St. Mary's Church

by Paul Cattermole

Chapter 5 : Description of the church - Inside the church

The atmosphere inside the church is typical of many local churches which were thoroughly restored in the 19th century, and R. M. Phipson's symmetrically planned nave furnishings, with a prominently-positioned font, reflect a scholarly interest in local mediaeval design. A handsome 14th-century limestone chancel arch, which is perhaps the most prominent feature of the interior, opens into Ewan Christian's restored chancel; and the good proportions of the tower arch are worth noticing. The nave roof is an original design by Phipson, excellently worked in pitch-pine, supported by arched braces and relieved by carved bosses; and the chancel ceiling is a Victorian replica of the original. Only the ceiling of tower ringing chamber retains its 16th-century timbers.

Although a number of the oak poppy-heads in the nave are old, they are attached to pine benches designed by Phipson. There are ten 15th-century bench-ends having stylised carvings of foliage, including oak leaves, acorns and catkins; and three of more original design. Those at the front of the nave have representations of: a crowned bishop (Edward the Confessor?); Our Lady, wearing a crown and accompanied by angels against a rayed background; and the weighing of souls, where a scaly version of the Devil is holding down one side of the balance against a pious soul on the other side. A brass plate records that the 19th-century choir-stalls were fitted with old bench ends in 1929 as a memorial to the Reverend W. J. Garrould. The woodwork of the vestries (1907) is undistinguished; but a length of balustrading, rescued from the redundant church of St Margaret de Westwick in Norwich, and placed at the front of the ringers gallery in 1975, is more interesting. The initials and date 1707 refer, of course to the St. Margaret's churchwardens; and the balustrade, which originally formed part of a three-sided set of altar rails, is very similar to that removed from the Tharston chancel in 1864.

The font, which is the most striking feature of the nave, has 15th century carvings of angels, lions and roses on the eight sides of the bowl; and rather baleful lions gaze out from four sides of the pedestal. Faces and angels' wings supporting the bowl have been deliberately defaced. The jointing of the stonework on which the font is set shows that it was originally one step higher, and there is a mortise for the stone stool on which the priest then stood to administer the sacrament of baptism. The font cover appears to be the base of a 17th-century one which may formerly have had a canopy above, rather like that at Stratton St. Mary.

The layout of the chancel is typical of its period, with a stencilled text above the east window, and the commandments painted on zinc plates flanking it. The simple 19th-century communion table and rails have no special interest; but it is worth recording that it was not until 1926 that a cross was placed in the chancel, and there were no candlesticks until 1937. A good Stuart communion table still survives in the vestry. South of the altar is a neatly carved 13th-century piscina with a fluted drain, used for washing the sacred vessels at the conclusion of the Mass. The reading desk to the north of the chancel arch is made up from old bits and pieces which include a section of carved panelling; and the eagle lectern was brought to Tharston when Oxwick church was closed in the 1950's. The curious recess behind the pulpit (about whose design the least said the better) marks the position of stairs leading to a loft above the rood-screen which formerly filled the chancel arch.

The nave windows, and the east window are filled with "Cathedral Glass", admitting the dim religious light beloved of 19th-century church restorers; and it is hard to imagine what external distractions needed to be excluded at Tharston. The only pictorial glass in the church is in the south chancel window, where it forms a memorial to Sir Robert John Harvey-Harvey (died 1870) and his wife, Lady Henrietta Augusta (died 1874): the typically Victorian glass by is of good quality, showing Our Lord praying in the garden of Gethsemane while His disciples slept, and His progress to Calvary carrying the cross. The attractive glass quarries in the west window were made by Messrs J. and J. King of Norwich to a design by E. P. Willins, apparently based on a single ancient piece of glass which is incorporated in the window.

There are three 17th-century monuments in the nave of the church: a simple floor slab just inside the north door commemorating Richard Newman (+ 1691), and two mural monuments in the north-east corner. A distinctly genealogical monument commemorates John Woolmer (+ 1598) "sometimes Clerk of the Assizes for this Circuit, a man of excellent Learning, Ingenuous conversation & of singular Pietie & Integritie of Life". His wife Alice (+ 1610) was a "Modest, Discreete, Industrious and Religious Gentlewoman, both which have left behind them a perpetual good Name Answerable to such everliving virtues". Their daughter and son-in-law have a similar memorial, advertising their connections, beneath which is a grisly cadaver, supported by a cherub. In the chancel are three rather more sober memorials to members of the Harvey family. Sir Robert John Harvey (+ 1860) has a mural monument, by T. Gaffin of London, on the north wall with excellent representations of soldiers in contemporary dress; and his widow's (died 1869) memorial, by J. Stanley of Norwich, has a rather sentimental, draped female figure above it: a simple scroll, commemorating John Harvey (died 1874) is also by Stanley. General Harvey's epitaph is worth reading for its account of his participation in the Peninsular War, which explains the Spanish flavour of the names given to various estates and houses in Tharston. Two small lozenges of white marble, commemorating a father and son, both called Abel Hodges, who were 18th-century vicars of Tharston, recorded by Tom Martin c. 1735, have disappeared. The brass plates attached to the south nave wall record the details of two 19th-century parish charities, still distributed annually (1991).

The 1552 Inventory records bells of 3 cwt, 5 cwt, 8 cwt and 10 cwt in the tower; and the present bells are a ring of five, with a tenor weighing 10 cwt 0 qr 6 lbs and sounding G. They are inscribed:

1. MEARS & STAINBANK, FOUNDERS, LONDON, 1907. - DAY HUNG US. - (A new bell added to the old ring of four in 1907)
2. CANTATE DOMINO CANTICUM NOVUM MDCCCCLXXVI - H. C. BARNES - H. T. S. DUFFIELD - CHURCHWARDENS - T. O. W. GLASS VICAR. (Known to have been twice recast, by Samuel Gilpin of Norwich in 1699, and by Taylor of Loughborough in 1977)
3. MEARS & STAINBANK, LONDON, RECAST 1907. - (Recast 1616 by William Brend of Norwich, and again 1907)
4. (+) NOS (THOME) MERIT(IS MEREAMUR GAUDIA LUCIS) - (Probably cast by John Magges of Norwich, fl. 1437. 1470)
5. MEARS & STA1NBANK, LONDON, RECAST 1907. - (Recast 1907 from a bell probably cast by Richard Brasyer II of Norwich, inscribed - + (Dona Repende Pia: Rogo Magd)alen(a Maria)

The restoration of the bells in 1907 is recorded on a plaque in the ringers' gallery: "To the Glory of God and for the joy of the Tharston people. Four bells rehung, two recast and one new bell added and all first rung from the new belfry on Ascension Day 1907. The first or treble bell was given by the vicar in memory of his beloved wife AGNES MARY GARROULD with whose dear memory the whole restoration and the new vestry are associated." The bell-frame and fittings of 1907 were the work of Day and Sons of Eye, Suffolk. All five bells were again rehung (one of them recast and another retuned) in 1975 when churchwarden, Mr. Harry Duffield, assisted by Mr. Bernard Lammas of Tasburgh and Mr. Fred Sinclair of Norwich, did all the work in the tower voluntarily. Having only five bells, there has not been a great deal of peal ringing of more than local significance; and the first complete 5040 was rung by a visiting team in 1930. The first full peal by a band resident in the village was 5040 Plain Bob and Grandsire Doubles, rung on December 31st, 1977, in two hours and 59 minutes.

(c) Barbara Cattermole and family, first published in 1992 by Paul Cattermole. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form, or by any means, without the prior consent of the author's family.