It is impossible to determine exactly when the first church was built. The first certain knowledge was in the year 1278, when Pope Nicholas III, who was rebuilding the papal palaces in Rome at great expense, levied a general tax on churches, and Toft was valued at £8. At this time a list was made of the treasures of the Toft Church, which was kept and added to from time to time. From this it is possible to infer that quite a well appointed church existed. It is likely that the church was built of wood.
The permanent church began during a period of great distress - the terrible plague, known as the Black Death, was raging throughout Europe and the UK. Toft was hard hit by the plague, with the death of seven of the thirteen tenants who lived in Toft. It is also estimated that the population fell from 174 in 1327 (determined from Subsidy Roll) to 101 in 1377 (determined from a poll tax return).
Then came the shattering events connected with the reign of Henry VIII. The dispute with Rome came immediately from the King's private affairs, but the whole English Reformation was a movement that arose from the very roots of English society. Religious controversies arose that caused happenings even in so small a community as Toft. There was an all-out assault on the enormous wealth of the Church, with Priories and Abbeys being driven into ruin. Their great lands passed into the ready hands of laymen – although a life of toil remained a life of toil. The new protestant beliefs that came over from France and Germany soon made inroads into practices, beliefs and rituals of humble village churches. It is not possible to give any precise dates for this, but the next hundred years or so were to be full of controversy in Toft.
The robbing of the church's wealth only sustained the government of the extravagant King for a few yews, with Henry VIII, dying in debt. The government under Edward VI continued the spoliation. In 1552 Commissioners came to Toft to take away 'surplus church goods', only to find that there really weren't any. The few poor treasures of the church were necessary for the carrying on of normal services, so the royal agents went away empty-handed.
In 1638, Matthew Wren, Bishop of Ely, visited the church and found many 'irregularities' - the rector, Mr. Downhall, being branded as very neglectful. Mr. Downhall was finally ejected in 1644 - he had evidently not become any more conscientious.
In this time of controversy, Toft Church was visited by John Layer. He left a detailed record of the windows, chapels and memorials that he found in the church - there is no means of judging how beautiful these were, but, from his description, one gets an impression of a colourful church with stained glass windows and brass memorials. Within a few years of Layer's visit came destruction in the form of Dowsing, the iconoclast. After the execution of Charles I (in 1649), when Puritanism rode high, the reforming Bishop of Ely sent William Dowsing to root out all objects of superstition in the churches of the diocese. His progress left behind it a trail of desolation across the area.
Dowsing reported on his visit to Toft that “We destroyed twenty seven superstitious pictures in the windows, ten others in stone and three brass inscriptions.” He further advised that he ordered a cross to be taken from the steeple, and a bell to be removed. It is also believed that he broke up and destroyed a particularly beautiful reredos in carved alabaster, the product of Norwich craftsmen. The remaining figures, which are mostly fragments of the whole, have been rescued and now stand in a niche in the south wall of the church.
When, in 1660, the King regained control, there was a strong reaction in governing circles against puritan ideals, although many of the population retained sympathy for the puritan views. This was compounded by the Quaker, George Fox, who preached that 'steeple houses' were irrelevant to religion. During this time John Bunyan, visited Toft - his 'Pilgrim's Progress' circulated all over the protestant world in Europe and America, and became the book above all others, apart from the Bible, read and prized by the poorer folk of England.
In this atmosphere the church at Toft fell into utter neglect. By 1685 when the Archdeacon of Ely came to Toft, he was horrified at what he found. He reported that the church was mined, desecrated, dirty and utterly neglected. His account details the level of destruction, ranging from rain coming into a side chapel so that the walls were rotted, cracks in the walls, doves nesting in the church and it generally being used as a building store – full of bricks and stones and covered in dust. He also reported that the parsonage house was well built but also extremely neglected. Finally, he reported that the village was poor and small and there were no gentry living in it.
It is known that this situation was remedied through the visits of Francis Blomfield (c. 1729) and William Cole in 1743. Cole's description of the church is extremely interesting, and included a sketch of the church as seen when approached from the south side. Though he found the inscriptions to be undecipherable and the brasses gone, it is clear that a great deal of restoration had been done.
During Edward Powell's pastorate the Church was extensively rebuilt. In 1863 the complete rebuilding of the chancel was begun, and in place of the old ruinous north chapels, the north aisle was added to the church. So complete was the reconstruction that only fragments of the original church remain, though the appearance of the church has not greatly altered. It seems that some of the old materials were used - one important survivor was the fine timber vault of the nave, with its tie beams and angels. The chancel arch is probably still the same as stood in the old church. After Powell's death the tower collapsed and was rebuilt, about 1894, by a man called Love.
Down the Bridleway next to the Church is the Toft Millennium Beacon which was lit on the 31st December 1999.
Extracts from 'Toft - a brief History' .
The coordinates above are a convenient point from which to gather the required information to find the caches real location.
What year did Arthur Tebbit fall asleep - 19AB
What is the total number of letters in Edith's middle and single names - CD
What day of the month was Richard born - EF
How old was Fanny when she passed away - GH
The cache can be found at:
N52 B(F-G).(F+E)G(C-B) W000 (B-E)(D-(A+C)).H(G+C)(D+H)
The cache contains a log book, pencil and swaps and there is room for small swaps or trackables - please replace it exactly where you find it.
There is convenient parking near the published co-ordinates.
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