St Felix's Church, Babingley


Heritage Category:
Scheduled Monument
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Ordnance survey map of St Felix's Church, Babingley
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The building or site itself may lie within the boundary of more than one authority.

King's Lynn and West Norfolk (District Authority)
National Grid Reference:
TF 66649 26110

Reasons for Designation

A parish church is a building, usually of roughly rectangular outline and containing a range of furnishings and fittings appropriate to its use for Christian worship by a secular community, whose members gather in it on Sundays and on the occasion of religious festivals. Children are initiated into the Christian religion at the church's font and the dead are buried in its churchyard. Parish churches were designed for congregational worship and are generally divided into two main parts: the nave, which provides accommodation for the laity, and the chancel, which is the main domain of the priest and contains the principal altar. Either or both parts are sometimes provided with aisles, giving additional accommodation or spaces for additional altars. Most parish churches also possess towers, generally at the west end, but central towers at the crossing of nave and chancel are not uncommon and some churches have a free-standing or irregularly sited tower. Many parish churches also possess transepts at the crossing of chancel and nave, and south or north porches are also common. The main periods of parish church foundation were in the 10th to 11th and 19th centuries. Most medieval churches were rebuilt and modified on a number of occasions and hence the visible fabric of the church will be of several different dates, with in some cases little fabric of the first church being still easily visible. Parish churches are found throughout England. Their distribution reflects the density of population at the time they were founded. In regions of dispersed settlement parishes were often large and churches less numerous. The densest clusters of parish churches were found in thriving medieval towns. A survey of 1625 reported the existence of nearly 9000 parish churches in England. New churches built in the 18th, 19th and 20th centuries increased numbers to around 18,000 of which 17,000 remain in ecclesiastical use. Parish churches have always been major features of the landscape and a major focus of life for their parishioners. They provide important insights into medieval and later population levels or economic cycles, religious activity, artistic endeavour and technical achievement. A significant number of surviving examples are identified to be nationally important.

St Felix's Church is a good example of a parish church, rebuilt in the 14th century to serve a village with a substantial population, and subsequently reduced in size as that population declined in the later medieval and early post-medieval period. The standing remains are well-preserved and substantial evidence for the sequence of construction and subsequent alterations is contained in the fabric of the walls and in the architectural details. Buried remains of the demolished north aisle and possibly of an earlier, pre-Conquest church, will survive beneath the ground surface and will contribute to a fuller understanding of the history of the church and its use. Further information concerning the Saxon and medieval population of the associated settlement will also be preserved in the surrounding churchyard. The tradition which associates the founding of the church with St Felix of Burgundy gives the monument additional interest.


The monument includes standing and buried remains of St Felix's Church and the churchyard around it. The church stands about 200m to the north of the Babingley River, above what was at one time a navigable estuary, and there is a tradition that it marks the spot where St Felix of Burgundy landed in AD 631 on his mission to convert the East Angles. Numerous finds of Middle and Late Saxon, as well as later medieval pottery on the surface of the surrounding fields provide evidence for a settlement here from at least the 8th century onward. Remains of the medieval village of Babingley are visible some 200m to the east and are the subject of a separate scheduling. Although tax returns of 1331 show that the village was at that time relatively well populated, by the beginning of the 17th century there were only eight communicants and the church was described as `greatlie decaied'. In 1895 it was replaced by a smaller church, built by the Prince of Wales 920m to the north east, but the churchyard continued to be used for burial into the early years of the 20th century.

The standing remains of the church, which are Listed Grade I include a west tower, the nave with a south aisle and adjoining porch, and the chancel. With the exception of the porch, these are now roofless, but the tower and many parts of the walls still stand to full height. Originally there was also an aisle on the north side of the nave, and although this has been demolished and is no longer visible, buried remains will survive. The earliest datable architectural features belong to the first half of the 14th century, although the building is thought to incorporate elements of an older structure and the dedication to St Felix suggests the possibility of a pre-Conquest church on or near the site. The medieval walls are built chiefly of grey Sandringham stone and carstone with limestone dressings and retain evidence of several phases of construction as well as later modifications and repairs. Differences in the masonry and architectural details indicate that the 14th century rebuilding was carried out in three main stages, starting with the nave and aisles and ending with the construction of the west tower. The chancel probably went out of use in the 16th or early 17th century when substantial alterations were carried out, and the masonry of this later period includes the additional use of brick and clunch.

The church is approximately 29m in length overall. The nave measures about 12m in length by 5.5m internally, with arcades of two bays to either side separating it from the aisles. The arches of the arcades are wide, with double chamfered moulding, and spring from octagonal pillars with moulded capitals and bases. Facing one another in the nave walls to the east of the arcades and immediately west of the chancel arch are the remains of two tomb recesses beneath arches surmounted by gable mouldings. Parts of the arch and gable moulding above the northern recess have been restored in modern cement, but traces of an original carved finial above the gable survive. In the recess on the south side enough detail survives to show that the arch was of two orders, with nook shafts (attached columns recessed in the wall) supporting the outer order on both north and south faces and an inner order supported on octagonal responds. The nave walls above the arcades and tomb recesses are constructed of roughly coursed Sandringham stone.

