Forncett St Peter – St. Peter’s Church

This is the pretty little church of Forncett St. Peter’s, located a short distance away from St. Mary’s. The fortunes of these churches have perhaps been reversed over recent years, with St. Mary’s going from being derelict to now being repaired and restored, whilst St. Peter’s is literally falling apart.

What is clearly evident when approaching this stone tower is that it’s remarkable, and very different to other round towers in Norfolk. There are Saxon windows visible within it, there’s a Norman style door at the base and it doesn’t look overly repaired. Indeed, this tower dates from around 1000AD (that’s what the church think, other historians place it a bit later, but I like the church’s guess), making it over 1,000 years old, another remarkable survival. This heritage means this is one of the best preserved Saxon round towers in the entire country, with the church noting there’s an old medieval staircase inside that can be viewed by appointment.

The side of the round tower, with the Saxon window visible in the middle, and the listed building record also notes that the upper windows have evidence of reused Roman brick. George Plunkett took a photo of the church shortly before the beginning of the Second World War and, unsurprisingly, not much has changed since then. I should have noted the existence of this photo earlier, as I could have taken a photo from the same place to see if any of the gravestones had been lost (I need to get out more….), but that treat can be for another day. I thought it was quite evocative just thinking that 1,000 years ago that there were workmen standing in this exact place on ladders and wooden scaffolding who were building this tower.

The chancel of the church and for anyone who finds these things interesting, take a closer look at that chancel wall for something……

The church has some makeshift ways of dealing with drainage and those areas are out of bounds for safety reasons.

I didn’t note this when walking around the church, only when reading the listed building record did I go back to take photos. But, there’s the old window, with the Priest’s Door having been punched through in the thirteenth century.

There’s the outline of it.

Unfortunately, the church has been closed since 2020, as sections of plaster fell off the wall and the building wasn’t considered safe. The damp evident in the porch is perhaps the least of their problems at the moment, as the church needs £750,000 for its restoration efforts.

Although the damage to the porch isn’t ideal, but the church’s web-site mentions it’s much wider than this:

“The church is now in desperate need of major repairs and renovations. Most important is the need to make the building watertight – extensive areas need re-roofing, failing lead work needs replacing and faulty gutters, down-pipes and surface drains need repair or replacement. Structural deterioration and cracking of external stone and flint-work has meant that areas of the churchyard have had to be cordoned off in case of falling masonry. Windows, cracked internal masonry, collapsing floor surfaces and areas of death-watch beetle all pose major challenges. The wonderful 15th century Drakes Tomb is suffering from cracking and discolouration. Once the structural work has been completed redecoration will be essential and the remarkable set of carved pew ends can be repaired.”

The church’s fund-raising efforts are underway, but this sounds like a project that will take many years to bring to a conclusion, but I hope that they are able to make progress in securing donations.

An 1857 sign from the Incorporated Society for Building and Churches, an organisation which has been providing grants for churches since 1818. It was an unfortunate situation that many churches at this time decided that they would go in for pew rental to raise money, an opportunity for the wealthy to get places in church at the front whilst the poorer were shoved at the back somewhere. The tide on this started to turn in the middle of the nineteenth century and churches started to end the practice, although some parishes were rather more forward thinking than others.

The Norfolk Chronicle had noted in July 1849 that the interior of the church had been “much improved by the removal of the old pews and the substitution of new oak benches”. There’s an old plan of the church from the mid-nineteenth century on the Lambeth Palace Library archives web-site, but their database has been down for a few hours, so I can’t link directly.