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St Mary, Aldborough
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Aldborough is the biggest of the villages in the area between Cromer and Aylsham. It is big enough to have two pubs on its pretty village green, and on the day Tom and I stopped for lunch here, the one we chose had been taken over by a visiting cricket team from London. The bacon sandwiches were cracking, but we could have driven to Norwich and back to get them in the time it took for them to arrive.
There is no church in the middle of Aldborough. There is a church just outside, on the road east; but, confusingly, this is the parish church of Alby, and the one just to the east of it is that of Thwaite. To find Alborough church, you need to head west; it is about a mile outside the village on the way to Matlask. That all three of these churches are still in use is testimony to the benefice system that has put them into three separate benefices, ensuring independent lives.
While Alby and Thwaite are landmarks, towerless St Mary hides behind hedges, and is fairly understated. The tower fell in the 18th century, and now the repointing of the flint and the early 20th century turret gives it something of the air of a municipal cemetery chapel; you might be surprised to find it open (it will be, because virtually all churches are in this area) and further surprised to find it of interest.
Before you go in, note the gorgeous modern Madonna and child in the medieval image niche above the door. Inside, there is a low arcade through to a 13th century north aisle, but in general this has very much the feel of a 19th century church. But the glass is good, the four main Saint figures being Edmund and George in one window, Francis and Michael in the other. The Sarum-screened altar is atmospheric. And, as you might expect in this part of Norfolk, there are some good medieval figure brasses. They are mostly to members of the Herward family, and date from the 1480s. Two are to Robert Herward, in full armour, and his wife Anne, in a butterfly headress.The other is to an unknown civilian of the same period.
Aldborough is not to be confused with Aldeburgh in Suffolk; or, indeed, with Alburgh in the south of Norfolk. This is a quietly remote church serving a busy village, and this is probably enough to ensure its survival.
Simon Knott, October 2005
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