Looking at the church - 1974
'Dear God, bless this church and all who worship in it, and please God, bless me’.You are standing on ground whose history goes back to the Ancient Britons. In those far off days most of the Fens were under water, but at East Winch you could keep your feet dry because the village lay on the shore of an island. Middleton was at the highest point of 117 feet above sea level, and the other villages round the circumference were Wormegay, West Winch and Castle Rising. This higher land lay at the junction of two roads, namely Peddar's Way and the Great Fen Road.The area of the parish was later contained within the Manor of Grandcourt, which was owned by Edward the Confessor, then by William the Conqueror, and in 1154 it passed to Sir Ralph le Strange, and the church came under the jurisdiction of Carrow Abbey.The present church probably dates back to about 1460. In 1428 Elizabeth, the daughter of Sir John Howard, married the Earl of Oxford. Because Elizabeth was under age the Earl had to pay Henry V1 a fine of £2000. We read that the Earl of Oxford and his Countess Elizabeth resided often in the old East Winch Manor House and attended the church at East Winch, which at this time, around 1460, was in the process of being rebuilt.It is important to realise that an ancient building like this only continues to stand and function over so many centuries because of recurring religious revivals of faith in God.
The last great revival began more than 140 years ago at the University of Oxford and then at Cambridge. This revival produced a new breed of devoted clergy, some of whom came to serve in the rural parishes of Norfolk.
Such a man was the Reverend E.J. Elvis, scholar and Vicar of East Winch. In 1872 he started a Church Restoration Fund with these words 'The roof of the Church is in a very unsafe condition and a large sum of money is required to restore it thoroughly’ This appeal brought in only £26.7.0 (Twenty-six Pounds and seven shillings) from local resources, including 5/- (Five shillings) from Archdeacon Freeman. But Vicar Alvis was a determined man and eventually he raised the sum of £2000, along with a free gift of carrstone from Mr. Allenby of West Bilney.
A major restoration of the church was completed by 1875 under the supervision of the eminent Victorian architect Sir Gilbert Scott who also designed the fine hammer beam roof of the nave. Over the last few years a good deal of work has been carried out and our present Festival (1974) is a continuing witness to the devotion of our church people to God's house in this parish,
Begin your visit outside the church and take a careful look at the beautiful Tudor porch of period red brick.
English Heritage - Buildings at Risk
In October 2014 English Heritage published the latest listing of Buildings at Risk. All Saints Church has, this year, been added to the listing - read more about this here
Work has commenced (May 2015) to make necessary repairs to the church - particularly to the tower... . The repair work on the fabric of the church has been completed. In particular the tower and the south porch have been extensively repaired. see more here
The following is taken from a guide to the church written for a festival in 1974. It is of course still essentially valid - though we might now choose to charge more than the 5p. the guide then cost.
LOOKING AT EAST WINCH CHURCH IN 1974
Welcome: We are glad you have come to our Festival. The nicest way to view this ancient parish church is to begin with a prayer. Here is a suggested one:
While Henry VIII was dissolving the monasteries and divorcing his wives, the people of East Winch were investing in a new brick porch for their carrstone church. As this was built over the south door they included a charming sun dial and this has withstood both cloud and sunshine for over 400 years.
As you enter the church notice the old door which has recently been carefully renovated by local craftsmen at Stow Bardolph. If you look carefully at the side of the stone arch of the door you will discover a square oak beam which slides into a deep recess in the wall. When this beam is withdrawn it bars the door against intruders. Hence the expression ‘locks and bars’.
Until three years ago the floor of the nave was laid with uneven bricks which were dust raisers and a nightmare to clean. We hope you will feel that the new ashphalt floor with its polished surface is in keeping with the character of the church.
Next try sitting in one of the original oak pews on the extreme right of the church. People were smaller in the times of Queen Elizabeth 1st. than in these days of inflation and super-markets. In Tudor times, the strong and healthy stood for the services and only the weak and infirm ‘went to the wall’. In winter time rushes would be spread on the floor of these pews. People tend to praise God better when their feet are warm.
The font of 1460 is of special interest; the shield on the front, as you face the west window, commemorates Sir John Howard, the father of Elizabeth Countess of Oxford. It is the special distinction of East Winch that the Howard family started their rise to fame and fortune from their home in the village. It is claimed that 'in a single generation the Howards stepped from the plough to the Judges' bench, and then from the ranks of the gentry to the highest position in the nobility of England'.
