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

St Mary, Tittleshall

Tittleshall: where the Cokes came to die

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pretty, but unremarkable image niche wonderful east window

    St Mary, Tittleshall
Cokes of Norfolk   Approaching from the west, you'd think this nothing more than a rather pretty but otherwise unremarkable rural church, if you did not know better. Tittleshall is one of those villages in the area between Derham and Fakenham that seem much more remote than they actually are. Tittleshall is one of several similar fairly large parishes, but what marks it out from the others is that this was the home of the Coke family.

This was sheep country; to an extent, it still is. There was wealth here even in the days before the Black Death, and this built the long, handsome chancel which reveals itself to you as you head eastwards, with that magnificent five light Decorated window, one of the best of its kind in Norfolk. The understated mausoleum on the north side dates from the early 18th century.

There are no aisles or clerestory. You step into a fairly wide nave beneath a decent kingpost roof, the font a pleasing counterpoint to the light pouring through the great window to the east. Again, there is the feel of a pleasing yet commonplace rural interior.

And then you step through the pretty screen into the surprise of the chancel. You would not think to associate this relatively humble church with one of the richest dynasties in England, the Coke family, the Earls of Leicester. We usually associate the Cokes with Holkham, some fifteen miles to the north. But they were here first, and here some of them remain, with one of the finest collections of 17th and 18th century memorials in the county, certainly a match for the Hares at Stow Bardolph.

Cokes of Norfolk Cokes of Norfolk Cokes of Norfolk Cokes of Norfolk Cokes of Norfolk Cokes of Norfolk

It was in the 1530s that Robert Coke bought the manor of Tittleshall as part of the first wave of expansion of the Holkham lands. It was a happy date in English history - for him, at least - because at this time of the Dissolution of the monasteries land was cheap and plentiful. The estate included the former medieval village of Godwick, and the ruin of the church there survives a mile or so away to the north. The monuments here date from then up unto the building of the mausoleum at Holkham in the 1870s. Work here includes monuments by Nicholas Stone and Joseph Nollekens.

Apart from the Cokes, a memorable survival here is the old Tittleshall School honours board, up on the west wall of the nave. It bears the names of eighteen children who passed scholarships to grammar school during the first sixty years of the twentieth century. Hauntingly, several of them also appear on the war memorial.


Simon Knott, September 2006

looking east font beautiful sanctuary Rector school honours board
screen looking west Hanoverian royal arms harmonium

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