Thetford, chapter 15: Of the Parish churches in the town

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1805.

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Francis Blomefield, 'Thetford, chapter 15: Of the Parish churches in the town', in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) pp. 59-76. British History Online [accessed 21 May 2024].

Francis Blomefield. "Thetford, chapter 15: Of the Parish churches in the town", in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805) 59-76. British History Online, accessed May 21, 2024,

Blomefield, Francis. "Thetford, chapter 15: Of the Parish churches in the town", An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 2, (London, 1805). 59-76. British History Online. Web. 21 May 2024,

In this section



Having given an account of the manors, I design to proceed now to treat of the parish churches, which have been, and now are, in this place; it appears, as I have before observed, that there were in the Confessor's time thirteen parish churches, (fn. 1) if not more, but in Edward the Third's time, I find there had been and then were, no less than twenty, whereof thirteen stood on the Suffolk, and seven on the Norfolk side of the river, of all which in their order.

1. St. Mary's The Great,

Or the Mother Chuch, was without doubt the most ancient church in this town, it being parochial before the Confessor's time; but it doth not appear when, or by whom, it was first founded; it belonged to the bishoprick till Stigand retained it, with other revenues of the see, at whose disgrace it came to the King, who gave it to Bishop Arfast and his heirs: he pulled it down, and built his cathedral church in its room, from which time it ceased to be parochial, its parish being laid to the church of the Holy Trinity, which that Bishop is said to have built for the parishioners in room of this. (fn. 2)

2. St. Peter's

Is now standing on the Norfolk side, in the most publick part of the town, and is reckoned the head church of the three that are now in use. It is a rectory in the deanery of Thetford and archdeaconry of Norwich, valued in the King's Books at 5l. 1s. 5d. ob. and being sworn of the clear yearly value of 29l. is discharged of first fruits and tenths. It was valued at the Norwich taxation at 5 marks: in the Confessor's time, it was appendant to the mother church, and passed with it, till Bishop Arfast gave it in fee and inheritance to one of his sons; but how it went afterwards I cannot certainly tell; for though it be said by some to be given to Lewes monastery, by William de Pigchenie, I own I cannot think so, for it is odd it should not be mentioned in the Monasticon, where he is said to give an orchard in Thetford, (fn. 3) but no notice taken of the advowson; indeed I rather think it came to the Earl Warren, and was given by him to that monastery, for it is certain from the institutions, that it belonged to the Prior of Lewes till the Dissolution, and was then granted, among other things, to Thomas Duke of Norfolk, in whose family it hath ever since continued, the honourable Philip Howard being now [1738] patron, by grant from Thomas Duke of Norfolk, his eldest brother.

The present building is of freestone and black flint, and by the appearance of it does not seem to exceed the time of Edward III.; it hath six bells in a square tower so cracked that it seems very weak; the nave, north isles, and the two chapels, are leaded, but the chancel is tiled. On the south porch, near the foundation was this inscription, cut in large stone letters, which have been lately much defaced, viz.

Tu es Petrus, et super hanc Petram, edificabo meam Ecclesiam.

That is, Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.

It being quoted from the sixteenth chapter of St. Mathew, v. 18, in allusion to its being dedicated to that Apostle; and at the end of these words was this emblematical figure, signifying JESUS salvator, i. e. Jesus the Saviour, with a crown over it, included in a chaplet or garland, to signify his triumphant victory over all his enemies.

In the nave near the pulpit, lies a stone thus inscribed,

Here rests in hopes of a blessed resurrection, the Body of JOHN TYRREL, Gent. who was 8 Times Mayor of this Ancient Borough. He died December the 16 Anno Dom. 1718, Ætat. 68.

Tyrrel's arms, viz. arg. two chevrons az. in a bordure ingrailed gul.

On a mural monument against the south wall,

Juxta hunc Locum jacet sepulta JANA PEIRSON, Filia Natu Major JOSEPHI SHARPE Armigeri, hujusce Burgi Majoris, nupta fuit THOMÆ PEIRSON de WISBECH Generosi, ex quo, duos suscepit Liberos, JANAM et GULIELMUM, Heu autem! Ambos immaturo Fato abreptos superstes deflevit, E quibus, Illa obijt, octavo Die Januarij, Anno Dom: Milesimo Septingentesimo et Decimo Quinto, Unum Annum, Quinque Menses et Novem Diesnata; Hic, Vicesimo Quinto Die Junij, An. Do. Milesimo Septingentesimo et Vicesimo; Tribus Annis totidem Mensibus, novendecim Diebus, perfectis; Quorum Reliquiæ intra Cancellos de WISBECH Sancti Petri inhumantur. Singularem Illa in Deum Pietatem coluit, honeste de Ejus Numine et Mente sentiens; omni Virtute Instructa, rarisque Ingenij Dotibus ornata vixit. Mortuam quærunt Amici, desiderant Pauperes, Lugent propinqui, Cognatique. Diu Tabe insidiante laborans, tandem inter Vivos esse desijt, Decimo Tertio Die Aprilis, Anno Dni: Milesimo Septingentesimo et Vicesimo primo, Ætatis suæ 34. Posuit THO: PEIRSON mœstissimus Maritus.

In the chancel I find nothing, save a hatchment with the arms of Shelton and Kemp in a lozenge.

At the west end of the north isle lies a large stone, with the effigies of a priest in his proper habit, in the midst, and a circumscription, with the emblems of the four Evangelists at each corner, but there remain only thus much legible,
Rector huius Ecclesie, qui Marie Utrginis, Anno Domini Millesimo Quadringentesimo.

