, even the smallest and plainest, seems to have its figure brass.

Ketton-Cremer was the last of the line. After him, the house came into the care of the National Trust. But as well as the House he left behind a fascinating legacy, his work Felbrigg: Story of a House. This documents the history of the building and its people over six hundred years of history, which would be interesting enough, but Ketton-Cremer wrote like an angel. It is quite the best evocation of life down the centuries in a Norfolk community that I have come across, and a moving testament to one man's exploration of his ancestors. Thoroughly recommended reading.

The church is to the east of the hall, set in fields that you cross on foot to reach the walled graveyard. The tower can be fairly accurately dated by the badge of Simon de Felbrigg in the spandrels of the west door. He died in 1442, and so the tower was probably started in his lifetime, and finished by the middle of the century. The body of the church has been extensively restored by the Victorians, but even before this the family were busy blocking off windows to allow their monuments to be set against the walls inside. There are no other buildings near, and if there ever was a village it has gone long since.

The south porch is very simple after the grandeur of the west door, and you enter a church which is full of light even on a fairly gloomy day, for the windows that have not been blocked are full of clear glass, thank goodness. There is a reassuring feel of an early 19th Century rural church, the creamy painted box pews leading the eye to a fairly simple sanctuary. There are monuments all around, but they do not overwhelm, even the massive one to William Windham by Grinling Gibbons. He died in 1696, and his similarly-named grandson, who died an impossible-seeming 117 years later (presumably father and grandfather came late to child production) has a memorial by Joseph Nollekens. This William Windham was secretary of State for War under Pitt the Elder.

William Windham, 1810

Thomas Windham, 1653 Ash Windham, 1749, and sons William Windham, 1833

The brasses are up the middle of the nave and in the sanctuary. The two best are one in each. The most famous is on the southern side of the sanctuary. It depicts four figures, two couples: an earlier Simon de Felbrigg and Alice his wife (died 1350s) and his son Roger de Felbrigg and Elizabeth his wife (died 1380s). The inscription is in Norman French, and records that Simon and Elizabeth are buried here, Alice at East Harling and Roger in Prussia where he died. I wonder what he was doing there? Then, at the eastern end of the nave there are the magnificent pair of Simon de Felbrigg, who built the church, and his first wife Margaret. They are life size. Margaret was cousin to Anne of Bohemia, wife of Richard II, and Sir Simon is one of only six Knights of the Garter depicted in brass. Curiously, his dates are blank, and he is buried in Norwich.

Another pre-Reformation brass depicts a lady. It has been dated as about 1480, but unfortunately she has lost her inscription, so we don't know who she is. A pity, because she is absolutely lovely. There are two good later brasses, one to Thomas Windham who died in 1599, which is in the nave, and his sister Jane Coningsby, 1608, who is in the chancel.

Sir Simon and Lady Margaret Felbrigg, (c1450) Margaret de Felbrigg (c1450) Simon de Felbrigg (c1450) unknown lady (c1480)
Thomas Windham, 1599 Jane Coningsby, 1608 Simon and Alice Felbrigg and Roger and Elizabeth Felbrigg (late C14)

The ledger stone in Latin for Jane Windham dated 1652 is curious, because the Windhams were thorough-going puritans during the Commonwealth. There are bosses on the nave roof, although Pevsner says that some of them were put here as part of the 1950s restoration. Also modern is the font cover, although the font itself is a surprisingly primitive late 14th century one.

This church is so lovingly cared for that it is worth pointing out that it is not in the care of the National Trust like the Hall, or even the Churches Conservation Trust, but it still in use as part of the Roughton group of parishes, all of which are as open and welcoming as this one.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east chancel
Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer of Felbrigg Hall, Biographer and Historian font Jane Windham, 1652 Flying Officer Richard Thomas Wyndham Ketton-Cremer killed on active service during the Battle of Crete
clawed foot sad cherubs Wyndham Cremer Ketton-Cremer and Emily his wife

nosy cows nosy cows


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk