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St Mary, Forncett St Mary
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Forncett St Mary
The south side of the church was completely overgrown with nettles and brambles, and on that early June day it was quite inaccessible. On the south side, I managed to forge my way to the far end and turn back west to take the first of the photographs below. The porch was a poignant sight; roofless and overgrown, it looked as if it might have been a ruin for centuries, but in living memory local people had come to church here; they were baptised, married and sent on their way to the grave.
Access was not really possible, although there was a loose board over one of the north nave windows. Inside was surprisingly neat and tidy, with a most curious structure over the south chancel chapel, which I realised was all that was left of Forncett St Mary's organ. I had expected vandalism and decay, but I had the impression that someone had tidied up the place after a long period of neglect.
Through the 1980s and 1990s there were ideas put forward for a new use for the building. One suggestion was that it might be turned into a holiday home by building a removable structure within the body of the church. Other ideas included community use and a recording studio, but all these ideas foundered on the legal difficulties of transferring ownership. This, of course, added to the spiral of neglect, but at least showed an interest in ensuring the building's survival.
In fact, the catalyst for a revival of the fortunes of St Mary had already occured when I visited. Ironically, the instigator of the process which would lead to its rescue was an outsider, from Gloucestershire, and his concern was not the church itself but the overgrown graveyard. He was a family history researcher, who did not know what had happened here until he actually arrived to look for family graves. By one of those strokes of good fortune which often occur in stories like this, his attempts to get something down about the churchyard coincided with the arrival in the village of another incomer, who moved into the cottage next door to the church. They galvanised locals into recovering the building and churchyard, and today it has been restored to something like its former glory. The churchyard in particular is a spectacular example of what can be achieved with a bit of inspiration and elbow grease. It seemed extraordinary that they had recovered it from the overgrown state I had seen it in four years previously.
Simon Knott, July 2006, updated September 2010
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