This was laid for Sir William Balles, chaplain, who was rector above 34 years, and died in 1499. (fn. 4)

Near him lies buried Robert Rokwode of Thetford, Gent. brother to Roger Rokwode, of Easton, Esq. (fn. 5) he died in 1487, and hath no memorial remaining, but his arms impaling his wives, in the west window of the isle, which is near his grave, viz.

1. Rokewode, arg. three chess rooks sab. a crescent for difference.

2. Imperfect, but hath been, sab. on a fess gul. between three mullets pierced arg. three croslets botoné or.

In the middle of the isle are two stones disrobed of their brasses, but in Mr. Weaver's time had these broken inscriptions,
Hic iacet Willelmus Knighton MCCCClrir. Peter Larke and Elizabeth his Wyff, on whos Souls smeet Jesu habe Pite.

At the east end of this isle is a chapel dedicated to St. Anne, in which there was held a gild to the honour of that saint, till the year 1547, and then it was suppressed.

In 1483, Thomas Reynberd was buried in this chapel, and gave a legacy to new glaze the windows in it, with the same images they had formerly, and also a sum of money to paint St. Paul's tabernacle, and sustain the gild of St. Anne.

In 1511, Robert Love, burgess of Thetford, gave to the rood-loft in St. Peter's church, 40s.

On the south side of the chancel is a neat chapel, dedicated to our Lady and St. Catherine, founded by William Tyllys of Thetford, and other benefactors, in the year 1500, when he was buried (as I take it) in the altar-tomb which now stands between the chapel and chancel. (fn. 6) He settled two acres of land to repair it for ever, as his will shews me, out of which I extracted the following clause:

"Item I will be buried in the chapell of our Lady and St. Catherine, in St. Peter's church qweche newly I have begunne to make, the wech chapell I wyll that yt be made up & fenyshed, to the reparacyon of the wech, I geive perpetuall my ij acr of lond qweche I bowte of Will. Inkpenne, after the decesse of Sybly my weyff." (fn. 7)

In 1503, Sibill, widow of William Tillis, was buried by her husband, before the image of St. Paul, (viz. in St. Catherine's chapel) and gave 5l. to new paint the screens, and the rood-loft, (the painting still remains on the screens, viz. the Apostles with the Creed in labels from their mouth, &c.) and 13s. 4d. towards a new tabernacle of St. Anne, in St. Anne's chapel, and 26s. 8d. for a tabernacle and an image of our Lady of Pity, on the south side of St. Catherine's chapel, to the repairs of which he gave an acre of land for ever.

On the outside of this chapel, upon and under the battlements, is this inscription in large stone letters.

Orate pro Animabz Willi: Tillis t Sibille Consortis sue Edmundi Hiesuy et Elisabet filie Goberti Gokwood Quarum animabz propiriettic Deus.

From which it is evident that Edmund Hiesey and Eliz. daughter of that Rob. Rokwood who is buried in the isle, helped to finish it after Tillis's death.

On the west end, the names of Jesus and Mary are carved in stone. In the east window of this chapel are these arms,

Rookwood, &c. as in the north isle window.

France and England.

Herling, as in the margin, but much broken. This makes me think one of that family was a benefactor.

Rookwood impaling arg. a chevron between three escalops sab.

The Apostles were neatly painted on them, each having a sentence of the Creed issuing from his mouth.

Under the bell-sollar is an altar tomb for Mr. John Wright, senior, who was mayor in 1701, and 1707.

John Bernham was buried in the churchyard in 1466, and gave his tenement called the Cage, in Bryggestreet, and 2 acres called Occley's land, to find a certeyn in the church, for himself and Caterine his wife, his priest to have 4s. 4d. and the rector 12d. for his offering and dirige, and the rest of the profits to go yearly to repair the church.

Rectors Of St. Peter's.

1310, 4 kal. Dec. William Newman, priest, was instituted to the rectory of St. Peter's church at Thetford, at the presentation of the Prior of St. Pancrace, at Lewes.

1313, 9 kal. Aug. Godfrey de Kilvarston, priest. Ditto.

1338, 27 Oct. John de Fakenham, accolite, was presented by John Earl Warren, to whom the King had granted the advowsons of all the churches belonging to Lewes monastery, for a certain time.

William Testard. Ditto.

1343, 6 Nov. Hugh de Homelyerd, priest, on Testard's resignation. John Earl Warren and Surrey, Lord of Bromfield and Yal, patron of this turn by the aforesaid grant.

1350, 25 July, Will. de Hopton, priest, on Homelyerd's resignation. The Prior of Lewes.

1374, 4 Decem. Thomas Larke, priest. Ditto.

1396, 2 Decem. John Bette, accolite, the sub-prior of Lewes monastery, John de Cariloco, late prior there, being now dead. The Prior of Lewes.

1402, 1 July, Master William Ymflete, S. T. B. on Bette's resignation. Ditto.

1403, 20 Decem. Master Robert Walys, priest. Ditto.

1408, 2 May, John Skynner, priest. Ditto.

1427, 27 Febr. John Kevelon de Theford, priest, on Skynner's death, he was rector of St. Audry's and dean of Thelford, in 1422. Ditto.

1435, 14 Jan. Richard Pyke, clerk. Ditto.

1465, 5 March, Sir William Balles, chaplain. He was buried here. Ditto.

1500, 13 March, Walter Ordemer, on Balles's death. (fn. 8) The Prior of Lewes.

1530, 17 July, The Prior having presented a person not fit for the office, the Bishop collated Sir Nicholas Manne, chaplain.

1547, 24 April, Henry Simond, clerk, rector; he had St. Nicholas's church consolidated to St. Peter's.

