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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Peter and St Paul, Barnham Broom

Barnham Broom

Barnham Broom the Barnham Broom dead

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St Peter and St Paul, Barnham Broom

Here we are in the rolling landscape to the west of Norwich, the fields and copses around Dereham and Wymondham which form the heart of Norfolk. Occasionally there's a busy road, but mostly it's just little lanes winding and staggering around ancient field patterns or the forgotten boundaries of some long-dead squire's proud acres. Mostly quiet farming country, the occasional hotel or golf course reminds us that we are not far from Norwich, but nowhere, apart from Wymondham and Dereham, is of any size, and the only buildings of any consequence are the churches.

Barnham Broom is perhaps not a place that many will know, but it has a church of great interest. Although the western extension to the graveyard is flat and open, the trees encroach upon and enfold the church itself, and the eastern end of the graveyard falls away into thick woods that make a view of the church from this end impossible. The ground is lush with elder and ivy, and a poignant little child's grave floats like a buffeted boat among the trees. You seem to step over a boundary immediately to the east, and I wondered if this was into the edge of the park of some great Hall, now lost to us. The structure of St Peter and St Paul, as with so many big East Anglian churches, is almost entirely the work of the early 15th Century. Pevsner records bequests for the tower and bell in 1434 and 1440, so this may be a clue to the finishing date of the rebuild. Half a millennium later, the 19th Century restoration was considerable, but the Victorians weren't the first that century to try to put this building back into order, and you step into an interior that is clean, bright and has a feel of the early 1800s as much as anything later. This is accentuated by a deep, uncanted gallery with the arms of George III on the front, probably a clue to its date.

Barnham Broom's great surviving treasure is the roodscreen, probably contemporary with the rebuilding of the church in the 15th Century. A curiosity is that it appears to have been left unfinished, despite predating the Reformation by almost a century. There are several screens like this in Norfolk, and several theories. It may be that there was a nave altar in the north-west corner that covered part of the screen. Perhaps the way that the uprights have been cut into on this side, and the division bar in the first two boards removed, is a clue.

empty panel, St Clement St Walstan and (probably) St Thomas of Canterbury St Edward the Confessor and St Etheldreda St Ursula and St Withburga St Elizabeth of Hungary and St Joan de Valois
St Clement (15th Century) St Walstan of Bawburgh (15th Century) St Ursula with arrows and virgins St Withburga of Dereham (15th Century) St Dorothy (15th Century) St Joan de Valois holding a chalice and loaves
two lions in the spandrels St Ursula with 11,000 virgins and St Withburga of Dereham (15th Century) two bullocks at the feet of St Walstan (15th Century) eleven thousand virgins of St Ursula (15th Century)

On the north side, the first two panels are blank. The third has a shadow of a figure, but if you look carefully you can see that it was wearing a triple crown, and is therefore St Gregory. Beside him, St Clement holds an anchor. The last two figures on this side are St Walstan, who came from nearby Bawburgh, and an unidentified Bishop.

On the south side there are six complete figures: St Edward the Confessor (making it likely that the Bishop in panel VI is St Thomas of Canterbury), St Etheldreda, St Ursula with her virgins sheltered at her feet, St Withburga of nearby Dereham holding a church, St Dorothy holding flowers and a basket, and a final figure holding a chalice and some loaves who may well be St Joan de Valois.

There's a double figure brass in the middle of the nave to John and Ellen Dorant. They died in 1503, and the unvandalised inscription asks for prayers for their souls, a request that would stand for barely forty years before it stopped being met. A couple of centuries later, the memorial to Rector Nicholas Canning and his son on the chancel wall appears incomplete, but the little stacks of books on each wing are rather sweet. The laurelled skull at the bottom is grinning, as if it knows something that we don't, which is probably right.

Incumbents here in the 19th Century included members of the Gurdon family of Letton Hall and the Wodehouse family of Kimberley Hall, who presented to the living. The rector received 540 a year, roughly 130,000 in today's money, although he also had to do duty as the vicar of nearby Kimberley. The Census of Religious Worship of 1851 mentioned that this income was exclusive of Plantation, Pleasure Ground, Garden etc, and with barely ten per cent of the parish population attending morning service on the day of the census you can't help thinking there were worse jobs to have.

Simon Knott, December 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
Barnham Broom screen sanctuary font
George III royal arms Glory to God in the Highest, On Earth Peace, Goodwill Towd Men Nicholas and Samuel Ganning, 1680 and 1707


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk