History of St Mary's
The name of the village was "Brugeham" in 1050, and "Briggeham" in 1280. It means "Ham (settlement) by a bridge". It is likely to be a very ancient settlement, as the Peddar's Way forms the western boundary of the parish and the parish is crossed by the prehistoric drove road from Hockwold to the Thet. The village but not the church is mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086).
However, there was undoubtedly a church here in Saxon days, for a priest lived here at the time of the Domesday Book, and a church is recorded in the Inquisitio Eliensis (a contemporary document). Even earlier the village was given to the monks of Ely by Aelfwaru, a wealthy Saxon widow, in her will. She died in 1007. There is no sign however of Saxon work in the present building, which is mainly 14`h century 'decorated' work.
The north porch is the first part of the building approached by visitors. It was built during the 15th century. Despite being considerably repaired, mainly in brick, it is still a good example of split (knapped) flint and stone, producing the decorative effect called 'flushwork'
The Bell Turret
The bell turret of wood at the west end of the nave houses one bell, of 1632. When the antiquary Tom Martin visited the church on January 17th 1735 he recorded "the steeple down", but it is not known when the tower fell. If there was a spire, it may have fallen onto the porch roof, which would explain its mixture of brick and flint repairs higher up.
The south doorway is probably 13`h century and the °Y' traceried nave windows are about 1300. The chancel windows are in the slightly later (c. 1330) style of net like tracery, known as 'reticulated'. In the north porch, notice the type of vaulting in the roof, which is called a tunnel vault.
The 15th century font is an unusually good example of the period. The upper of the two steps upon which it stands is traceried, and there are four lions against the stem. The carved designs round the bowl are as follows:
» North: a saint seated with a crozier (?) probably St. Etheldreda of Ely.
» Northeast: an angel holding a shield (design vanished).
» East: God the Father, supporting Christ crucified. The design was probably originally the Holy Trinity, but the dove, which represented the Holy Spirit, has disappeared.
» Southeast: an angel holding a shield bearing the emblem of the Holy Trinity.
» South: a saint, possibly a bishop.
» Southwest: an angel bearing a shield with the arms of the Archbishop of Canterbury
» West: The Assumption of Our Lady, showing her flanked by adoring angels. This rare piece of iconography on a font is only found on one other Norfolk font, Great Witchingham. (As a pre-Conquest foundation, the church is very likely to have been dedicated to the Assumption of Our Lady).
» Northwest: an angel with a shield bearing three crowns; the arms of the Bishop of Ely.
The font cover dates from the 17th century.
At the west end of the nave are two 18th century box pews, adapted to provide vestry accommodation. They flank contemporary painted figures of Moses and Aaron which doubtless accompanied a set of Commandment Boards behind the altar. Sir Nikolaus Pevsner comments, "The Moses looks rather like a rustic version of El Greco".
Some of the benches on the south side of the nave at this end are the original 15t'' century ones; otherwise the church was reseated in 1886. The plaster ceiling in the nave doubtless dates from one of the reroofings of 1842 and 1887 8. Notice the drawbar which remains in the slot by the south door, a reminder of the days when locks were expensive or non existent.
The 17th century pulpit was probably originally built as a reading desk. Beside it is a 12th century tub shaped font bowl, which came from Roudham church. Nearby is its companion from Roudham, the church bell. The second oldest inscribed bell in Norfolk. In the Middle Ages there would have been altars in the nave for the use of the parish guilds. The piscina (for washing the chalice) reveals the site of one on the south side of the nave the separately carved drain and shelf for the cruets are unusual
On the other side of the chancel arch is a 14th century niche for a statue, which probably accompanied another altar. Nearby are the roodstairs which enabled the sexton to reach the loft that once surmounted the 15th century screen, the base of which remains, painted alternately red and green with diapering. In 1475 John Wattysson bequeathed 10/ "ad pictur ptico" to paint the screen. Tom Martin recorded "In the middle of the rood loft is carved a small image, I think'tis the Virgin Mary".
Notice the step down, on passing from the nave to the chancel, a sign of the original floor levels. Victorian restoration usually raised the chancels. (The chancel here was tiled in 1872.)
The pew end on the north side of the chancel has an inscription for "John Watson and Alice hys wyff'. As already mentioned, John Wattysson of Bridgham made his will in 1475. The priest's stall has roses on the armrest and has also a Jacobean bookrest which, like other 17th century work, probably came from a pulpit.
On the south side of the chancel is a blocked low side window, probably used for ringing a bell at the Sanctus for the benefit of those not able to attend Mass. The reticulated windows have early 14th century glass fragments, particularly canopy work, which is contemporary with the stonework (c. 1330). Notice the greens, which are typical of the period. In the 18th century there was a figure playing a violin in a south window of the chancel, as well as a representation of God the Father.
The stepped double sedilia (seats for priests to use during parts of the Mass) are thought to be slightly newer that the double piscina. Double piscinas were designed to enable the priest's hands and the.chalice to be washed at separate drains. This dates from no later than 1330. Notice that the heads of a bishop and a king form stops in the moulding over the sedilia and the carved tracery above.
The altar table is 17th century. On the north side of the chancel is an aumbry. There is an interesting monument (1816) to George, Robert Comyn, who died aged 21 "having servers his time in the: Navy with honor (sic) to himself and highest approbation of his Commander, fell a victim to the climate of the West Indies".~
"The bright. wreath which on thy brow should bloom is now intwin'd to wither on thy tomb for ah! in vain this artless verse would give deep in each reader's breast thy name to live Ingenious youth farewell!! too sad a doom devolves thy worth untimelyao the tomb".
His brother, Horatio Nelson William Comyn, was baptized here in:1806, being named after the Norfolk hero who had: died at Trafalgar fine year before. He was curate at Bridgham under his father, the Revd Stephen George Comyn (Rector 1802 39) who had been Nelson's chaplain on at least three of his ships, as: his tombstone. in the north east corner of the chancel explains: "Sacred to the memory of the Reverend Stephen George Comyn, 36 years rector of this parish who died 17`h of March 1839 aged 73 years. Chaplain to vice Admiral Lord Nelson, was with him in the Battle of the Nile and at Copenhagen and was presented to the rectory of this parish by the chancellor through the intercession of Lord Nelson .... ".
The Churchyard contains the Bridgham and Roudham War Memorial inscribed with 19 names from the First .World War and one from Palestine in 1947: Two soldiers of the Great War are buried side by side in the churchyard