1555, 29 Nov. Richard Chipper, priest, by lapse.

1571, 13 July, Simon Bronde, clerk. Thomas Duke of Norfolk, the advowson of this rectory being granted to the Duke, after the dissolution of the Priory of Lewes, to which it formerly belonged.

Jeffery Robert, rector. Ditto.

1588, 17 July, Robert Burnett, on Robert's death. John Holland, Esq. trustee.

1592, ult Aug. Robert Browne, on Burnett's resignation. William Dix, trustee.

1592, 10 Sept. Will. Jenkinson, clerk, Miles Corbet, William Dix, &c. trustees.

1593, Jenkinson was deprived, and Robert Browne instituted; William Dix and John Holland, trustees, &c.

1617, 16 May, John West, A. M. united to Illington, Thomas Holland, Knt. trustee.

1624, 21 July, Cooper Reynolds, on West's death. Thomas Earl of Arundell.

1641, 19 Mar. Thomas Le Neve, on Reynolds's death. Lionel Earl of Middlesex.

1662, Mr. John Burrell, he had St. Cuthbert's and St. Mary's. Duke of Norfolk.

1686, 13 Apr. Theophilus Williams, A. M. on Burrell's resignation. Henry Duke of Norfolk.

The Rev. Mr. Henry Bee, sequestrator.

1713, 5 June, The Rev. Mr. John Price held it by sequestration only, to his death.

1736, The Rev. Mr. Thomas Vaughan is the present [1738] sequestrator.

3. St. Cuthbert's

Is now standing on the Norfolk side near the cross called St. Cuthbert's Cross, but in ancient evidences, the Grass Market, it being formerly the place where the market for herbs and garden stuff was usually kept. I know nothing of its foundation, but find it was given by King Stephen to William de Warren Earl Warren and Surrey, who gave it to the canons of the Holy Cross, when he founded that house, to which it became annexed and appropriated, and the Prior received all the tithes, and served the cure by one of the canons, to the Dissolution, when it became a donative, the tithes being granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, with whose daughter and heiress they passed to the Cleres, and were sold by Sir Edward Clere to the Duke of Norfolk, in whose family they have continued ever since, the Honourable Edward Howard being the present [1738] donor, by grant from his eldest brother, the late Duke of Norfolk.

In Edward the Third's time it was a rectory, valued at 40s. per annum, the Prior of the canons of Thetford being perpetual rector. It is in Thetford deanery, and Norwich archdeaconry, but there being no institution, we have none of its curates names before the Dissolution preserved, neither is it so much as mentioned in the King's Books.

From the time of the Suppression it hath always been given to the rectors of St. Peter's, and now [1738] is served by the Rev. Mr. Thomas Vaughan, sequestrator there.

The present building consists of a square tower, a nave, and chancel, which are thatched, a south isle, south porch, and south chapel, which are leaded; there are five small bells, the least being given and run by Thomas Draper, a bellfounder, who was mayor in 1503.

There are a great many stones, but all their brasses are reaved; under one of them lie John and Elizabeth Bernard, one of which was buried in 1511, as Mr. Weaver tells us, fo. 827.

On the screens there were painted several saints, and the history of our Saviour's passion, but they are now much defaced; and on the north wall of the chancel were many historical pieces out of the New Testament, but they also are whited over.

In the chancel there is a small black marble, for Jonathan Brownyng, who was mayor in 1694, 1700, 1708, and 1713, he died Decem. 21, 1720, aged 63 years.

In 1524, John Seman, the elder, of Thetford, was buried in this chancel; he gave a legacy of 3l. and all his debts, and substantial timber in his yard, towards the new roof of the church, which was then making. (fn. 9)

The chapel of St. Cuthbert, in the church of St. Cuthbert, is joined to the south side of the chancel, and the disrobed stones with which it is paved shew that many people of worth have been interred in it, but I meet with none of their names, except that of John Judy, who was a benefactor to it, as appears from the following clause of his will.

John Judy, of Thetford, burgess, (he was mayor in 1493,) by will dated in 1509, ordered his body to be buried in the chapel of St. Cuthbert, annexed to the church of St. Cuthbert, "Also I wyll and bequeath, to the use of the seyd chirche iiij acres of land arable, called Pykysland, as they be lyeing in the fields of Thetford forseyd, nere the clay-pitts, to that intent, the churche-wardonys for the time being, shall be coe-fefyes in the seyd londs, wit such other as they shall elect to them, to the use her followyng, that is to knowe, the v tapers or candells on the tione hangynge in in the chapell of St. Cuthbert forseyd, may be suffyciently contenued for evermore, and so that I shall have myne obyt yerly kepte in the said chirche, for me and my benefactoures, by the profights of the same for evermore, yf the law will thus admitt, or elys to be at the good disposicon of my executors." Roger Baldry, Prior of our Lady's monastery in Thetford was supervisor. (fn. 10)

In 1511, Robert Love, burgess, who was mayor in 1506, gave 20s. towards the repair of this church.

On the outside of the buttresses there is the beginning of an old inscription, but it is imperfect, nothing but the words Pray for now remaining.

In the church porch is a small mural monument, thus inscribed,

Under this Place lyes interred ELIZABETH, late the Wife of HENRY COCKSEDGE, of this Town, Gent. one of the Daughters of ROBERT LONGE, late of this Town, Esq; who departed this Life the 31st of July 1723, in the 47th Year of her Age.

Quarterly. 1. Arg. a cock gul.

2. Or, three croslets in fess gul,

3. Vert, three pair of wings or.

4. Gul. a saltier ingrailed or.

Crest, a cock.

