When other churches were adding aisles, here in Alby the walls were raised and clerestory windows were added, early nave walls were retained. Notice the excellent Flint on the south side and plastered walls on the North side.
The Parish of Alby spreads across the A.140 Norwich to Cromer road about 5 miles N.E. of Aylsham,. It is thought that the name means an ‘old dwelling’. The civil parishes of Alby and Thwaite have been united since 1884 but each have their own church.
Alby church is dedicated to Saint Ethelbert, King of East Anglia and Martyr, who was murdered by Offa, King of the Mercians in 794, and it is one of 16 churches similarly dedicated.
The church consists of a chancel, nave, south porch and a square western tower, all of cut flint and stone in the Early English style. At some point the nave walls were raised and clerestory windows added. The church was partly restored in 1888-89, with the sanctuary and altar being refurbished in 1946. The former slate nave roof was re-covered with unglazed red clay pantiles in 1974 and the following year the chancel roof was re-covered with red pantiles. A Heritage Lottery Fund grant enabled roof rafters and beams to be replaced and the whole re-tiled in 2015/2016 of this Grade II listed church, and as newly refurbished can reaffirm a place in the community.
The East window has three panels of coloured glass representing the Crucifixion in the medieval style, and emblems of the Passion of Christ which include the 30 pieces of silver paid to Judas Iscariot for the betrayal, with the robe, dice, a money bag and a lantern. St. Christopher with the Christ child is clearly depicted in a panel of a north window. There is also a north window with a fine quatrefoil design of the Decorated Period.
In the floor are memorials to the Aldhouse family (1766-1817), and a floor slab dated 1711 to the memory of the eldest son of the Reverend George England, Rector of Alby and of Wickmere with Wolterton.
The Chancel Arch is very tall with four consecration crosses – two incised on each side. The date of these is uncertain but thought to be the same as the brick consecration cross on the outside of the nave wall just east of the porch.
The Nave The remaining lower part of the rood screen has four panels on each side, with tracery but no medieval paint has survived. At the northern end of the nave are stairs which led up to the rood loft. Bryant (1905) says that in the course of the 1888 restoration “the old screen was taken down and made into a reredos” but if so, no trace remains.
A chapel altar on the south side of the chancel arch has a piscina and some decorative steps in the wall under the window. This could have been the site of one of the ‘Guild’ altars. There is evidence that in the middle ages Alby had Guilds of St. Albrygth (Albert), St. Peter and St. John the Baptist. There were also Lights of Our Lady and St. Ethelbert, and as in several other local churches, a ‘plough Light’.
Agnes, widow of John Glangoyle of Alby, desired in her Will of 1435 to be ‘buried in the yard’ and left 12 pence to the high altar, 1 coomb of barley each to the Guild of St. Albrygth and the ‘plowlyth’, and 2 ells of linen cloth to the parson of Alby. On the south wall is a small hatchment with the arms ofHartwell impaling Drury.
The stone font is octagonal with eight plain shields in the panels.
Among the pews, dating mainly from the 1888 restoration, there are a number of older pew heads.
The Porch This has windows which match the clerestory so it is concluded that they are of the same date in the Perpendicular Period. Bartholomew Glaunvyle in 1508 included a request in his Will that he be buried in the porch, so it is possible that he was the donor of the white flints in both the porch and the tower.
The Tower At the Reformation there were three bells in the tower but the Bishop authorized the sale of two in 1763 on the grounds that they were ‘of little use, being so small, and the church as such a distance from the houses’. The remaining bell has the inscription “+ Ave: Maria: Gra: Plea: D’ns: Tecu”
The clock was electrified in 1973, and the remains of the former clock now reside by the entrance door. The Plate includes a chalice marked “For the Tounship of Alby 1567” Former Rectors The list dates from Robert de Felbrigg in 1312. The Old Rectory alongside probably incorporates part of the medieval priest’s house with new work dating from a rebuild in 1843.
In 1643 the Rector, William Plummer, was ejected for being ‘a loose intemperate man, seldom preaching etc’ but this was probably an excuse to get rid of him because he refused to support the rebel cause. His replacement, Richard Ransome, was in turn ejected in 1655 for his loyalty to the King. Nathaniel Brewster then held Alby and Thwaite but seems was never satisfied with his income. In 1656 his £50 was augmented by £60, a year later he received another £16 for Thwaite, and asked for more again in 1658. He was removed in 1662 at the Restoration, and Richard Ransome returned to remain as Rector until 1679.
Remember before God those who built this church and all who have worshipped here down the ages.