It was during the time of Colenso’s successor, the Revd John Edward Cooper, that the church received its thorough, much needed restoration in the second half of the 19th century.
The 25-year-old architect engaged to design the transformation was John Bond Pearce (1843-1903) - a Norfolk man, born in South Walsham, whose designs are seen in several Norfolk public buildings – his best-known being Great Yarmouth’s mighty Town Hall and Norwich Agricultural Hall, later to become Anglia House.
Old materials were used wherever possible. The walls were levelled-off to provide a wall-plate for the new roof, their external render removed and replaced with new flint-facing. Archways were cut in the south wall for the organ-chamber and vestry, and the lancet window in this wall was reset in the north wall.
The internal walls were scraped, repaired and rendered, the stonework of the windows was cleaned and repaired. Also specified were a new east window and its corbels of Corsham stone from Wiltshire, new steps of Portland stone and a floor paved with red, black and buff Staffordshire tiles.
The church was closed for 10 months before the re-opening services on Tuesday 19th April 1870. Externally the old chancel walls were resplendent in their new flint facing, with a handsome east window and the little lancet transferred to the opposite side. The old thatched roofs were replaced with ribbed Staffordshire tiles.
The fine new chancel arch had dove-coloured marble shafts with Gabriel and Mary on the carved corbels beneath them (see centre picture). The chancel’s new roof of oak rested on coloured stone shafts with foliage capitals and corbels carved with symbolic representations of Christ’s ministry.
The nave was given a new roof of stained deal. What would have pleased Victorian congregations was the provision made for warming the church by fixing underground in the centre of the nave.
The church was ‘temporarily seated with chairs’ for the grand re-opening. After Morning Prayer about 80 people received Holy Communion from Bishop Pelham of Norwich. It was noted that the singing of the psalms, hymns and anthem was ‘exceedingly creditable for a country village choir’.
Evensong at 4.30pm was conducted the Revd PP Gwyn (Rector of Brandon Parva) and the Revd JE Price (Vicar of Hapton). Archdeacon Bouverie and the Revd AC Copeman of St Andrew’s Norwich read the lessons, and Prebendary Frederick Meyrick (then rector of Blickling and Erpingham later of St Peter Mancroft Norwich) was the preacher.
The collections totalled £41 – a considerable sum in those days. After the morning service, the clergy and invited guests ‘partook of an elegant luncheon in the spacious schoolroom’ (see bottom picture). In the evening the rector provided a supper there, to which one member of every family in the village was invited.
In the final years of the 19th century the organ chamber and vestry were added to the north of the chancel. The organ was built in 1888 by Norman Bros & Beard of Norwich - a two-manual and pedal instrument with nine speaking stops.
St Mary’s clearly had a fine choir and musical tradition. In a vestry cupboard after its closure were found six boxes of choral music - quite ambitious for a small country church service books for the Norwich Diocesan Choral Festival in 1894 in which the choir took part.