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Grimston Church History

Grimston Church History - continued.


The Domesday record mentions neither our church nor its endowments. It makes plain, however, that in 1086 William de Warrenne and the Bishop of Bayeux both held manors in the parish.

Now about the year 1088 William de Warrenne founded the Priory at Castleacre, and among other endowments granted to the Priory two parts of all his tithes in Grimston. The rest of his tithes were doubtless given to the Rectors.

Some years later William d’Albini, who held the manor previously held by the Bishop of Bayeux, made a similar grant to the Priory he had founded at Wymondham;  and in 1242, Walter, Rector of Grimston, agreed to pay the Priory the sum of 40s. in lieu of the tithes thus granted by the founder. This Walter is the first Rector whose name we know. He is the Walter de Thorp mentioned as we have seen in 1254, and he comes first to our notice in 1238 when Philip, son of Walter de Thorp, made a grant to Walter, Rector of Grimston, his brother. We know that in 1275 the manor of Grimeston was held by James de Thorp, and it appears that the living was presented to Walter de Thorp by one of his own family, probably Walter de Thorp senr.

The value of the living in 1254 was 28 marks, that is £18 13s 4d., and the tithes paid to the Priors of Castleacre and Wymondham in that year were respectively 4 marks and 3 marks, in other words, 53s. 4d. and 40s.

The second Rector whose name we know was called William. He held the living in 1286, and he is most probably the William de Waleynes who in 1294, was ‘parson of Grimeston and Cley’. Hobert de Valeyns was, we know, brother of Agnes, the wife of the lord of the manor, Thomas de Grimeston;  and we cannot but believe that William de Waleynes was another relative, perhaps another brother. Moreover, as Thomas de Grimeston was dead in 1288, the appointment of William de Waleynes most probably took place before that date.

William de Waleynes was mentioned in 1294 because he had paid to the King’s Treasurer the sum due on account of ‘the taxation made for a tenth for the Holy Land’. We know that the sum paid was £2, one tenth of the income of the living. We know that the Priors of Wymondham and Castleacre were then receiving annual payments of £2 and £2 135. 4d. All these payments went on for centuries, and one of them, the £2 paid to the King’s Treasurer, is still paid by the Rectors;  it is paid however, to Queen Anne’s Bounty.***

Some time after the death of Thomas de Grimeston the chief manor passed into the hands of John de Breccles by right of his wife, Alice de Grimeston, and we come to a series of Rectors presented by members of the de Breccles family :

1310 Benedict de Breccles, presented by John de Breccles and Alice his wife.

1312 Edmund de Breccles, presented by John de Breccles.

1335 Edmund de Breccles, presented by Alice, widow of Sir Benedict de Breccles.

1337 Hervey Falstolf, presented by Alexander Falstolf in the minority of John, son and heir of Sir Benedict de Breccles.

The Falstolfs were members of the famous family then resident at Kimberley, but later at Caister by Yarmouth. Before the next presentation the patronage had passed into other hands, sold, as it seems, by Sir Benedict’s son, and in 1374 it came into the possession of the Abbot and Convent of West Dereham. The four incumbents who come next are

1361 Adam Pyk, presented by John of Wesenham.

1397 Henry Wells, L.L.B., presented by the Abbot.

1399 Roger de Schypdam, presented by the Abbot.

1407 John Burgony, presented by the Abbot.

Henry Wells became Dean of St. Mary’s College, Norwich, and Archdeacon of Lincoln. He was buried in the abbey church of West Dereham - he had been ‘a good benefactor’ of that religious house. The patronage again changed hands; owing to an informality in the original transfer the Lords of the Manor became patrons once more. Succeeding Rectors were

1417 Nicholas Flint.     

1420 Thomas Belers.    

1428 Richard Vele.      

1431 William More.

1439 Thomas Brigge.

1444 Robert Appulby, LLB.

The last-named had been Rector of Little Massingham, and was a Prebendary of Norwich. In his day the Lord of the Manor was John Compton, son of Alice de Breccles. This Alice de Breccles was the last of the name connected with Grimston. In 1458 we find John Compton declared an outlaw, and the patronage granted by the King to Sir Thomas Tudenham. In the following year commissioners were appointed to at-rest both John Compton and his wife, as well as fifteen others, ‘who daily commit riots and congregations in the county’. Among the fifteen names we find Denys Vele, doubtless a son of a former Rector. We also find two chaplains—possibly chaplains of Guilds—Thomas Goodwyn and Stephen Redyswell. The three Rectors next in succession were

1459 Walter Wyndesore.

1467 William Lathum.

1470 Ralf Danyel.

Ralf Danyel was a Prebendary of Norwich from 1476 until his death. The next incumbent was presented by the Abbot :

1508 Thomas Hare, LLB

And the next by the Bishop on the grant of the Abbot:

1520 Nicholas Carr, LLD.

Each of the two Rectors last named was Chancellor of the Diocese and Dean of St. Mary’s College, Norwich. Succeeding holders of the living were :

-- Edward Rochester.

