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English church reaches out to Lincoln land
Building where president's ancestors once worshipped in need of major repairs

A 600-year-old English church where Abraham Lincoln's ancestors once worshipped is hoping for some help from friends of Lincoln in the United States.

Built between 1345 and 1390, All Saints Parish Church, in the small town of Swanton Morley in the county of Norfolk, England, is in need of major repairs, according to Iain Bone, churchwarden and fabric officer at the church.

"The roof leaks, and the stonework needs repairs," Bone said in a recent telephone interview. "The walls are all covered with lichens and algae, and there are a lot of structural repairs needed."

More than six centuries of rain and wind have taken their toll on the building, which is constructed of native flint rubble bound together with lime mortar, Bone said.

Built in the "Later Perpendicular Style," the church has a still-impressive bell tower that looks out over what once was the center of medieval Swanton Morley.

The roof drainage system is of a primitive, 14th-century design that allows water to seep in all through the building, Bone said, and walls and plastering are crumbling throughout the structure.

Most of the church's leaded windows are in a highly fragile state, he said, and two recently blew in, requiring expensive repairs. Extensive rewiring needs to be done not only because the current system is outdated but also to reduce the risk of fire.

Like many Church of England parishes, All Saints suffers from a declining and aging congregation, so that the volunteer work parties who would have helped tend the building years ago are no longer available.

In addition, Bone said, "Norfolk is full of medieval churches, and they're all in a similar state of decay," and there is not a lot of money available to go around. The cost of the needed repairs is estimated at 200,000 to 250,000 pounds sterling, or about $300,000 to $375,000.

It was the church's Lincoln connections that set Bone to thinking that, along with the local fund-raising effort that is under way, outsiders who admire America's 16th president might chip in to help out All Saints.

Lincoln's English ancestry is most often associated with the nearby Norfolk village of Hingham, from where Lincoln's great-great-great-great-grandfather, Samuel Lincoln, a 15-year-old weaver's apprentice, departed for the New World on the ship John & Dorothy in 1637.

But the Lincoln connection with Swanton Morley - perhaps best known in the United States as the site of a U.S. Army Air Force airfield during World War II - goes back two generations further, to Samuel Lincoln's grandfather, Richard Lincoln.

Richard probably was born in Hingham, but he lived out at least the last 20-some years of his life in Swanton Morley. A mansion he built for himself there is still in use as the Angel Public House.

It was in that building that Richard wrote a will in 1615, disinheriting his eldest son, Edward Lincoln, in order to leave his fortune to his fourth wife and her children (Edward was the son of his first wife).

Edward was forced to leave Swanton Morley and move to Hingham, where he eked out a meager existence on two acres of farmland his father had given him several years earlier. Growing up in considerable poverty, three of Edward's four sons, including Samuel, sought their fortunes in the promising lands of the New World.

Interestingly, Bone said, church records at All Saints show that Richard Lincoln held the job Bone himself now holds, churchwarden, from 1599 until his death in 1620.

Moreover, he said, "The bungalow I live in is on the site of the old Lincoln family farm."

All Saints also has a Lincoln family Bible dating from 1686, Bone said.

With the ample Lincoln connections, he said, it's not too much to hope that American admirers of Lincoln might want to help out the Swanton Morley residents in keeping the church around for a few more centuries.

"Any donations for church repairs would be gratefully received," he said.

The best way to make a donation, he said, is through a direct wire transfer of funds from an American bank to the church's account at Barclay's Bank, 34 Market Place, Dereham, Norfolk, NR19 2AS, England. The account name is the Swanton Morley Parochial Church Council, the account number is 90853623, and the sort code is 20-28-20.

Doug Pokorski can be reached at 788-1539 or doug.pokorski@sj-r.com.

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