The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross,
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St Andrew and St Mary, Langham
Tour of the Church
ST. ANDREW AND ST. MARY, a double dedication for the reason that while St. Andrew is the dedication of the existing church, St. Mary was that of the long since vanished church at Little Langham, which stood about a quarter of a mile towards the west near the junction of the roads leading to Cockthorpe and Binham. It is called Langham Episcopi for the reason that the Rectory was confirmed to the Bishop of Norwich by Pope Alexander III in 1176, and remained part of the possessions of the See until 1538, when William Rugg, Bishop of Norwich, surrendered the episcopal estates to the Crown in exchange for those of the Abbey of St. Benet's at Hulme, near Ludham. The Bishop retains to this day, however, the patronage of the Vicarage of Langham, which was one of the many poor vicarages augmented by Edward Reynolds, Bishop of Norwich 1661-1676 and the author of The General Thanksgiving.
The existing church consists of a nave and chancel of fourteenth century work, enlarged and brought into line—as were so many churches in East Anglia—with the prevailing "perpendicular" style a century later; the whole replacing an earlier building, the only portion of which remaining is the thirteenth century hexagonal font standing on six shafts. It is of Purbeck marble and very similar to others in the district, as for instance at Letheringsett and at Stody. The sides of the bowl are decorated in shallow arcaded panels, on one of which is the roughly cut inscription: Alice Nettleton baptised the 14th day of April 1692.
The south arcade is fourteenth century and similar work is also visible in the chancel, but the whole church was virtually rebuilt in the fifteenth century. The nave walls were raised to provide for a clerestory. The chancel roof heightened to bring it in proportion with the nave roof. The wall plate to the original fifteenth century roof can be seen along the top of the chancel walls inside and the chancel opens into the nave with a well-proportioned chancel arch, the inner shafts only of which are supplied with capitals with typical fifteenth century shallow cut moulding; the outer moulding of the arch being carried right through the springing and down into the responds without a break —a common feature with fifteenth century work in East Anglia and which can be seen in the westernmost bays of the nave arcade at Blakeney Church.
The chancel arch would have been filled with the rood screen, all traces of which have disappeared, but the stair leading to the rood loft is well preserved in the north wall of the nave just outside the chancel arch. The upper doorway showing in its right-hand jamb the holes for the door stanchions.
The particular glory of the church is the very fine and well proportioned west tower with its diagonal buttresses rising right up to the parapet, the drip moulds of their set-offs being carried right round the tower and stair turret, which is carried right up to the top of the tower and just above the level of the embattled parapet. An unusual feature in this part of the world, although the same thing can be seen at Blakeney. Indeed, the Langham tower is so similar in many ways to that at Blakeney, which was built in 1435, that it is tempting to believe that the same builders were engaged on both. Both towers have lofty belfry windows with almost exactly similar tracery, and have square sound holes of similar design in the stage beneath. Both towers have a fine western front with well proportioned doorway and window above, and open into the nave with a lofty and handsome tower arch, the moulding of that at Langham repeating that of the chancel arch.The wide archway in the wall at the west end of the nave shows where the old porch of the church stood before the addition of the tower.
There are three bells in the tower, two of them cast by Charles Newman, who had a foundry at Blakeney, in 1699 and 1702. The third has the date 1631 and there were two others, cast by the Norwich bellfounder Thomas Gardiner in 1753, but these being severely damaged, were sold in 1868 to defray the cost of repairs to the fabric.
Both the north and south porches also belong to the fifteenth
century period, but the south porch has been extensively reconstructed
for use as a vestry.
The whole church was extensively restored, re-roofed and reseated in 1868. The glass in the east window was inserted in 1860 in memory of the Rev. Stephen Frost Rippingall, the choir stalls were the gift of Miss Rippingall, and the organ erected in 1888 by public subscription. The glass in the most easterly nave window on the north side, which represents Faith treading down Unbelief and Hope triumphing over Despair, is the work of Sir Edward Burne Jones ; and the west window in the tower is by Kempe, showing the Blessed Virgin Mary with SS. Peter and Paul.
In 1900 further restorations were carried out and the whole church refloored with Minton tiles. Since then there have been further repairs and additions on a regular basis.
Above the south door leading to the vestry, is the Royal Arms Board, dated 1740—altered from 1712. But the former date is also an alteration for, although the board has the initials A.R., neither the motto—Dieu et Mon Droit —nor the heraldry, is correct for Queen Anne, so that it would appear that this is an earlier board temp. Charles II.
Captain Frederick Marryat
In the nave is a monument to the well-known writer Captain Frederick Marryat, R.N. (1848), and his son Frederick, "lost at sea in the Avenger 20. Dec. 1847", and his younger son Frank (1855). Born in 1792, Captain Marryat had a distinguished career in the Navy, fought in fifty engagements and was made F.R.S. In 1819 for the signalling code he invented, which was used in the Merchant Service. In 1826 he was nominated C.B. and on his retirement from the Navy settled at Wimbledon, on his father's estate, but moved to Langham in 1843. He is best known for his novels, Frank Mildmay, Peter Simple, Percival Keene, Jacob Faithful, Poor Jack, Mr. Midshipman Easy and Mr. Masterman Ready. On his house at Langham (the Manor Cottage on the road to Cockthorpe, rebuilt in 1883) he built a "quarter-deck" from which he could observe ships at sea, and it was at this house, surrounded by trees, that he wrote one of the latest and best known of all his books, Children of the New Forest. He died in 1848, after an illness brought on first by disappointment on being refused another commission in the Navy and then the great grief occasioned by the loss of his eldest and favourite son, Frederick. He is buried in the churchyard, to the south of the church tower, beneath a solid square monument surmounted by a pyramid and urn.
Langham Episcopi Incumbents
Note: In the 18C and 19C the incumbents were non-resident, and the parish was administered by clergy from nearby parishes. Where these are known from registers and other documents they are noted under 'Curate'.