St Mary

Introduction - St Mary's Church

Forncett-St-Mary-2008Jun27St. Mary's church is mentioned in the Domesday Book, and was built on the original site of Forncett. The Nave is probably 13th or 14th Century, the Tower 15th Century, and the Nave originally had a thatched roof. The church was restored by Revd J.Cooper 1869 -1870. In 1980 a decision was taken to close St. Mary's, due to falling numbers in the congregation, and the furnishings were stripped out. There were many schemes for the church over the next few years, but it was eventually allowed to become overgrown and derelict.

In 2007, new neighbours moved into Church Cottage, and began clearing the graveyard, and cleaning the church. A successful Friends group was formed, and fund-raising began to restore electricity, replace rotten floors and side panelling, and some of the stained glass windows, and a local retired carpenter made an altar table and rails.

In June 2012 the church was taken out of redundancy, with the full support of the PCC, the Diocese and the Bishops of Norwich and Thetford, and became a Chapel of Ease to St. Peter's Church. A successful bid for English Heritage Grant funding was made, and in Spring 2014 the remaining restoration work will be carried out.The church is ideal for holding community events as well as Services, and is open every day 10a.m. - 4p.m. for visitors.

St Mary an Eco Church

Written by Administrator.

St Mary’s has registered for a project called ‘Eco Church’ – its purpose is to help as many churches as possible celebrate what they are doing to care for the environment.  At the moment we have a Bronze Award for Buildings, a Silver Award for Land, Silver for Community and Global engagement, and Silver for Lifestyle. The church has met some of the criteria due to factors such as leaving a large section of the churchyard for ‘wild’ growing, and having trees planted. There is also a bio toilet, and we are in the process of putting up bat and bird nesting boxes. As we continue to be able to give positive answers to more of the questions we hope to increase those awards to the next level.

Copies of the church guide/history book written by Roy Tricker are available for £3 – contact

eco church

It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas

Written by Graham Prior.

Director and Producer Paul Blake and the cast of 'Ensemble' performed 'It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas' to three packed audiences in St Mary's Church November 28th, 29th and 30th. 

Silent Night

Click on pic for more - photos by Richard Ball

A huge thank you to everyone involved the show: Paul Blake for producing and directing, the 'tech team' for lights, sound,and putting the staging up, the wardrobe ladies for making sure the costume changes went seamlessly, and May for front of house duties. We like to think of St Mary's church as the spiritual home of Ensemble, and we hope they will be back for more shows. Finally, thank you to the audience, and a happy Christmas to all.

St Mary's Tower - work suspended over winter

Written by Graham Prior.

Fractured quoin stone

During the summer the porch and tower of St Mary's Church have been restored and stabilised using traditional materials and methods - hot lime for the mortar and lead for the tower roof. The only variation has been the use of stainless steel for the porch roof, done for security reasons.

On 30th October, also in line with traditional medieval practice, work was officially suspended for the winter months - lime mortar, for instance, takes a good number of days to set hard and would be damaged if frost occurred during that process.

Photographs by Gethin Harvey (at that time of Nicholas Warns Architects)
(click pic for slide show)

St Mary Tower Restoration - Progress Report

Written by Graham and May Prior.

Heritage fund logoIn November 2018, St Mary's was awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant - Saving Our Saxon Tower. This in addition to several smaller grants has allowed restoration work to commence.

Since work began in March the asphalt roof coverings on the Porch and Tower have been taken up, the roof structures repaired and the coverings replaced with stainless steel on the Porch, and lead on the Tower. The associated parapets and abutments have been overhauled and high level masonry repairs are underway. Work is progressing from the top of the tower down, and should be completed by the end of September 2019.

The Tower Scaffolded

Photos by Gethin Harvey of Nicholas Warns Architects Ltd.
please click on pic for slide show

The Holocaust Memorial Library is complete as a reference facility, and we hope to participate in Memorial Day in 2020.

A church booklet has been written and is awaiting final proof reading and publication.

New display and interpretation boards will be purchased when the main building work has been completed. It has been difficult to allow public access for much of this year because of the building work, but we plan to participate in Heritage Open Days in the future.

We continue to work on a regular basis with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and encourage use by local ramblers. This year St Mary's will again be open for the Norfolk Churches Trust Cycle Ride.

Regular Messy Church Sessions have been started for young people and their families.

