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Church of the week

All Saints, Wilby

Featured on 7th January 2022

All Saints church, Wilby, Norfolk

All Saints church, Wilby

Unique to Norfolk, All Saints has a virtually complete set of Jacobean fittings including a three decker pulpit amongst its rustic wooden pews.

An eventful history has left a real atmosphere on the large imposing building. It still retains many medieval features including the font and the arms on the chancel north wall of Sir Robert Bell, allegedly a member of the deputation from parliament requiring Queen Elizabeth I to marry.

But All Saints owes its Jacobean influence to a disastrous fire in 1633 which, originating in the Parsonage yard nearby, severely damaged the church. The conflagration was so intense that interior stonework was tinged pink in places.

The owner of the local manor house, Robert Wilton organised repairs.  Entirely reroofed and refurbished, the church boats wooded benches that cluster around the triple decker pulpit, box pews, communion rail, and a new west gallery. By good fortune Wilton’s work was overlooked by the Victorians.

And the Royal Arms over the door somehow survived the civil war probably due to Wilton keeping his influence both with King and Parliamentarians.

All Saints received another makeover in 1902, when the chancel and nave roofs were restored by William Weir.  Supervised by Philip Webb, a disciple of Augustus Pugin, Weir’s repairs included strengthening the north east corner of the nave with what resembles a rather unusual brick flying buttress. This area had been seriously weakened by the rood stair and Pugin scholars come all the way to Wilby just to look at it.  In fact archives at The Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings state:  ‘Weir built up the most astonishing brick structure which deserves to be as famous as Ernest Barnsley’s buttress at the Priest’s house, Muchelney’.

Then in 1970, the church tower was found to be much in need of restoration and the Rector at the time, decided enough was enough and applied for the church to be made redundant.  

Lady Harrod, founder of the Norfolk Churches Trust found this deplorable and intervened. Encouraged by this determination not to see the church close, the parish rallied around its beloved church and ensured its survival.

And finally, All Saints is once again in need of repair  – this time to the  stonework and chancel roof.  This is where we, the National Churches Trust steps in and becomes part of the story. A grant of £20,000 plus and additional £10,000 from the Wolfson Foundation will ensure the building stays standing into the future.

And like the Victorians did on this occasion, we will leave the treasures preserved to ensure all who visit and use the church can marvel at them for years to come.

Learn more about All Saints