The Priory Church of St Mary and the Holy Cross,


Parish & Community Building & History Other Churches in the Group

St John and St Mary, Stiffkey

A Guide round the Church

The church has a history which goes back over 900 years. There is a suggestion that it occupies a burial mound from the pre-Christian era. This is a holy place where generations of worshippers have felt drawn to God. It is the focus of Christian life in the village today. Our church is kept open for private prayer at all times and the churchyard is extensive and beautiful. Whatever your thoughts, your worries or beliefs, we invite you to reflect and enjoy the peace and tranquillity of this ancient building.Print of Stiffkey Church

Christians believe that the Son of God, Christ Jesus, came into this world to save us from our sins and to raise us up to eternal life in His glorious Presence. We hope you will reflect on this. It is the central message which has reverberated in this church since it was established.

We invite you to follow this guide which explains the architectural features of the church and interesting areas in the churchyard and also gives some background information on the history of Stiffkey village, one of the most beautiful on the north Norfolk coast.

Originally two churches

Stiffkey lies in the picturesque valley of the River Stiffkey; below the village the river was tidal until at least the early 16th century. The situation of the present church on a prominent spur overlooking the former estuary may reflect the re-use of a pre-Christian site, perhaps a tumulus.

At the time of the Norman Conquest the village contained two principal estates, and Domesday (1086) records that William the Conqueror took one of these manors, while the other went to a supporter, a nobleman, Rainold Fitz Ivo. Only one church appears in Domesday but either then, or soon after, there were two churches (St John's and St Mary's) in the same churchyard, built with support from the feudal landlords of the two major estates. It is likely that two families were each maintaining a church within the ancestral burial ground, but it is possible that one church could have been the result of a group of 'freemen' asserting their independence from a dominant landowner. To have two churches within one churchyard was unusual, but is more common in Norfolk than elsewhere. Reepham has three! The closure of second churches began in the 14th century, reaching its peak in Norfolk during the 16th century with 98 churches closed. There remained two separate churches in Stiffkey within the same churchyard each with its own Rector until they were officially united by the Bishop of Norwich in 1563. One was deconsecrated and from the mid-16th century it crumbled away.

Yet there is a mystery! Is the current building really St John's, or is it the church that was originally dedicated to St Mary? Conflicting evidence exists, and some authors have asserted that it is St John's church which has gone, implying that St Mary's survived and that at some time in the past the dedication has been changed.

The Porch

Approaching from the north side through the gate one is confronted Stiffkey Church Porchby a fine church, much of it built in the Perpendicular style. Looking downhill one has a good view of the attractive mixture of flint work, dressed stone and old red bricks. In the porch and the parapet, there has been liberal use of the white knapped flints which are so much a feature of churches in this part of Norfolk.

The mouldings on the porch entrance show this to be early 15th century. The porch had a vaulted ceiling with a small attic above which was reached through a door in the wall. The porch has since been modified and the gable reconstructed using bricks and cut flints.

If you look up, you will see on either side of the porch arch the arms of Daubeney and Irmingland portrayed as if hanging from hooks. These two families were linked by marriage and probably funded the 15th century reconstructions. The turret by the porch now provides access to the parapet.

Immediately to the left of the north door are the remains of what was possibly the village market cross. The site of this market, founded 1271, may have been the 'knoll', the area where cars now park by the church. The market had disappeared by the 17th century. It had probably already failed by the time the Stiffkey Old Hall was built. The likely cause was the economic and population decline following the Black Death in the 14th century. The Black Death killed perhaps one third of the country's population, and it certainly affected Stiffkey: the Rectors of both churches had to be replaced in 1349, the Rector of St Mary's again in 1352. On the knoll can now be found the village sign, provided by the Women's Institute.

