The amazing tower of St Mary the Virgin in Burgh St Peter, Norfolk. This is one of the Raveningham Group of churches and is open every day, we visited this church the same day as the chequered church All Saints Wheatacre. All the nine Ravenignham churches are special in their own way, we have visited three so only six to go.
This unique church nestles in a bend of the River Waveney, much visited, it is the most south easterly church in Norfolk and has wide views across the marshes. The villages of Burgh St Peter and Wheatacre originally known as Wheatacre Burgh had two churches, St Peters and All Saints. Sometime after the mid 18th century they became separate villages and the dedication of the church in Burgh St Peter was changed to St Mary’s.
The church is over a mile away from the village but there is a thought that there has been a church on site for at least a thousand years. The unique tower is described as ‘pagoda like’ and Pevsner said a ‘folly’ well I think it looks like a wedding cake and looked beautiful as you drive up the lane towards it. However the little guide book mentions that it is perhaps more a pyramidal tomb for the Boycott family who provided Rectors and Patrons for the parish for well over two hundred years. Many of them buried in the brick vaults within the sealed-off base storey of the tower.
The first Boycott Rector Samuel paid for the towers construction on a base dating back to the 16th century, after obtaining a Faculty in 1793 ‘to repair and build up the steeple which has long been in a ruinous condition’ The design of the tower was apparently inspired by a church seen in Italy by Samuel’s son when on The Grand Tour. The lower part of of the tower is all that remains of the original 16th century tower which fell down in the 18th century. A picture shows that the tower had six layers with a finial but this was believed to be of wood and since rotted away.
The above photo is the Sedilia-Piscina and is 14th century, the Sedilia is where three priests would sit and the Piscina at the end would have had a basin for washing the communion vessels after use.
The church seems very long and the reason is that the chancel and nave are under one continuous roof. The roof is thatched with local reeds and is originally dated to the 15th century with some restoration work in 1880 and 1998 following a disastrous fire. The font is 14th or 15th century and is quite a grand affair. There are traces of a 12th century a widow and three doors and other 13th century windows.
The pulpit dates from 1811 and has brass plaques indicating where under the tower and elsewhere, members of the Boycott family are buried. The door to the old Rood staircase is behind the pulpit.
This church has quite a simple interior, but has some interesting details, but the gem for me is the exterior wedding cake tower. The first moment I saw it in the distance just fascinated me, so it has to go on my list of top churches, mind you they all have so far.
Just one little snippet to leave you with……in the churchyard is the grave of Charles Cunningham Boycott (1832-1897) second son of a Boycott Rector, who by his involvement in the Irish ‘troubles’ of the mid 19th century resulted in the introduction to the English language of the the word “boycott’….you learn something new every day.