Villagers in East Winch and Bilney set to celebrate their history and the amazing Mrs Freke

CELEBRATED: St Cecilias, where Elizabeth Freke is buried. Picture: Matthew Usher.

CELEBRATED: St Cecilias, where Elizabeth Freke is buried. Picture: Matthew Usher. - Credit: Matthew Usher

Villagers have won a lottery grant to commemorate the life of one of Norfolk's lesser-known historical figures.

East Winch and West Bilney communities have been awarded a Heritage Lottery Fund grant of £9.300 which will enable them to hold an open weekend at St Cecilia's Church at Bilney by funding electricity and toilet facilities for the weekend.

The event will welcome villagers past and present to find out about the church, the village, their ancestors and to share their recollections and photographs.

Robyn Llewellyn, head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: 'We are delighted to support this project, which will enable the people of West Bilney to learn about the fascinating heritage of their village, offering activities that will allow people to engage with documents and artefacts that they otherwise would not see.'

One of the village's more celebrated characters is Elizabeth Freke, who lived in Bilney from 1676 until her death in 1714.


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Freke kept a diary which forms a unique record of 17th century rural life. It relates her endless squabbles with her tenants and the Bishop of Norwich who, after much provocation and utterly exasperated by her, barred her from the church. A service commemorating this was held in the church earlier this year.

It also tells how she fell down the stairs and lost her 'nine best teeth', how she coped with the illness of her husband, his death and funeral, as well as the death of her young grandson who was accidentally shot. Both are buried in the church.

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The lottery funding will enable the group to undertake geo-physical work to see if Freke's husband Percy's lavish vault, for which she paid, can be located.

The group will also try to locate the site of the chancel at St Cecilia's, which is believed to have fallen down in the late 1700s.

Information gathered from the project will go online to form a permanent record for future generations.

As well as the local community, sources will include extensive research in the archives at Norfolk Record Office, the National Records Office and the British Library, with the latter housing pieces written by Elizabeth Freke that have never been published.

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