A History of St Mary's Church, Thorpeness

Photo of St Mary's Church

St Mary's Church, 1936

This church was privately built in 1936 to the overall design of the late Glencairn Stuart Ogilvie, creator of Thorpeness Village and the Mere in memory of his mother, Margaret. It was also his desire to replace the little chapel of St Mary, which was originally confirmed by the Benedictine Priory and Brethren of St Mary Snape, by Pope Alexander III in 1163.

This little flint and thatched stone building used to stand in this then treeless, scattered fishing hamlet, in Chapel Field, behind the present Almshouses. It survived the dissolution of the monasteries by Henry VIII when the priory at Snape was dissolved, but suffered at the hands of the Cromwellian puritans “cleansing all churches of superstitious pictures and ornaments”. However burials and marriages are recorded in the [Norfolk and Suffolk Records Office] Parish register until 1602, although a visiting Archdeacon reported its condition as ‘much out of reparation’. It was known to be standing when Charles II came to the throne in 1660, after which it seems to have fallen gradually into decay. The last stones of the ruins were only removed at the beginning of this century [20th C] to make up the road to Aldringham.

Photo of St Mary's Church

East window St Mary's Church - the "Blood-red Cross"

When writing in 1925 about his wishes for this church G Stuart Ogilvie particularly specified that there should be a “blood-red cross” depicted in the eastern window and underneath it these two simple words “Ecce Signum”*. Just that - no more – in permanent and sacred memory of One [and all] of the great host of heroes who died for England in her hour of need.

Because, like his mother, of his wide outlook on all religious matters, he did not wish the church to be tied to any particular denomination. It was therefore not consecrated but Dedicated at a service conducted by the Rt. Rev. Bishop of St Edmunsbury and Ipswich on 21 May 1938, when the register commenced and was entered by the Rev. T W Sedgwick, Vicar of Aldringham. This was fortunate, for had it been consecrated as Church of England it would have undoubted have been closed as under-used long ago.

As it is, the Trustees can appoint their own Chaplain [normally the Vicar of Aldringham] and also give permission for services of other denominations to be taken here – also for its use for scholar purposes, for the good of the Community.

Sadly G Stuart Ogilvie died in 1932 at the age of 74, but his wishes were carried out by his son, Lt Col. Sholto S Ogilvie, CBE, DSO, who formed a trust registered as ‘The Margaret S Ogilvie Religious Assistance Charity’ in order to build it and endow it.

As previously arranged the Architect was W G Wilson FRIBA, and the builder Smythe Bros of Leiston, under the direction of the resident Thorpeness architect, F Forbes Glennie, IRIBA, who had executed so much of the work in Thorpeness from its inception in 1911.   



This historical account was renovated by Ian Garrett for Ruth Bancroft and Peter Dixon to commemorate the blessing of their marriage in this church on 14th September 1996.

The original of this history of Thorpeness Church is contained in a picture frame which used to hang in St Mary's Church, but is now in St Andrews Church, Aldringham, alongside the East window from Thorpeness which depicts the "Blood-red Cross".

By the 1980s St Mary's Church was rarely used. After being boarded up for some years it was eventually sold and developed into private residences.

* Ecce Signum - Latin: behold the sign : look at the proof