This is one of two churches in Costessy. The other one is St Helen’s in New Costessey and in fact is a church I know rather better. My children were christened in it and later on attended the Sunday School there. It was built to the designs of my cousin Andrew Anderson (see September 20 and October 9 2011) the church architect. Nevertheless it is the older building, St Edmund’s church, which I am concentrating on in this post. A number of interesting things appear in this postcard view. For a start, the postcard was produced about 100 years ago, a time well before the building of St Helen’s church, in 1972. The title at the top merely states it is COSTEESY CHURCH, although this ignores St Walstan and St Mary, the Roman Catholic church that already stood in Townhouse Road. Note also the elaborate tomb surmounted by an urn to the south of the tower. In this picture this is enclosed by railings, which have now disappeared. I do not know for certain, but it is probable that they were removed during the Second World War when the drive for scrap resulted in many such railings being torn down.
This urn tops the tomb of Simon Wilkin, best known as the first editor of the works of Sir Thomas Browne. He died at Hampstead in 1862, where he had lived for many years. He had retired from his job as a printer in Norwich, but his body was returned to his native Costessey for burial. His father worked the watermill in the parish when he was born; Simon was orphaned at a young age and was brought up in Norwich, but during the first part of his adult life he had lived in the mill house in Costessey. He was a Baptist, and this corner of the graveyard was reserved for members of that congregation. He was born in 1790. There are more details of the life of Simon Wilkin in my post of June 9 2012, Two Views of Costessey, and those who are interested should read my article on the Origins of Rotary Printing in the 2012 edition of the Norfolk Industrial Archaeological Society’s Journal.
The colour photograph of the church was taken about a century after the first black and white one. It shows that during the years the size of the spire has been considerably reduced. This new spire was built in 1930, the old one having collapsed. Also several trees have grown up in the churchyard the intervening century. There is a painting by Old Crome which is reputedly of Costessey church, but he has taken a large chunk of artistic licence in the picture. He has depicted the church as a much more imposing building than ever it was, with a tall tower rather than one that barely peeps over the nave roof.
Another person who has featured already in this blog (August 10 2011, March 20 2012, May 13 2012), is buried in the chancel of the church. He was of course an Anglican, (had been a Non-conformist he would not I think have been buried within the church) and his name is Richard Mackenzie Bacon. He lived at Wensum Cottage – now known as St Mary’s Cottage – in the Street, Costessey for the last twenty years of his life. His most important contribution to national life was the publication of the first musical magazine from London in the 1820s, which he kept going for ten years. He was also the editor of the Norwich Mercury all his working life. Living in Costessey but working in Norwich he was an early commuter; did he walk or travel by horse? I am sure he went on horseback. Here the inscription on his grave slab: Both Simon Wilkin and R. M. Bacon have entries in the Dictionary of National Biography for their achievements in literature and journalism respectively. They were known to each other, and in fact were very close friends and business colleagues during the early part of the nineteenth century. Later their lives diverged, but it is remarkable that two people from Costessey should have been so influential in the life of the nation. Margaret Gilbert Bacon (née Burks ) was born on the 17 August 1778, so her age was 68 at the time of her death although the inscription has been damaged.
Another famous person was buried in the church in 1572. This was Sir Thomas Jernigham who was influential in Mary Tudor coming to the throne of England in 1553. He was of course a Roman Catholic, but all forms of Catholic worship were prohibited by Queen Elizabeth I, so he was interred in Costessey church.