In the south west part of the churchyard is a freestone altar tomb, under which lie buried Mr. JOHN WRIGHT of Thetford, who died April 24, 1736. And also SARAH his Wife, one of the Daughters of JOHN BLOMEFIELD of Fersfield, Gent. with HANNAH, their eldest Daughter, and three other Children, close by them.

On the south side of the churchyard is another altar tomb, for Mr. RICHARD BATCH, who was mayor in 1699, 1710, 1715, and 1717.

Close by the middle buttress of the south isle wall, under a stone without any inscription is buried, the Rev. Mr. JOHN PRICE, late curate of this parish, sequestrator of St. Peter's, rector of Santon in Norfolk, and Honington in Suffolk, and master of the free-school in this town, a man of sound learning, and great eloquence, an excellent preacher, discreet master, agreeable companion, and true friend, and above all, of unlimited charity to the poor and distressed. He died Feb. 27, 1736. (fn. 11)

4. St. Mary's,

Anciently called St. Mary's the Less, is in the deanery of Thetford and archdeaconry of Norwich, and was taxed at 3l. but there being no institution, it is not mentioned in the King's Books, neither do the names of its ancient curates appear. It is the only parish church now standing on the Suffolk side of the town; it belonged to Roger Bigod at the Conquest, and was given by him to the priory of his foundation in this town, the prior being rector of the impropriate parsonage; the cure was always served by one of the monks till the Dissolution, and then it was granted, with that house, to the Duke of Norfolk, and became a donative: Soon after, the Duke conveyed it to Sir Richard Fulmerston, but the church being in decay, continued without service, till he repaired it, after he determined to be buried in it. He endowed a preacher to serve here, as will be seen, under the account of the free-school, which he also founded; at his death the right of donation went with his heiress to the Cleres, and was sold by Sir Edward Clere to the Duke of Norfolk, in whose family it hath continued ever since, the honourable Philip Howard being now [1738] donor, by grant of his brother Thomas, late Duke of Norfolk, deceased. But the nomination to the curacy of the stipend of the weekly preacher here, which was founded by Sir Richard Fulmerston, was settled by Act of Parliament in King James the First's time on the mayor, burgesses, and commonalty of Thetford, who appoint the curate or preacher, and present him to the Bishop, by whom he must be allowed (or licensed) before he takes upon him the place of preacher, after which, he must be allowed by the justices of assize of that circuit, for the time being.

I am informed that Henry Campion, Esq. hath lately augmented the curacy.

In the grand Rebellion, the church was turned into a stable by the rebels, who afterwards defaced it, and pulled down the roof; but at the Restoration it was repaired by the Corporation, with the assistance of Thomas Duke of Norfolk, who gave 50l. towards the new roof.

Curates And Preachers.

1610, Thomas Atkinson, A. M.

1627, Mr. Smith.

1662, John Burrel, A. M. who had the three parishes, and the rectories of Kilverston and Santon, which he afterwards resigned for Great-Cressingham.

The Rev. Mr. William Martin, who was rector of GreatLivermere in Suffolk, where he is buried.

The Rev. Mr. John Wright, rector of Euston in Suffolk, is the present [1738] curate and preacher.

The building consists of a nave, chancel, and south porch, all covered with reed, a square tower, and a good peal of five bells.

Against the north wall of the nave, near the east end, is a very large altar tomb of freestone, having Clere's arms at the head and feet, and on the south side the arms of Fulmerston.

Clere, arg. on a fess az. three eagles displayed or.

Fulmerston. See his arms on the common seal of the school and hospital.

On the arms at the head are these letters, T. L. F. L.

In memoriam. Ricardi. Fulmerston. Aequitis. Aurati. Domineque. Alicie. Uxoris. Ejus. Heredis. Ipsius. Ricardi. Maritus. Edwardus. Clere. Armiger. Hunc. Tumulum. Erexit. Anno. Dom. 1567.


At the feet these words, much battered, but still legible.

Propitetur Deus Animabus Mortuorum. (fn. 12)

On the screens,
Ave Maria:: gra. Uirgines Sancte Dei orate

There hangs a hatchment between the church and chancel. viz. arg. a fess between three croslets formy fitché sab.; crest, a demi-lion or, holding a shield arg. on which a croslet formy fitché sab. It was the hatchment for Sir Philip Ryley, Knt.

In the chancel is a stone joining to the north wall, under which are interred William Tyrrel, Gent. and Bridget his wife, the Rev. Mr. John Tyrrel, their eldest son, sometime schoolmaster of the free-school in this parish, and rector of Santon in Norfolk, and also Mr. George Tyrrell, their second son, who was baptized Jan. 7, 1668, and died Oct. 25, 1732.

On a mural monument over the chancel door,

In a Vanlt under this Place, lie the Remains of Mrs. FRANCES LE STRANGE (Daughter of GEORGE COOK, Gent. who lies in the same Vault) she was first married to JOHN MONK, Esq; of Bokenham House in Sussex, by whom she had Issue two Sons and three Daughters, of whom ANN and FRANCES, the only two surviving, in great Respect to the Memory of their dear Mother, caused this to be erected, she died Febr. 19 1725-6, aged 49 Years.

In the churchyard, by the porch, on its east side, is an altar tomb for Isaac Faux, and another not far from the porch door, for Mary, wife of Mr. John Tostuck, who died Dec. 17, 1712, aged 48 years.

There are divers head-stones in the eastern part of the churchyard, erected to the memory of the following persons, viz.

LEONARD, Son of LEONARD, and ELIZABETH SHELFORD, died Mar. 22, 1734, aged 8 Years 8 Months.

