History of St Mary Magdalen

There was probably a church here more than 900 years ago, in the reign of Edward the Confessor (1042-1066). Certainly a church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. The story goes that Thomas de St. Omer, Lord of the Manor at the end of the 13th century, was sorry for his part in the execution of a convicted thief and founded the present building to make amends. One of the later Lords of the Manor, Sir William Hoo (died 1410), rebuilt the nave and tower, and the chancel was probably added later.


….is magnificent! It was built over 500 years ago and can be seen from miles around. Since the mid-1980s the tower has been floodlit each evening. It was used by the Ordnance Survey for surveying their maps: there is a fine view from the top!

Church clock

The tower tells us a lot about local geology. It is mostly made of local black flint – a rock that occurs in chalk. The mortar is made from local chalk. Flints are too small to make good corner-stones, so these are of limestone from Lincolnshire – 100 miles away. The flints in the buttresses have been skilfully knapped by hand to make them square. There are a few non-local stones. These are almost certainly glacial erratics – stones brought to Mulbarton from northern England by ice-sheets in the Ice Age.

The bricks and tiles in the tower are unusual – there were no bricks or tiles being made in England at the time this tower was built, so they are probably from the ruins of Caister Roman town, 3 miles to the north-east. If so, they date from roughly the time when Jesus was on earth:

Christ is made the sure Foundation,
Christ the Head and Cornerstone….
(Part of a 7th Century Latin hymn still sung today)

The clock in the tower is Mulbarton’s World War II memorial, bought by public subscription. It was dedicated on October 8th, 1950.


The huge and heavy doors are made of Norfolk oak. Step over the sill, which some think may be an old Communion Table – ripped out in the Reformation, 450 years ago. There is some brass set in the stone.


Look up at the roof of the nave. The beams are oak and the roofing is pine.
Look East along the nave to the great arch. Beyond it is the Chancel, with the Communion Table and the fine East Window.
Look North to three big arches. Beyond is the ”North Aisle” – an extension built in 1875, but blending well with the medieval church.
Look West through another great arch to the base of the Tower and the West Window – a distinctive Norfolk feature.

The FONT is near the door

The stone font is medieval in age and octagonal (8-sided) in shape. The base is probably much older – it may have come from a much older church that stood here, or near here. There was a church here in the time of the Domesday Book, in 1086, so babies have been baptised here for over a thousand years.

Along the NAVE

The nave is the main part of the church. Bright sunlight enters from the two big ”perpendicular” windows in the south side. This is one reason why the church usually looks cheerful and welcoming. The windows were reglazed in the 1980s. Near the pulpit, some 17th Century Flemish glass has been incorporated into the window. One piece may show Paul and Timothy in prison in Rome with a visitor, Epaphroditus, who brought gifts from the church in Philippi, in northern Greece.
The pews are made of English oak and were added in 1872. They replaced some ”box pews”.

The hassocks (kneelers) were made by Mulbarton people in the 1980s to designs by Mrs. Doreen Dean. They show Mulbarton scenes, such as the pond, Mulbarton Hall and the old windmill opposite the church.


The war memorial is between the two windows. It is made of marble. Sixteen Mulbarton men died in World War I – quite a large number for a small village. Below is a memorial tablet for the seven men who died 1939-45, but the church clock is the World War II memorial. A wreath of poppies is placed below the memorial on Remembrance Sunday in November.

On either side of the war memorial are memorials to the Turner Family. They span 442 years (1547 to 1889). Their graves are beyond the east end of the church. Their descendants still farm in Mulbarton.

The oak PULPIT

The pulpit is seven-sided, perhaps to represent the seven gifts of the Holy Spirit. (Find out what these are on one of the Rich memorials later.) The outside of the pulpit is carved, and a brass plaque states:

The pulpit and prayer-desk were given by
several parishioners at the time the church
was benched by the Rector: October 1872.

From in or near the pulpit, God’s word is expounded every week.


The Chancel is the eastern part of the Church, beyond the great arch.
The pew-ends here are exceptionally well carved and are all different. One shows wheat, for the bread of Communion. Another shows a vine and grapes, for the wine.

The Communion Table was given in 1937, when this end of the church was refurbished. The chalice (cup) used at Communion was made in Norwich and its cover is inscribed ‘Ye TOWNE OF MULBARTON, 1567?. It has been used for over 400 years, and is still used almost every Sunday. The church welcomes all Christians who are communicant members of other churches to the Lord’s Table.

East window


The Chancel windows are of ‘Decorated’ style – an older style than the windows in the nave. The Great East Window is one of the treasures of Mulbarton church. Some of the glass is muddled, with Latin words in the wrong place and letters upside down. In the centre window, Adam is working the land barefoot – with a spade used in Medieval times. This is 15th Century glass. To find the matching picture of Eve spinning, you have to visit Martham Church, 25 miles away. But a former Rector came from Martham Church and brought this old glass with him! The right window has a man holding a chained dragon with the slogan ‘POTESTATES’ (powers): a reminder of the need to conquer the devil and temptation.

