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St Ethelbert, Alby
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The churches come so thick and fast in this area to the north of Aylsham, and the villages are so scattered, that sometimes you have to look at the church noticeboard to find out exactly where you are. St Ethelbert is only about a mile to the east of the centre of Aldborough - but Aldborough parish church is a mile in the other direction, and this church serves Alby, a parish with no real village centre. It is not to be confused with Aldeby in the south-east of the county.
Although it is in the main road, St Ethelbert has quite an attractive setting with bowering trees and a few large old houses to keep its company. But there is something quite extraordinary about this church, something I have not found anywhere else in the great swathe of chuches that runs from Holt to North Walsham between Aylsham and the coast: it is locked, without a keyholder.
How can this be? I thought it was my mistake, but other church explorers have since told me that they found the same thing. The insult is particularly painful, because immediately to the north of Alby is the splendidly welcoming benefice of Elizabeth Bailey that includes neighbouring Hanworth, Metton and Bessingham, all of them open, with big welcome! signs on display. And, of course, the redundant churches in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, of which there are more than a few around here, are also welcoming to visitors.
On the off-chance, we tried the big house immediately to the north of the church, but there was nobody in. There was little to do about it but kick petulantly around the churchyard, stretching to see what we could through the windows. And, as Tom said, it didn't seem as if there was much of great interest, apart possibly from the large continental heads reset in the clear glass, like those at several churches in this area.
Now I knew that this church did not want me inside, I sensed the severity of the outside; churches where there is a clerestory with no aisle can often feel severe, and St Ethelbert is like that on both sides. And it is hardly a clerestory at all, with just two windows on each side, one pair to light the rood and the other towards the west. The turretless tower, newer than the church beside it, is also severe, and I wondered if the top was unfinished, or if it had succumbed to the weather over the centuries. There was nobody to ask, of course, and so we left.
Simon Knott, October 2005
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