In common with many medieval churches in Norfolk, Fakenham church probably existed in some shape or form during Saxon times. Stones in the north east corner bear witness to this so worship has gone on here for over a thousand years.
The doorway in the north aisle formed part of the post-conquest Early English building. During the 14th century the Nave and Chancel were built in the Decorated style with the impressive 115 foot tower added in the 15th century.
The building was much neglected during the 16th century, the rector in 1597, Dr Robert West, commenting that the chancel was ‘ruinous and decayed for want of tiling, glassing and paving.’
Major restoration took place in Victorian times and the present nave and chancel roofs date from this period, as do the pine pews.
During the war the church narrowly escaped damage from a stick of bombs in 1941. After the war and up to the present, considerable investment has helped maintain and improve the fabric of this splendid building in the heart of the town.
The Church Building
A circular stairway of 146 steps climbs to the top of the tower, passing the ringing room en route. After a period of silence, the eight bells now ring out regularly every week. In 1828, battlements, pinnacles and weather vanes were added to the summit. The clock face, recently renovated, measures 10 feet across. Its hands are 5 and 6 feet long. British and other national flags are regularly flown from the tower to mark special occasions.
The Porch entrance may have been added when the tower was built. It formerly had an upper room, said to have been used as a powder magazine in the early 1600s.
The octagonal font is from the 15th century, its eight panels depicting the emblems of the four evangelists, the Passion, the Trinity and the Royal Arms. An empty panel may have represented the Crucifixion, removed during the Reformation.
A Poor Box at the west end went missing in the 19th century. It was found in Thomas Charlton’s brewery in Hall Staithe and returned in 1888. The date on it is 1665 – the year of the Great Plague of London.
Four small brasses are set in the floor outside the Trinity Room entrance. They date from around 1470 with one word on each – Jhu, Merci, Ladi and Help.
The Nave pews date from the Victorian restoration period. Those in the north aisle were recently removed to make way for the Trinity Room. The oldest tombstone in the Nave floor dates from 1689 in memory of Covenant Hempsterley. The fine brass eagle lectern was donated by Eliza Damant in 1887 in memory of her husband, a ‘surgeon of this town’.
The Chancel Screen dates from the 14th century but was much restored in 1864. The painting behind the Altar shows St Peter and St Paul and the writers of the four gospels. On the south side of the Chancel is the splendid 14th century Sedilia, the four stalls including a piscina used for washing the communion vessels.
The organ, one of the best in the county, was installed in 1926. It had a major overhaul in 1988, new trombone and pedal stops in the 1990s and a thorough cleaning in 2006. On the north wall is a painting of St.Cecilia, patron saint of organists and music.
A chapel dedicated to St Mary Magdalen was created in the south aisle in 1975. It contains an oil painting of a former rector, Dr John Hacket, painted by Joseph Highmore. The south aisle also acknowledges Dr.Edward Palin, who practiced in Fakenham for 32 years and provides a link for the town with one Michael Palin; and General Sir Harry Tuzo who was Deputy Supreme Allied Commander in Europe from 1976-78.
The Clerestory windows were replaced in 1968. The magnificent stained glass East window was donated by the Reverend Charles Norris in 1805. It illustrates detailed scenes of the life of Christ. The tinted glass in the Tower window was replaced with clear glass in 2007 and re-dedicated in 2008 by former rector the Venerable Hugh Buckingham. In 1890 a stained glass window was placed at the east end of the south aisle in memory of Elizabeth Edgar. The only medieval glass in the church is in the roundel in the westernmost window of the north aisle.
Since 1989, the church tower has been floodlit at night thanks to an anonymous donor and the town council, which pays for the running costs. It is a beacon of light for miles around, an inspiration to those who know and love this ancient and enduring building.