1560 William Pordage.

1585 William Thorowgood, M.A.

1625 Thomas Thorowgood, B.D.

1646 John Brocket, M.A.

1663 Thomas Cremer.

1691 John Cremer.

William Thorowgood held the living of Bickerston as well as that of Grimston, but he resided at Grimston and his ten sons were baptised there. One of his sons succeeded him as Rector. Another, Edward, became Rector of Little Massingham. A third, Robert, was Mayor of Lynn in 1656. **** And one of his grandsons was the Sir John Thorowgood whose name we know as a benefactor of the Free School.

Thomas Thorowgood, like his father a strong Puritan, was born in Grimston and buried there. He was a man of considerable learning, and became a member of the Assembly of Divines, a body appointed by the Long Parliament ‘for settling the doctrine, liturgy and government of the Church of England’. In 1644, when Sir Roger le Strange was a prisoner in Lynn under sentence of death, Thomas Thorowgood visited him in the hope of persuading him to sign the Covenant.

From 1621 to 1643 Thomas Thorowgood was Rector of Little Massingham. He resigned the living of Grimston in 1646 in favour of his son-in-law, and died in 1699 as Rector of Great Cressingham.

The Cremers, father and son, were members of a well-known West Norfolk family. They are commemorated by a memorial slab near the organ. John Cremer held the living longer than any other incumbent;  he was Rector for 51 years. It was during his time that the President and Fellows of Queens’ College became patrons. The funds required were bequeathed by Dr. James, President of the College from 1675 to 1717. The Rectors presented by the College are as follows :

1742 Morley Unwin, B.D.

1768 Robert Cooper, B.D.

1777 John Brett, M.A.

1816 George Barnes, B.D.

1846 William Dixon Rangeley, B.D.

1853 John Rowlands, M.A.

1883 John Fowler, M.A.

1902 Alfred Hall Ellaby, M.A.

1918 Armitage Goodall, M.A. ******

Morley Unwin lived in Grimston for but a few years. Afterwards his duty was taken by Curates, and one of them, Edward Bunting, laid to rest in Grimston three of his children;  their memorials are to be seen close to the Font. It was in the house of Morley Unwin at Huntingdon that the poet Cowper found a happy home in 1765; and it was under the devoted care of Mrs. Unwin that the afflicted poet gave to the world almost all his works.

Robert Cooper who died at the age of fifty-nine, lies buried in the south-east corner of the chancel. His epitaph reads as follows :

‘This modest stone, what few vain marbles can,

May truly say, here lies an honest man.’

John Brett, Fellow and Bursar of Queens’, became Rector just before the first Enclosure Act was passed. Some of his correspondence about the matter is still in existence. More-over, there is an interesting memento of the Act on the west wall of the Vestry—a map of Grimston made in 1786 which shows the roads, houses, streams and properties as they then existed. This map is much faded, but fortunately we possess a clear copy of a similar map made in 186o by Francis Beets, the then schoolmaster.

George Barnes lies buried beneath the altar. He had been Fellow and Tutor of Queens’. His widow, who lived at Gayton for several years, founded the charity which bears her name.

The tomb of William Dixon Rangeley stands in the churchyard near the east window. He graduated as 5th Wrangler, and like his predecessor, had been Fellow and Tutor of his college. He died at the early age of fifty-two.

His successor, John Rowlands, will be remembered as the builder of the present Rectory*****. He laid out the Rectory grounds, and carried out a restoration of the Chancel. In 1883 he exchanged for the living of Newton Toney, and died there in 1888.

In the days of the succeeding Rector, John Fowler, not only was the Church restored, but the Mission Church of St. Luke was erected, and the adjacent Club-room with its Caretaker’s house, Curate’s room and Class-room. Mr. Fowler resigned on account of ill-health in 1902 and passed to his rest before the close of the year.

After holding the living for sixteen years, Alfred Hall Ellaby resigned in 1918 to become Vicar of Thornham.

In a letter comparing past with present a former inhabitant says of the circumstances to-day “It’s a little bit different to what it was when the Rev. Rowlands used to say ‘Common Metre’, and Schoolmaster Beets started the tune with his pitch-pipe, and Bannell used to walk up and down the church with his stick to wake the sleepers up.”