Ensemble, a drama group, have a 3 night Christmas Show on 28th, 29th and 30th November this year in the church - 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.'
For any enquiries contact

photos of the restoration work on St Mary's, taken by Gethin Harvey, from Nicholas Warns Architects Ltd.

Forncett Art Group Exhibition

Written by Ally Rae.

Alongside Forncett Village Fete looking wonderful on Jubilee Green and the Village Hall on 23 June, Forncett Art Group staged its second exhibition in St Mary’s Church on the same day. The two complimented each other perfectly. The bright unbroken sunshine, marquees and bustle at Jubilee Green and the beautiful cool, calmness of the atmospheric church.

A bowl of beautiful scents in the porch - photo: Ally Rae

( Photos by Ally Rae and David Kirk
  Click pic for slideshow )

Art-work of all sorts filled every corner, showcasing the skills, creativity and enthusiasm of the Group and its supporters. Oil paintings, watercolours, drawings, etchings, linocuts, textile art, mosaics, stained glass, encaustic pictures (drawn with hot wax), quilts – the variety was glorious. What is also lovely about the Art Group is its emphasis on being creative together whatever your skill level and there must have been work from around 20 people. The church was also beautiful with flowers whose scent greeted visitors as they entered. A constant flow of people enjoyed the displays and took advantage of the chance to buy some of the work.

Very big ‘thank you’s’ are due to Gill Starkie who masterminded the exhibition (similar to herding cats) and artfully arranged the flowers, to John Metcalf for supplying many of the wonderful blooms, to May and Graham Prior for making the church available and of course to everyone who exhibited work. The Art Group will also be staging a smaller exhibition at Et Edmunds Fete on 28 July – please contact Gill Starkie if you would like to be involved. The Art Group welcomes everyone with an interest in art or creativity of any sort – we will be meeting intermittently over the summer for sketching in the garden and visits – again contact Gill to find out what’s on.

End in sight for restoration of Forncett St. Mary Church 10 years on

Written by Graham Prior.

The Upper Tas Valley All Saints PCC, in South Norfolk, has received inital support* from the Heritage Lottery Fund (HLF) for the Forncett St. Mary Church - Save our Saxon Tower project, it was announced today.

Made possible by National Lottery players, the project aims to carry out urgent work to repair the oldest part of the Grade 1 listed church, the Saxon tower, and preserve it for generations to come. Development funding of £25,000 has been awarded by HLF to help the PCC progress their plans and apply for a full grant at a later date.

St Mary’s is mentioned in the Domesday Book and there has been a church on the site since the 10th Century.
Ten years ago the church, having been made redundant in 1985 was in very poor condition, and it had become difficult to access, surrounded by high blackthorn. Through the dedication of local people and supporters of the church, restoration work began with clearing and cleaning. In 2012 English Heritage and the Heritage Lottery Fund offered grants which allowed repairs to be undertaken to enable the church to come out of redundancy and be used by the community again for events as well as church services.

This next project, made possible thanks again to the Heritage Lottery Fund, aims to finish the main structural repairs to the tower and porch, conserving the unique heritage of the building. The development of a website, interpretation boards and guide books and links with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and local schools will enable visitors to better understand and engage with the architecture and history of the church and the biodiversity of the surrounding area for the greater enjoyment of all.

Commenting on the award, Graham Prior, Chairman of the Friends of Forncett St. Mary Church, said “We are delighted to receive this National Lottery grant and acknowledge that without this support it would not be possible to work towards saving this wonderful building.
It is a valuable asset for future generations, both as a church and community resource.”

For further information, images and interviews please contact Graham Prior at or 01508481856.

Musicals & Swing at St Mary's Church

Written by May Prior.

Director & Producer Paul Blake, & the cast of 'Ensemble' performed 'Musicals & Swing' to three packed audiences in St Mary's Church. They included a variety of show favourites, such as Miss Saigon, Les Miserable, Sister Act, Cabaret, and a selection from the 'Rat Pack' era. A finale from the Lion King had the audience singing and clapping.

Laura Macdonald - No one but you from 'We Will Rock You'

Photos by Richard Ball - Click on pic for more

A HUGE thank you to them all for their hard work in putting together and performing the show, helping to raise funds for the on-going restoration of the church.

Carols by Candlelight & Step into Christmas

Written by May Prior.

photos by May Prior
Click pic for more

A packed church enjoyed a lovely carol service in St. Mary's Church on 4th December. Philip Aldred and 'Dolce' choir performed 4 pieces, including everyone's favourite 'O Holy Night.' John Metcalf's stunning displays in the windows and font much admired by everyone. Mulled wine and mince pies were served in the village hall after the service.

