Tilney All Saints Parish Church today is primarily a place for regular worship, as it has been for nearly nine hundred years. A building of this age is also of great historic interest and value as it has been found to be one of the best of the many beautiful medieval churches in Norfolk.
The church has links with Pembroke College, Cambridge and parish records date from the sixteenth century, and Churchwardens' Accounts exist for the period 1443-1589. It boasts a section in England's Thousand Best Churches and Pesvner's Buildings of England.
This great church, with a total length of 145 feet and built of the stone known as 'Barnack Rag' from Northamptonshire - the quarries at Barnack belonging to the Abbey of Peterborough having supplied the materials for most of the churches in East Anglia - is a splendid example of how a much earlier building was altered and brought into line with later styles during the Gothic period, especially during the 15th century, the period of the region's greatest prosperity.
It is clear that the church existed in the 12th century. The arcades with their round arches date from around 1180, but the arches at the eastern end, with their deeply cut foliage moulding on the capitals, may well be a little earlier, suggesting that the building was begun from the east end (The Norman Arches). It would also appear that at this period the aisles were shorter than at present and that the chancel extended beyond the east end of the arcades, for on each side in the easternmost bay two small arches remain, close together, which would have been the chancel windows when the aisles did not extend so far outside.
At the west end of the nave, however, the style changes and the rounded 11th century Norman arches give way, in the westernmost bay on either side, to Early English pointed ones, suggesting that the church was given a western extension about 1250, or as the late Canon C R Manning suggested, that there may have been a Norman west tower which fell at about this period necessitating the reconstruction of the west end of the church.
The arcades themselves are splendid examples of the late 11th century transitional work when the Norman style was about to give way to Early English. The piers on the south side are all round with foliage and other moulding and with the square bosses having rounded mouldings. Those on the north side are again round except two which are formed by engaged shafts in the Early English manner which clearly indicates their transitional character. At this period the roof was much lower than at present, and traces remain of the 11th century clerestory the string courses for whose windows extend along the nave on either side beneath the present 15th century clerestory.
The fine west tower (picture) belongs to the 13th century and is connected to the earlier nave by a wide bay on either side. The western facade of this tower has a canopied doorway with triplet lancet arcaded windows above. A most unusual feature is the provision of very large buttresses which make the tower look wider than it actually is. The SW buttress contains a staircase leading to the upper stories and the NW buttress has a small chamber with a vaulted roof, above which is another chamber approached by a passage across the west window from the staircase in the SW buttress.
The top storey of the tower, together with the small recessed stone spire, belongs to the 14th century Decorated period when extensive alterations were carried out. To this period also belong the west doorway with flanking buttresses, and the buttresses to the aisles.
The most extensive alterations, however, took place in the 15th century. The earlier Norman clerestory was removed and the present one substituted with perpendicular windows, and, above, a very fine double hammer beam roof was built, similar to the one at Swaffham, Norfolk. This type of roof was an ingenious device of the heavy carpenter to bridge a wide span with a minimum of outward thrust, the weight being brought down on the wall posts resting on corbel brackets which are buttressed by the aisle roofs. But in a roof of this type it is the lower hammer beams which are taking most of the strain; the upper ones are more for ornamentation, and for this reason they are sometimes referred to as 'false'. The wall posts carry carved figures, every intervening one being a horizontal carved figure of an angel.
The inventory of church goods in 1552 gives some idea of the spoilation which took place during the religious revolution of the 16th century which affected nearly every church in the land. In 1538 the systematic keeping of registers of Baptisms, Marriages and Burials was first ordered by Parliament. Those at All Saints are complete from that date, the older ones being in the care of Norwich Museum, and the others in the Wisbech and Fenland Museum. (Some transcripts can be found at genealogy.doun ) Other documents of historical value relating to the parish are held by the museums.
As was so often the case, the church was much neglected during the latter part of the 16th century, but underwent repair and refurbishing early in the 17th century. After another long period of neglect the church was again restored in 1866/7, at which time the existing seating in the nave and aisles, the pulpit and reading desks and the desks in the chancel were provided, and the chancel was given a new roof. Also at this time the gallery, which had been erected at the west end of the church in the 18th century, was removed.
