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

St Mary, Sisland

Delightful Sisland

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All is revealed - ruins of the original north transept South side

  St Mary, Sisland

This is a strange area of Norfolk, a lattice of remote lanes in the area between Loddon and Bungay. You go off of the Mundham road, climbing into the hills, and in winter it is hard to think that anyone might live here, scratch a daily living here. There is no Sisland village, and today there are less than a dozen houses in the parish, but on the lane that leads up to Thurton there is a cluster of bungalows and the church of St Mary.

And what a curious sight it is! seen from the lane it is a thatched brick building, whitewashed except for where the windows and doors are picked out in red brick. There are heavy buttresses, which seem quite unnecessary. A wooden bell tower rises at the east end.

Going around to the north side, all is revealed. There are substantial ruins, and flint rubble in the wall. This church is built on the site of its medieval predecessor, which was destroyed by lightning on Sunday 12th July 1761 at three o'clock in the afternoon, during 'divine service', that is to say one of those interminable sermons so beloved of 18th century Rectors. The church appears to have been rebuilt almost immediately, the 1761 accounts detailing the purchase of 4000 bricks and 1100 tiles. The former north wall was reused, the south side being rebuilt, and the remains of the north transept chapel left as a buttress. The exterior is a sweet example of that century's Gothick.

Inside, the feel is of being inside a railway carriage, it is so long and narrow. The gallery remains from the rebuilding, and although the interior speaks more of the 1860s than the 1760s, I assume that the cast iron pillars are structural and really do date from the 1760s.

The glass, three roundels of St Peter, St Paul and the Holy Spirit descending in the form of a dove, is interesting, predating as it does the 19th century revival in these matters, and there is one single survival from the earlier building in the form of the 15th century font in the East Anglian style. I was delighted by the pictures of the Holy Land around the walls, which have apparently been there since the 1920s!

It seemed to me that, despite the tiny population, this was a well-used and well-loved church. There is an excellent book on sale exploring its history, and as at nearby Thurton and Seething there is a real commitment to maintaining the graveyard for nature conservation.

Simon Knott, January 2005

  The original 15th century font

Looking east 18th century glass Looking west

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