new welney sign

The Welney Website

St. Mary the Virgin, Welney

page created Feb 2005, amended/updated Monday, 04 January 2016
church in sun cropped

The Parish Church of Welney, officially St. Mary the Virgin but commonly called simply "St. Mary's" is situated on the west side of Main Street, accessed by a bridge over the Old Croft River and surrounded by an extensive churchyard/ graveyard.

Built in 1847/48 by Jeremiah Andrews to a design by JC Buckler in typically  Victorian Gothic steep-roofed style, it replaced a small brick Chapel to the south-east and was was part of a large development comprising school, shoolmaster's house and almshouses for six poor widows, all largely funded by the charity of William Marshall, Welney's generous benefactor.

Two pieces of land for the new Church and almshouses were donated, one by Peter Huddleston and his wife Elizabeth, the other by William Lee. 

The Church is within the Diocese of Ely and in 1995 became part of a 'United Benefice' with Manea and Christchurch. Since 2011 the benefice has been linked with the neighbouring United Joint Benefice of Doddington with Benwick and Wimblington (created in 1997). The two Benefices retain their own identity and administration but now share a joint website showing details of all services at each of the six churches. Links to all at bottom of page.

Services are held here on the 2nd and 4th Sundays each month;  average attendance is 5 people. The United Benefice is currently without a full time priest and seeking a new incumbent - see link to 'profile' at bottom right.

If you've visited this page before you may need to "refesh" the page to see the latest version version

south east window
Satellite view by Google
1848-1862Rev Wm Gale Townley
1862-1872Rev Wm Hilton Hutchinson
1872-1899Rev Ed Russell Wilford
Rev Herb Hignett Wilford
1938-1940Rev Canon Atkins
Rev Rigg (Curate)
1940-1957Rev A.B. Johnston
1958-1969Rev H.J.W. Law
1969-1974Rev Wm Tempest Hodgson
1974-1978Father Jack Tofts
1979-1981Rev Herbert Mountfield
1982-1986Rev Anthony Bennett
1986-1990Rev David Spencer
1990-1993Rev Hugh Gamble Reid
1995-2003Rev Sheila Tooke
2007-2015Rev Kevin Fitzgibbon

White's Directory 1854
 lists Rev Arthur Wellington Roper as curate

Church history

The following table is based largely on detailed notes made in 1998 by the late Ken Sorenson who spent many weeks of research and travelled extensively to various reference libraries.
I have made a few additions and updates and noted the sources where known below the table. Knowing Ken, I have no doubt of the accuracy of his notes even when sources are not stated.
A similar table is included in the Church information leaflet.
year   note
c1100  Norman church built, a small brick edifice near the current entrance gates  
1440 John Bayker, curate in charge of the "Chapel of St.Mary in Welney, died 2
1534 the Reformation and (first?) foundation of the Church of England  
c1550 Chapel built to the SE of the present Church, where cremation memorials are now situated  
1642 Records started of Baptisms  
1653 Records started of Marriages and Burials.  
1846 Act of Parliament seperated Welney from Upwell St.Peters.
The intention seems to have been to split Upwell into three livings (the other being Christchurch) on the death of the then incumbent, Rev.William Gale Townley.
1847 work started on building new Church  
1848 new Church consecrated  
1862 Rev Townley died  
1864 Welney Rectory built  
1874 Organ installed  
1887 Reredos installed to mark Queen Victori's Golden Jubilee  
1907 Churchyard extended. (consecrated 1908)  
1932 Transfer of advowson from Charles Evelyn Townley to Bishop of Ely. (Previously, Welney had been in the Diocese of Norwich)  
1950 Electricity installed  
1951 electric organ blower installed  
1963 central heating installed  
1970 'Pluarlity' of Welney and Christchurch parishes 5
1978 Rectory sold, re-named Marifa Lodge  
1985 Church rewired and 8 new lamps fitted. 5
1990 nine pews removed from rear of church; font moved to SW corner of nave;SW vestry converted to a kitchen area; toilet installed under stairs 5
1995 'United Benefice' formed joining Welney and Christchurch with Manea. Major repairs made to St. Mary's 5
1997 sound system installed 5
1999 two choir pews removed from chancel 5
2005 Roof repairs completed. All slates removed; South side of nave re-covered with old slates, north side new slates. Chancel new slates both sides. New gutters and down pipes fitted, and roof insulated. Bell removed for repairs 5
2015 November: access bridge parapets rebuilt  
1 The Victoria History of the Counties of England.A History of Cambridge and the Isle of Ely, Vol IV , Ed: R.B.Pugh, 1953
2 Upwell - History of a Fenland Village by Richard Jeans, 1987
3 An Historical Account of the Ancient Town and Port of Wisbech in the Isle of Ely, in the County of Cambridge and circumjacent Towns and Villages, by William Watson, 1827
4 History of the Church in Upwell, G.S.Smith, 1986
5 Pauline Aisthorpe (Churchwarden/Benefice Secretary?)

south east window

choir pews
top, east window and reredos
centre, choir pews each side of chancel - removed in 1999.
below, the Holditch organ

According to a report in the Wisbech Advertiser in September 1848, the church was
"fitted with open seats and capable of holding 400 persons, with a gallery at the west end for 120 children."
People, particularly children, were much smaller in those days!

I believe that 120 was also the number of pupils the school was designed for.

An organ by the London firm of G.M. Holdich was installed in 1874 with money donated by parishioners, and the tiled reredos below the east window was added in 1887 funded by friends of the Rector, to mark Queen Victoria's 50th anniversary of her reign.