For a few days in December, St Mary's Church was transformed into a mini theatre, with spotlights, coloured lights, mist and snow machines, for two performances of 'Step into Christmas.'  Produced and directed by Paul Blake, (originally from Forncett), and his cast of 16, who have all previously performed in local amateur dramatic groups, most recently the Tasburgh Players before they folded in 2012.

Delighted packed audiences enjoyed a varied and fast moving show: from traditional carols and readings, to ' Santa Baby', 'Mistletoe and Wine' , 'As long as there's Christmas', and everyone's favourite, 'White Christmas'. A rousing finale of 'I wish it could be Christmas every day' had the audience clapping and singing along.

Solos and duets performed by Paul, Trevor, Sharon, Laura, Wendy, Sonia and 15 yr old Katie, readings by Sharon, John and Lenny, and the 'Tech Team' of Paul Smith on lighting and Neil Pitcher on sound made sure it was a perfect festive atmosphere.

A big thank you to them all for their hard work rehearsing in the weeks leading up to the performances, and setting up the church with all the equipment and decorations. All proceeds from the performances will go towards the restoration fund. Thanks to the Tas Well bar for being open for refreshments.

We look forward to the next show! 

Forncett Art Group Exhibition

Written by .

Some photographs of the exhibition held 9th and 10th July at St Mary's Church, Forncett. 

In addition, the Forncett Great War Timeline has been updated to end 2016. 

photos by Richard Ball
Click pic for more

St Mary's font comes home

Written by May Prior.

Click pic for slide show
photos by Richard Ball

When St. Mary's was closed in the early 1980's everything from the interior was removed or vandalised. The medieval font was given to the Roman Catholic Shrine at Houghton St. Giles, North Norfolk, where it remained for many years. After hearing of the restoration work and the 'Angels' Award last year the font was offered back to St. Mary's, being surplus to their requirements.

It was removed from the shrine in late 2015, and repaired and restored by stonemason Bruce Riley. On 27th May 2016 he installed the font back in the church. It is probable that the marble plinth is of the same type used in Norwich Cathedral.

Currently (June 2016) there are still many people alive who were christened in the font before it was removed.

St Mary's Church update

Written by May Prior.

Photo by Sarah Prior
(click pic to enlarge)

Carols by Candlelight on 4th December at St Mary's was once again well attended. The singing was helped by 'Dolce' choir who also performed four pieces including Away in a Manger and O Holy Night.

We have been contacted by staff at the Roman Catholic Shrine at Walsingham, as they no longer have any need for the medieval font, originally from St Mary's Church, it will be returning to the Church, and should be installed in the next few months. This will be of interest to anyone who was christened there years ago when the font was used, and we'd like to hear from you.

There are a number of good quality 2nd hand books for sale in the church, do pop in and have a look if you're passing.

Historic England - Angels Award for St Mary's Church

Written by May and Graham Prior.

(Click pic for more,
photos by Sarah Prior)

On 7th September 2015 Graham Prior and seven other members of the 'Friends of St Mary's' who have been heavily involved in voluntary work for he church, travelled to London for Historic England's Angels Award Ceremony. The church was shortlisted in the category 'best rescue or repair of an historic place of worship' along with three other churches.

The ceremony took place at the Palace Theatre, and the judges were Andrew Lloyd Webber, Emma Bridgewater, George Clarke, the Very Reverend Dr John Hall ( Dean of Westminster), Dr Bettany Hughes, and Historic England's Chief Executive Duncan Wilson.

The Friends group were delighted when Songs of Praise presenter Connie Fisher opened the envelope to reveal that they had won the award, which was presented to Graham and May Prior by Connie and Dr John Hall.

A reception at Kettner's Bar followed the ceremony, and was much enjoyed by everyone.

St Mary's Restoration nears end

Written by May Prior.

After months of renovation work, you will all be pleased to hear that St. Mary’s will once again be open every day from the beginning of May! A christening is taking place on Sat 2nd May, and a wedding on 6th June, but other days will be open to visitors as usual.

