St. Mary's church

St Mary's church

St. Mary's church is mentioned in the Domesday Book. Sections of the nave, which originally had a thatched roof, are late 11th or 12th century. 13th century elements survive in the chancel, and parts of the nave and tower are 15th century. A 15th century wooden door leads from the tower to nave roof space and is a rare survival. The church is narrow, accentuating its length, particularly in the chancel. The interior is wholly Victorian, with splendid angels holding up the chancel arch.

St. Mary's church (photo - John Webster)
St. Mary's church (photo - John Webster)

Rev John William Colenso (1814-1883) was rector of Forncett St Mary (1846-1853) and had the imposing rectory (currently known as 'Forncett Manor') built, overlooking his church and the Tas Valley. In 1853 Colenso was elevated to Bishop of Natal, South Africa, and moved to Bishopstowe, the official residence, just outside Pietermaritzburg.

In later years the church was restored by the Revd J. Cooper 1869 -1870. However, 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. See photos below of St. Mary's church in 2006 (Simon Knott, Click on the images to see gallery.

In 2007, new neighbours moved into Church Cottage, and began clearing the graveyard, and cleaning the church (see photo of the restored church above). 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. In 2014 a successful bid for English Heritage Grant funding was made and the remaining restoration work was carried out. The church was again officially licensed for marriages, and in 2015 a beautiful new lychgate (see above) was constructed by two local men, Harry Barker and Ron Evans, in time for the first wedding. The church is ideal for holding community events as well as Services, and is open every day 10a.m. - 4p.m. for visitors.

In 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 further restoration work which was completed in summer 2020. As part of the project a new church history/guide book (above) has been published and copies (minimum donation £3) can be obtained from Graham Prior ( 

You can read more about the history of St. Mary's, past and present, and about present activities at the church at their website .

The Graves. Since the clearing of the graveyard, the graves have been photographed and documented. Full details can be found on the Forncett village web site.

Forncett St. Mary baptisms. The records of baptisms for Forncett St. Mary from 1801 to 1900 have been transcribed and can be accesses via the link below (Please note the author retains all intellectual copyright to the content. The transcription is the original work of the author and is not a copy from any other source. The contents of the file may be used for any personal or educational purposes but not for any commercial gain without prior consent by the author. The items and columns contained within square brackets are not part of the transcription but are the notes of the author).

View or download Forncett St. Mary baptisms for 1801 to 1900