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St Margaret, Ormesby St Margaret
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Margaret, Ormesby St Margaret
Ormesby St Margaret is a large village between the Broads and the coast, not far inland form Caister-on-Sea. The parish includes the holiday villages of Scratby and California, and its name differentiates it from Ormesby St Michael a couple of miles off. The church sits at the seaward end of the village above the road, and imposing position that makes it look larger than it actually is, for there is no aisle on this side and no clerestories. What you see is a late medieval parish making the best of its resources to beautify its church, and here that meant new window tracery and the splendid tower. In 1492, the year that Columbus sailed the ocean blue, Elizabeth Clere left £10 to the making of the steeple, about £9,000 in today's money. We will meet her inside. In 1501 there were still bequests being made to the tower, but in that same year Robert Curtes left money to the roodloft, suggesting that the work on the nave and chancel was complete. The porch also dates from this time, but what it conceals is much older, a 12th Century doorway.
You step through it into a space which feels almost entirely of the 19th and 20th Centuries. Richard Phipson oversaw a considerable 1870s restoration which included the addition of a north aisle. This in turn was added to in 1986 with a kitchen, and the two together give the building something of a cobbled-together appearance when viewed from outside to the north. The church's sizeable font, apparently 14th Century in origin although entirely recut, sits at the west end of the nave. The furnishings are those of Phipson's restoration, but this is all leavened by a good collection of 20th Century glass by a number of different workshops. The most recent, and the best to my mind, is in the south-west corner of the nave, a depiction of three Parables by Meg Lawrence, the glass signed and dated 1997. The central figure of the Sower Who Went Forth To Sow is flanked by the Good Shepherd and the Repentant Sinner, who is represented by the Parable of the Lost Coin.
The west end of the aisle is screened off in wood and glass to create a two-storey meeting room and quiet area. This creates a narrowness in the nave that Phipson would not have intended. It also prevents a good view of Harry Stammers' 1964 glass depicting the Blessed Virgin in the west window of the aisle. In the west window beneath the tower is glass of about 1990 depicting the parish's patron saint St Margaret dispatching a dragon. It appears to be the work of King & Son of Norwich. The other 20th Century glass in the nave is by Clayton & Bell, charting their changing style over the 1920s and 1930s. the best of it is the window depicting the Risen Christ flanked by King Solomon and St George of 1927. There are a couple of older pieces in the nave, the most striking of which is the 1888 window by Cox, Sons & Buckley depicting Christ walking on the water to the amazement of the disciples. The dedicatee of the glass is not naked, but he is shown as a young man sitting in the boat with the disciples. It is I, be not afraid, says the legend underneath.
Coming into the chancel, the tall five-light east window provides a focus for the church and a reminder of one of the more significant families of the parish, the Lacons. They were a brewing family whose Great Yarmouth brewery was busy from the 18th Century until it was brought up by one of the voracious conglomerates in the 1960s, and closed down. Their familiar falcon symbol could be found on pubs all over Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire, and was just a memory until 2013 when the brewery was reopened. As the Lacon's website says, on May 21st, 2013, we called the National Yeast Bank to awaken eight original Lacons yeast strains that had been dormant for almost half a century. Today, we brew with these ancient strains endowing all our new beer with centuries of brewing heritage, a happy ending. The Lacon falcon perches proudly in the bottom corner of the east window, which remembers Ernest Lacon who died in 1936. The glass is by Hardman & Co, and its main subject is the Annunciation of Christ with the disciples watching wonderingly below. The scene is flanked by the figures of St Francis, St Nicholas, St Christopher and St Edmund.
The Lacons lived at Great Ormesby Hall, and their mausoleum is in the churchyard, but the chancel contains a memory of another family of significance to the parish, Robert and Elizabeth Clere. Their early 16th Century brass figures lie under the carpet now. There are replicas in the lower room at the west end of the north aisle, but if you lift the side of the carpet carefully you can take a peek at Elizabeth, for it was she who left that £10 to the making of the steeple. There are a number of other Lacon memorials on the wall of the chancel, and it is interesting to think how the family would have seen the church change in the course of their years at the Hall. At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, Ormesby St Margaret was more generally known as Great Ormesby, in those days when church dedications were just coming back into common usage. The population of the parish on the day of the census was just over seven hundred, but the attendance of eighty parishioners along with the scholars at morning worship that day did little to trouble the church's capacity of three hundred and fifty 'sittings'.
As you'd expect in Norfolk there were more people at the afternoon sermon, and the attendance of a hundred and forty people, roughly a fifth of the parish, was certainly a respectable figure. Even so, the Reverend Richard Foster, who was vicar, felt moved to excuse the attendance, claiming that the weather being unfavourable, the attendance was not quite the average and many large pews belonging to families in consequence not filled. It may not have just been the weather, for the parish's three non-conformist chapels recorded a combined afternoon attendance of a hundred and eighty that day. It might be that Foster was keen to justify his income, for as vicar he was paid £450 out of the rectorial tithes, roughly £90,000 a year in today's money. His use of the phrase many large pews belonging to families is interesting, for it suggests that the nave was filled with box pews at the time. These would all have been thrown out in Phipson's restoration of twenty years later.
Simon Knott, August 2023
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