Click pic to see more

We are planning an open weekend on 4th and 5th July, so you can come along and talk to us about the restoration work, see all the stunning new stonework and repairs, and the new windows. The lych gate will also be fully completed by then. This will coincide with Forncett History Group’s WW1 timeline being moved to St. Mary’s from St. Peter’s church. The timetable for the weekend will be as follows:  Saturday 4th July – 11am-3pm Refreshments, raffle, large 2nd hand bookstall, WW1 artefacts on show, including medals, binoculars, war diaries, etc.  Sunday 5th July – 11am -3pm Refreshments, bookstall, and a special visitor – a WW1 soldier, in uniform, with his gun and other items, in the person of Nigel Amies who specialises in re-enactments and will be in the church to talk to visitors, and answer any questions.  Donations for refreshments welcome.

More dates for your diary:
Sunday 13th September - Service at St. Mary’s, time to be confirmed. The Bishop of Norwich will be joining us for a service to celebrate the restoration work and installation of the bell in memory of Tony Baines and Harold Turner.
Saturday 26th September - popular jazz band DixieMix will be returning to perform in the church at 7.30pm. Sure to be a sell out, so book your tickets early !Friday 4th December – Carols by Candlelight. We will once again be joined by Dolce choir and their director Philip Aldred.

Any queries about the church opening times, or any of the events, please contact us on 01508 481856 or .

Lychgate for St Mary's Church

Written by May Prior.

photos by May Prior and Richard Ball
(click pic for slideshow)

Harry Barker and Rod Evans have built a lych gate as an entrance to the churchyard at St Mary's Church at Forncett. They started this project in October last year and it is now all but complete.

The Bishop of Norwich has agreed to lift the restriction on marriages at St. Mary's, so weddings can now take place without the need for a special licence.


St Mary's Restoration - progress

Written by May Prior.

photos by May Prior.
(click pic for slideshow)

Restoration work is continuing at St. Mary's church, and will, we hope, be completed by early Spring 2015. Stonemason Steve Miles and his workmen have replaced or repaired the stonework and tracery on the four Nave windows, and glass has been fitted to the two South windows by specialist fitters from DevlinPlummer Stained Glass. Patterns for new glass have been taken from the two North Nave windows, and glass should be fitted late December/early January. The Vestry windows have also had new glass fitted.

Extensive repairs are being carried out to the East wall, as metal rods fitted in Victorian times have now gone rusty and needed replacing. Repairs are also being carried out on parts of the roof and the wooden interior of the roof will be cleaned. Work should begin soon on the drains.

The annual 'Carols by Candlelight' service has had to be moved to Forncett St. Peter church for this year, on Friday 5th December at 7.30pm. Philip Aldred and Dolce choir will be leading the singing as usual, and mulled wine and mice pies will be served in the church at the end of the service

Successful 3rd Forncett Craft Fair

Written by May Prior.

Click pic for slide show
Photos: Richard Ball

Around 100 visitors came to Forncett Steam Museum on Saturday 18th October, for the 3rd Forncett Craft Fair, this year not able to take place in St. Mary's church due to on-going restoration work. Stalls included wrought iron work, wood turning, garden decorations,, hand made cushions, toys ,cards, watercolours, and stained glass items. There were tempting home-made cakes on offer for refreshments, also warming soup and a roll. Museum owners Rowan and Jane Francis kept a jolly atmosphere by starting up the pianola situated on the ground floor of the museum, and many visitors were fascinated by the engines, although on this occasion they were not running. Plant doctor Robert Maidstone had several enquiries about pruning fruit trees, how to plant hedging, and garden pests. 

Thanks to everyone who helped organise and run the event, and to Rowan and Jane for the use of the museum.

Dolce Choir

Written by Richard Ball.

Click pic for slide show
Photos: Richard Ball

On Saturday 10th May the Dolce Choir entertained us at the Steam Museum, an event organised in aid of Forncett St. Mary Church.

The choir, 15 strong, was directed by Philip Aldred who also acted as compere and kept the concert lively with a string of jokes.

With an interval for drinks and eats, the choir performed a varied repertoire including California Dreaming, The Rose, Fields of Barley, You raise me up, and songs from Miss Saigon and Les Miserable.

Highlights of the evening were the Titanic episode (see pics!), Highland Cathedral sung by a Caledonian native, and the audience's rendition of a first world war combo (Pack up your troubles from one side and It's a long way to Tipperaray from the other side) and the 'One old man' fugue! and Anna Cottrell's African story.

All in all, a most enjoyable evening. Thank you Dolce Choir for performing, May and Graham Prior for organising and Jane and Rowan Francis for housing it during St. Mary's refurbishment.

St Mary's Church this summer

Written by May Prior.