In the next generation a Howard became premier Duke, as the Duke of Norfolk and also Earl Marshall. It was in Tudor times that the Howards reached the zenith of power notwithstanding the hindrance that the first Duke of Norfolk had opposed Henry VII in the final battle of the Wars of the Roses at Bosworth Field and had fallen by the side of Richard III.
The 19th, century font cover with its painted design and details is an elegant addition. Its shields can be read in the frame hanging on the wall.
In the clock tower there is only one bell. This has a vibrant and yet mellow note. If you can get the Vicar or the Verger into a charitable mood he might pull the bell rope for you so that you can savour the sweet note which only comes from a well cast bell. Inscribed on the bell itself are the words 'John Draper made me in 1624’
The old oak ironbound Guild Chest was used as the Churchwarden's Record and Treasure Box. Note that each Warden has his own lock and key. A few years ago the chest was taken to a firm of experts, in Buckingham Palace Road, London, for repair. After consultation they said it was too old and valuable and would not therefore dare to repair it; so the Vicar brought it back again.
The centre pews in the nave were installed in 1847. By this time the religious revival was making itself felt in the villages, often in conflict with the new Methodist chapels, and attendance at Sunday worship was increasing.
Have you ever thought that a church like this is quite a jolly place to be dead in? Make your way to the north-east corner of the nave. There you will find two superb coffin lids. Run your hand over the warm stone and think of the old hymn 'Rock of Ages, cleft for me’. One lid is inscribed with the traditional symbol of Eternal Life, and the other is marked 'In Memory of Hugh Rose', the master mason who rebuilt the church in the 15th. century. He did not forget to include the tools of his trade. Standing before these lids one is reminded of the continuing pulse of our history.
It is only recently that we have been able to display some of our fine old books in a new show case. The oak for this case comes from an oak beam of a Norfolk farm and was fashioned for us by a farm carpenter.
We show a black letter 'SHE' Bible of 1611, which is specially valuable because of a misprint, in the 15th. verse of the 3rd. chapter of the Book of Ruth. There were two editions of this 1611 Bible. The first one reads " she went into the city" and the later edition was altered to read
" he went into the city".
Also on display is a large Book of Common Prayer dated 1728. Special to this edition is the inclusion of a Collect, Epistle and Gospel to commemorate the foiling of the Gun Powder Plot to blow up the House of Commons. This was to have taken place at the opening of the new Parliament on the 5th. November 1605 by King James lst. The treason was planned by the Roman Catholic element in the country under the leadership of the Jesuits (a reminder of our present day troubles with the I.R.A.) If the plot had succeeded Sovereign rule and the Power of the Papacy would have returned, so paralysing our early efforts of national government by a democratically elected Parliament. This Jesuit conspiracy of the 5th. November 1605 has left- a deep mark on our national imagination.
The custom of 'Searching the House' is still carried out, before each new Session of Parliament is opened by the Queen. The Gun Powder Collect, Epistle and Gospel, which you now view, is peculiar to this 1728 edition of the Prayer Book.
In one corner you have all that remains of "the painted mediaeval Rood Screen which used to divide the nave from the chancel. In the other corner is the oldest piece of worked stone in our church. This is a hand adzed pedestal Piscina of Norman origin. A piscina, like a font, is a vessel for water with a drain hole. It was used for the washing of the Communion vessels at the close of the Sacrament and is usually found on the south wall of the sanctuary.
Moving next into the chancel, it is of some interest to know that the present organ chamber was once the Mortuary Chapel of the Howard family. Our organ started its musical life as a barrel organ and was later rebuilt by J. Bullen and Son of Ipswich in 1856.. It was not installed into the church until after the restoration of the church by Sir Gilbert Scott and we have a handbill of the opening Service in July 1878.
The magnificent twin lamp standards in the sanctuary were the gift of Sir William Lancaster of East Winch Hall and the father of our present patron Mr. Osbert Lancaster.
We hope your visit will increase your affection for this place which is much more then an ancient building. Rather we would see it as a custodian of our parochial heritage and even as a Gateway to Heaven.
Note: NADFAS (National Association of Decorative & Fine Arts Societies) conducted a survey of the interior of the church, including the fabric, furnishings, memorials, windows and so on, between 2012 and 2014. See more about it here