More about Wilby Church


Wilby Church clearly had a great rebuilding of chancel, nave and tower early in the fourteenth century, which gives us a fine sight of Decorated Period architecture .  Many would say that this was the most attractive period for gothic architecture.  Here we see flowing tracery and a great emphasis on the vertical lines with astonishingly tall windows under a high pitched roof.  the nave roof was even higher at one time judging by the drip stone on the tower.

The East Window illustrates this and has an interesting tracery design, using elongated quatrofoils within a sequence of intersecting arches.  A small circular window above the east window has been blocked up.  The chancel windows have that fine flowing tracery and there is one more in the nave.  The other nave windows were changed in the 14th century Perpendicular Period.  The windows retain their original ironwork on the outside.  There is a large west window with more flowing tracery, which was originally even taller.

The Tower is also early 14th century, that is before the Black Death.  Its belfry openings have beautiful flowing tracery.  Below them the 'sound-holes' are quatrofoils within a circle of stone.  The west door would have been grand for medieval processions; it hase been blocked since about 1820.  At the time when this tower was built it was normal to have a plain top, and here no parapet has ever been added to it.  The aim was to have the bells as high as possible to call people to church on time.  There is an excellent ring of five bells, and the tower has been strengthened by a ring beam of reinforced concrete in the middle stage.  The clock came from Dereham and the clock face from West Tofts.

The Porch has suffered severe erosion of its stonework, but still has fleurons decorating its arch.

A Fire gutted the church in 1633, and Blomefield tells us that " a fire broke out in the parsonage yard, occasioned by carrying a lighted stick through it, which burned down the barn, stable, gate-house, the roof and seats of the church, and chancel, and all the timber work of the steeple to £790 value".  The heat was so intense that it changed the colour of the stones forming the chancel arch, and you can see the resulting pink tinge to it.  the repairs after the fire included the whole interior which was carried out by Robert Wilton, who lived at Wilby Hall, half a mile north of the church.  He completed the work by 1635.  Details of the cost of this work, totalling £790 are reproduced and framed hanging near the door.  No Victorian restoration spoilt the work which he did then, so we see the pulpit set in the midst of the pews.

The Three-decker Pulpit stands against the north wall amidst the pews; this fine Jacobean example retains its blackboard and canopy.  The parish clerk sat in the lowest 'deck' and led the responses; the parson conducted the service from the middle tier, and preached from the top stage.  This is the only pulpit in Norfolk remaining in the position favoured immediately aftger the Reformation, when itwas considered that the sermon should be audible to all.  Of course it was a time of lower literacy and so the sermon was not just a means of imparting doctrine, but also news, political views, and, one suspects, entertainment!

The Three Tie-Beams in the nave roof were put there to prevent the weight of the roof pushing the walls outwards.  The north wall started to bulge and has brick buttresses also.  These beams went through the walls and were fixed to vertical beams on the outside.  In about 1900 the easternmost tie-beam was replaced, when the architect was Philip Webb.  He was a disciple of the celebrated Augustus Pugin, and was also responsible for the most curious brick arch where the rood loft stairs were removed.  In recent times a ring beam has been added within the top part of the north nave wall.

The Ringers' Gallery has two tiers of balusters, dated 1637, whilst the two earliest bells are dated 1634.  This indicates the priority given to restoring the bell ringing after the fire.  If we imagine the nave roof collapsing in flames then the tower would act like a giant chimney drawing the heat up to the belfry.

The Font is the same age as the Decorated Period windows and has fine architectural designs of tracery arond the bowl and battlemented rim.

The Wall Painting of St Christopher was large and bold, but the top of it was lost when the wall was made about a foot lower to fit the new roof in 1634.  It was uncovered in 1901.

The Box Pews give us a glimpse of the social life of their time.  Nearest the pulpit was the rectory pew with a very narrow one adjacent for the rectory servants.  Opposite was the Wilby Hall pew with their family arms displayed on the wall above and relatives buried beneath, and a separate place for their servants.  Then there is another box pew for Wilby House Farm.  Plainer benches fill the reaminder of the nave, and these have a very simple fleur-de-lys type bench end, clearly made by the local carpenter.  At that time the chancel was only used for the major festivals.

The Royal Arms over the door are magnificent.  They are for Charles I (1625-49) and somehow have survived the civil war and the Commonwealth.  Robert Wilton managed to keep his influence both with the king and with the parliamentarians.

The Poor Box bears the date 1638.  Its square box is iron bound and has three locks.  Coins were tiny at the time, but very precious.  The Rector had one key and the two churchwardens each had a key.  It is unusual how it stands on a turned wooden shaft.

Robert Wilton's ledger slab is in the santuary.  It tells us that he died in 1657 and bears the arms of his three wives as well as his own.  He is described as a 'faithful, patient and true lover of his country'.

A Pillar Piscina in the south wall of the nave shows that there was a guild alter near there in medieval times and that it was no longer needed when the box pews were installed.  the chancel piscina is very grand and has an eight-petal flower drain.  Next to it is the dropped sill sedilia.

Three Aumbries on the north side of the chancel are curious.  One has a vestigial chimney and is presumed to be a wafer oven.  The easternmost one has a stone frame and is therefore likely to be the original place for storing the church plate, whereas the middle one with a brick top was a later addition perhaps for holy oils or a light.

The Pipe Organ has come from the former Baptist Church in Hornsey Rise, North London.  It was made by Rest Cartwright, Organ builder, Park Road Works, West Greem, London.  Cartwright was christened 'Rest-in-the-Lord', but shortened the name to 'Rest' for business purposes.

The Screen between nave and chancel was lost in the fire and replaced by a low partition with a pretty pair of gates with turned balusters.


(Information supplied by Richard Butler-Stoney for Church Tours 1997)

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