In 1907 more land to the west was aquired (paid for by Marshall's Charity) to extend the Churchyard (consecrated June 1908). Electricity was installed in 1950 (and a year later an electric organ blower) and (oil-fired) radiator central heating in 1963.

In 1990 a kitchen was built into what had been the south west vestry, and a toilet  installed under the stairs in the north west corner. The rearmost nine pews were removed to make room for a meeting area with tables and chairs.

During 2004-2005, the roof was exensively repaired and insulated. Old slates re-used on south roof; new slates fitted on north side, and both sides of chancel roof. New guttering and downpipeswere fitted, and bell removed for repair.

1950c aerial view c1950. Note row of cottages at left, later demolished to build Taymor Place; also trees behind and to the right of the church, later removed.
2005 aerial view June 2005. scaffolding during roof repairs
church in sun

church in snow 2 December 2009. Whatever the season or weather, the church is a glorious site.
church in snow

'Charity' by Thomas Wilmhurst
St Mary's Welney chancel arch
Chancel arch and east window.
Note 'blind' window above arch and the decalouge boards.
On left, pulpit & door to north entrance & vestry.
Simon Knott came here in August 2005 as part of his endevour to record all of Norfolk's churches. Having visited nearly 850 of them (and many churches elsewhere, too), he knows a thing or two about them, and described St. Mary's thus:
"It sits in a long graveyard, surreally close to a water tower, and is the very perfection of west Norfolk coursed carstone, the most ambitious of all 19th century Norfolk churches in this medium. It has recently been reroofed, giving the exterior a crispness in the well-maintained graveyard. The inside is curious, because the church is sinking into the soft Fen soil, more on the south side than the north. As a consequence, the middle of the nave is a good 12 inches higher than the outer walls. The view east is of a delicious Victorian gothic extravaganza, Thomas Wilmhurst's enamel painting of Joshua Reynold's Charity in the east window, a rich, tiled 1880s sanctuary below. Also painted are the imposing decalogue boards either side of the chancel arch that build to a pleasing if meaningless blind window surmounting the east end of the nave. Looking west, there is a fine gallery, which must be contemporary with the proto-ecclesiological east end, placing this building on the very cusp of the revival of medievalism in the 19th century."

(photos each side by the webmaster, Peter Cox, Feb 2013)

east window with painting

looking west to gallery
looking west from Chancel Arch to gallery. Originally, pews for 400 people plus 120 children in Gallery.

Commandments I-IV (1-4)
For those not familiar with the term "decalogue" in Simon's description above (as I wasn't) it means the Ten Commandments.

Apparently in 1560 Queen Ellizabeth 1st decreed that the Commandments be written on boards displayed at the east end of the chancel in [Anglican] Churches.

Here in St. Mary's Welney, the commandments are shown on the top two boards on the Chancel Arch.

Below them are two more boards with the words of the Lord's Prayer and the Apostles Creed, which were often felt to be ‘very fit companions’ for the Commandments. No doubt very useful too for those who couldn't remember the words - provided they could read!

Commandments V-X (5-10)

the Lord's Prayer

east window with painting
nave decorated for wedding
The nave, chancel arch and east window in September 2008. The church had been decorated for a wedding the following day. Note the pews arching up towards the centre as described by Simon Knott above; also the central heating pipes each side of the aisle; and the tablets inset into the side walls commemorating those who died on active service during the two world wars. (There is no war memoral outside).

The Wisbech Advertiser of 1848 described the east window:
"the centre compartment representing Faith, Hope and Charity; the Queen's arms and the arms of East Anglia, with the rose and portcullis .... introduced ... into the two sidelights"
Other reports state that the side panels show the Tudor rose for England, the Royal coat of arms, and the portculis symbolising parliament.
The design of the window was by the Rector at the time, Rev'd W.G. Townley,  to symbolise the relationship between Church and State.

the Apostles creed

I would appreciate infprmation of what this represents.
The tiled reredos (below) was added in 1887 to mark the 50th anniversary of Queen Victoria's reign show Moses lifting up the serpent to bring healing and striking the rock to find water.
Due to movement of the walls, the altar rails became detached and fillets were made by local carpenter Steve Kerr c2004 to bridge the gaps.
nave decorated for wedding

bell and bell turret in 2013

The Church guide-book says there were originally two bells in a turret over the Chancel arch, one dated 1613 the other blank, but by 1892 there was only one.  From my photo on left there is no sign that a second bell existed in this turret (sometimes known as a bell-cote) so maybe it was rebuilt when one bell was removed. Which remains is not recorded.

In November 2015 the parapets of the access bridge were demolished prior to rebuilding, giving a very temporary glimpse of the original arch (the river now runs through a concrete pipe). I don't know whether the bridge is contemporary with the Church or existed previously for access to the earlier Chapel.

old bridge arch
Text based largely on research by the late Ken Sorensen, 1997-1998.
Old photos from our archives.
New ones by Peter Cox, 2008-2015.
And special thanks of course to Simon Knott.

In England, Eccliastical Parishes and the later Civil Parishes are quite different but often confused.

Information about the history of both sorts, the various religious denominations and other local places of worship can be found on the first two links on the right. The pages have some duplication, but both should be read.

For details of current local Church services, see Six Fen churches.
Related pages on this website
Parishes, faiths, other local churches
Welney Parish history
William Marshall & Charity
Roll of Honour, WW1
Roll of Honour, WW2
related external webpages
United Benefice profile
'Six fen churches' website
Norfolk Churches 
back to top of page other Churches and Chapels of Welney any comments?  please e-mail