In the following hundred years no large restoration work was carried out, one of the main reasons being, that in such a small village it is difficult to raise the large sums needed for such work. However, following gale damage to the tower and spire in the 1970's, the vicar and churchwardens set about the task of raising funds, not only to repair the damage but also to embark on a programme of extensive restoration. Thanks to the hard work of the Parochial Church Council and the generosity of parishioners and visitors, including a generous donation from a member of the Tilney family living in America, substantial restoration work was completed. More recently, vital work on the tower and the interior of the roof has been carried out.
Within the church there are many items of interest to visitors, some of which are listed below
This is quite large, with a high roof, and was added to the church in the 15th century.
A photograph of the font can be seen here. The oak cover is 20th century.
This is at the west end of the south aisle. It is of Queen Anne and is dated 1711. There are very few Royal Arms of this period as Anne was only monarch for 12 years. The Arms Board has the motto 'Semper Eadem'. It was originally on the front of the gallery which was removed in the 19th century.
This is Jacobean and bears the date 1618; it is a remarkably well-preserved part of the furnishing.
The wooden screens which divide the chancel from the north and south aisles date from the 15th century. The screen enclosing the Lady Chapel in the North aisle still has traces of its original decoration.
LADY CHAPEL and SACRISTY
This is the only remaining chapel and has, in one window, two small sections of medieval glass. The chapel at the eastern end of the south aisle (normally kept locked) is now used as a sacristy and vestry, but shows signs of its earlier use.
PULPIT and READING DESK
This is of carved oak and dates from 1867, as does the reading desk.
CLERGY and CHOIR STALLS
The desks date from the 1866/7 restoration, but the stalls themselves are 15th century,some with misericord seats (one with a head, one with leaf moulding. The clergy stalls face east - the traditional position as seen in most cathedrals.
PISCINA and SEDILIA
These are on the south side of the altar. The piscina was originally used for cleansing the communion vessels and the priests hands at the mass. The three-seat sedilia is for the priest and his assistants during the mass. All are the priest and his assistants during the mass. All are in carved stone and date from the 15th century.
CREED, COMMANDMENTS and LORD'S PRAYER
These are written on the reredos behind the altar, and date from the 1970's. The tradition of displaying these dates from the time before printed books were available.
A typical mid-19th century country organ, this has one manual and was built by Henry Jones of London, around 1860.
SCHOOL ROOM/CHOIR VESTRY
Situated at the western end of the south aisle, this is believed to have been used to teach the children of the vilage before formal schooling was introduced in the 19th century. It has been used as a chapel, and more recently as a choir vestry.
There was once an upper chamber - perhaps a 'priest's house' for a visiting priest to stay overnight. Plans exist to restore the upper chamber and refurbish the lower chamber as a meeting room.
Almost all the ancient glass has been lost (it is described in Blomefield's History of Norfolk). The east window contained the arms of the Earl of Pembroke - a connection which still exists,as Pembroke College, Cambridge is the church's patron and Lay Rector. In the south aisle is found a window in memory of Gerald Watson Failes, Captain in the Norfolk Regiment, who was killed in 1918 aged 24. An angel is flanked on the left by St George, patron Saint of England, and on the right by St Martin, Patron of English armourists. Two windows over the north door depict, on the left, Our Lord as the Good Shepherd, and on the right, our Lord telling St Peter, 'Feed my sheep'.
All Saints has a very fine set of six bells, which are now in use following recent restoration work on the bellframe. Treble, Two and Four were cast by Thomas Gardiner who had a foundry at Sudbury in Suffolk from 1709 -45 and at Becondale, Norwich from 1745 -53. Three was cast by Thomas Newman in 1820, and Five was cast by another Thomas Newman (an itinerant founder who worked from Norwich and Haddenham, Cambridgeshire) in 1731. The tenor bears the inscription, 'Thomas Norris made mee 1661'. The Tenor and Five were recast by Mears and Stainbank, Whitechapel, in 1950.
The clock, which has chimes, was erected in 1891 as a memorial to Samuel James Phillips,vicar 1877-91. The face has recently been restored and regilded.
The churchyard contains a number of fine 17th and 18th century headstones, and the remains of an ancient preaching cross. It is also said to contain the remains of HICKATHRIFT - a local 'giant' around whom many stories have grown. The memorial for John Eaton (1718) in the churchyard reads:
The worlds a city, full of crooked streets:
Death is the Market Place, where all men meet.
If Life were merchandise, that men could buy,
Rich men would always live and poor men die.
If you would like to learn more about the Tilney All Saints Parish Church, why not purchase our latest booklet 'Tilney All Saints Parish Church - A New History' either by vistiting the Church or by completing the form by clicking here.