History of Coltishall Church


Visitors are welcome at the Church of St. John the Baptist, parish church of Coltishall.

On the approach you will undoubtedly notice the splendid roof of Norfolk reed thatch, popular for its excellent insulating as well as decorative qualities, and the massive 15th century tower, 67 feet high and its clock that was fitted in 1877. You may also spot a few red tiles or bricks in the north wall as you come by. These were obtained from Roman ruins which lay nearby 1,000 years or more ago when the previous church was under construction. When you approach the West door to enter the church you will see the flintwork decorations around the tower. Those that at first sight resemble a chalice are in fact the Roman letter J surmounted by a martyr's crown and are the emblem of St. John Baptist. The other emblem is the eagle, relating to St. John the Evangelist, and this juxtaposition of emblems has caused some confusion as to which St. John the church is actually dedicated. However it was to the Baptist that Bishop Middleton of Norwich dedicated, or rather re-dedicated the church, on 24th June 1284 (St. John Baptist's Day) and surely no more appropriate patron saint could be found for a church situated on a hill above a river.


The first impression gained upon entering the church is one of space and light, and in this peaceful atmosphere it is easy to believe that the villagers have worshipped on this spot for well over 1,000 years. Most of what you see was erected in the rebuilding which took place immediately before the re-dedication in 1284, but substantial additions and alterations were made in the 14th and 15th centuries, while the 19th century saw much refurbishment. There are, though, traces of the earlier church still visible, notably in much of the north wall and in the chancel.

Standing at the back of the church, you will be struck by the elegant simplicity of the 18th century plaster ceiling and the intricately carved Rood Screen, beyond which you may glimpse the beautiful modern stained glass East Window which depicts Christ the King, with his Mother, Mary Magdalene, and King Edmund amongst others. Impressive also is the 14th century Decorated Arcade that replaced the original south wall when the south aisle was added. Once vertical, its pillars have long acquired an element of the 'Slant 'n dicular' as it is known locally, but not to worry, there has been little discernable movement this century and readings of electrolevels installed in 1996 indicate that movements are small and consistent with those experienced by any structural fabric. On either wall are 14th century style windows, heavily restored a hundred years ago.

Upon making your way down the main aisle towards the High Altar, the first monument is that sadly typical of all English parish churches, to parishioners who gave their lives in the two World Wars. There are a number of large and ornate monuments lining both walls, some being excellent examples of their kind. Less usual is the large circular window in the north wall, inserted in Victorian times and now containing ancient stained glass, much repaired, from a continental church destroyed in the last war. Just above are two much smaller round windows of Saxon construction. Behind the pulpit is another relic of past days, a couple of steps leading into the blocked off turret which formerly led to the Rood Loft which fell into disuse and was demolished after the Reformation.

You are recommended to pause at the altar rails and look about you. In front is the High Altar, made of English oak in 1960, and the reredos given about the same time. Here you may appreciate the East Window in its full glory. To your left is a simple stone tablet commemorating Robert Gorell, whose 100th birthday on 20th August 1904 was marked by a special peal of bells, and who was a generous benefactor of this church. Opposite are the remains of the 15th century Sedilia, or seat for Ministers, and above that a Lancet Window dating back to the old church. The Vestry was added in 1877, twelve years after the organ was bought, second-hand, from Norman and Beard for 200. A simple two manual instrument, it was completely overhauled some years ago. The oak case was fitted in 1956.


Before you leave the chancel, pause to look at the Rood Screen, carved during the 15th century and extensively restored in 1910. A little of the original paint can still be discerned from the choir. Spare a glance, too, for the graceful arch of the tower and the elegant 17th century balustrade to the Ringing Chamber. Then turn to your left and ahead of you is a stained glass Madonna and child, originally sited in the Chancel Lancet window and removed to this more favourable viewing point when the Lady Chapel was re-instituted in 1960. The Lady Chapel altar is a Stuart period domestic table and until 1960 served as the High Altar. The tapestry screen behind is of uncertain but possibly considerable age and was brought to Coltishall in 1918 from the war-destroyed Belgian church that it had previously adorned.

The north and south porches are both 15th century, and while the former is used as a kitchen and boiler room, the latter has served in recent times as a store but in 2006 is due to become a toilet suitable for all including the disabled. Alongside its door is an attractive and interesting memorial to William Perkins, who died on 4th February 1711/12, a reminder that until comparatively recently the year changed on 25th March and not 1st January. Close by is a copper model of the church made in 1977 and dedicated by the Lord Bishop of Norwich, Bishop Maurice Wood.

The square Purbeck marble font is Norman and probably came from the earlier church. Like so much of its age it suffered grievously during the Reformation and Civil War. The lead lining was installed in 1987.

Coltishall church has a fine peal of six bells, the oldest having been cast in 1624. They are still in regular use, not only for services but also by ringers from all over the country, and were re-hung and re-dedicated in 1951. The church archives, now in safe deposit, include registers from 1558, the year in which their maintenance became compulsory, and a list of the Rectors and Patrons of the parish since 1270 is displayed in the porch. The church also owns some interesting plate, including a Norwich Silver Chalice and Patten of 1567, but for sadly obvious reasons these cannot be left on display but must be held in safe custody.


Throughout its long history this church and its predecessors have been maintained and beautified by the generosity of the parishioners. The changed circumstances of today make this task increasingly difficult. In recent years, repairs have been carried out to the tower, nave and chancel walls, pew flooring has been replaced, electrical re-wiring carried out, new improved lighting, gas fired boilers and a kitchen have been installed.

The present cost of running the parish and meeting our Christian obligations to those less fortunate than ourselves is around 400 per week. This sum includes small items of day-to-day upkeep but will not suffice to meet the big bills. The whole thatch roof is in urgent need of renewal and tenders have been obtained for the works including associated strengthening of the roof structure to be carried out during 2006 if the funds are available but whilst the English Heritage Lottery Fund has offered a grant of approximately 75% of the estimated cost, the parish has to find the balance of about 50,000.


An appeal is ongoing to raise the full amount required as such capital that is possessed by the Parochial Church Council is required to meet the general maintenance of the church premises and to keep the structure in a basically sound and weather-tight condition to continue serving the village and providing interest for visitors in the future.

One initiative to raise money for the Thatched Roof Appeal is the Sale of Bundles of Reed. Donations are being requested for the purchase of bundles of reed at 10 each with the names of donors being recorded in a Commemorative Book. These donations may be made under the Gift Aid Scheme if the donor pays tax in the United Kingdom thereby enabling the Parochial Church Council to reclaim the tax already paid on the value of the donation.

Events such as flower festivals and concerts are held in the church from time to time and over the past few years, the Friends of Coltishall Church have raised funds to provide a toilet in the church and this should be installed in 2006. The toilet together with the kitchen already provided by the Friends will mean that the church will be more suitable as a venue for further community fund raising activities.

We hope you will enjoy a visit to our village and to appreciate the serene beauty of our church. Your help will be greatly appreciated in keeping it in a sound condition so that future generations may have the chance of using it and admiring it as we do today? An Offertory Box is set in a wall in the entrance area under the tower. Whatever you give, you may rest assured will be gratefully received and faithfully applied.

Thank you for your interest in our church and our blessings go with you.