The History of St.Margaret's Church

The church in its rural environment

Swannington is situated approximately 8 miles north-west of Norwich, in the county of Norfolk. It lies on the old Pilgrims’ Way from Norwich to the Shrine of Our Lady at Walsingham, and has been visited by the ‘Essex Leg’ who stop for refreshments and a short service of thanksgiving. The church of St Margaret, stands at the highest point in the village. The present building dates from the early 13th Century, probably replacing an existing church. The earliest known mention of it is in the acquisition of property by William Battail in 1199 “to include land at Swannington and Alderford and the churches at Swannington etc.”

The village has a population of around 290 residents. The earliest recorded name for the village is Sueningatuna in the Domesday Book, which indicates that this was an Anglo-Saxon settlement of the family or descendants of one Svein. Further along Church Lane is Swannington Hall, a moated building dating back to the16th Century. Swannington Manor, with a drive opposite the church, is thought to date back to 1700 with some 16th Century brick fragments from an earlier building.

The Rectory to the south of the church was rebuilt in 1635/6 by the Rector, Edmund Duncan. Duncan was removed from his position by the puritans but restored in 1660. To the west of the church stands a timbered-framed farm house. In the churchyard is an impressive chestnut tree which is over 400 years old.

The Building - Exterior

St Margaret’s combines a number of architectural styles–notably Early English and Perpendicular. It is constructed of flint with stone dressings. Dating from the 13th Century are the North doorway, the walls of the North aisle, the North chancel and the sanctuary. The South aisle and the tower were added in the 1340-50s. In the 15th century the windows of the North aisle were enlarged, the chancel re-roofed and the East window built.

The porch was added in 1457 with its monogramed flushwork base course. Over the outer doorway are the letters IHS NAZAREAUS and on the plinth S. MARGARETA. The scenes sculpted on the spandrils of the doorway are from the legend of St Margaret, one showing her emerging from the dragon’s back as it burst open after swallowing her. The other shows her standing with another figure over the body of the dragon. In 1923 the sundial on the parapet gable was added with the motto, “Deus mihi Lux,” imprinted above. This was conserved in 2005.

On the South side of church, just to the left of the chancel door, is a fine specimen of an incised dial. A stick would have been placed in the hole in the centre and fall of the shadow on the radial marks would indicate the time for offices of worship. The churchyard was enlarged in 1913 with a gift of land from the then lord of the manor; the stone steps leading up from Church Lane were added in 1840. New wooden gates at the top of the steps were erected in 2011 in memory of John Barratt and his family. In 1848, the tower and nave were re-roofed with slate and the vestry room built. Kitchen and toilets were added in the 1970s to give a more usable space for the community.

St Margaret’s and the local community

St Margaret’s holds one service each month, attended by 11 to 25 worshippers. Several times during the year services are held for, amongst others, the Royal British Legion, pets and children. Baptisms, funerals and marriages also take place.

In addition to the above the church is used for fundraising events, concerts and exhibitions. The local Church of England primary school participates in the Open the Book scheme which is run by volunteers from the PCC.