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

St Mary, Barningham Winter

Barningham Winter: click to enlarge


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    St Mary, Barningham Winter
the Norfolk dead   A beautiful setting, and a beautiful name, too. The 'Winter' element comes from the family who owned the Manor in late medieval times. This way of naming parishes is common outside of East Anglia, but rare here in Norfolk and Suffolk, where the Saint dedication of the parish church or a more utilitarian point of the compass are more usual when differentiating between two or more parishes with the same name. We are halfway between North Barningham and Little Barningham here, and another name for this parish is Barningham Town. But there is no town, and hardly any any houses, because this church sits in the middle of the park of the 17th Century Barningham Hall. There is a village on the southern edge of the park, but it is Matlaske, which has its own parish church.

It is not possible to reach this church directly from Matlaske, making it rather hard to find. The old Sheringham to Aylsham road goes through the park, but the modern road goes around the outside, and you need to go right around the park to the Cromer Gate on the way to North Barningham.

From this side, the church can be seen from a distance, although it disappears beneath the rolling landscape as you approach it. Like many Norfolk churches, it fell into disuse after the Reformation, as the function of parish churches changed. Simply, we didn't need so many of them. It was a ruin by the early 17th century. This coincided with the building of Barningham Hall, and the two facts are probably not unconnected. However, in the early 19th century the chancel was rescued and restored as a church, with a small extension westwards into what had been the nave. The gap toothed tower also survives to the west of that, as well as what would have been the south porch, which you still walk through to get to the church. There is a medieval font outside under the ruined tower, which is still used, apparently.

Georgian Anglican churches are rare in East Anglia. Plainly, this is not the mock-classical extravaganza which might have been possible at such a date, and you step into an interior which is seemly and slightly urban, with the pre-ecclesiological feel of Catholic chapels of the period. The westward extension contains a pretty gallery.

St Mary has an interesting collection of medieval and continental glass. The star of the show is a large royal arms in the centre of the east window. These are rare, and there are only a handful of others in East Anglia. This is to one of the Charles's, but it is probably Charles I since it is accompanied by other collected glass, some of which is dated 1613. Curiously, this is the year after the Hall was built. I think it likely that the royal arms is pre-Commonwealth, and all were collected by an antiquarian of the late 18th century from various sources after Revolutions here and on the continent had removed them from their original location.

The dated roundels are Flemish, and depict scenes from the book of Genesis. In one, Joseph interpets dreams in prison. The other shows his brothers arriving in Egypt to buy corn. There is another of good quality, depicting St Peter, but the others are poorer, and show St Anne teaching the Blessed Virgin to read, the Adoration of the Magi, and a sorrowful St Peter wringing his hands as a cock crows.

The oldest glass is at the western end of the north side. Three tracery lights have been reset in clear quarries. One depicts a crowned old man. The forked beard and rayed nimbus suggests that it is God the Father. Another depicts a beardless male Saint with a palm, and is probably St John. These two must be 15th Century I suppose, but the other is older, and in a quite different style. It depicts an angel with parted hair, his wings rising to meet behind him.

St John God the Father angel 
 royal arms of Charles I Joseph interprets dreams in prison Joseph's brothers arrive in Egypt St Peter
St Anne teaches the Blessed Virgin to read Adoration of the Magi St Peter

Perhaps the most striking, not to say alarming, feature of the church is the reredos. It is not uncommon to find a reredos which is also the war memorial, but I have never seen one quite like this before, with soldiers in their WWI uniforms approaching a central cross. It is well done, but a curious thing to focus your thoughts on every Sunday.

One of the Winters who gave the parish their name is depicted in brass as a knight from the start of the 16th century, but other memorials are to later families, the Pastons who built the Hall, and the Motts who inherited it and had it partly rebuilt in the decades before the church was renewed.

The architect of the house rebuilding was Humphrey Repton, who may also have been responsible for the landscaping of the park which sets off the ruin of the church to such good effect.

St Mary is a fascinating and slightly quirky building, and, as if a mark of this, there is an unusual memorial on the south wall. It remembers John Paston, who died shortly before his first birthday in 1729. His monument is large and rather sombre in style, wholly secular, but the inscription reads He just stop'd here below on his journey to Above, and felt the Agonies of Expiring Nature to heighten his Relish of the Joys of Heaven. Was that intended to comfort the grieving parents? I do not think it would comfort me.


Simon Knott, April 2008

looking east looking west WWI memorial on reredos St Joseph
Anna and Simeon Last Supper St Peter reredos
roll of honour knight memorial memorial to the glory of God
he just stop'd here JF EF


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