The Nave

As you enter the church to the right is the First World War Memorial (see below). It very strikingly portrays in white stone 'Peace through Sacrifice' - a depiction of the Rood, with Christ on the cross, Mary and John on each side. Below are engraved the regimental badges of those who died as well as their names. These are again to be found, framed on the south wall of the tower opposite the font, along with a list of 'Those who left their homes to serve their King and Country'.Stiffkey West Arch and font
The same procedure is followed in the 1939-45 'Roll of Honour' which hangs beside it.


The tower arch is lofty and much older than the chancel arch which was widened in the 19th century. In the tower is one medieval bell which is in regular use and bears, in Latin, the inscription 'St Paul pray for us'. On the north wall is a record of all our Rectors from the 14th century. While any trace of wall painting in the church has disappeared or been covered, scratched graffiti can just be discerned on the southern pillar of the tower arch.

The font is a modern memorial consecrated in 1953.

15C stained glass headsThe nave is very wide and houses benches of pitch pine made in 1868. The central south window contains fragments of medieval stained glass, the lower section containing five 15C heads; to which of the two churches these belonged is uncertain.

There are brass memorials from the 17th century in the south-western corner of the nave and nearby is the Branthwayte memorial, recording the sad deaths of five of Revd Branthwayte's young children in the 18th century. Stiffkey corbels

Note the carved heads on the chancel arch corbels dated to the 15th century.

The Chancel.

The chancel roof was renovated at the time of Revd Randle Brereton in 1848 when the previous low roof was raised to its present height. The north chancel window has medieval stonework matching the piscina in the south east corner of the chancel. The Victorian stained glass windows in memory of Wigmore and John Howard are good examples of their type, by Ward & Hughes in 1875 and 1879.

The piscina, is where the chalice used to be rinsed, and dates from the early 13th century. In the north wall, another niche, also old, was not revealed until the 1935 restoration. It is an Easter Sepulchre where the Blessed Sacrament was kept during the Easter period. Beside the piscina are 'misericord' seats, the only remaining pieces of 15th century furniture in the church.

The communion rails are old, reset on new legs to match the communion table; a work undertaken by relations of Mrs Gray of the Old Hall in 1936. The reredos backing the communion table is a painting by Peter Askem of the last supper, flanked by alpha & omega panels and two relief crosses added in 2006 in memory of churchwarden, James Leach. Across the back of the altar reredos are the shields of those most associated with Church and Manor. At the southern side of the chancel is a memorial brass with a Latin inscription which translates as

'Pray for the soul of Margaret Braunche who died the 4th day of February AD 1490 on whose soul may God have mercy.'

By the modern calendar she died in 1491 as the New Year did not then begin until 25th March.

The most conspicuous feature of the chancel is the fine monument, by Giles de WittBacon memorial Stiffkey, in black marble to Sir Nathaniel Bacon who moved into Stiffkey Hall in 1578. It depicts a draped coffin and the inscription leaves a space for his death, which detail (1622) was never inserted.

A recent translation offers this clarification of the wording:

Sacred to the God of the Living Nathaniel Bacon 'gilded knight, born the second son of Nicholas Bacon, Lord Keeper of the Great Seal of England, sleeps here in Christ, for whom he was vigilant while alive, with his two dearest wives; Anne, daughter of Thomas Gresham 'gilded knight' and Dorothy, daughter of Arthur Hopton of Wittham, of the same rank. From the former of these he produced three daughters: Anne who married John Townsend of Rainham, Elizabeth who married Thomas Knivet of Ashwellthorp, and Winefred who married Robert Gaudy of Claxton —individuals from the order of knights. He mindful of his mortality, and in certain hope of resurrection in Christ, set up this (monument) for himself and his family in his 69th year of our Lord 1615.

In the south-east corner of the nave is the organ built by the Positive Organ Co. and rebuilt by Williamson and Hyatt in 1954. It is a good example of its type and was renovated in 2006 by Holmes and Swift of Fakenham.


