St. Mary's church is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was built on the original site of Forncett. The Nave is probably 13th or 14th Century, the Tower 15th Century, and the Nave originally had a thatched roof. The church was restored by Revd J.Cooper 1869 -1870. In 1980 a decision was taken to close St. Mary's, due to falling numbers in the congregation, and the furnishings were stripped out. There were many schemes for the church over the next few years, but it was eventually allowed to become overgrown and derelict.
When St. Mary's was closed in the early 1980's everything from the interior was removed or vandalised. The medieval font was given to the Roman Catholic Shrine at Houghton St. Giles, North Norfolk, where it remained for many years. After hearing of the restoration work and the 'Angels' Award last year the font was offered back to St. Mary's, being surplus to their requirements.
It was removed from the shrine in late 2015, and repaired and restored by stonemason Bruce Riley. On 27th May 2016 he installed the font back in the church. It is probable that the marble plinth is of the same type used in Norwich Cathedral.
Currently (June 2016) there are still many people alive who were christened in the font before it was removed.
Carols by Candlelight on 4th December at St Mary's was once again well attended. The singing was helped by 'Dolce' choir who also performed four pieces including Away in a Manger and O Holy Night.
We have been contacted by staff at the Roman Catholic Shrine at Walsingham, as they no longer have any need for the medieval font, originally from St Mary's Church, it will be returning to the Church, and should be installed in the next few months. This will be of interest to anyone who was christened there years ago when the font was used, and we'd like to hear from you.
There are a number of good quality 2nd hand books for sale in the church, do pop in and have a look if you're passing.
On 7th September 2015 Graham Prior and seven other members of the 'Friends of St Mary's' who have been heavily involved in voluntary work for he church, travelled to London for Historic England's Angels Award Ceremony. The church was shortlisted in the category 'best rescue or repair of an historic place of worship' along with three other churches.
The ceremony took place at the Palace Theatre, and the judges were Andrew Lloyd Webber, Emma Bridgewater, George Clarke, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall ( Dean of Westminster), Dr Bettany Hughes, and Historic England's Chief Executive Duncan Wilson.
The Friends group were delighted when Songs of Praise presenter Connie Fisher opened the envelope to reveal that they had won the award, which was presented to Graham and May Prior by Connie and Dr John Hall.
A reception at Kettner's Bar followed the ceremony, and was much enjoyed by everyone.
After months of renovation work, you will all be pleased to hear that St. Mary’s will once again be open every day from the beginning of May! A christening is taking place on Sat 2nd May, and a wedding on 6th June, but other days will be open to visitors as usual.
We are planning an open weekend on 4th and 5th July, so you can come along and talk to us about the restoration work, see all the stunning new stonework and repairs, and the new windows. The lych gate will also be fully completed by then. This will coincide with Forncett History Group’s WW1 timeline being moved to St. Mary’s from St. Peter’s church. The timetable for the weekend will be as follows: Saturday 4th July – 11am-3pm Refreshments, raffle, large 2nd hand bookstall, WW1 artefacts on show, including medals, binoculars, war diaries, etc. Sunday 5th July – 11am -3pm Refreshments, bookstall, and a special visitor – a WW1 soldier, in uniform, with his gun and other items, in the person of Nigel Amies who specialises in re-enactments and will be in the church to talk to visitors, and answer any questions. Donations for refreshments welcome.
More dates for your diary:
Sunday 13th September - Service at St. Mary’s, time to be confirmed. The Bishop of Norwich will be joining us for a service to celebrate the restoration work and installation of the bell in memory of Tony Baines and Harold Turner.
Saturday 26th September - popular jazz band DixieMix will be returning to perform in the church at 7.30pm. Sure to be a sell out, so book your tickets early !Friday 4th December – Carols by Candlelight. We will once again be joined by Dolce choir and their director Philip Aldred.
Harry Barker and Rod Evans have built a lych gate as an entrance to the churchyard at St Mary's Church at Forncett. They started this project in October last year and it is now all but complete.
The Bishop of Norwich has agreed to lift the restriction on marriages at St. Mary's, so weddings can now take place without the need for a special licence.
Restoration work is continuing at St. Mary's church, and will, we hope, be completed by early Spring 2015. Stonemason Steve Miles and his workmen have replaced or repaired the stonework and tracery on the four Nave windows, and glass has been fitted to the two South windows by specialist fitters from DevlinPlummer Stained Glass. Patterns for new glass have been taken from the two North Nave windows, and glass should be fitted late December/early January. The Vestry windows have also had new glass fitted.
Extensive repairs are being carried out to the East wall, as metal rods fitted in Victorian times have now gone rusty and needed replacing. Repairs are also being carried out on parts of the roof and the wooden interior of the roof will be cleaned. Work should begin soon on the drains.
