The size of the church of St Mary the Virgin, built in the 14th Century, indicates that Tunstead was once a large and central village. The church has been likened to one of the ‘great cistern abbeys of France‘, due to it’s vast central hall and arcades. According to Blomefield’s History of Norfolk the Church of St Mary was also described as ’a large and handsome pile’ and belongs to the Decorated and Perpendicular periods of medieval church architecture.
Before the existing building was commenced in c. 1327 an earlier, smaller church existed at least since the Norman Period and was rebuilt on profits from open field farming on Tunstead’s good soil and from Tunstead’s share of the weaving industry where Worsted manufacture flourished in parishes north of Norwich in the fourteenth century.
Despite the Black Death of 1349 and the Peasant’s Revolt of 1381 much work was done to update the building for worshippers and parishoners from around 1371 and during the 15th Century. More recently, the North Isle was rebuilt in the 1950s although, sadly, the main stained glass window is now lost to brickwork, believedly following the attempts of the Luftwaffe to destroy the area during the 2nd World War.
Tunstead’s vicar was a rector until the mid fourteenth century when the Duke of Lancaster granted the rectory (the right to collect tithes) and the advowson (the right to nominate the vicar) to the prioress and convent of Campsey Ash in Suffolk. When Campsey Ash was dissolved in 1536, Henry granted Tunstead’s appropriated rectory and advowson to John Corbet, who was prominent in the dissolution of monasteries in Norfolk.
In the reign of Elizabeth (1558 – 1603) the people of Tunstead became accustomed to Protestantism and in 1603 the then vicar, Jeffrey Briggs, reported that the church had ninety communicants.
Tunstead gained a reputation for Puritanism in the mid to late seventeenth century. Tunstead Independent (Congregationalist) Church was formed in 1652 and nominated a member to the short-lived Barebones Parliament in 1653. John Green became a member of the Yarmouth Independent Church in 1655 and Vicar of Tunstead in 1657. In January 1660 as the restoration of Charles II became ever more likely, he became pastor to the Tunstead Independent Church, losing his vicar’s freehold in Tunstead soon after May 1660. In 1669 he was reported to be illegally officiating at the house of Christopher Appleby in Tunstead. When Charles II issued his Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, Green was licensed as a Congregationalist minister in Dilham and at his own house in Tunstead.
If you have an interest in Family History and are researching your ancestors from Tunstead there are many resorces available online. We won’t repeat all possible links here but you may like to download an extract from Walter Rye’s Memorial Inscriptions for the Hundred of Tunstead. As you will know if you are researching your Family History, Hundreds were Administration Districts comprising a number of contiguous parishes. The extracts from Walter Rye’s Memorial Inscriptions detail the inscriptions taken from Gravestones at St. Mary the Virgin’s Church, Tunstead and St. Michael’s Church, Sco-Ruston.