On the site of the present house—an area of nearly two acres surrounded by a moat—there stool the ancient Manor House. But a terrier dated 1709 in describing the Rectory house of that date refers to ‘the mote’, and so makes plain that the Rectors have resided on this spot for more than 200 years.

What the residence was then like we can gather in part from the description given by the terrier. It consisted, we are told, of ‘a Hall, a Parlour, a Kitchen, a Larder, two Panterys, all planshered, with chambers over them’. The windows were small about 2 ft. by 2 ft. 6 ins.—as we can see from the part of the old house still preserved;  and the rooms were boarded—that is the meaning of ‘planshered.’

Among the outbuildings there was a ‘brewhouse’, and in the grounds there was a hopyard’, In those days the breakfast beverage was neither tea nor coffee, for the price was prohibitive. The wages of a labourer amounted to less than a shilling a day, yet coffee could not be got for less than 5s. a pound, or tea for less than 10s.

The present house was erected by the Rev. J. Rowlands, the chief part in 1855-6, and the western wing in 1868. The level is three feet above that of the former house, and the front is twenty-four feet further from the moat.

As we have seen, the Manor House had become a Rectory as early as 1709. It probably ceased to be Manor House in the preceding sixty years, and it is a little astonishing to find that no tradition exists as to the site of the former Rectory.*******

In the century before it became the Parsonage the house was the residence for a longer or shorter period of several persons known to history.

If we may accept statements in Gleanings from Gayton and elsewhere, it was at one time the residence of Colonel Waller, one of the most successful leaders of the Roundheads in the earlier engagements of the Civil War. And if we may accept further statements on the same authority, Colonel Waller was visited here by Oliver Cromwell. A search in the Parish Registers shows that in 1674 a certain Thomas Waller was buried at Grimston. This may prove to be a corroboration of the story, for Colonel Waller had a son called Thomas.

In the previous century the house was for a time the residence of a man of very different type.

The story begins in October, 1588, soon after the defeat of the Armada. In that month a young Jesuit priest, sent on a mission from Rome, landed secretly on the east coast of Norfolk. He was a Lancashire man of good family named John Gerard. Having made his way to Norwich he met there the Lord of the Manor of Grimston, a zealous Roman Catholic called Edward Yelverton. After a two days’ journey on horseback, Gerard—now Mr. Thompson—settled down quietly in the Manor House at Grimston as an honoured guest. He was in great danger, but his retreat was believed as safe as any south of the Humber.

Gerard was no ordinary man. He had indeed strange powers of attraction and fascination. He was introduced to the chief families of the neighbourhood, Walpoles and Woodhouses among others, and though only twenty-four he had extraordinary influence among them. His stay in Grimston lasted seven or eight months. After that he lived for some time at Lawshall, near Bury St. Edmunds. Later, when on a visit to London, he was betrayed, and found himself shut up in the Tower as a political prisoner. There we are told he was subjected to torture — suspended by the wrists for hours — a terrible experience. After three years however, he escaped, and with characteristic courage continued his labours, though a price was set on his head and he was hunted by spies. At length after the Gunpowder Plot, he crossed the narrow seas, and from 1606 until his death in 1637 he laboured for the cause he loved, sometimes in Rome, sometimes at Liege, sometimes in Ghent or Louvain.

Mrs. Unwin, already mentioned, lived at the Rectory for some years, and her son, William Cawthorne —afterwards the ‘chief confidant of Cowper, and the recipient of some of the most delightful letters in the whole range of literature – was born and baptised at Grimston. Mrs. Unwin is described by one who knew her as ‘a person of lively talents, with a sweet serene countenance’. She was the first to realise Cowper’s need for variety of occupation, and it is largely to her wise counsel that we owe his poems. She died at East Dereham, where there is a monument to her memory, and an epitaph which declares that ‘all who read his verse, revere her name.’

The first volume describes itself as a ‘ Register booke of all the Christnings Burialls and Mariages within the parish of Grimpstone made the thre and twentie day of october anno dni 1598 but begining at the yeare of our Lord God 1552’. In the early years the entries were probably made on loose sheets of parchment or on paper, but in 1598 an order was issued that all entries should be copied into parchment books.

The first entry in the Register of Marriages is that of Richard Marre and Alice Barwicke who ‘were maried the xith of June Anno Dni 1552’. It is not until we come to the fourteenth entry that we find a surname now to be found in the parish. There we read that ‘Thomas Jarves and Johan Crane wear maried’ on the 15th January, 1553. Other surnames, well-known to-day, are Codling, found in 1554, Greene in 1558, Rust in 1566, and Rudd in 1644. Many, however, like Philister and Nippe and Pyght, have entirely disappeared.

