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History of St Mary's Church

According to the Domesday Book Watton had a church prior to 1086. The present church is most likely to have been built on the same site, and is generally accepted to have been built between 1100 and 1135. St Mary’s Church, which was originally dedicated to St Giles, but was rededicated to St Mary in the early C15, is of flint construction in the Norman and Gothic styles.


In the 1840’s extensive building work was begun, widening the aisles to increase seating capacity from 260 to 480, which makes St Mary’s the only church in Norfolk that is wider than its length.

Its round tower has an octagonal belfry containing six bells. This new ‘peal’– a set of bells attuned to each other – was installed in 1899 for ‘change ringing’ paid for by public subscription. Previously there were only three bells housed in a wooden spire and inscribed ‘John Brend made me in ‘1656-1658’. At one time there was a musician’s gallery in the west end, and records show that in 1845 the church had a small orchestra which consisted of a violin, two flutes and two clarinets.


The Parish Registers


The Registers of St. Mary’s, the Parish Church of Watton, are in several bound books. The earliest began in 1539 to comply with the laws of the newly established ‘Church of England’ with Henry VIII as it’s Supreme Head.


These volumes contain the Baptisms, Burials and Marriages of the people who made up the population of Watton.             


Six books of the transcribed Parish Registers (1539-1900) and 2 books containing the transcriptions of the Memorials in the Church and Churchyard are in print. 

Copies are available in most local libraries and from the Parish Church Office.


Inside the Church


Please note that the church has been re-ordered recently. Please read this additional page.


The Font


The Font you see today is made of Caen limestone (found in France) carved with geometric patterns with an oak cover, stands to the right as you enter the main doors from the bell tower, was new in 1840 when the reseating was done. This Font replaces an earlier Decorated Font, which was sold shortly before 1840, and can now be seen in neighbouring Ovington Church.


The Nave


A cross on the apex of the Nave roof came from a former medieval porch, which can be seen in Ladbrooke’s drawing. It looks to have had Christ within a ring of glory, which is now indistinct.

The Nave is 37ft 7ins long and 17ft 7ins wide (11.55 x 5.36m approx).the height to the top of the ridge is
32ft (9.75m approx.).

At 64ft 11ins (19.79m approx.) the combined widths of the Nave and the Aisles makes the church wider than it is long. 

The arches of the arcades match, the pillars on the South side are C.14 but the North ones are later.

The windows in the Clerestory (at high level) date from C. 15 and are early Tudor or late perpendicular. Three equally spaced on the South side above the full length Aisle and 3 closer together above the shorter North aisle.  

Between the Clerestory windows are memorials for members of the Younge family on the South side and a memorial to the Rev’d. Scott of Saham on the North side.
A brass plaque on the South wall tells of Francis Grigson, who fell at Gallipoli in 1915 whilst dressing the wounds of a fellow officer to whose rescue he had gone.

The Chancel

The Early English Chancel is original and oldest part of the Church. It is 22ft 10ins long by 13ft 9ins wide (6.96 x 4.20m approx.).

The beautiful ceiling is of deep blue painted plaster scattered with gold stars and a frieze along the top of the Chancel walls. It was painted from designs by Thomas Waters, a local artist, c. 1887.

The windows are Early English and date from c. 1250.

The triple lancet East window was re-glazed as a war memorial to the men of Watton in 1919. It depicts Christ rising from the tomb with the boy David on the left, inscribed ‘Faith and Valour’ and on the right, Jonathon inscribed ‘Love and Loyalty’.

The smaller double lancet window in the South wall is of St. Peter and St. Paul in strong blues and yellows, was re-glazed c. 1850. These beautiful windows have a clarity that seems very modern.

In this wall below the window is a simple piscina (a niche with basin and drain) and sedilia (seat). A second piscina is cut into the Nave nearby.
On the South / South West wall, now hidden by the choir stalls carved with poppy heads, is the ‘priest’s door’ and ‘low window’.


The ‘low window’ or ’suint’ is of particular interest. It is very low in the wall and has a massive iron grill with a good oak door on the inside. It shows no sign of ever having been glazed.

On the inside the wall has a curved recess to make it just large enough for a man to sit and either ring the sanctus bell or, as previously thought to minister to ‘lepers’ outside (However, it is now thought that ‘lepers’ would not have been allowed so near to the Church).


The Aumbry


A niche in the North wall contains a curious medieval head (a corbel), carved in stone. One can only guess that it might have been reset here when the aisles were rebuilt.


The North Aisle


The three windows in the North Aisle are typical Y-Tracery C 13 with C 19 glazing. On the walls between these windows are memorials to the members of the Harvey family. War Memorials list the names of the men of Watton who gave their lives in the 1914 - 18 & 1939 - 45 Wars. Set into the floor is a ledger stone, which commemorates Thomas and Deborah Scott. This was once in the floor of the Nave but was moved.

In 1983 the pews from the North Aisle were removed and the floor retiled. The Eastern half of this area now houses the Church Music Group ’SHINE!’ ; a fitting modern equivalent to the ‘musicians gallery’ of earlier times.  Recently “Shine!” have been moved to the back of the South Aisle as a temporary measure, to make room for our expanding crèche.

The Western half of this area has been converted into the Rector’s Vestry, a kitchen and a toilet. The completion of this vast project marked the end of a six year fund-raising period with most of the money being raised by the Congregation.


The Lady Chapel (South Aisle)


The Lady Chapel is now simply furnished with alter and communion rail, credence table and Bishop’s chair in English oak. They were given in memory of several former members of St. Mary’s clergy and congregation.

The cross on the window sill and the candlesticks on the altar are in memory of Ted Adcock. The French depiction of St. Mary, our Patron Saint, on the wall was given in memory of John Fairhead.