He was not beloved by one, but all, He left this World when God did call, Knock'd at the Door Death did so soon, His Morning Sun, went down at Noon. Grieve not for me, my Parents dear, For I lye here, 'till Christ appear.

JOHN SPURLING died 8 Sept. 1732, aged 57 Years.

Loaded with Years, opprest with Pain and Grief, The King of Terrours, brought him kind Relief, His Body fall a Victim to the Dust, To rise Immortal, with the Good and Just.

THO. ROLF, died 21 March, 1735, aged 49 Years,

Weep not for me, my Glass is run, It is the LORD, his Will be done.

ELIZ. Wife of Stephen Rowning, died 17 Decem. 1727. aged 33 Years.

Let my Children cease their Tears, For I lye here, 'till CHRIST appears.

5. St. Ethelred, or St. Audry's Church,

Stood on the Suffolk side, being in the deanery of Thetford and archdeaconry of Norwich; it was a rectory in the presentation of the Bishop of Ely, valued in King Edward the Third's time at 20s. (fn. 13) but was not taxed to any thing but first fruits only; I find it in some of the Valors about Henry the Eighth's time valued at 47s. 9d.

Rectors of St. Etheldred.

1303, prid. kal. Jul. John de Gunthorp, chaplain, was instituted to the rectory of the church of St. Etheldred in Thetford, at the presentation of the Bishop of Ely.

1308, id. May, William, sirnamed Moryn, priest. Ditto.

1317, William de Adereston, priest. Lapse.

1349, 20 Dec. John de Debenham. John de Ee, vicar-general to the Bishop of Ely, who was in foreign parts.

John de Chippele.

1358, 16 Jan. Adam Palmere of Thefford, priest. The King, the bishoprick being void.

1391, Adam Foxele, priest.

1394, Peter at Hethe, alias at Forthe, priest. Bishop of Ely.

1427, 16 April, John Kevelon, priest. Lapse. He was rector of St. Peter's, and dean of Thetford.

1416, 17 Sept. Thomas Gunwayte. Lapse. He had Santon also.

1528, 14 Sept. Sir Richard Wadnowe, chaplain, on Gunwayte's resignation. Nicholas Bishop of Ely.

At his institution he was to pay 20s. first fruits, but the living being very mean, the Bishop forgave him half.

This church was one of the three which the Abbot of Ely held at the Confessor's survey, as belonging to his possessions here, which we suppose were given by King Cnute, at the request of Ailwin Bishop of Elmham, who had formerly been a monk of Ely. The advowson was always in the Abbot, till the erection of the see in Henry the First's time, and then it was allotted to the Bishop's share, who at that time had nothing else in this town but the mill, (fn. 14) called Bishop's or St. Audrie's mill, and the nomination to St. Margaret's church, the other churches and temporalities of the abbey being either taken away or aliened before the erection of the see. (fn. 15)

In 1511, Robert Love of Thetford, burgess, gave 20s. to the reparation of this church.

In 1515, Richard Coteler of Thetford was buried in St. Audry's church there, to which he was a benefactor, as the following clause of his will shews us: "Item I gyff and plenarly bequethe to the said churche, xi acres of arybyl lond, as they be in several peces, in the felds of St. Mary Magdalen in Thetford forsaid, and also my tenement called the Bern with the appurtts. in the parish of the Holy Trinyty, in a certeyn waye called Reymondstrete in the seid town, that myne obite-day shal be yerly and perpetually kept in the sd: chirch of Audry after my decesse, wyth the revenues or yerly profyghts thereof, and at the Dirige and Masse, the pryst or curate, shall fynd yerly vi. lights of wax candle set upon the herse. But yf the seid chirch, should be approperyd to any other parish chirch, or place of relygyon within the sd: town, in tyme comyng, then the seid londs and tenements to return to my heirs. Also I bequethe my tenement late John Vales to the forseid chirch of St. Audry, wyth the appurts: sytuate in the parish of our Lady in the seid town, and also my close late Margarett Adams's, being annexed to the seid tent: in part, and also in the parysh of Awdry forseid, in the other part, that the yer-day of Agnes Coteler, shall be perpetually kepte in the seid chirch, with the revenuse of the yerly ferme thereof, with lights to be found as before, &c." (fn. 16)

From which it appears, that this parish was then so much in decay, that it was thought it would be annexed to some other, which happened accordingly, for at the Dissolution the church was pulled down, and the parish joined to that of St. Mary the Virgin, with which it now continues; the site of the church is called St. Audrie's Churchyard, and is the close lying on the right hand of the lane, going from St. Mary's church to the Place, over against the house that stands at the corner of the passage leading down to the paper-mill. It was granted by the Bishop of Ely to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and after sold by Sir Edward Clere, and hath been a private property ever since. There are no ruins, not so much as one stone upon another, the whole having been ploughed over many years.

It was always a small parish, the tithes never exceeding (that I can find) above 10l. per annum. But yet it was no despicable rectory, the annual offerings amounting to a good value, occasioned by the precious relick of a maid's smock, which was constantly visited by many people, from all parts, by reason of the great virtue that was said to proceed from it, but as the church had been supported by the offerings made on account of the smock, for a long time, so it was pulled down at the Dissolution, upon the same account, that such trifling pilgrimages and foolish errours might be the sooner and more effectually suppressed.

