Bedingham Topcroft Woodton
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St Andrew, Bedingham
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St Andrew is one of three churches in the fields around the village of Woodton, on the Diss to Yarmouth road. The three have similarities, but this one is probably the most interesting of the three. In fact, there were once four; St Mary was in the same churchyard, but all traces have disappeared.
The perspective towards the road is full of confidence, a large medieval building extended and heightened over the centuries. The clerestory runs the full length of the building.
The lower stage of the late Norman tower is rather characterless, a 15th century bell stage making rather more of it. But it presents us with a bit of a puzzle. We know that round towers, a Saxon obsession and not one necessarily forced on them by building materials, continued to be built for centuries after the Norman invasion, even though the Normans brought with them new forms and ideas. However, take away that aisle and the clerestory, and with the caveat that the south transept is a later rebulding, we have what appears to have been planned as a cruciform church. This is borne out by the arcades at what would have been the crossing, which are substantial and open to south and north (although there is no north transept). They suggest that a central tower was planned. But here we are today, with a round one at the west end.
There is a stunningly beautiful priest doorway into the chancel, and inside a sense of medieval opulence, including a marble piscina set. Why was this? Simply, Bedingfield was in the patronage of Walsingham Priory, the richest in Norfolk.
All in all, the chancel is quite one of the loveliest I have come across, helped by that big expanse of plain glass in the intersecting tracery of the east window, Jacobean altar rails and a splendidly uneven brick floor. Step back into the nave and view it through the medieval screen, and it is breathtaking.
In the north aisle east window are some fragments of medieval glass collected together in a not wholly successful composition (but presumably set that way for ever now thanks to the rules of the heritage industry). St Paul with his sword is at the top, with two Saints beneath - the figure on the right carries a basket of bread, and is therefore St Philip. Mortlock thought the left hand figure might be St James the Less, because of that Saint's connection with St Philip, but there is no reason to think they are in their original configuration, and his alternative selection of St Thomas is more likely, as you can just make out the tip of a sword beside his head.
The large Flemish roundels either side are fascinating - they were clearly designed for a much bigger church, probably a cathedral. They were donated to St Andrew in the 1970s by Kings College, Cambridge, which had inherited them.
The bench set is largely medieval, some bits probably cobbled together later. Part of one bench back bears an inscription asking us to pray for the souls of Simon Tillas and his wife. It looks like it probably came from a screen, but it is hard to see how it could have come from the screen here, so probably from somewhere else. The lost St Mary, perhaps? And why was it reset in a bench back? Probably, it is a nice little Victorianism.
The bench set is plain to the point of severity, but features two heads at the west end, a man and a woman, who were probably the donors. Above, suspended from the clerestory, is a beautiful, delicate modern sculpture made from barley straw and a mirror, making a kind of radiant eye. Also worthy of note are the Stone memorials, one of which is to 18 year old William Stone, whose blooming virtues were faded by the nipping blast of consumption of which he died at Bristol hot-wells.
This church is part of the Hempnall group of parishes, all of which are friendly, welcoming, well-kept, lovingly used and open every day. God bless them!
Simon Knott, March 2005
Bedingham Topcroft Woodton
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