It is interesting to find that in the days of Queen Elizabeth the favourite name for girls was Margaret, with Elizabeth next in popularity, followed by Mary, Alice, Joan and Agnes. In the case of boys Thomas, Richard, John and William take the lead, with Humphrey and Edward following.

A remarkable point in the Marriage entries is the fact that John Harvie and Thomasine Ives are described as maried againe the 18 daie of March, 1653, by John Meye, one of the Justices for the County’. They were first married on February 14th, but the ceremony had not been carried out in accordance with an Act recently passed by ‘Cromwell’s little Parliament’, an Act providing that marriages were ‘not to be performed by the Minister, but by Justices of the Peace’. Against this Act Cromwell’s own daughters rebelled.

We can obtain from the Registers a very clear insight into the way in which the population has grown. Taking periods of forty years we get the following totals from the Marriage Register :

1560 to 1599 — 125 marriages.

1600 to 1639 — 135

1640 to 1679 — 135

168o to 1719 — 132

1720 to 16J9 — 150

1760 to 1799 — 151

1800 to 1839 — 259

Thus there was a slight increase of population in the 17th century, followed by a further increase in the 18th, and a phenomenal increase in the 19th. We know that the population in 1821 was 918, and we shall not be greatly in error if we estimate the total in 1580 at about 450.

A return made in 1603 provides an interesting comment on these figures. What we find is this : In 1603, while the number of communicants at Middleton was 300 and the number at Congham 140, Grimston had only 115, a smaller number than at Gayton, East Walton, West acre and East Winch. Practically the whole adult population were then communicants, so that we may conclude that in 1603 our population was quite small—perhaps no more than 400.

The Register of Burials throws a vivid light on the periods of plague and pestilence by which our ancestors were so often visited.

There was a time of exceptional mortality almost throughout the reign of Queen Mary. In the four years from 1555 to 1558 the number of burials was 121, though the number of baptisms was only 49. From time to time, as we know, the country was attacked by ‘strange fevers’. There was such a visitation we are told in 1557 and 1558, and Queen Mary, who died in the latter year, was one of the victims. This sickness is believed to have been similar to our present-day influenzas. In any case the rate of mortality in Grimston was appalling—121 deaths in four years, though the population was less than 500.

In the summer of 1585 four members of one family were buried in two months—father, mother and two sons. A note written on the margin of the register, apparently in 1598, says ‘These are supposed to have died of the plague.’

But of all the attacks of the plague the most terrible was that known as the Black Death in the years 1348 and 1349. At that time in a single twelvemonth half the people in England were carried away. But there were other attacks later. In and about the year 1603 our parish suffered severely. It suffered again in and about the year 1665. But the most serious visitation was in 1624, 1625 and 1626, when the total number of burials was 86. Out of this number 41 were those of young people living with their parents, doubtless mostly children. Twenty years later—between 1645 and 1652—there were only eight marriages in eight years, whereas the ordinary rate was three a year.

One more note. The burials from the cholera ninety years ago are marked in the register for 1832 with a C. There were twenty-six of them, all between June 29th and July 29th. An explanatory footnote says ‘Those marked C died of the Blue Oriental Cholera.’

It is plain that in years gone by the petition ‘From plague, pestilence, and famine, Good Lord, deliver us’ had a depth of meaning we have never realised. We have to thank God, indeed, for wonderful progress in the arts and sciences which make for our physical well-being.


A note in the oldest register tells us that ‘Thomas Rothwell came on to be Clark in the year of our Lord God 1637’, and a further note says ‘William Drake entered the office the 7th of July, 1644’. After the early years of the 18th century our list of Clerks is probably complete :

1712 Francis Fretwell.

1722 Thomas Hall.       

1743 William Scott.     

1750 Thomas Scott.

1751 Matthew Whitheved.

1767 Thomas Ward.

1791 Thomas Raven.

1817 John Cross.

1867 William Cross.

Thus, our present Clerk holds the record for length of service. For over 56 years he has faithfully performed the duties of his office. Between them the grandfather and grandson have been Clerks for 106 years.********

Thomas Rothwell, who ‘came on to be Clark’ in 1637, was warden in 1640, when, as we have seen, his colleague was John Harvie. In 1706 the Wardens were Robert Smith and Daniel Riches;  in 1740 Gilbert Cremer and John Swanton; in 1747 John Swanton and John Tooke; in 1814 and 1816 Robert Mathews and William Lofty. It would be possible without great difficulty to add many other names. We must be content, however, to mention those who have held office during the present century, viz., Mr. R. Ashley, 1882-1907, Mr. R. H. Spragg, 1895-1923, Dr. Laver, 1907-1909, Mr. F. M. Birch, 1909-1920, Mr. H. H. Hammond, 1920-1923, and Mr. A. F. Culham, 1923.

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