St Mary’s population having dropped from 325 in 1851 to 223 in 1901, Forncett St Mary and St Peter were re-united and the Revd John Cooper had the care of both churches until retiring in 1908. He employed assistant curates throughout much of his ministry and his last curate, the Revd Thomas Bentley, succeeded him as rector, only retiring through ill-health. Interestingly, there seems then to have been a moderate Anglo-Catholic tradition under Bentley, who in 1905 began weekly celebrations of the Holy Communion and referred to it as the ‘Holy Eucharist’.
A photograph of the interior (see top picture) in the early 20th century shows the altar backed by a tall dossal curtain, flanked by shorter riddle curtains, and equipped with a gradine on which were placed six candles in addition to the two ‘office’ candles.
In 1904, Arthur J Lacey, who designed Forncett St Edmund church that opened in 1904, produced a report on the condition of the tower. A Tower Repair Fund was set up and tenders were invited from William Wells of Dickleburgh and a William Colman of Aslacton, leading to repairs being done.
Rector Cooper lived to celebrate his 90th birthday in March 1914, but died a month later. His family gave a set of oak choir stalls for the chancel in his memory. The stalls in light oak had poppy head ends and tracery panelling in their front desks, reproducing a design in the screen in Shelton church. They were designed and made by Arthur H Sampson (described as ‘Builder and Ecclesiastical Woodcarver’) of Starston, near Harleston.
November 18th 1921 saw the church packed to hear the Venerable Augustus Buckland (rector of Pulham Market and Archdeacon of Norfolk) preach at the Dedication of the War Memorial (see bottom picture). The congregation then made their way to the memorial, which was unveiled by Major Bruce, Commanding Officer of the Norfolk Regiment. This fine memorial was designed by Thomas Rayson of Oxford, whose designs seen in several Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire churches, some of the Oxford colleges and in the War Memorials at Oxford and Chester. It was carved and erected by Harry L Parfitt, monumental mason, of Long Stratton.
St Mary's War Memorial is 100 years old on 18th November 2021 - www.warmemorialsonline.org.uk/memorials/166675
In 1931 much discussion took place about reseating the nave of the church. For over 60 years the congregation had used the chairs put in at the restoration and a fund was set up in the hope of installing more permanent seating. Although £101 was collected within a year, the hoped-for seats did not materialise and when Mann Egerton & Co installed electric lighting in the church, the expense was taken from the reseating fund.