Filby chapel

The Norfolk Archaeological Trust manages a small meadow in the village of Filby, near Caister on Sea in East Norfolk. Here a Unitarian chapel stood before it was demolished after severe bomb damage in the Second World War. It is an attractive and interesting site with a long history. Visitors may see the foundations of two superimposed chapels, along with some fine 18th-century grave slabs set in the grass.

Unitarian symbolsFilby chapelFilby chapel foundationsFilby grave slabsFilby chapel planFilby interpretation panel

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Access and facilities

The village of Filby lies 27km east of Norwich and 9km north-west of Yarmouth. The site is open to visitors at any reasonable time.

  • by road: Filby lies on the main A1064 road from Acle to Caister-on-Sea. From the main road through the village, turn onto Thrigby Road (right from Norwich/Acle direction, left from Yarmouth/Caister), following signs towards Thrigby Hall wildlife park. Look out for a field gate on the left with the words 'Unitarian Heritage Site' written in gold along the top. Walk through the small meadow along the public footpath to the chapel site at the rear.

  • by bus: there is a frequent bus service to Filby, with services 6, 730, 731 and TR3 operated by Sanders Coaches, Ambassador Travel and First Eastern Counties. Most buses stop on Main Street (the A1064), from which the site may be reached by a short walk down Thrigby Road. For up to date timetable information, please visit http://www.travelineeastanglia.org.uk.

The interpretation panel at the site, provided by the Trust, explains the history of the place and the layout of the former chapels. There are no visitor facilities at the site itself, but Filby has two pubs, the Fox and Hounds (very near the site on the Thrigby Road) and the Bridge (on the A1064 a little distance towards Acle).

More information about Filby Chapel

Dissatisfaction with the practices and rituals of the Church of England grew during the 16th and 17th centuries, with many people believing that the English church founded at the Reformation by the Tudor kings and queens was not radical or Protestant enough. This led to groups of ‘dissenters’ (or nonconformists) meeting to worship independently. Quakers, Baptists, Independents later called Congregationalists and Presbyterians were numerous in Norfolk, especially in Yarmouth and Norwich.

For decades these groups’ meetings were restricted by law, and often took place in secret. With the Declaration of Indulgence in 1672, however, nonconformist meetings were no longer illegal and more groups sprang up, mainly in the towns. Once the Act of Toleration had been passed in 1689 they could build chapels. 1693 saw the opening of the Old Meeting House in Norwich, one of the oldest nonconformist places of worship in England. After the 1844 Dissenters’ Chapels Act, nonconformist groups could own their own chapels.

The first chapel on this site was licensed as a Meeting House for ‘Protestant Dissenters’ on 11 July 1706. It was founded in 1705 by Henry Daliel, its first minister. At the early age of 23, along with five other Dissenters, he started work on the chapel. It was completed in 1709, two years before his death. Daliel’s grave slab survives. The chapel, built of brick and flint, was designed to seat about 200 people. By 1723 it was described as a ‘Congregational Church’. About a century later, it became one of only six Unitarian chapels in the county.

Filby chapel foundations

Today the foundations of the chapel are marked out on the ground

The symbol of a flaming chalice on the gate into the site is the universal sign of the Unitarian Church. It represents the flame of the living truth within the chalice of shared faith. The Unitarians have three main principles, Freedom, Reason and Tolerance. While they accept many traditional church teachings, they believe that no doctrine is too sacred to be questioned. Their faith is ‘a religion of questions and not answers’. The Unitarians reject the concept of the Trinity (the Father, Son and Holy Ghost) and instead stress the unity or ‘oneness’ of God. They believed that the divine spirit is in every individual who should follow the dictates of his, or her, own reason and conscience.

Daliel's chapel was replaced shortly before 1900 by a smaller brick building, standing on the area now marked in gravel. This was badly damaged by a bomb in 1940, making the structure so unsafe that it had to be demolished. The site then became overgrown until 1990 when it was rediscovered and cleared of debris by the Filby Society, assisted by an Employment Action Team led by Eric Vaughan of the Great Yarmouth Old Meeting House congregation, who exposed the foundations and the grave slabs as you see them all today.

Seven fine 18th-century grave slabs survive, including that of the founder Henricus (Henry) Daliel. They are in their original positions, except for the one nearest the path, to Thomas Deverson, ‘30 years Collector of Salt Duties, Yarmouth’ (1786), which was probably moved to form a central feature within the later chapel. When the first chapel was demolished, it is said that its walls were retained at a height of five feet to form an enclosure around the burial ground for these burials adjacent to the new building.

Norfolk Heritage Explorer

For more information about Filby chapel, visit the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website. www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/SingleResult.aspx?uid=MNF8653.