But least the pretended virtues of this smock should be forgotten, I will give you an account of them in Becon's own words: (fn. 17)

"In Thetford a Mayer Towne in Norfolke, there was a Parish Church, which is now destroyed, called St: In this Church, among other Geliques, was the Smoke of St. which was there kept as a great Fewell, and pretions Relique. The Virtue of this Smoke, was mighty and manifold, specially in putting away the Toth-ach, and the Smellyng at the Chrote, so that the Patient were fyrste of al shiven, and harde Masse, and did such Oblations, as the Priest of the Church enjoyned."

6. The Church of the Holy-Trinity,

Stood in Suffolk, and joined to the south side of the cathedral churchyard, and was founded (as it is supposed) by Arfast Bishop of Thetford, and Roger Bigot, (fn. 18) the church of St. Mary being taken from the parish, and made the episcopal seat, and this the parochial church, of which the Bishop and Roger were patrons, it being the half church, as it is called in Domesday, (fn. 19) that belonged to the Bishop. The foundations are visible in the close over against the house that belongs to the schoolmaster and usher of the free school, though there are no walls, but two small pieces of the steeple now remaining above ground; it came afterwards to the Earl Warren, by whom it was given to the Prior of the canons of the Holy Sepulchre, who was impropriate rector of it, (fn. 20) in right of his house, and served it by one of the canons, till the Dissolution, and then it was granted to the Duke of Somerset, and by him to Sir Richard Fulmerston, who was obliged to find a curate to serve this and his other impropriate rectory of St. Cuthbert; and upon this account it was, that from the time of the Dissolution, it was called the Chapel of the Holy Trinity, in the parish of St. Cuthbert. (fn. 21) It is evident this church and parish had been in decay some years before the Dissolution, for in 1511, Robert Love of Thetford, burgess, made his will in which is this clause, "Also I wol that if the substauns of Trinity parish, will make a new chirche roffe, I assigne xx.l. toward the leding of it, yf it can be brought aboute in the space of v. yere," (fn. 22) but it could not, and so his bequest was of no force; however, it remained a church, with weekly service performed in it, till 1547, and then Sir Richard Fulmerston, patron and parson impersonate, of the parish churches of the Holy Trinity and St. Cuthbert, and Thomas Gent, mayor of Thetford, petitioned the Bishop of Norwich, that the two churches might be for ever consolidated, and that the service and all divine offices might be translated to St. Cuthbert's, and the parish of the Trinity might be effectually united and incorporated to the parish of St. Cuthbert, because the said Richard received the profits of both the parishes, so that there was not sufficient to pay two salaries; upon which the Bishop granted their petition, and a consolidation passed the 24th of April, 1547, and soon after the church of the Trinity was entirely demolished, and the parish joined to St. Cuthbert's. The site or churchyard of the Holy Trinity being possessed by the said Richard, was afterwards settled by him, on the preacher, or master of the hospital of his foundation, who now enjoys it.

7. St. John's

Was one of the four churches appendant to the mother church, in the Conqueror's time, as we learn from Domesday, and was given, with that, to Bishop Arfast, and by him assigned to one of his sons, who in all appearance granted it to the Earl Warren, who founded the priory of the canons of the Holy Sepulchre in this parish, but did not assign the advowson of St. John's to it, for that continued appendant to the dominion of Thetford, and passed to the Earl of Lancaster, and was given in King Richard the Second's time to John of Gaunt Duke of Lancaster, who gave it to the prior and convent of the Augustine friars in Thetford, which he had founded, and soon after it became a chapel only, the parish being joined to that of the Holy Trinity; afterwards, it was repaired by the friars, and made a house for lepers, and continued such till the Dissolution, when it was demolished, and the site of it granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and afterwards sold by Sir Edward Clere, to the Norfolk family, in which it now continues. There are no walls above ground, but the foundations are very visible, close by the road leading to Brandon, on the left hand, between the canons' barn, and Red-Castle.

8. St. Margaret's

Stood also on the Suffolk side, being another of the appendant churches in the Confessor's time, and remained so at the Conqueror's; whether it was given by Bishop Arfast's son, who had it of his father's gift, or afterwards purchased by the Bishop of Ely, I cannot say; but after the erection of that bishoprick, it belonged to the see: about Edward the Third's time, it was called the Chapel of St. Margaret, the parish being annexed to St. Mary's; in the beginning of Richard III. the parish was quite decayed, and then it became an hospital, or house of lepers, to whose use the church was assigned; in 1390, (fn. 23) 20 March, John Fordham Bishop of Ely granted an indulgence of forty days pardon, which was to last three years, to all persons that would help and assist the poor men and lepers living in the hospital of St. Margaret by Thetford. This hospital was dissolved in Edward the Sixth's time, and granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and so passed to the Cleres, and was sold by Sir Edward, with the canons' farm, to which it now belongs. It stood on the left hand of the Elden road, close by the city ditch, and though there are no remaining walls above the earth, the place it stood on is much higher than the adjoining ground, and the great number of large stones, which came out of the building, and lie scattered round the hill, will plainly direct any one to its site.

9. St. Martin's

Was another of the churches appendant to St. Mary's the Great, in the Confessor's and Conqueror's days, and was also given by Bishop Arfast to his son; but how it went afterwards, where it stood, or when demolished, I cannot find; it is said to be on the Suffolk side, and is often mentioned, though I cannot say, but I think it some way or other ceased to be parochial, about Edward III. not finding it numbered among the parish churches, since that time.

10. St. Edmund's

Also stood on the Suffolk side, but whereabouts I do not know; it belonged to the lordship, after to the Earl Warren, who gave it to the canons. In Edward the Third's time, (fn. 24) it was returned, that St. Edmund's was a rectory, appropriated to the canons, the prior of that house being perpetual rector, who served it by himself or one of his canons, it being in Thetford deanery, and Norwich archdeaconry, and taxed at two marks. In Henry the Fourth's time, the parish was united to some other, for then it is called the Chapel of St. Edmund; it was demolished at the Reformation, or some little time before, the parish being destitute of inhabitants.

