Spire of the Church of St James Great Ellingham. Photograph taken May 2020
During the winter months, the lights which usually adorn the church tower of St James at Christmas draw our attention to the tower and spire, but I wonder how many of us look up at the spire at any other time?
Top of the Spire
When he wrote his notes about the village in 1951, former Great Ellingham resident, William R Lebbell, mentioned the ‘cock and ball’ at the top of the spire. I assume that this is the very same ‘cock and ball’ we see today.
In his notes and subsequent pamphlet book , Mr Lebbell mentions that there had previously been another weather cock at the top of the church spire. It had been in place for 120 years when, during bad weather, it had been blown off and it had damaged a gravestone. This incident appears to have happened around 1881.
Illustration by Christine Fuller
Mr Lebbell also tells us that prior to the (earlier) weather cock, there was a flat disk on top of the spire. Further, a tailor had made a wager of £10 that he could sit upon the disk and make a pair of trousers. The tailor apparently won the bet!
We don’t know when the wager was made and by whom – other than, it was made by a tailor.
White’s Directory of 1854, lists Edmund (Edward) Fox and Robert Houchen as tailors in Great Ellingham. Edward Houchen is still a tailor in the village in 1879 and, again, the only tailor in the village listed in Kelly’s of 1883.
However, with no idea as to when the wager took place (and whether in fact the tale was true), there is little hope that we would be able to identify the tailor.
Memorial to the Spanish Armada?
In his pamphlet about the history of the Church of St James, a former Rector, the Reverend E H Elton, recorded that ‘The massive tower is crowned with a wooden spire, sheathed in lead.’ He also said that ‘It is a local tradition that the spire was built as a memorial to the defeat of the Spanish Armada‘ (in 1588).
When you next glance up at the spire, just imagine the tailor sitting up there making a pair of trousers!
Lebbell & Faye. A Little History of Great Ellingham & Notes (M.Beales)
1979 Elton D H. St James Church Great Ellingham
1854 White’s Directory. https://apling.freeservers.com/Villages/Ellingham/Great54.htm. Accessed 14.01.2019
1879 Post Office Directory. Viewed at Attleborough Heritage Group, Attleborough Community & Enterprise Centre, Church Street, Attleborough NR17 2AH
1883 Kelly’s Directory. https://www.genuki.org.uk/big/eng/NFK/Ellingham_Great/White1883 accessed 14/01/2019