Great Plumstead – St Mary’s Church

This is not quite what I expected from St. Mary’s in Great Plumstead, I had expected a medieval church and instead found something rather more Victorian. However, this isn’t an over-zealous restoration to suit nineteenth century sensitivities, the church burned down in December 1891 and so had to be rebuilt.

The tower was mostly spared from the fire and this is now the oldest part of the church, dating from 1711.

The locals were probably a little annoyed to discover their church alight in 1891, as a substantial restoration had taken place not that long before, in 1875, which was supervised by the architect Ewan Christian (and is the one in the plan above). The then vicar, the Rev. E Cole, had raised enough money to restore the nave, with the chancel upgrades having been funded by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners.

The chancel end is quite near to the road, it feels unusually hemmed in, so I wonder whether the first church on this site was a little smaller.

The church tower, with that flint section at the base being older than the rest of the tower. Back to the fire though in 1891, which caused quite a commotion in the village. The vicar, residents and the fire brigade were in attendance, but the local press said that the structure was left “tottering and shattered” with the requirement of a rebuild being immediately obvious. It took a little while for the fire brigade to find men and horses to get from Norwich, and by the time they arrived the roof had already collapsed in. The fire brigade were asked by the vicar to try and direct the water, which the press noted was quite muddy, towards the area where the church’s historic documents were located in a bid to save them. Fortunately for the church, it was fully insured with Norwich Union.

The press report is a little amusing, although I’m not entirely sure it was quite intended to be. To cut a long story short, the fire had started underneath the floors where the heating system had become clogged. The vicar had noticed earlier on in the day that his church was lovely and warm, so he commented on this to a friend, about how the heating apparatus was doing such a good job. I think it’s fair to say that the heating apparatus was actually on fire, which wasn’t ideal.

The porch and unfortunately the church was locked, which obviously meant I couldn’t go in. However, I’m not that engaged in Victorian churches, so I didn’t feel I was missing anything too dramatic.

Nicely decorated gates.

The village’s war memorial.

A lot of the graves in the churchyard are modern, but there are some older stones which are now covered in ivy.

All told, this is a pleasant church, but architecturally unexceptional, but only because fire has required a replacement building. All peaceful though, Great Plumstead feels like a remote village although it’s relatively close to Norwich.