St Andrews Church, Little Cressingham
The village of Little Cressingham had two centres of population in the past: one below the church by the mill and the river, the other about 11/2- miles a way on the heath land. The latter settlement was for a long time the largest and had a pub, The Cressingham Arms and a Methodist Chapel. Both now closed. It is on the very edge of the Stanford Battle Area. With the building of the council houses, the settlement around the church has become the focus of the village.
Within the parish stands Clermont Hall. A fine 18th century country house, for a time owned by the Seconded Duke of Wellington.
Next to the church, is the old Free School founded and endowed by William Farrer in 1809 and built at a cost of £144; it is now the village hall.
The tower and two bays of the nave of St Andrew’s Church were probably ruined in a great storm, which swept East Anglia in the 18th century. The part of the nave on which the tower fell was left unroofed and a new west wall was built. It may be noticed that the tower was at the southwest corner of the nave and not in its customary position. The height of the 15th century nave arcades is emphasised by the foreshortening of the nave. The earlier chancel is unusual inasmuch that it is almost windowless: two windows on the south side have been blocked up. Points of interest in the chancel are the plain 15th century piscina and some 15th century armorial glass. It is unusual for such a small church to have two side aisles According to the historian Blomefield writing at the end of the 18th century these were anciently two chapels. Belonging most likely to the two manors and taken in with oak screens: they are now in a dirty condition and unpaved’. It is good to see that times have improved for this church.
This was a grand church in medieval times with two side aisles and its main entrance through the tower, but the great storm brought down the tower and damaged half the nave. A faculty was granted in 1781 to repair the eastern half of the nave with a brick wall to separate it from the tower end.
The tower was sited at the end of the S aisle and originally it served as a porch as can be told by the remains of a Holy Water Stoup.
The S aisle walls are faced with dark knapped flints, which look most attractive with big 3-light perp windows of the 15th century. The two chancel windows were 14th century Decorated period, but have lost their tracery and have been blocked up most unfortunately with red bricks. There is a plain Priest’s doorway in the chancel.
The E window originally had 14th century flowing tracery, but most of it was lost as In the other chancel windows. Ladbrokes drawing shows it with a small window and the top half blocked up. The E window was then restored, but unfortunately, the tracery was wrongly reconstructed. There is one original
Decorated period window surviving on the N side of the chancel. Between the chancel and nave will be found the roof loft stairs.
The N aisle matches that on the S side, and there is a beautiful clerestory with two light perp windows. They have cusped Y tracery, but the shape of the arch clearly indicates that they belong to the perp period.
Although the roof has gone from the ruined section most of the walls and the N arcading have survived intact. The W wall had a very big W window, which had been blocked up, and a small 2-light window inserted in the centre. Below this great W window there is a tall base of chequered flushwork. The W end of the N aisle also has this chequered flushwork and dark knapped flints in the tracery, which gives a very attractive appearance, have filled its W window.
A belloote completes the newer gable end of the church. The bell is unmarked and thought to be about 1800. A rope inside the nave pulls on its wooden cross beam.
In contrast to the exterior, the inside presents a very pleasing appearance. The N & S arcades are a fine example of 15th century perp. The arches have unusual and quite attractive mouldings. The pillars have extremely nice moulded projections N and S with demi-circular shafts E and W without capitals. The S side has wall arches surrounding the windows.
The lower entrance to the roof loft stairs is In the E wall of the N arcade
In addition, the upper doorway is to the E of the chancel arch, which must have made access to the actual loft rather difficult, requiring some kind of bridge. The chancel arch is 14th century Decorated period.
The chancel piscina is also 14th century, quite big, and made, attractive with its foliated cusps in the arch.
The font is made of Caen stone and is a replacement one after the storm damage. The floor slab of Sir F. Goodrick Bart, 1847, was moved from the ruins as can be seen by the way it is now set across the church and not E to W.
A vestry has been made by using curtains and the doors of a box pew. A fine commandment board with creed fits above the W door of the nave. The pulpit has been restored and has beautiful brass candlesticks.
On the N wall one learns that 35 men from Little Cressingham served in the Great War (1914 -18) when eight gave their lives for their country. This must have been a terrible blow to a population of only 200. Then in 1939 the Battle Training Area closed the road to Thetford and the population dropped to 150. However, in 1961 this church joined with nine others to form, the Hilborough Group, which pioneered the methods of Group Ministry.
The arms in the E window of the S aisle are those of Holyoake-Goodricke, a Baronet. The title has since become extinct.
The classical wall tablet on the S wall is to Viscount Clermont Earl of Clermont, Co. Wexford Ireland. The motto is a pun on the family name of Fortescue: "Forte scutum, salus ducum". The shield on this tablet indicates that this is the Lord Clermont branch of the Fortescue family descended from the second son. Inscription reads In this place Lieth The body of William Henry Fortescue Viscount Clermont Earl of Clermont Ireland Who departed this life on the XXIX day of September MDCCCVI in the LXXXV Year of his age This monument is erected in obedience to his will by his Executor William Charles Fortescue now Viscount Clermont who was in Ireland at the time of his decease.
A reading desk addition to the front pew was provided for the parish clerk. There is a pair of sanctuary chairs each with a pair of heads in the design of the carved wooden back. One has ugly faces with leaves coming from their mouths and the other has nicer faces.
The communion rails are tubular brass on a wrought iron decorative base. At the entrance two smaller tubes telescope into the main rails on either side, which provide a most effective arrangement? Coloured pamments, red, yellow and black, floor the chancel.
For 650 years, as far as we can see, this chancel has been the place of prayer for the people of Little Cressingham. There may have been an earlier building on the same site, but there still continues the urge to pray to the same Lord about our needs for the future.