The annual 'Carols by Candlelight' service has had to be moved to Forncett St. Peter church for this year, on Friday 5th December at 7.30pm. Philip Aldred and Dolce choir will be leading the singing as usual, and mulled wine and mice pies will be served in the church at the end of the service
Around 100 visitors came to Forncett Steam Museum on Saturday 18th October, for the 3rd Forncett Craft Fair, this year not able to take place in St. Mary's church due to on-going restoration work. Stalls included wrought iron work, wood turning, garden decorations,, hand made cushions, toys ,cards, watercolours, and stained glass items. There were tempting home-made cakes on offer for refreshments, also warming soup and a roll. Museum owners Rowan and Jane Francis kept a jolly atmosphere by starting up the pianola situated on the ground floor of the museum, and many visitors were fascinated by the engines, although on this occasion they were not running. Plant doctor Robert Maidstone had several enquiries about pruning fruit trees, how to plant hedging, and garden pests.
Thanks to everyone who helped organise and run the event, and to Rowan and Jane for the use of the museum.
On Saturday 10th May the Dolce Choir entertained us at the Steam Museum, an event organised in aid of Forncett St. Mary Church.
The choir, 15 strong, was directed by Philip Aldred who also acted as compere and kept the concert lively with a string of jokes.
With an interval for drinks and eats, the choir performed a varied repertoire including California Dreaming, The Rose, Fields of Barley, You raise me up, and songs from Miss Saigon and Les Miserable.
Highlights of the evening were the Titanic episode (see pics!), Highland Cathedral sung by a Caledonian native, and the audience's rendition of a first world war combo (Pack up your troubles from one side and It's a long way to Tipperaray from the other side) and the 'One old man' fugue! and Anna Cottrell's African story.
All in all, a most enjoyable evening. Thank you Dolce Choir for performing, May and Graham Prior for organising and Jane and Rowan Francis for housing it during St. Mary's refurbishment.
Following a successful grant award to St. Mary's from English Heritage/Heritage Lottery last year, architect Nicholas Warns has completed the development stage of surveys, quotes and plans, and the restoration work is scheduled to take place this year between April and September. This will include replacing the Nave and Office windows, flint repairs, cleaning the interior wooden roof, and new drains and gutters. Events will be difficult to organise while the work is being carried out, but we are hoping that the following will take place:
Tuesday 25th March, 7p.m. - Service for the Festival of the Annunciation
Saturday 16th August 7.30p.m. - Popular jazz band DixieMix are back for another foot tapping performance. Sure to be a sell out!
Saturday 18th October - Craft Fair, 11am -3p.m.
Forncett History Group is producing a book of commemoration for the men from Forncett who lost their lives in both World Wars, and a timeline depicting major events in WW1 will be displayed in St. Mary's Church - renovation permitting - or St Peter's.
Over 100 people enjoyed carols and lessons in St Mary's church on 6th December and the Dolce choir, led by their musical director Philip Aldred, performed five seasonal songs, including 'In the Bleak Midwinter', 'Shepherd's Pipe Carol', and everyone's favourite, 'O Holy Night'.
Mulled wine and mince pies were served in the village hall after the service.
Over 150 visitors enjoyed Forncett's 3rd craft fair held in St. Mary's church on 19th October. Soup and rolls proved very popular for refreshments and the stall holders all reported brisk business, with Ruth Walker selling out of her lovely hand painted cards very quickly.
Thanks to everyone who helped organise and run the event, and the ladies who baked cakes and biscuits to sell. £472 was raised for St. Mary's and St Peter's churches.
Over 60 people enjoyed cream teas in St. Mary's church on Sunday 18th August. Thanks to everyone who very generously donated scones, jam, tea, coffee, milk, and cash for me to buy clotted cream, and a special thank you to Mike and Jan Smail, for their help in organising, and providing all the crockery, cutlery, teapots, pretty pink tablecloths, and anti-histamine cream for a wasp sting!
With a raffle and sale of books and bric-a-brac we raised £257 for funds.
The architect's plans for the remaining restoration work on the church are now on display in the church - work should begin in April 2014.
Richard Bower, organ builder and Director of Music at St Nicholas, Dereham, gave a lively and very enjoyable organ recital on the the theme of Fine and Fun Organ Music, to a pretty full house at Forncett St Mary Church on 23rd August 2013.
Assisted by his wife, Barbara, Richard played his own recreation of a 1970's Hill, Norman & Beard Chester organ, and the music was selected to sound good on the limited number of pipes available. This included pieces by Susato, Bach, Handel, Boëllmann, Gordon Young, Saint-Saëns, Pietro Yon and Lefébre-Wély. I particularly enjoyed the Serenade composed by Derek Bourgeois to be his own wedding march with the express intention that no-one would be able to march down the aisle to its tempo. They might well have danced, though!
£330 was raised for the St Mary's Church Fund.
A steady stream of visitors attended the Valuation Day on 20th July with a wide variety of items for senior valuers Roy Murphy and Andrew Bullock to inspect and value.