The grave of Harold Davidson, the former Rector, is near the handgate on the Grave of Harold Davidson, Stiffkeynorth side of the churchyard. It is distinguished by a white cross. The trial of Harold Davidson was a sensational story in the 1930s. For many years he spent most weekdays helping young women in London. Following a breakdown in his relationship with the local establishment an investigation by the church led to his defrocking for immorality at Norwich Cathedral in 1932. He said 'I am innocent. There is not a single deed that I shall not do again with the help of God, a little more discreetly maybe.' Wanting to clear his name, he spent his final years hying to raise money in increasingly eccentric ways. Sadly his death came through being mauled by a lion at a Skegness seafront sideshow. Here in the village, he was respected and above all loved by the villagers who relished his sermons. The veracity of evidence against him has been questioned in many of the books and reports written in recent years.

By moving round behind the east end window, we come to the peaceful churchyard conservation area, centred on the mound marking the probable position of the second church. This area is tended by parishioners to encourage wildflowers, butterflies and lichens (on tombstones). It is cut each autumn by a work party, and an expert botanist advises on management. Species include marjoram, burnet saxifrage, ferngrass & rare lichens.

The buttresses clasping the end wall of the chancel date from the early 13th century. Although there is no evidence of the rood screen & loft within the church, there is a rood tower on the south side, but now with steps leading only to the blocked internal wall and the parapet and evidence of an entrance arch. There is also evidence of very early medieval stonework on the southwest corner of the tower which may indicate the existence of an earlier church.





Sergt Herbert Bullimore 26 Mar 1918
Stiffkey War Memorial
Private Francis A Curson 14 Apl 1917
Private Sidney Hust 20 Apl 1918
Private George W Pearson 7 Aug 1916
Private Clifford Reynolds 1 Aug 1917
Private Bertie Ringwood 7 June 1917
Private Arthur J Timbers 28 Sept 1915
Private J A J Wordingham 23 March 1918
Private C D Wordingham 4 June 1916
2nd Lieut V R Wordingham 16 Aug 1917
Lieut Colonel John Robin Gray Late the Kings Royal Rifle Corps, Died 1 Feb 1920


Information about those remembered on the memorial.


BULLIMORE, Herbert Spencer Lance Serjeant. 267062 Northumberland Fusiliers Unit; 1st/6th Bn. Died: 26/03/1918 Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 16 to 18. Memorial:Pozieres Memorial
CURSON Francis Albert Private 41612 Essex Regiment 1st Bn. Age: 29 Date of Death: 14/04/1917 : Son of Mary Ann Curson, of Chapel Cottage, Stiffkey, Wells, Norfolk. Grave/Memorial Reference: Bay 7. Memorial: Arras Memorial
HUST Sidney James Private 56866 Lancashire Fusiliers Unit 11th Bn. Date of Death:20/04/1918 ; Son of Jabez and Mary Ann Hust; husband of Ethel Maria Hust. Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 54 to 60 and 163A. Memorial: Tyne Cot Memorial

Private 23120: Border Regiment : 7th Bn. Date of Death: 05/08/1916 Grave/Memorial Reference: Pier and Face 6 A and 7 C. Memorial: Thiepval Memorial

REYNOLDS Clifford T Private 29034 Bedfordshire Regiment Unit Text: 2nd Bn. Age: 22 Date of Death: 01/08/1917 : Son of Thomas and Rose Reynolds, of Morston Rd., Stiffkey, nr. Wells, Norfolk. Grave/Memorial Reference: II. F. 3. Cemetery:Brandhoek New Military Cemetery
RINGWOOD Bertie Private 26502 : Border Regiment Unit Text: 8th Bn. Date of Death: 07/06/1917 : Son of Mrs. E. Ringwood, of Stiffkey, Wells, Norfolk. Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 35. Memorial: Ypres (Menin Gate) Memorial
TIMBERS Arthur Joseph

