Gooderstone Church

William the Conqueror acquired Gooderstone (or Godestuna as it was then called) as part of the ancient royal inheritance and granted it to Godric his sewar, or steward. The Domesday Book, about 1085, shows that the inhabitants included 12 villeins, 1 servus, 16 bordars, 10 freemen, 7 cows, 3 carthorses, various other animals, 5 mills and one fishery. After Godric, it reverted to the Crown and was given by Henry II (1154-89) to Sir William Mountcheanor, ancestor to the Lords de Monte Canisio (or Mountchensy). Soon after this, the church was probably built being in charge of a rector, the patronage of the living residing with the lord of the manor.

The Lords of Godestuna (and no doubt the villagers too) seem to have been of an independent frame of mind: we read that in 1250 Warine de Mountchensy would not permit the Sherriff's bailliff even to enter his lands!

The church was a centre of daily worship and was served by several clergy. The large sedilia and the six ancient stalls were noted by Blomefield the historian in the 18th century. He described them as "where the rector, vicar, their capellani, or chaplains, and the chantry priests had their seats they being obliged to join in the choir at the canonical hours, and to be obedient to the rector or vicar, swearing obedience at their admission" (Top. Hist. Norfolk; Vol. VI, p.63).

William Lord Mountchensy was succeeded by his daughter, Dionisia, but she died in 1314. The manor passed to a relative Aymer de Valence, Earl of Pembroke, who nominated James de Creyke as rector in 1342; in the event , he was the last Rector of Gooderstone.

The event which changed the future of Gooderstone began happily in 1343, with all the arrangements for the wedding between Lord Aymer and the Lady Mary de St. Paul, daughter of a French nobleman and related to the English royal family. On the wedding day, a tournament was arranged after the marriage, as part of the festivities. Aymer insisted on joining in - perhaps to show his new wife his prowess at arms - but sad to relate, he was killed in the tourney. His bride is said to have been maid, wife and widow, all in one day!

The bereaved Countess, wishing to arrange prayers and endow Masses for her dead husband, gave the rectory with the patronage to the sisters of the Abbey of Denny in Cambridgeshire. They retained the patronage and refounded the living as a Vicarage, appointing William de Swaveseye as first Vicar in 1343.

It was in this period, and in the following 200 years, when Denny Abbey had the patronage, that the major work of extending and beautifying the church was undertaken. Besides the 14th and 15th C. work, the church had statuettes of the Virgin Mary, St. Catherine and St. Nicholas; there was the guild of St. George which installed a window in his honour, a guild of the Holy Trinity and one of Corpus Christi. This convent patronage with it's conscientious oversight by a continuing community of sisters is largely responsible for the wealth of fittings and furnishings, many of which remain today.

Henry VIII dissolved Denny Abbey in 1540 and granted the abbey, and the rectory of Gooderstone to Edward Elringham who disposed of it to William Reed, citizen and mercer of London. The patronage stayed with that family until the mid 17th century. During this tenure, about 1610, the Jacobean pulpit and south aisle altar rails were installed.

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