Wretham, St Ethelbert

Wretham Church

History of St Ethelbert

Patron: Suttons Hospital in Charterhouse.

For many years, St. Ethelbert was part of an earlier rural benefice. Major deanery reorganisation in 1995 saw it moved into the Thetford grouping. After recent changes there, it has now returned to a country benefice.

The parish has three church buildings, but only one is in use.  St. Andrew at Illington is closed and in the care of the Norfolk Churches Trust, although the churchyard remains open. St. Lawrence at West Wretham is a ruin and in private ownership.

St Ethelbert's church is Listed Grade 2* and is of national historic interest. Previous historic information was also noted under East Wretham. This was originally the site of an early English church building, replaced by the Normans and extensively rebuilt in 1864-65 by the Wyrley-Birch family of the former Wretham Hall and their son in law, the Rector, the Rev James Park Whalley. His artistic talent included wall paintings in the chancel, the organ casing and, most notably, the hand-decorated font cover. 

The church building has a kitchen and toilet, with disabled facilities, the small but notable James Corps organ (Grade II listed by the British Institute of Organ Studies) has been completely overhauled and the original casework painting scheme uncovered and restored.

The number on the Electoral Roll is 29 and a pre-Covid congregation would be about 30, rising at major festivals to over 40, with attendance of around 100 at the annual Carol Service. 



How to Find Us

St. Ethelbert is to be found by turning off the A1075 Thetford to Watton Road in the centre of Wretham and into Church Road by the Village Hall. At the end of the road carry straight on rather than bearing to the left and the church and car park are on the right. The postcode is IP24 1RJ.



Morning Prayer is celebrated on the first Sunday of the month and Holy Communion on the third, each at 9.30a.m. Both follow the Book of Common Prayer shortened version. Readings are from the King James Bible or the New Revised Standard Version if required.  Eucharist vestments, all available in the church, are normally worn.

This pattern and style of worship attract, alongside local people, worshippers from elsewhere in the locality and outside it, who retain a love of the traditional form of service. Refreshment is regularly served after Morning Prayer.

In normal times the church would see one or two weddings a year, one or two baptisms, and three burials every two years, along with occasional interment of ashes. The churchyard has vacant burial plots sufficient for several decades, although several 30-year reservation faculties exist.

Wretham has long proved an especially popular venue for weddings. This is probably due to the attractive interior of the church, which can be candle-lit on request, its car park, and rural setting.

This last is the result of regular mowing and maintenance of the churchyard and adjoining areas in the last two decades. It was helped by the gift of a ride on mower by a local farming family, an example of the cooperation and kindness to be found in the village. They currently do all the work but it is hoped a church member will resume duties on retirement in a few years


War Graves

In the northeast corner are the 14 war graves of Czech and Polish airmen, who flew Wellingtons from Wretham in WW2.

The church cares for the plots on behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the graves and memorial outside the churchyard wall are the focus of a well attended midweek service every November, when wreaths are laid by a range of people, led by military attaches from several eastern European embassies in London. There are two WW1 war graves in the west end of the churchyard. A permanent display of memorabilia is placed in the north aisle for regular visitors with an interest in the military history of the church and village



Various fundraising activities take place in the church, including summer concerts.  Cooperation within the village means the church opens to serve teas when the gardens of nearby Wretham Lodge, the former rectory, are open.

A Summer Party is held annually at the Lodge and a Harvest Supper in the Village Hall. Both events are well attended and, apart from the fundraising ethos, it is important to church members that they are successful social activities, helping the church outreach by bringing together Wretham villagers, whether regular churchgoers or not.

It attracts regular visitors. Although the building is not permanently unlocked, it can be opened up quickly for anyone interested. Visitors have the advantage of a full colour 72-page guide, first produced in 2010 and based on the newly discovered writings of the Rector at the time of its 19th-century rebuild.  Most recently, there have been month-long experiments of opening up the church on Sundays in August to encourage visitors.


Our new organist settles in- without shoes!

St. Ethelbert at Wretham has a new organist, who is enjoying his new hobby immensely – even if he must take off his shoes to make everything work to plan!

Callum Dring, aged twenty-four and from Thetford has a strong link to the work of church organists.

Currently working in the Argos store at Thetford, he looks for a career in education. Well qualified at the piano, which he began to play at the age of two, he has been professionally tutored by Jane Weeks, herself a former organist at Wretham.

He is now an associate of the Royal Schools of Music and, as he settles into his new role, may look to achieve qualifications in that sphere.

He would not be the first in the family, for his uncle is Peter Lee, who played the organ at Ss. Peter and Paul, East Harling and has recently retired as director of music at Eye.

Callum is enjoying his duties at Wretham and is grateful for the warm welcome he has received from church members.

In his new role, he must cope with the unusual pattern of foot pedals employed on the Grade II listed James Corps organ. He confesses that his foot size means he manages much better with the foot pedals while playing in his socks!









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