History of St. Mary's Church
The church is situated in the site of an Iron-age camp, roughly circular in shape and has a commanding view, with the land falling steeply to the River Tas in the south and west. Tas comes from the Celtic word for "water".
The Roman site carries great interest, being in the land of the Iceni, from whence came Boudicea. In Roman times, the field opposite the church was occupied by Roman soldiers, guarding or policing the road linking Camulodunum (Colchester) and Vicenorum (Caistor St Edmund), now the A140. There was a further Roman camp where the 3 streams meet to form the River Tas.
It is thought that the original ancient church was destroyed by the Danes and rebuilt by King Cnut. Of this original rebuild, only the tower and parts of the West wall remain. The round Saxon tower is a distinctive Norfolk feature, probably being round because square corners are hard to achieve satisfactorily with flint. The blind arcading is a special feature of the tower, which now houses 5 bells.
In 1375, Sir Adam de Clifton widened the church some four feet on either side, inserted nave windows, and rebuilt the upper stage of the tower. The flints are noticeably less well laid at the top, where this work was done. Included in this work was a Guild Chapel on the south side of the nave, complete with stone altar, Mary figure and piscina. This was all destroyed and plastered over at the Reformation, but the piscina was re-opened in the 19th century. The high altar was of Purbeck marble and there is a 2nd piscina still extant there.
When the stone altars were replaced with wooden tables at the Reformation, Thomas Baxter of Rainthorpe Hall used the stone Mensa of the side altar for the top of the grave of his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1587. He also painted his family crest on the wall and placed a brass to his daughter, Elizabethan, in the sanctuary. She died in 1586. In 1611, Thomas Baxter was secretly buried by night, unknown to the Rector, in the chancel, where his body remains to this day. A library extract reads: "1611 Thomas Baxter of Rain Thorpe, gent, was buried ye iiiith day of December in ye night by whom I knowe not. Ano p'deo."
In 1670, the church was stripped of its lead roof in order to raise money to pay bills. Later, under Rev. E. Burroughs of Long Stratton Manor, who was also Rector of the two Stratton churches, Tasburgh church was robbed of its glass, Laudian altar rails (both still in St. Mary's, Long Stratton) as well as its front cover, the interior door and much else.
Rev Henry Edmund Preston, who served Tasburgh as Rector for 63 years (!), built a day school in the Rectory garden in 1844. This continued to serve as the village primary school until 1980, when the school moved to a purpose built complex in the new estate, on Henry Preston Road.
Between 1897-1922 extensive restorations to the church were carried out by Sir Charles Harvey. He removed the pews, the gallery, the three decker pulpit, the Elizabethan communion tables, the wooden tympanum of the chancel arch and an unsightly stone and slate reredos. He installed new pews, the current hammer beam roof and, at his own expense, added the vestry to the south west door.
In 1937-8, Mr Henry Neville of Tasburgh Hall supervised further restoration. The chancel and eastern part of the nave were paved. The 19th century altar rails were brought forward to the position of the old Laudian rails. A new oak door was installed to the tower bell ringing chamber. A font was installed from the disused church of St. Simon and St. Jude in Norwich. Norwich Cathedral also gave Tasburgh material with which to build the current choir stalls, bench ends, altar and reredos.
The church room was added to the vestry, along with a kitchen and toilet at the time of this building upsurge in Tasburgh and has added great functionality to the church building. At the time of writing, we are waiting on building work to be completed to make the tower safe and strong enough to bear the ringing of the 5 bells. One of the bells had been slightly out of tune for some centuries, but has now been replaced with a new perfectly tuned bell, such that we will be able to boast, according to the diocesan bell-ringing advisor, the best sounding 5-bell peal in Norfolk!