Private 17295 : Essex Regiment : 10th Bn. Age: 27 Date of Death: 29/09/1915 : Brother of Mrs. M. B. Skipper, of Brandiston, Alderford, Norwich. Grave/Memorial Reference: I. DA. 2. Cemetery:Albert Communal Cemetery Extension

WORDINGHAM James Reginald John Private 14922: Essex Regiment : 9th Bn. Age: 24 Date of Death: 23/03/1918 : Son of John Robert and Esther Wordingham, of Walnut Villa, Letheringsett, Holt, Norfolk. His brother Charles Douglas also fell. Grave/Memorial Reference: III. C. 1. Cemetery: Merville Communal Cemetery Extension
WORDINGHAM Charles Douglas Private 8833: Norfolk Regiment : 1st Bn. Age: 21 Date of Death: 04/06/1916 : Son of John Robert and Esther Mary Wordingham, of Letheringsett, Holt, Norfolk. His brother James Reginald John also fell. Grave/Memorial Reference: I. C. 17. Cemetery: Faubourg D'Amiens Cemetery, Arras
WORDINGHAM Vincent Robert Second Lieutenant : Worcestershire Regiment Unit Text: 4th Bn. Age: 27 Date of Death: 16/08/1917 : Son of Samuel Francis and Elizabeth Wordingham; husband of Annie Wordingham, of 1822, Morgan Place, Hollywood, California, U.S.A. Grave/Memorial Reference: III. F. 3. Cemetery: Artillery Wood Cemetery


Roll of Honour 1939 - 1945



Those who died, listed at the top in script
Stiffkey 2WW memorial
George Green RN Sept 1940

Alan George Greenacre R.Norfolk R.

Jany 1942
Ernest Cornelius Jarvis R.A.F. Feby 1945
Mark James Jarvis R.Norfolk R. June 1943
The remaining names are of those who 'also served their King and Country'.  


Information about those remembered on the memorial.


GREEN George Petty Officer P/JX 139805 : Royal Navy : H.M.S. Express Date of Death: 01/09/1940: Son of Samuel and Florence Nora Green, of Stiffkey, Norfolk. Grave/Memorial Reference: Panel 37, Column 2. Memorial: Portsmouth Naval Memorial
GREENACRE Alan George Private 5775177: Royal Norfolk Regiment : 5th Bn. Age: 22 Date of Death: 24/01/1942 Grave/Memorial Reference: Coll. grave 29. E. 1-4. Cemetery: Kranji War Cemetery


Ernest Cornelius Sergeant (Air Gnr.) 3032389: Royal Air Force Volunteer Reserve : 550 Sqdn. Date of Death: 23/02/1945 Grave/Memorial Reference: Joint grave 8. B. 27-28. Cemetery: Durnbach War Cemetery
JARVIS Mark James Private 5775220 : Royal Norfolk Regiment : 5th Bn. Age: 28 Date of Death: 06/06/1943 : Son of Thomas Edward and Maud Elizabeth Jarvis; husband of Florence Ellen Jarvis, of Fakenham, Norfolk. Grave/Memorial Reference: 2. M. 8. Cemetery: Kanchanaburi War Cemetery




The Old Hall
To the south-west is the magnificently restored Stiffkey Old Hall. Blocked-up gateways to the Hall gardens are still visible either side of the fine tombstone of Colonel and Mrs Gray, past owners of the Hall, who had their own share in adding to the history of Hall and Church. Once you are in this corner of the churchyard you cannot fail to see a partly ruined tower in flint and brick, part of the original Elizabethan layout of Stiffkey Old Hall. Beyond the southern churchyard wall lie exquisite gardens sloping down to the river. The Old Hall is currently the subject of a large programme of restoration and reconstruction by the present owners. This is based on the original building begun by Sir Nicholas Bacon, Lord the Keeper to Queen Elizabeth I and completed by his son Nathaniel, a prominent figure in County government who was knighted in 1604 and whose memorial is in the chancel.