Following a successful grant award to St. Mary's from English Heritage/Heritage Lottery last year, architect Nicholas Warns has completed the development stage of surveys, quotes and plans, and the restoration work is scheduled to take place this year between April and September. This will include replacing the Nave and Office windows, flint repairs, cleaning the interior wooden roof, and new drains and gutters. Events will be difficult to organise while the work is being carried out, but we are hoping that the following will take place:

Tuesday 25th March, 7p.m. - Service for the Festival of the Annunciation

Saturday 16th August 7.30p.m. - Popular jazz band DixieMix are back for another foot tapping performance. Sure to be a sell out!

Saturday 18th October - Craft Fair, 11am -3p.m.

Forncett History Group is producing a book of commemoration for the men from Forncett who lost their lives in both World Wars, and a timeline depicting major events in WW1 will be displayed in St. Mary's Church - renovation permitting - or St Peter's.

For enquiries about any events, or church opening times, please contact Graham and May Prior 01508 481856 or

Carols by Candlelight at St Mary's

Written by May Prior.

photos by Sarah Prior
(click for slide show)

Over 100 people enjoyed carols and lessons in St Mary's church on 6th December and the Dolce choir, led by their musical director Philip Aldred, performed five seasonal songs, including 'In the Bleak Midwinter', 'Shepherd's Pipe Carol', and everyone's favourite, 'O Holy Night'.

Mulled wine and mince pies were served in the village hall after the service.

Forncett Craft Fair 2013

Written by May Prior.

photographs by Sarah Prior
(click pic for slide show)

Over 150 visitors enjoyed Forncett's 3rd craft fair held in St. Mary's church on 19th October. Soup and rolls proved very popular for refreshments and the stall holders all reported brisk business, with Ruth Walker selling out of her lovely hand painted cards very quickly.

Thanks to everyone who helped organise and run the event, and the ladies who baked cakes and biscuits to sell. £472 was raised for St. Mary's and St Peter's churches.

Cream Tea at St Mary's

Written by May Prior.

Click pic for slide show

Over 60 people enjoyed cream teas in St. Mary's church on Sunday 18th August. Thanks to everyone who very generously donated scones, jam, tea, coffee, milk, and cash for me to buy clotted cream, and a special thank you to Mike and Jan Smail, for their help in organising, and providing all the crockery, cutlery, teapots, pretty pink tablecloths, and anti-histamine cream for a wasp sting!

With a raffle and sale of books and bric-a-brac we raised £257 for funds.

The architect's plans for the remaining restoration work on the church are now on display in the church - work should begin in April 2014.

Chester Organ Recital, St Mary's Church

Written by Richard Ball.

Click pic for slide show
Photos: Richard Ball

Richard Bower, organ builder and Director of Music at St Nicholas, Dereham, gave a lively and very enjoyable organ recital on the the theme of Fine and Fun Organ Music, to a pretty full house at Forncett St Mary Church on 23rd August 2013.

Assisted by his wife, Barbara, Richard played his own recreation of a 1970's Hill, Norman & Beard Chester organ, and the music was selected to sound good on the limited number of pipes available. This included pieces by Susato, Bach, Handel, Boëllmann, Gordon Young, Saint-Saëns, Pietro Yon and Lefébre-Wély. I particularly enjoyed the Serenade composed by Derek Bourgeois to be his own wedding march with the express intention that no-one would be able to march down the aisle to its tempo. They might well have danced, though!

£330 was raised for the St Mary's Church Fund.

Valuation Day at St. Mary's Church

Written by May Prior.

Click pic for slide show
Photos: Sarah Prior

A steady stream of visitors attended the Valuation Day on 20th July with a wide variety of items for senior valuers Roy Murphy and Andrew Bullock to inspect and value.
Clocks, books, jewellery, paintings, silver, and a large coin collection were among the items brought along, and along with Forncett residents there were people from Norwich, Wymondham, and a couple from Diss who said they have been following the story of the church's restoration and wanted to come and see it for themselves.

Thanks to Ann Lorne, Joan Ward and Andree Handford for serving  refreshments, Florrie Freeman, Jenny Jordan and Barbara Jackson for manning the door and making sure people got to see the right valuer for their specific items, and everyone who donated homemade goodies for refreshments.

£268 was raised for church funds.

Dixiemix a sell out

Written by May Prior.

Click pic for slideshow

A capacity crowd enjoyed DixieMix jazz band performing in St. Mary's church on 15th June, and £730 was raised to split between St. Mary's and St. Peter's churches.