||St Peter was one of the
very first churches I visited when I made it my
business to visit every church in Suffolk in the
mid-1990s. That first time, I didn't even have a
camera, but I came back this way in 1999 with a
point-and-click film camera, and set about
recording the inside. The church was open, as
they pretty much all were around here apart from
Euston and Elveden.
those early days I've revisited just about every
Suffolk church at least once, but it was not
until the summer of 2016 that I came back to
Fakenham Magna. In general, I've been really
uplifted by revisiting Suffolk churches. Many of
those which were locked twenty years ago are now
open or accessible, and in general churches are
in a far better state of repair. Suffolk's rural
parish churches feel more loved than
they did in the 1980s and 1990s.
But I am afraid that there
are exceptions, and occasionally I've revisited a
church only to find that it has fallen on hard
times. This is the case at Fakenham Magna. The
church seems neglected, probably disused, and it
is locked without a keyholder notice. It seemed
sad that a place once full of life was now
entering its death throes.
Here's what I wrote in
1999: 'St Peter is one of those little
Victorianised churches which, at first sight,
seem to have little to offer the enthusiast. But,
as so often, it would be a mistake to pass by.
Firstly, although it was a rigorous restoration,
it was in the mid-century, like that at Rede,
making it more sympathetic to local needs and
vernacular style than those later in the century.
And it did not hide the Anglo-Saxon
long-and-short work where the tower joins the
nave. Small evidence perhaps, but it shows that
this is one of the oldest churches surviving in
The tower above is 14th century. It also left
untouched the Norman lancet windows to north and
south. As you approach the door, note the 14th
century ring handle, which is very fine.
Inside, Fakenham church looks as if it is all
19th century, except the table tomb in the
chancel, although even that appears to have been
reconstructed and recut. But inside, too, there
is more than meets the eye. The Victorian screen
is constructed upon its medieval predecessor, and
it is done very well. The piscina is also
medieval, although the Victorians recut it, and
built the sedilia beside it. The font is also
recut medieval. There is a scattering of medieval
glass in the south windows of the chancel,
including some very characterful heads.
Everything is well done, and taken care of.
A rather gruesome story
attaches to the graveyard. In 1966, when
pipe-laying work was taking place, a large mass
grave was discovered. It was dated to the
mid-14th century, and was therefore almost
certainly a result of the Black Death.
The village, which should not, of course, be
confused with the town of the same name in
Norfolk, is often styled Fakenham Magna, or Great
Fakenham. This is to differentiate it from the
now-vanished village of Little Fakenham, which
disappeared under the Euston estate in the 17th
and 18th century. The pretentious church at
Euston replaced its parish church, of which no
trace remains; even its location is lost to us.'
In 2016, I am forced to
wonder if Fakenham Magna church will one day go
the same way.