AS someone who dabbles in local history I shouldn’t admit this, but I always struggle a little bit with record offices and archives. I really admire people who can patiently plough through pages and pages of ancient copper plate handwriting, but personally I get impatient looking for a needle or two amid all that hay.
The great thing about photos – as opposed to facts – is that ebay makes it so easy. Enter “Costessey” as a search item, sit back and let the wonderful web do its stuff. This picture shows a postcard of the Catholic chapel at Costessey Hall which arrived by post today for a few quid. The chapel – like the house – was demolished after the First World War. It’s a great window into my Catholic Costessey entry which has now finished its first draft:
In a society which is steadily becoming more secular, it’s intriguing to discover that Catholic heartlands can survive in the most unlikely of places and for the most unlikely of reasons.
Historically, Norfolk is overwhelmingly Protestant. And yet there is a strong Catholic tradition in Costessey thanks to the whim of a Tudor queen almost five hundred years ago. As we’ve seen from Costessey Hall, that queen was Mary. She had only come to the throne thanks to the efforts of a handful of Catholic gentry who were duly rewarded once she was safely in place. Sir Henry Jernegan’s prize was the manor of Costessey and the Catholic Jernegan family would exert their considerable influence here for more than 300 years. In the words of one academic writer in the 1960s “Old Costessey became an introspective Roman Catholic enclave in a Protestant region.”
It’s difficult to say how many people stuck to the Catholic faith here during the dark days of the 16th, 17th and 18th century – the age of martyrs and priest holes. But once Catholic emancipation got underway in the 19th century we see how quickly influential Catholic gentry could move. By 1809 a Catholic chapel had been built as part of Costessey Hall. (Incidentally stained glass for this chapel was collected from all over Europe for what appears to have been a sumptuous building.) By 1821 a Catholic school had been built with land provided by the family whose surname was now spelt Jerningham. Enlarged and extended it remains the only school in Costessey – a rare Norfolk example of where the village school is a Catholic school.
By 1834 the estate chapel wasn’t big enough for a growing congregation. Again the Jerninghams obliged, providing land for a church in the middle of the village. True, fund-raising for Our Lady and St Walstan’s took time and the church was not completed until 1841. Almost 175 years later the building is still going strong and has recently been given grade II listed status.
Out in the graveyard the family are still remembered. “Pray for the Souls of the Jerningham Family, “ runs the text on a notice next to a simple cross.