Parts of St. Mary’s date from 11th Century. It may have replaced an earlier wattle and daub building but no trace of that remains. In Roman times there was a military camp on a hill above Horstead that controlled the river crossing. Roman bricks were re-used in the building. Look for thick red tiles about an inch wide . You are bound to find some! There is a castle marked on some maps. Its earthworks can be glimpsed between the church and river . It is best considered a fortified manor house to which, in the days before the parish system emerged, the church belonged.
The 13th century saw a growth in the popularity of pilgrimage. In Norfolk the Holy House at Walsingham and the True Cross at Bromholm drew visitors from far afield but local pilgrim places were also developed. Among them were Shrine of St. Theobald here at Hautbois. Its popularity led to the extension of the church the 14th Century. Written records show that a hospice, – giving shelter to pilgrims and care to the sick – was associated with the church but the exact site of this hospice/hospital is unknown.
The Shrine of St. Theobald retained its popularity until shrines were suppressed under the reforms of Henry VIII. Having lost this role the church buildings became neglected. It was only in the 19th Century when the Vicar became rich through developing marlpits and lime kilns on his glebe land, that a brand new church was built next door to his lavish new vicarage. (Now the Guides centre). The nave of the old church was de-roofed and left as a ruin and the chancel was converted into a funeral chapel.
1) One legend tells that the churches of Horstead and Hautbois are connected by an underground passage. “Unlikely!” you may think., “It would need constant pumping !” But perhaps there was a paved causeway across the river here ?
2) The golden gates! Tradition has it that there are “golden gates” in the pond by the road. Generations of local lads have grappled in the mud hoping to find them. So far none have been found. Sometimes the gates are said to have come from the castle but that is unlikely! Shrines, however, or more precisely, the tabernacles which contained the relics of a saint, may well have golden gates! Could it be that church officials hid the tabernacle in the pond before Henry’s commissioners could confiscate it? The writer likes to think so and pays his respects to St. Theobald whenever he passes!