The South windows of the Chancel also have fragments of old glass. There is a King or Bishop holding a mitre, and a child being taught to read. The teacher’s head may be a Jewish rabbi, but the body is probably Anna, traditionally the mother of the Virgin Mary. The two kneeling figures of a monk and a nun are from an abbey in Germany – its glass was sold as a ‘job lot’ to a Norwich merchant when the abbey closed.


The Chancel memorials are mainly to former Rectors and Lords of the Manor. On the floor is a slab marking where the Rev. Anthony Frere (Rector 1616-1660) is buried. He came in the time of Charles I and served to the time of Charles II. Memorials on the wall tell us about the Rector who built the (old) Rectory; the Lords of the Manor in the 18th Century; a lady who lived to 103; and an unusual brass memorial in the form of a book with a hinged cover, standing on a closed Bible. It has an inscription to Mrs. Sarah Scargill, ”cozin to Sir William le Neve, Herauld to King Charles the First of blessed memory”. She was the wife of Rev. Daniel Scargill (Rector 1672-1721) who wrote the poem that speaks of his undying love.


The vestry was added as part of the 1875 extension. The registers are usually signed here during weddings. Mulbarton Church has registers dating from the 1547, most of which can be seen at the Norfolk Records Office.


The north aisle was built in 1875. The windows were designed to match the south side, but are smaller. The organ was installed in 1887 (at a cost of £125) to commemorate the Golden Jubilee of Queen Victoria. It has an interesting plaque which tells us that the electric organ-blower was given in 1949 as a thank-offering for victory in World War II. Before 1949, the organ would have been pumped by hand. Arthur Bussey was organist in this church for 71 years – from 1910 to 1981.

The niche in the north wall used to be the access to a chimney of the old under-floor heating system! The list of Rectors of Mulbarton shows that this church has had an uninterrupted Christian ministry for at least 675 years, since 1329. In 1452, Keningham (a mile south-east of Mulbarton) was merged with Mulbarton and the church there became a ruin long ago. Since 1998 our Rector has served four churches.

A window at the north end of the north aisle is a memorial to Emma Dorinda Wingfield who died in 1906: one of the Wingfields of Mulbarton Hall.

The WEST END of the nave

The west end of the nave used to have a gallery, before the north aisle was built in 1875. It still has two interesting memorials to members of the Rich family. To the right of the arch is the memorial to ”Sir Edwin Rich whoe loved the poor”. He died in 1675, but his advice is still sound today:

Soe speake to God as if men heard your talke
Soe lyve with men as if God sawe your walke.

Unfortunately, the stone ‘hour-glass’ that rested on the book above the monument is broken, but the poem refers to it. Sir Edwin was one of the Lords of the Manor of Mulbarton, and the Rich Charity which he founded still helps needy people in Mulbarton.

Rich hourglass

To the left of the arch, on the wall near the main door to the church, is a memorial to his father that was moved from the old north wall of the church. This is to another Sir Edwin Rich, who bought the Manor of Mulbarton, and died in 1651. This memorial reminds us of the fruits of the Spirit:

Joy, Faith, Peace, Hope, Charitie, Humilitie, Love

A tablet to the left of the arch tells us about another charity – the Bennett’s Bread Charity. When Benjamin Bennett of Swardeston died in 1879, he left £100 for the Minister and Churchwardens to invest and use the dividends to provide poor inhabitants of the Parish with bread during the winter months, but the investment now produces barely enough for one large loaf a year.

High above the arch is a hatchment – a coat of arms on a diamond-shaped board. The Latin motto is CURA NE CURES (”Take care not to worry”). The arms are of Edmund Hooke, who lived in The Lodge and died in 1811.


The bell tower is beyond the arch. Beside the doors to the Tower are painted in gold:
THE CREED, ”I believe in God….”
THE LORD’S PRAYER, ”Our Father….”
On the wall inside the tower are the Ten Commandments. These panels were moved from the wall at the east end of the church when the chancel was renovated in 1937.

The west window in the tower shows the Virgin Mary – not St. Mary Magdalene, the patron of the church. The six ropes are each attached to a bell. They are regularly pealed for weddings and on other occasions by skilled bell-ringers.


The porch had an upper storey until the rebuilding work of 1875: this was the Priest’s Room and is shown on a print made in 1822.
In the porch, above the church door, is an unusual memorial listing ALL the Mulbarton men who served in World War I. Those who died are in gold. This was made by a Mulbarton craftsman.


The churchyard is a conservation area, with fine primroses in spring and many other wild flowers.

At the east end of the church are many graves of the Turner family. Further east is the red granite grave of Sir William Bellairs (1793-1863) of The Lodge, which lists seven battles in which he fought against the French, including the Battle of Waterloo.

(From The Show Yourself Around Guide to St. Mary Magdalene Church, Mulbarton by David R. Wright, 1992, with later revisions.)


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