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The oldest parts of St Peter’s are the Tower and Chancel Arch, which are early 14th century. The church is built of knapped flint, probably stones collected locally. The tower is unbuttressed with ashlar quoining. The windows are varied but mostly late 14th century style. The main south door has various carved decorations including St George and the Dragon and a Green Man. The porch originally had a Parvis chamber, used as a schoolroom or storeroom. There are two figures guarding the inner door: perhaps King Edmund and his Queen.
During the mid-nineteenth century the north aisle was constructed to extend the church and various repairs were carried out. Extensive renovations were also carried out in the 1960s by Robert Rolfe, who painted the blue wooden triptych on the north wall bearing the Ten Commandments.
Above the south door is a suit of armour, which allegedly belonged to the Parish Constable, although it is probably mock plate associated with a memorial. The pews are Victorian, with little latched doors. Some of the pews have been removed at the front of the church to create more space for worship. The lectern hosts a Bible presented in 1959 by friends of George Clarke, a former churchwarden who sang in the church choir for fifty years! The font is somewhat unusual, as it has a limestone bowl and seems to be older than the church, probably 11th or 12th century. It has either the Gospel writers or the ‘four doctors’ at the corners, three of whom have intact noses despite Cromwellian damage evident elsewhere in the church.
The ‘Sunday Club corner’ in the northeast chapel is lit by a memorial to the Harrison family. It regularly hosts a thriving band of ‘Sunday Club’ children aged from 3 to 13! The Millennium Banner, created by parishioners in the North Hartismere Benefice during 2000, may be in church, although it moves around the Benefice.
The choir stalls are carved with local plants, including holly, ivy, oak and corn ears, and the ivy motif is continued round the altar rail. The Holy Table is late Stuart. The stained glass windows in the sanctuary were gifts from the reverend Charles Martyn and his wife Sarah in 1851. They contain a multitude of symbols including English roses, a dove descending, bread and wine and Alpha and Omega. One window in the south depicts the only Biblical scene but the outstanding feature in the south aisle is the window created by Surinder Hayer Warboys in 1995. On sunny days the congregation are illuminated with great splashes of colour in a perpetually shifting testament to the glory of God. (see photo’s at the end of this article).
St Peter’s has a magnificent single hammerbeam roof which is possibly the work of master carpenter John Hore of Diss. It is embellished with painted or stencilled tracery designs and symbols which are the original medieval work – these have not faded like most others of this type. The beam ends were probably removed during the reformation. There are many corbels nestling at the base of the wall posts, including one behind the organ who was revealed for the first time in 96 years during work on the tower arch, but is now back in hiding!
The tower contains 8 bells. In 1553 there were 3 bells, replaced by 6 in 1737 and augmented to 8 in 1908. They were fully refurbished in 1997 and ring very easily. The organ was built in 1908 by JW Walker and Sons and is a superb example of a small yet beautifully crafted instrument which can provide the sound and effects of an organ twice its size. It underwent a major renovation in 2004, funded mostly by donations from villagers. Donors who ‘sponsored a pipe’ are recorded nearby.
The churchyard is closed and maintained by the Parish Council but part is given over to a wildlife sanctuary because of the plants and birds found there. There are some interesting graves including those of a waggoner and a printer. The church is open during daylight hours, which is much appreciated by visitors, who frequently comment on the peace to be found within.
St Peter’s may be an ancient building but it is not a historical artefact: since a place of worship first stood on this site, every generation has left its mark. Our vision for the new Millennium is to affirm its value as a growing, evolving testimony to the living God in the heart of our community.
St Peter’s is an ancient church that remains, in all senses, at the centre of a thriving village. A church and a chapel are recorded in Palgrave in the Domesday Book; a wooden Saxon church probably stood on the current site which is on some of the highest ground along the low-lying Waveney valley. The church sits adjacent to the CEVCP Primary School, with the village green area between them doubling as car park and school playground and hosting both school and church events in the summer months.
St. Peter’s Palgrave has been an integral part of the life in the village and beyond. The strong bond with the village school and with the Community Centre are a proof of it.