Tunstead – St. Mary’s Church

I can’t remember visiting this church before, but it’s a substantial building and way out of proportion for the size of the settlement that exists today. All churches are currently closed at the moment, but the interior of this seems to have some mystery to it, so this is another building I’ve put on my list to visit again. I’m getting quite a long list…..

Anyway, the bulk of this church dates to the fourteenth century and most of it was already completed before the Black Death caused so much death and suffering across the country. But the Black Death is probably the reason why there aren’t that many nearby homes and it seems possible that the church was funded by the woollen industry, in a similar manner to nearby Worstead Church.

The base of the tower and it’s worrying to see that the building is on the Historic England Heritage at Risk register, so hopefully this will allow them to gain funding to fix some of the problems. The register mentions that plaster is flaking off the walls internally and the medieval rood screen is suffering from damp problems.

The entirety of the east window is also blocked and I couldn’t work out why this was, but there’s an article dating back to the early nineteenth century that the glass was being smashed so often by local children that this was seen as the best solution by the church-wardens at the end of the eighteenth century. The author noted “our beautiful churches are continually being spoilt by the ignorance of peoples utterly unfit to be their guardians”. There’s sometimes a view that people always treated churches with great respect in the past, but stories like this show that this isn’t the case.

As an aside, the same author notes that “the clearstory [clerestory] walls, instead of being pierced with windows, are beautifully panelled with flint and stone”, and they do look a little unusual in their arrangement.

The north-east chancel window is also blocked, probably for the same reason as the east window.

This iron working on the door is quite expansive and it’s original, dating back to the fourteenth century. Havelock Ellis wrote in 1920 that this ironwork was so well-formed that it seemed more modern than this, but its heritage seems beyond dispute and is of national importance.

I’m assuming that this is the outside of the rood screen steps, since it’s located where the chancel and nave meet.

Anyway, a rather beautiful church and I look forwards to being able to visit the interior.