History of St John the Baptist's Church

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St John the Baptist is in the middle of Morningthorpe. It is well lit and heated. Services are held alternately with Fritton in the summer but most Sundays in the winter.

he original round tower of the church seems to have been built around the time of the Norman Conquest. During repairs in the 1980s an interesting story emerged. Exterior flint work between the first-floor level and the belfry was bulging badly. It appeared the flints were a circular outer casing, encasing a structurally separate - octagonal - internal core. Experts think the tower was built in several stages at diffferent times - there are different views of the precise dates and sequence. The lower section, from the ground up to first-floor level and including the tower arch, seems to be all that remains of the original tower, and that probably dates from the Saxo-Norman period.

The middle stage of the tower (possibly octagonal as noted, though following the repairs there is  now no sign of this shape) might be 13th-century. The present belfry is considered to have been built in the late C14th or C15th (along with, according to interpretations, the flint casings of the earlier octagonal section). The battlements were added in 1889. Three bells, dating from 1550, hang in the tower.

Pevsner describes the nave and chancel as Perpendicular. The excessive thickness of the nave west wall (4½ ft measured outside and 5 ft above the tower arch) may suggest, however, that the original nave was built at the same time as the earlier tower, since it is unlikely that a church built without a tower would have had such a substantial west wall.

The church was restored in 1889 at a cost of £1,150. The work was overseen by the Diocesan architect, Herbert Green, whose wife used the opportunity to glaze the east window in memory of her parents, brothers and sisters. The Victorian roofs are arch-braced and on the wall plates there are carved angels holding shields: the chancel roof is the more elaborate.

A fine l5th-century font greets visitors as they enter the nave, of a type commonly found in south-east Norfolk. It's a ‘lion font’, as it has four carved lions around the base. The Victorian carved wooden cover has an angel at the summit blowing a horn.

It's unusual to find, as here in the nave, two sets of Royal Arms. Those over the south door are for George III (1760-1820). We know they date from before 1816 because the Hanoverian Arms are surmounted by an Elector’s bonnet (after 1816 Hanover became a kingdom and the arms were then topped by a crown). The second set, carved from wood and mounted on the west wall, have been linked to George III, but it's now suggested that these Arms are for Queen Victoria (1837-1901). The evidence for this is that the Hanoverian Arms are not shown. Being a woman, Victoria was not permitted to succeed to the Hanoverian throne.

The chancel was ‘improved’ by the Revd Woodhouse in 1840. The ledger slabs, memorials and glass in the chancel reflect the history of the lords of the manor. A fine Elizabethan table tomb against the north wall of the chancel has very good carved heraldry, but, unfortunately, no effigies or inscriptions. Some suggest it could be for Richard Garneys who built Boyland Hall in the l6th century. The Irby family later lived in Boyland Hall and they appera in the glazing of the north and east windows of the church.

The east window depicts a crucifixion scene, together with other scenes from the life of Christ. There is a fine l5th-century piscina in the south east corner, under an ogee arch. To the left of the arch is a carved Tudor rose. The leopard’s head marks a link with the powerful De La Pole family who were the Earls and Dukes of Suffolk for 150 years up to the time of Henry VIII (first half of the 16th century).

The carved figure at the end of a choir stall on the south side shows the church’s patron saint, St John the Baptist, dressed in camel-skin clothes and a leather belt.

The toplights of the windows in both the north and south walls have remains of medieval stained glass. The piscina in the south wall, just west of the chancel arch, shows there was once a side altar. It was probably beneath a rood screen before the Reformation. The rood screen no longer exists, but the rood loft stairs can still be seen in the wall behind the pulpit.

The present congregation loves to welcome families. There is a children's corner near the south door with cushions and activities.

In the graveyard there are a number of late 19th-century gravestones with pointed ogee tops and foliage along the edges. These may be the work of a particular local mason.


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