St. Mary and St. Margaret

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St. Mary and St. Margaret ~ Church of England.

Church Lane, Sprowston Vicar Revd. Canon Simon Stokes. (2015)

Although there is very little evidence, it is possible that our lovely Parish Church most likely replaced a Saxon dwelling, possibly a “Grub House” (Grubenhauser).

“Grub House” (Grubenhauser)

We know that there has been a Parish Church since 1119, as the church gave some land to build the Leper Hospital (Lazar House) on Sprowston Road.

It was known as the “Church in the fields of gold”, as it was surrounded by fields and a few dwellings.

Church in the fields of gold

At his coronation, William the Conqueror promised to uphold existing laws and customs. The Anglo-Saxon shire courts and 'hundred' courts (which administered defence and tax, as well as justice matters) remained intact, as did regional variations and private Anglo-Saxon jurisdictions.

To strengthen Royal justice, William relied on Sheriffs (previously smaller landowners, but replaced by influential nobles) to supervise the administration of justice in existing county courts, and sent members of his own court to conduct important trials. However, the introduction of Church courts, the mix of Norman/Roman law and the differing customs led to a continuing complex legal framework. During the 13th and 14th centuries the old religious and social certainties began to give way. A strong pressure toward church reform began to develop and the church and the state (whose nucleus was the royal court) came to be at odds. The Kings court also came into conflict with the rest of the aristocracy, i.e. the nobility, and there was a good deal of talking and sometimes fighting for power between them. Serfdom was on its way out as peasants were in a better bargaining position with landowners because of the labour shortage created by the (Black Death) plague. Because of the Black Death nearly a third of the population of this Parish died. This meant that the Parish Church and the services it provided would be affected, because of a shortage of monks/ priests. However two trustees of the Parish Church, Sir William de Wychingham and Robert de Yelverton of Rackheath helped. They ensured a future supply of Clerks to perform the divine service by giving the Parish Church to the Prior and Convent of Norwich. This was on condition that they find two monks from the Convent to study at a University and two Chaplains to perform divine service in the Parish Church daily - forever. A sum of 40 Marks was paid to the Prior and Convent.

John de Bawdeswell was Rector of Sprowston Church in 1336; did he survive the onslaught of the Plague? One has certain sympathy for those two monks who had to trek over Mousehold to our Parish Church and return in all sorts of weather. People in Sprowston today have mentioned seeing the ghosts of monks walking to Sprowston Church or on their way to St. Benet`s Abbey!

In a lot of cases the parish churches were influenced by the Lords of the manor and I suspect that our Parish Church also came under the lord`s influence. Henry VIII`s is known for his role in the separation of the Church of England from the Roman Catholic Church. His disagreements with the Pope led to his separation of the Church of England from papal authority, with himself, as King, as the Supreme Head of the Church of England and to the Dissolution of the Monasteries. Because his principal dispute was with papal authority, rather than with doctrinal matters, he remained a believer in core Catholic theological teachings despite his excommunication from the Roman Catholic Church.

The Civil War between the Royalists and Roundheads (Parliamentarians) which started in 1642, had some impact on parish churches like ours, some of the tomb artefacts were damaged during this period. Unfortunately after the War some churches became derelict and the parish church of Beeston St. Andrew (dedicated to St Andrew) was in ruins in the 17th century and the parish is ecclesiastically united with St. Mary and St. Margaret Parish of Sprowston..

The Parish Church has been altered many times; most notably the round (Saxon?) tower became derelict (60 year period) in the mid-17th century, as a new square tower was erected in the early part of the 18th century.