Rector pens history of mid Norfolk church
A blow by blow account of its rebuilding, hand written by a Norfolk rector almost 150 years ago, has allowed a retired journalist to produce the first comprehensive guide to a village church and shed light into its history.
St Ethelbert at East Wretham was demolished and rebuilt in 1864-5, the third church on the site.
The cost was met by the Wyrley Birch family, owners of Wretham Hall, and by the Rector and their son in law, the Rev James Park Whalley. He lived opposite the church in what is now Wretham Lodge. The family paid for the nave, the Rector the chancel.
His great great grandson, Dr. F. L. Whalley, of Lee-on-Solent, Hampshire, discovered his relative’s record of the work and sent them to Norfolk. Over last winter, former EDP journalist John Kitson, a resident of Wretham for over 20 years and church secretary since 2002, pored over the 32 pages, largely hand written in pen, and gradually transcribed them.
They showed that the church was designed by Scottish born architect William Armstrong, who practised in London and was involved in the design and later alterations to the former Haveringland Hall in Norfolk.
St Ethelbert was erected by builder and stonemason Robert Bartram, of Millgate Street, Aylsham. Corsham and Ancaster stone was brought in by rail, lime came from Heydon and Mildenhall, roof tiles from Stafffordshire and the floor tiles are Minton.
While Norfolk craftsmen carried out most of the work, including carving the intricate font cover, stained glass came from Whitefriars in London and the Grade II listed organ was built by James Corps. The church, now part of the Thetford team ministry, also has a memorial by Sir Edwin Lutyens.
The result remains one of Norfolk’s most interesting examples of Victorian church design – not least the work of the talented Rector. Mr Whalley took 18 months to hand paint the intricate font cover, painted the entire organ casework (itself fully restored in 2004) and a range of wall paintings in the chancel.
The Rector’s notes make clear his thoughts - and sometimes impatience and anguish - at the building process, include detailed articles from The Times and local newspapers of the rebuilding and consecration service and the inspiration he found for his own work in that of Italian Renaissance painter Benozzo Gozzoli. The copious notes are reproduced in full as the second half of the book. They have greatly helped the detailed description of the church in the first half.
The fully illustrated 74 page guide, printed in Wretham by James Barke, is available in the church or from John Kitson, 4, Windmill Lane, Wretham, IP24 1 QR, tel 01953 498 609, email email@example.com . It costs £3, with £1 for postage and packing. Cheques made payable to Wretham PCC, to which all proceeds are devoted.