11. St. Michael's

Was a parish church on the Suffolk side, but I could never make out whereabouts it stood. It was a rectory in Thetford deanery, (fn. 25) and Norwich archdeaconry, taxed at half a mark, and appropriated to the Prior of the monks of Thetford, who was returned as perpetual rector of it, in Edward the Third's time. It was demolished before the Reformation: the site belonged to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and was sold by Sir Edward Clere, with the Canons, in which farm it is now included.

12. All-Saints

Was a rectory belonging to Bury abbey, in which it remained till Hugh, abbot there, founded the nunnery of St. George in Thetford, to which he gave this church, at the foundation, and being appropriated to that house, it was always served by a stipendiary curate, who was paid and appointed by the Prioress: the foundations of it may be seen (as I take it) within that outward gate of the Place, which is part walled up on the right hand, at the very entrance. It was demolished at the Suppression, and given to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and hath passed with the Place, to which it belongs at this time. It was returned in Edward the Third's time, to be in Thetford deanery, and Norwich archdeaconry, that it was taxed at two marks, being a rectory appropriate to the Prioress of Thetford.

13. St. Bennet's

Also belonged to Bury abbey, and was a parochial church in Edward the Third's time, and stood on Suffolk side, but where I do not find. I believe it was demolished and united to some other parish, in the beginning of Edward the Third's time, for I do not find it mentioned in the Archdeacon's Register.

14. St. Laurence

Was a rectory on the Suffolk side, given to the canons by their founder; the Archdeacon's Register tells me it was taxed at half a mark, that the Prior was perpetual rector, and served it by a stipendiary curate in Edward the Third's time. Where it stood, how, or when demolished, I know not, but find its site given to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and sold by Sir Edward Clere, with the Canons, in which farm it is now included.

15. St. George's

Was that church belonging to Bury abbey mentioned in Domesday, given (as is supposed) by King Cnute, near which the abbot placed a cell for a few monks; it continued parochial till the erection of the priory by Abbot Hugh, and then became the nuns church. It was afterwards rebuilt and augmented, but yet continued its ancient name, the priory itself being dedicated to St. George, as well as the church.

16. St. Nicholas's

Stood on the Norfolk side, and was a rectory, given by Hugh Bygod to the priory of monks of his own foundation here. In Edward the Third's time it was valued at three marks and an half, being then appropriate to the Prior, who served it by a stipendiary curate; it was in Thetford deanery, and Norwich archdeaconry, and was a parish of some value at that time. In 1499, John Fishere, burgess of Thetford, who was mayor in 1487, was buried in this churchyard, by his wife, and gave a new cope to the church. In 1506, Edmund Schilde of Thetforde was buried here, by Sir Robert Sweyn, then parish priest. In 1511, the church was new paved, and Robert Love, burgess of Thetford, gave 40s. towards it; at the Dissolution it went with the priory to the Duke of Norfolk, was afterwards forfeited to the Crown, and was granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, by Edward VI. in 1546, by virtue of which, he became seized of all the tithes, revenues, &c. belonging to this church; and the year following, he, the mayor, and Henry Simond, clerk, rector of St. Peter's, petitioned the Bishop for a consolidation, which passed April 24, (fn. 26) 1547, the service being then removed, and the parish united to St. Peter's; the whole of the great and small tithes of St. Peter's parish were agreed to belong as formerly to the rector, on whom all the tithes of St. Nicholas's parish were now settled, except the tithes of hay, corn, wool, lambs, calves, and other cattle, all which were reserved to Sir Richard, as impropriator of St. Nicholas, and afterwards were sold by Sir Edward Clere to the Norfolk family, which always enjoyed them, the greatest part, if not all the land which belonged to the parish, being included in the Abbey-Farm. Upon this consolidation, the church was demolished, and the churchyard became glebe to the rectory of St. Peter's, as it now [1738] remains: great part of the tower, which is square, stands on the left hand of the street leading from the Bell-Corner, to the brick-kilns, which is still called St. Nicholas's-street.

17. St. Andrew's,

Sometimes called the church of St. Andrew the Less, to distinguish it from the abbey church, which was often called, St. Andrew the Great, was a rectory valued in the Norwich taxation at 10s. and stands now in the King's Books as one of the livings remaining in charge in Thetford deanery, valued at 2l. 8s. 9d. the yearly tenths being 4s. 10d. ob. (fn. 27) It is on the Norfolk side, and was impropriate to the Prior of the canons, who served it by a stipendiary curate till the Dissolution, when it was granted to Sir Richard Fulmerston, who, about 1546, got it consolidated to St. Peter's, and then the church was demolished, and the churchyard settled as glebe on that rectory, to which it now [1738] belongs. It is hired by Mr. Henry Cocksedge, to whose garden it joins, and the foundations being taken up, is made a pleasant plantation, commonly known by the name of the Wilderness, it being almost opposite to the blacksmith's shop, which stands on a hill by the Fleece-Tavern, and is placed directly on the site of St. Andrew's-Cross, which is much spoken of in the ancient evidences of this town.

In 1511, this church was repaired, for then Robert Love of Thetford gave 20s. towards it.

