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A return to Cley-next-the Sea | by Whipper_snapper
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A return to Cley-next-the Sea

The parish church of St.Margaret of Antioch, Cley Next The Sea, is another with which I have a family connection. Despite being born at nearby Wells Next The Sea my mother Betty was actually living in East London when she was evacuated to Cley Next The Sea between 1939 and 1942. At Cley she was part of the church choir and was a founder member of the 1st Cley Girl Guides. to see the full set on Cley church.


The church at Cley once looked across the broad and busy medieval harbour of the Glaven estuary towards Wiveton church. Yet like Wiveton the church is now landlocked and the harbour has disappeared due to silting up, loss of trade and the eventual reclaimation of the salt marshes for farmland.


The church has a long history with the list of recorded rectors going back to Hubert de Stanham in 1319AD. It is highly likely that there was a church on this site earlier as the tower foundations date to the 12th century. Some of the earliest patrons of the church were the daughters of Sir John De Vaux who held land at Cley and Boston, Lincs. On his death (circa 1288) the manor at Cley was divided between the two daughters Lady Petronilla and Lady Maud and through their husbands the estates were linked to the Nerford and the de Roos families.


Other famous patrons included Sir Thomas Erpingham (who fought at Agincourt in 1415), the De La Pole Earls of Suffolk and the Mortimers who were descended from King Edward III. One royal patron was Queen Anne, wife of Richard II, whose father the Holy Roman Emperor was a supporter of the Hanseatic League. The League traded with Cley and it is not unreasonable to suggest that Queen Anne may even have travelled throught the busy port of Cley. All these patrons have their heraldic shields on display in the church's south porch.


The present chancel dates from the end of the 13th century. At this time the priest/rector was responsible for the chancel and the congregation for the rest of the church which explains why many churches have chancels and naves in differing styles. The one may have been rebuilt when the other was not. The tower is mostly 13th century - on 12th century foundations - but the nave was rebuilt in style some time after 1315 (i.e. in the 14th century). There may have been a plan to rebuild the tower as well but the arrival of the Black Death in 1348/9 and the economic impact which this had on England for decades afterwards probably prevented this.


Building work stalls on site around 1340 and the church guide actually refers to an abrupt ending of the arcade which may indicate where further work was intended. The great west window at Cley dates to around 1400, possibly the impact of 'Agincourt money' (see Sir Thomas Erpingham, above). English armies in France normally managed to bring home cash and loot and it was natural for this to find its way into the local church.


The aisle walls were raised in 1430/40 and the large Perpendicular windows also added. Church porches were not common until the 15th century and this one can be dated from to 1405 to 1414 due to the heraldry on show.


As built the church had two transepts, north and south. The north one is ruinous but the south transept's walls are complete. It simply lacks a roof and internal fittings. Records show the transept roofs were ruinous by 1550. They appear to have been simply cut off from the main building and let go.


There is a lot for the visitor to see in Cley - such as church brasses and pew ends - but special mention should be made of the carved figures high up in the nave. These retain traces of their rich medieval colours and include a lion with a bone, St.George and a man playing a drum. They are fragments of a richly coloured medieval church which we now see presenting only a fragment of its former magnificence.

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Taken on October 18, 2013