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Researching a Norfolk parish church

Wills, recording projects and other sources


Wills can be an invaluable documentary source, especially for the medieval period.

A church may have been altered, completely rebuilt or had a side chapel added by a legacy in a benefactor’s will.

  • For the medieval period, see P Cattermole and S Cotton, Medieval Parish Church Building in Norfolk, Norfolk Archaeology, xxxviii (1983), pp235-279.

At the NRO we hold wills proved in Norfolk from 1370-1941. Some pre-1858 wills (particularly those of wealthy people) were proved by the Prerogative Court of Canterbury (PCC). For more information on how to access these, see our guide to wills and probate records.

Recording projects

About a third of Norfolk churchyards have been surveyed, many of them in the early 1980s by the Women's Institute.

The surveys are available at the NRO. They record the inscriptions on gravestones and other memorials and usually include a plan.

  • See the list of Churchyard Surveys on the searchroom shelves. Most of the surveys are also listed under reference SO/WI.
  • The Norfolk Family History Society also holds a large number of churchyard surveys which can be viewed at their library or online by members.
  • The National Association of Decorative and Fine Arts Societies (NADFAS) has recorded the furnishings of some parish churches in the Norwich Diocese. For more details, see list SO 163.

Other sources

Patrons’ private papers may include accounts and other financial papers concerning the church fabric. 

Antiquarian notes may describe the church building, its furnishings and inscriptions prior to a major restoration. For example:

  • Thomas Martin’s collections of church notes, compiled in the 18th century (reference Rye MS 17)
  • A B Whittingham’s papers (see lists MC 186 and DCN 131)

The NHC has a large collection of local photographs, dating from the 19th century onwards. Some of these photographs are available via Picture Norfolk. For slides and photographs of many Norfolk churches, see lists MC 365, MC 530 and MC 640.

  • The papers of architects such as Edward Boardman (see BR 35), Cecil Upcher (BR 37), Michael and Sheila Gooch (BR 179), and Andrew Anderson (BR 323) include church plans
  • Papers about the design of new stained glass and repairs to existing windows survive among records of G King and Son Ltd, lead glaziers of Norwich (see list KNG)

The Incorporated Church Building Society was founded in 1818 to provide funds to build and enlarge Anglican churches across England and Wales. 

Among the society's records are more than 15,000 files relating to individual churches. These may include grant applications, correspondence, plans, building specifications and photographs. They are held at Lambeth Palace Library.