Clocks, books, jewellery, paintings, silver, and a large coin collection were among the items brought along, and along with Forncett residents there were people from Norwich, Wymondham, and a couple from Diss who said they have been following the story of the church's restoration and wanted to come and see it for themselves.
Thanks to Ann Lorne, Joan Ward and Andree Handford for serving refreshments, Florrie Freeman, Jenny Jordan and Barbara Jackson for manning the door and making sure people got to see the right valuer for their specific items, and everyone who donated homemade goodies for refreshments.
£268 was raised for church funds.
Around 150 car enthusiasts attended the 3rd Forncett Autojumble on May 12th at the Forncett Steam Museum.
Trading was under way well before the official start time of 10 am with motorists out early for the best bargains. Organiser Philip Yull was pleased with the attendance of both stallholders and customers, helping to raise funds for the Museum and Forncett St. Mary Church.
The 'Friends of Forncett St. Mary Church' are celebrating a successful bid for English Heritage/Heritage Lottery funding. The Church will receive an initial £18,000 for project development works and reports, and a 2nd stage grant of £148,000 for repairs and renovation work, a total of £166,000. This should complete the remaining renovation, including replacement of Nave and Vestry windows, flint repairs, drainage and guttering.
In addition, All Churches Trust have awarded a grant of £650 towards renovation, and Norfolk Community Foundation have given a grant of £1893 to purchase new chairs. Friends Chairman Graham Prior has praised the support of the Friends group, and the work already done by a dedicated band of volunteers, which has helped to secure the funding.
A local organ restorer is investigating the possibility of installing an organ in St. Mary's. One made by Norwich organ makers Norman & Beard, similar to the original in the church, has become available and may fit. There are grants for this work. It may also be possible to install a bell in St. Mary's, again subject to grant funding.
Fund-raising events will continue in 2013. On 12th May an event for car enthusiasts, an Autojumble, will be held at Forncett Steam Museum, proceeds being split between the museum and the church. 15th June sees a welcome return for East Anglia's hottest jazz band Dixie Mix, giving a toe tapping performance in St. Mary's, and on 20th July senior valuers Roy Murphy and Andrew Bullock from Keys Auction Rooms will hold a Valuation Day, so bring along your treasures.
The church is open every day from 10a.m.-3p.m.
Any enquiries to May and Graham Prior on 01508 481856
Around 50 people gathered at St. Mary's War Memorial on Sunday 11th November , for a short service remembering those who gave their lives in both World Wars. Quinton Spratt read the names of the fallen from Hapton, John Webster the names from St. Peter and St. Mary, and Graham Prior read a short peom, 'At Carnoy' written on 3rd July 1916 by war poet Siegfried Sassoon. A wreath was laid by Colonel Nicholas Chapman. Following this, a wreath was then laid by Gladys Mower at St. Peter's War Memorial.
A performance of comic songs, violin classics, and a quiz thrown in for good measure, was given by Alex Preece in St. Mary's church on 4th November. Thanks to Alex for all her hard work preparing the programme, which helped raise £140 for the church restoration fund.
There was standing room only for both spectacular concerts at the Forncett Music Festival, which took place from 28th to 30th September. Goldheart Assembly set up their equipment and performed around a beam engine at Forncett Steam Museum. For their encore Rowan Francis (owner and dad of Nicky, Goldheart's drummer) set the engine pumping, much to the audience's delight.
Forncett St. Mary Church rocked with the full 15 members of The Quill performing pieces from their debut album The Tower at Hunter's Moon, recorded in the church in 2010. 'The most amazing gig we've ever done' was the comment from Nicky Francis and the members of the band who are now looking for a church in London to perform again and re-create the sound that the acoustics in St. Mary's gave them.
A special thank you to Nick and the members of The Quill for a generous donation to the church restoration fund. Both gigs were filmed and we hope to have some DVDs for sale next year.
A range of stalls selling affordable craft items was set up in St. Mary's Church on Saturday 13th October, and the stalls were soon busy with customers browsing and buying all the very varied items on display.
Refreshments were available, and a grand total of £440 was raised to share between St. Mary's and St. Peter's Churches. The stall holders were also all pleased with their takings, and would love to come back next year, as it is such a friendly event with a really good atmosphere.
Photo by May Prior (click to enlarge)
The last wedding at Forncett St. Mary Church( before redundancy) took place on 25th October 1969, but on Saturday 15th September 2012 the church once again saw a wedding ceremony take place between Elizabeth Rohde and Nick Champion.
Around a hudred guests packed into a beautifully decorated church to hear Revd. Andrew Good perform the service.
The bride was brought up in Forncett St. Mary, and the couple intend to live in the village.
- St. Mary's Church out of redundancy
- St Mary - Renovation update.
- Progress continues at St. Mary's Church
- Two New Windows for St Mary's Church
- Second New Window for St Mary's Church
- First New Window for St. Mary's Church
- A Remembrance Rose
- CPRE Award for St Mary's Church
- Rock On!
- Versio Ensemble Concert 2nd August 2010