18. St. Giles's

Church stands on the Norfolk side, on the left hand of the street leading from St. Peter's to St. Cuthbert's church; it faces the lane called St. Giles's-lane, which leads from the aforesaid street, to Alice's-lane. It was a rectory in Thetford deanery and Norwich archdeaconry, valued in Edward the Third's time at 16s. given to the Prior of the canons, by the founder, who paid a stipendiary curate to serve it, till about Edward the Fourth's time, and then the parish was annexed to St. Cuthbert's, and the church let to a hermit, who lived in it, and performed service there for his own profit. At the Dissolution it was given to Sir Richard Fulmerston, and was sold afterwards by Sir Edward Clere, and is now [1738] the property of Mr. Hatch; it is turned into a barn, the steeple (if there was one) being quite down, and a new gable in its place.

19. St. Helen's

Church, at the Conqueror's survey, was endowed with a carucate of land, and one villein, and as much land as might make another carucate; it then belonged to the King's manor of Methwold, which had also belonging to it another half carucate of land in Thetford, and five bordars, in the Confessor's time, which were reduced to three, and two void mansions, with one church; (fn. 28) they belonged formerly to the see, for the King seized them with Methwold manor, and the rest of Stigand's estate, and committed them to the custody of William de Noiers, as Domesday shews us, (fn. 29) in the following words:

Terre Stigandi Episcopi, quas Custodit W. de Noiers in Manu Regis. Gerimeshou Hund. Methalwalde, tenuit T.R.E. tc. hic jacet semper i. Serbita, tc. et m in Tedforda, dim. Car. Cerre et v. Sord. T. R. E. modo iii. t ii. Mansure sunt bacue: t i. Eccesia. t i. Ecclesia, Sancte Elene, cum una Car. terre, et i. Fill. t i. Car. posset esse.

This church stood on an hill at the extremity of the bounds of Thetford, as we go to Santon, it being near two miles from Thetford town, and was built there on account of a remarkable spring at the foot of the hill, commonly, but corruptly, called Tenant's-Well, for St. Helen's Well, and by the shepherds, Holy-Well; it seems there were only five houses to farm the land belonging to it, in the Confessor's time, and two of them were down in the Conqueror's. This afterwards belonged to the Earl Warren, and passed as Methwold manor, but when it was demolished, I cannot learn. Which was the other church that then belonged to Methwold manor I could never find.

20. St. Mary Magdalen's

Was first a parish church, and afterwards converted into an hospital by John Earl Warren, in the time of King Henry III. (fn. 30) It was valued in the King's Books at 1l. 13s. 6d. ob. and so paid 3s. 4d. ob. yearly tenths, and to this day it stands in Ecton's Valor, as one of the livings still remaining in charge, in Thetford deanery. (fn. 31)

And these are all the parish churches, that were ever in this city, whose memorial are delivered down to us; and indeed they stood exceeding thick, so that the parishes were but small, as their valuations shew us. But we must not imagine that they were sustained by their parochial incomes only, for it is certain that in all populous places, the masses, offerings, and other oblations, were of much superiour value to the settled revenues, else the religious would not have thought it worth while to get them appropriated to their houses, as they generally did, there being no more in this large place than two of its parish churches that were rectories not appropriated; and to this it is owing, that in most large towns, where the settled revenues were but small, even those are often lessened by such appropriations, the religious being desirous to get them to themselves, not for the sake of their endowments, (as they did the country parishes,) but of the casual offerings, masses, and oblations. And indeed had they still have gone on, as they did for many years, preceding their dissolution, I may be bold to say there had been few parishes in town or country of any value, but had been appropriated to some house or other before this time.


  • 1. See p. 43.
  • 2. See p. 48.
  • 3. Monast. vol. ii. fol. 99.
  • 4. Lib. Inst.
  • 5. Regr. Castone. fol. 312. b.
  • 6. There is a tradition that a King's son lies under it, but there is no such thing.
  • 7. Regr. Popye.
  • 8. Regr. Cant. in cust. Decan. et Capit. fol. 114.
  • 9. Regr. Briggs, fol. 142.
  • 10. Regr. Spiltimer, fol. 159.
  • 11. Finding no inscription on this stone, I could not without ingratitude omit doing justice to the character of my deceased master, there being few that have had better opportunities of knowing the man than myself, who was brought up under him above 10 years.
  • 12. Mr. Weaver, fol. 827, hat h this inscription, but very faulty.
  • 13. Theford decan. ecclesia Sancte Etheldrede æstimabatur ad 20 sol. In hac ecclesia est Camisia Sancte Etheldrede. Regr. Archid. Norwici.
  • 14. This is now the paper-mill, and was then a fulling-mill.
  • 15. Being not named in Domesday, we cannot tell which they were.
  • 16. Regr. Spurling, fol. 60.
  • 17. See Becon's book, entitled, the Monstruous Merchandise of the Romish Bishop's, or the Reliques of Rome, among his works in folio, p. 181, b.
  • 18. See p. 60.
  • 19. That is, half the advowson belonged to one, and half to the other.
  • 20. It was in Norwich archdeaconry, and Thetford deanery, in Edward the Third's time, and was taxed at half a mark, Regr. Arch. Norw.
  • 21. Regr. Godsalve, fol. 296.
  • 22. Regr. Johnson, fol. 108.
  • 23. Regr. Fordham, fol. 175. a. inter Archiv. Epi. Elien.
  • 24. Regr. Archid. Norwic.
  • 25. Ibid.
  • 26. The same day that St. Cuthbert's and the Holy Trinity were consolidated.
  • 27. Ecton's Lib. Val. p. 216. edit. Lond. 1723.
  • 28. There are still divers small free rents paid to Methwold manor issuing out of the premises that belonged to it.
  • 29. Fol. 47, 48.
  • 30. See St. Mary Magdalen's hospital.
  • 31. That is, still chargeable with tenths.