The arches of the north arcade and the north tomb recess have been infilled with masonry to create a side wall following the abandonment of the north aisle, and the east wall of the nave is formed by a similar blocking of the chancel arch. The chancel arch spans the full width of the nave and the moulding of the arch and the polygonal responds supporting it are partly visible. Inset in the blocking of the north aisle arcade are two windows and a doorway, probably reused from the north wall of the demolished aisle. The window in the eastern arch is of three lights with cusped heads, set in brick jambs. The window in the western arch is of two lights and straight headed, and to the east of it can be seen the jambs and arch of the doorway, now blocked. In the east wall is a window of two lights, with reticulated tracery of early to mid-14th century type, possibly taken from the south wall of the chancel. This is set in 18th century brickwork which, in turn, is set in a larger, rectangular opening lined with bricks of 16th or early 17th century type.

The south aisle of the nave is about 2.4m wide and 9m in length internally, the lower part of the west wall of the aisle incorporates large blocks of Sandringham stone and is thicker than the upper part, with an offset below a small lancet window. The masonry of this and the adjoining part of the south wall to the west of the south door is different from that of the wall east of the door, which shows evidence of extensive rebuilding. The east wall of the aisle, which partly blocks the southern tomb recess and forms a straight joint with the nave wall above it, replaces an earlier wall, the scars of which can be seen on the outer face of the church wall about 1m to the east of it, at the junction of nave and chancel. Both the rebuilt sections of the south wall and the east wall are faced externally with coursed carstone, with a diagonal buttress at the south east corner and another between the south east corner of the aisle and the adjoining porch. Both buttresses are edged with early post- medieval brick. The south door, which is of 14th century date, appears to have been reset, and east of it there are two window openings of which only the jambs and sills remain, both set in masonry which includes bricks of early post-medieval type. A single light window with cusped tracery at the head and an external hoodmould is set into the east wall, within a larger, rectangular recess. A lithograph of 1825 shows the eastern of the two windows with `Y' tracery, pointed arch and hoodmould.

The chancel is rectangular, of the same width as the nave and only 1.5m shorter in length. The north wall abuts the wall of the nave in a straight joint, showing that the two were constructed at different times, and is without openings other than a breach towards the eastern end. The east wall and gable survive to full height, and in it are the remains of a large east window with chamfered jambs, concave arch moulding and the stubs of tracery. Towards the eastern end of the south wall are recesses for a piscina (basin for the washing of vessels used in the Mass) and triple sedilia (seats for officiating priests) beneath elaborately moulded arches which are surmounted by a rectangular moulding terminating in stops on which traces of carving are visible. Above them are the remains of a window opening, and there is a second, tall window opening further to the east. A string course of chamfered limestone runs around the external face of the east and south walls.

The west tower is of three stages, with diagonal buttress faced with limestone ashlar at the south west and north west corners of the first two stages. The ground floor stage and the immediately adjoining sections of the nave walls are built chiefly of small pieces of roughly coursed carstone, forming a straight joint with the very different masonry of the nave walls to the east. The second stage is constructed of a mixture of carstone and Sandringham stone and is divided from the topmost, belfry stage by a limestone string course. The belfry state is crowned by battlements and the masonry is similar to that of the first stage, with limestone quoins. The west wall of the ground floor stage is pierced by a large window of two lights with intact tracery in a style thought to date from the second quarter of the 14th century, and the second stage is lit by small lancet openings in the north, south and west walls. The bell openings in the four sides of the third stage are of two lights, with `Y' tracery, now partly blocked with masonry. The tower arch which opens onto the nave has wave moulding above plain, splayed reveals. It appears to be entirely of 19th century date and was probably inserted into the medieval masonry in 1849, when repairs are known to have been carried out.

The south porch is of early post-medieval date and is built of brick. The entrance, surmounted by a small niche in the gable of the south wall and flanked by diagonal buttresses, has chamfered jambs and a pointed arch and hoodmould above moulded imposts. Both side walls are pierced by a small lancet opening. Within the porch there are low brick benches to either side and the walls curve overhead to form a pointed barrel vault.

The church is located towards the western side of a quadrangular churchyard which measures approximately 70m east-west. North-south the dimensions are approximately 72m at the western end, narrowing to about 48m at the eastern end. Within the churchyard there are several surviving headstones with inscriptions dating from the 18th, 19th and early 20th centuries.

MAP EXTRACT The site of the monument is shown on the attached map extract.


The contents of this record have been generated from a legacy data system.

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Books and journals
Council for the Care of Churches, , Babingley, St Felix, Norfolk, (1989)
White, F, History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, (1854)
Batcock, N, 'East Anglian Archaeol' in The Ruined and Disused Churches of Norfolk, , Vol. 51, (1991), 83-88
Title: Babingley, Tithe Map Source Date: 1838 Author: Publisher: Surveyor: NRO Ref. DN/TA 31


This monument is scheduled under the Ancient Monuments and Archaeological Areas Act 1979 as amended as it appears to the Secretary of State to be of national importance. This entry is a copy, the original is held by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport.

End of official listing

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