The much loved Church of St Mary the Virgin was built in the 13th
century, making the church the oldest building in the village. It
is a true reflection of the village's history since it stands very much
at the heart of the village. The church is surrounded by many
buildings made from local chalk, carrstone and a terracotta brick once
manufactured in the village. Churches designed like St Mary the Virgin
of Heacham, with a central tower built on the crossing, are a rarity in
Norfolk as buildings designed in this manner required a strong
foundation base using good strong building stone. Buildings of
this design often collapsed because of poor quality local stone.
Others were reduced in height, but St Mary's has survived more than 800
In the photograph of St Mary's, Heacham (first church photo on the right) you can see how transepts rising to a great height were designed to support the tower, but these transepts were not well maintained over the years resulting in the extraordinary buttress on the north side being built to support the tower circa 1800.
The church belfry has circular openings on each side which appear small in proportion to the massive tower. This particular feature of the church indicates its great age as belfry openings grew in size over time. A cupola crowns the top and contains the original 12th century bell - regarded as the oldest in East Anglia. Glorious Byzantine style brass lanterns hang from the ceiling identical in design to those of the Basilica in St Marks Square, Venice.
Throughout the church's life, it has enjoyed local support and it continues to retain its place as the hub of the community. It maintains a very active congregation and has a busy and varied calendar of events throughout the year. The Village waits to welcome a new Vicar in 2007 following the retirement of Canon Patrick Foreman after 8 years of dedicated service.
Local legend has it that the Indian Princess, Pocahontas, worshiped at the church when John Rolfe returned with his extraordinary wife and young son, Thomas to England from Virginia. Although the British Court took Pocahontas to their hearts, they planned to return to Virginia. Sadly, Pocahontas became ill and died in Gravesend, Kent aged 22. Rolfe then returned to his land in Virginia leaving their son Thomas in England for his formative years.
Coats of arms of prominent members of the Rolfe family are located inside the church. A sculpture of Pocahontas in Jacobean dress by Otillea Wallace, a pupil of Rodin hangs on the wall above a plaque dedicated to John Rolfe’s father.
There are many interesting memorials in the church which are well worth reading. One such memorial is an unknown knight in armour made of London brass (1485). The figure stands 27 inches and, unlike many Norwich made brasses, is not deeply etched. The north clerestory wall hatchments display the arms of three local gentlemen. Opposite on the south wall are the arms of their widows.
St Mary's church organ was built in 1914 by T R Spurdon Rutt & Co of London for the East Finchley Congregational Church. It arrived in Heacham in 1970 with assistance from local organ builders, A J Shaw & Sons. In 1992, the organ was improved by Holmes & Swift. It now has 3 manuals with electro-pneumatic action.
An extension was added to the north elevation of the church in the early 1990s, providing a small meeting room, a kitchen area and toilets with disabled access.
(2nd church photo on the right) Just outside the main entrance to the park of Hunstanton Hall is one of the largest churches in this part of Norfolk, the original Hunstanton parish church of St Mary. This was the home of the Le Strange family which, for many generations, greatly influenced the church and the whole district.
Frederick Preedy, a cousin of Henry Le Strange, built a chapel in the new town, and today St Edmund's is a parish church in its own right. However, St Mary retains a special place in the area with its sheer grandeur and Victorian style. Frederick Preedy was responsible for the restoration of St Mary.
Nineteenth century architecture abounds through St Mary's, although
internally the arcades remain from the earlier church. The tower too, stands
in its original position showing the north aisle was the site of the
original church. Today the building is greatly enlarged in size with the
Norman font set on a high pedestal in a spectacle of glazed 19th century
tiles. Major 19th century restoration works are noted by the standard of
work on its glass. St Mary's glass depicts a fine tree of Jesse,
effectively Christ's family tree, a unique expression of 19th century
theology. You will also find some very good scenes from the Old Testament:
Abraham greets three angels while his wife Sarah watches from behind the
door. Nearby, there is a scene of an angel arriving in time to save Isaac
from his father's sacrificial knife. A third shows Abraham sending Hagar
into exile with her son Ishmael. There are some excellent medieval
influences in evidence in the church, particularly the wonderful rood screen
showing the twelve apostles on its panels. This lovely church shows that is
is very much loved and used and is full of colour.
3rd church photo on right
4th church photo on right
5th church photo on right
(6th photo on right) It is believed that there may have been a church in
existence on the same site as the Church of St Mary's, Snettisham.
This idea is supported by the fact that the church was built circa 1340 and
the record of Vicars of Snettiisham (a list is located inside the church)
pre-dates this period. The
church is stunning to look at both inside and out and it a very obvious
landmark in the village - you can see the spire for miles around. It
is built of flint and its
spire measures 175 feet. Building of the spire was interrupted due to
the Black Death which troubled Norfolk during 1348-49. In the past, St
Mary's Church extended beyond the current east window by a further 40 feet.
However, the chancel was destroyed in the late 16th century.