“Whoever built such a beautiful little church in a place like this, hidden away in a wood?” This question can best be answered by looking at the history of the family who owned it. The original hall belonged to a family called Sutton. When Sir Richard died in 1856 it was sold to a Mr Lyne-Stephens, a Victorian banker who married a French catholic lady called Mlle Duvernay. Mr Lyne-Stephens made his fortune by inventing dolls’ eyes that open and close. When he died, he left his widow over one million pounds. For twenty years after his death, Mme Lyne-Stephens used to go to Mass in Thetford until, in the late 1870s one of her guests, Lord Lovat, asked why she didn’t build a church at Lynford to avoid having to take herself and her guests such a distance to go to Mass. And so the church was built in 1878.
The Church is small, gothic in style and finished on the outside with flint. The Altar and Reredos are influenced by Pugin and are of stone and richly gilded. The floor of the Sanctuary is paved with Mosaic, the design of an Italian artist.
Lynford was not the only church built by Mme Lyne-Stephens. She also built the splendid church of Our Lady and the English Martyrs in Cambridge, selling her pearls to do so. It was known for many years as the ‘Dolls’ eye church’.
Of the Trust’s thirteen Leased Churches, one is Roman Catholic. The Church of Our Lady of Consolation and St Stephen is leased from the Diocese of East Anglia. The Norfolk Churches Trust took over this Church in 2009.
The church can be reached via forestry track 34, off West Tofts Road, IP26 5EL. It should usually be open during daylight hours, and you can contact the Keyholder on 01842 878246.