History - St Nicholas, Blakeney

St Nicholas is the parish church of Blakeney, Norfolk, a small English town with a history dating back to at least early Neolithic times. It was one of a number of small ports opening onto the sheltered inlet of Blakeney Haven, and exported a range of products including fish, grain, and timber. In the Domesday Book of 1086 the town is recorded under the name "Esnuterle" (Snitterley); the present-day name first appears in 1340.
Domesday recorded an early church at Snitterley, but its location is unknown, and it may not have been the present site of St Nicholas. There are scheduled monument and Grade II listed ruins of a medieval building in the salt marshes north of the present town described as "Blakeney Chapel", but, despite the name, it now seems likely that this was a domestic dwelling rather than a religious edifice. Another possible chapel site east of the Glaven was shown on an 1835 map, but there is no documentation to support that identification.
The nearby Carmelite friary had its own church by 1321, built on land donated by tenants of William de Roos, "that the Carmelite friars, by the King's license, and that of Sir William Roos, might inhabit therein for ever, and might build a chapel". The friars were also given 100 marks to build their church, in return for which they undertook "to pray for the good estate of the said Sir William Roos and his Lady Maud ... and to have and to hold that lord and lady, and their heirs, for their principal founders".
The original building on the present site was constructed in the late 13th or early 14th century, at around the same time as the friary, which was founded in about 1296. Its hilltop location is unusual for the area; most nearby churches are built on mounds near water. The new church was dedicated to Saint Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors, and the living was first recorded as being in the gift of Sir John de Cockfield, passing to his Bacon descendants before its acquisition by the Abbot and Convent of Langley in 1375. The abbey controlled more than 60 Norfolk parishes, and the living of Blakeney was within its gift for the next sixty years, ending with the dissolution of the abbey in 1435. The patronage seems then to have passed to the Earl of Sussex, but quickly transferred to John Calthorpe, a descendant of the original founder, John Cockfield, and it remained with his family until 1922. Sir Alfred Jodrell then acquired the patronage, bequeathing it to Keble College, Oxford on his death in 1956. Since 1989, the benefice has been in the gift of Keble College, and the Bishop of Norwich.
Blakeney gained its market charter in 1222, and by the early 15th century it was one of the few ports permitted to trade in horses, gold and silver, through "merchants sworn by oath to the king", which contributed to the town's growing wealth. Few Early English churches survive in Norfolk owing to extensive rebuilding amid the prosperity of the 15th century, and the thriving port of Blakeney was no exception. Only the chancel avoided major reconstruction in 1434, probably because of its association with the Carmelite friary; John Calthorpe specified in his will of 1530 that he was to buried "in the White ffryes of Sniterlie in the myddys of the chancel". The Perpendicular nave and the 31 m (104 ft) west tower were part of the 1434 rebuilding, but the unusual second, slender, tower at the north-east corner of the church was of a later date.