A Brief History of All Saints Church, Burnham Thorpe

All Saints Church exterior (4) Twitter

by Mike Tapper

When you read about the history of a  church, it is common that the building primarily features; rarely do we read of the people  associated with it.

In case of All Saint’s we shall meet the families, rather than purely the building, who have played such a significant part in our nation’s history.

Herman  Dodifer – whose  parents came  with William I after the Norman Conquest – was born in Calthorpe  in Norfolk. His son Peter de Calthorpe acquired the manor of Burnham Thorpe.

Sir William Calthorpe was knighted by Edward IV at the coronation of his bride Elizabeth Woodville, as Queen in 1465.

Sir William having been a major donor to the Church his magnificent brass effigy, in the chancel, as a knight in armour lies on the floor his feet rest on little dogs indicating he died in bed (as opposed the warlike Knights of the Garter!)

All Saints Church interior (1) Twitter

The interior of All Saints Church

So from that effigy we can say that features of the church its Norman Tower and magnificent columns  dates probably from the 13th century and was isolated from the village and located across the river adjacent to the Manor House.

During the Civil War in in 1642  Norfolk members of the House of Commons raised money for the defence of Parliament. Calthorpe and Walpole feature and indicates that the two families, were   clearly close, showing how the manor estates were sold to the Walpole family.  We know that in 1719  and 1721 Sir Robert Walpole England’s First Prime Minister audited and signed  the parish accounts.

Nelson graves (2) Twitter

The graves of Edmund and Catherine Nelson

Walpole’ grand niece  Catherine Suckling whose husband Rev Edmund Nelson was presented with the living of All  Saints’  Church, from 1791 to 1793 . Then came the first period of restoration of the Church.

All Saints Church interior (5) Twitter

Bust of Horatio Nelson, as seen in the church

In 1758 Catherine and Edmund had a son Horatio whom by the time he was 12 was writing to his brother “Do William, write to my father and tell him that I should like to go to sea with Uncle Maurice”

In  November 1787 the frigate H.M.S Boreas was paid off in Sheerness by Captain Nelson, who now had to face the unwelcoming prospect of 5 years ‘on the beach’ back in Norfolk. In due course he returned home with his new wife to Burnham Thorpe. Fanny Nelson,  following their return from the West Indies, craved permanence whilst Horatio Nelson – albeit with little money – grudgingly took his place among those known as the ‘genteel’ classes. The first winter back in Norfolk was abysmally cold.  Nelson being attacked by rheumatism barely moved beyond the bedchamber  whilst Fanny hardly stirred from her stout moreen bed sheets .

When the weather improved, contact with Lord Walpole of Wolterton (Nelson’s godfather) improved as the Walpoles proved to be gratifyingly down to earth. Lady Walpole introduced Nelson to Thomas William Coke the greatest landowner in the county.

Holkham Hall (3) Twitter

Holkham Hall, former seat of Thomas William Coke

Notwithstanding their political differences – Nelson being a Tory and and unimpressed by wealth alone – the pair clearly had a good relationship with Coke in later years greatly admiring Nelson and sending gifts to his father.

When the French Batteries at Brest fired on a British sloop of war in 1793, Nelson wasted no time and wrote to the Admiralty to ask for a ship. He was appointed to be Captain of H.M.S Agamemnon, a sixty four gun ship of the line fitting out at Chatham.His commission was dated 30th January  1793.

Two days later, France declared war on Britain and on 4th February Nelson left Norfolk  ’in Health and great Spirits.’

Over the years Nelson’s church has been restored and  maintained in remembrance of the greatest fighting Admiral of all time.

H.M.S Nelson crest (Twitter)

The crest of HMS Nelson, on display in the church





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