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

All Saints, Beeston Regis

Beeston Regis

Beeston Regis Beeston Regis (photographed 1906)
Beeston Regis Beeston Regis

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  All Saints, Beeston Regis

The setting here must have been an idyllic one before the mid-20th Century, and it is still a memorable one today. The church sits on a clifftop, or more accurately a bluff, facing out to the grey North Sea. A track comes down from the main Cromer to Sheringham road and crosses a railway line, and then runs alongside a wide meadow to the church, which still retains a sense of solitude despite the fact that today it has many near neighbours, all of them static caravans. The famous Beeston Bump rises from the landscape beyond them to the west. The sea is near enough for you to hear it crashing on the shingle. The unbuttressed tower is an early one, 12th or perhaps even 11th Century, and square at a time when many of its Norfolk contemporaries were round. The clerestoried and aisled nave is typical of many 15th Century East Anglian rebuildings, but on a smaller scale than most. The chancel is older, and grand in a different way, and perhaps its Decorated 14th century lightness tells us of a complete rebuilding of the church at that time, apart from the tower, and the nave arcades inside will confirm this.

You enter through the small south porch into a cool, dim interior that can be something of a relief on a hot sunny day. The overall feel is of the church's late 19th Century restoration, but there are survivals, for the great treasure of All Saints is its rood screen. The upper parts are modern, but the lower stage appears to be of the early 16th century, for in 1519 one Thomas Rook gave 4 (about 3,000 in today's money) to making the roode. The screen must have been completed by then, and so twenty years earlier is perhaps a good date for the completion of the rebuilding of the nave with its aisles and clerestories. The panels depict the twelve disciples, including St Matthias who replaced Judas Iscariot. The north side of the screen shows St Simon with his saw, St Matthew with a sword, St James the Less with a fuller's club, St Jude holding a small boat, St James with his pilgrim staff and St Andrew with his saltire cross. The first two of these panels are curtailed somewhat by the pulpit steps. On the south side are St Peter holding keys, St John with his poisoned chalice, St Bartholomew with a flencing knife, St Matthias with a halberd, St Philip with three loaves and St Thomas with a spear. The figures have had their faces scratched out, presumably by enthusiastically protestant parishioners in the 1540s, but they've been carefully restored.

Beeston screen (north): St Simon and St Matthew Beeston screen (north): St James the Less and St Jude Beeston screen (north): St James and St Andrew Beeston Regis screen (north): St Simon, St Matthew, St James the Less, St Jude, St James, St Andrew
Beeston screen (south): St Peter and St John Beeston screen (south): St Bartholomew and St Matthias Beeston screen (south): St Philip and St Thomas Beeston Regis screen (south): St Peter, St John, St Bartholomew, St Matthias, St Philip, St Thomas

An intriguing puzzle is the pair of corbel heads set either side of the chancel arch. They are only about a metre and a half off of the ground, so perhaps they are too low to have had anything to do with the rood apparatus. However, at neighbouring Upper Sheringham, where the rood loft floor survives, it is supported by two uprights springing from the floor. Could the rood loft here have been supported by two uprights springing from these corbels? Up in the chancel there is a grand sedilia, which Mortlock wondered if it had come from nearby Beeston Priory, but that seems unlikely given that the chancel there was earlier than this one. There are also two good early 16th Century figure brasses for John and Katherine Deynes and a roundel brass of St Luke's winged calf.

The late 19th and early 20th century glass is unobtrusive. The east window is an 1894 crucifixion scene by Edward Frampton, which I think must more or less date the completion of the restoration of the church. The best glass in the chancel is an Adoration of Angels by Herbert Bryans of 1904, just when he was setting out on his solo career. Incidentally, I don't like to publicly point out other people's mistakes, because I know how depressing it is when other people publicly point out mine, but Birkin Haward, the great expert in these matters, credits this glass to Kempe & Co. It is true that Bryans had worked for Kempe, and had probably been involved in developing their house style. At this stage of his career he was still heavily influenced by it, although he would soon evolve his own lighter, sparer style. But the glass is actually signed by Bryans, so I think perhaps that Haward should have noticed, especially as his error has not unexpectedly been repeated by others, including the most recent edition of the Buildings of England volumes for Norfolk.

Simon Knott, May 2023

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looking east sanctuary
font Adoration of the Angels (Herbert Bryans, 1904) St James and St John (Powell & Sons c1926) John Deynes, early 16th Century (photographed 2006)
corbel head (photographed 2006) winged calf of St Luke (photographed 2006) corbel head (photographed 2006)

death and the caravans Here lies all that can die of Bert

 
   
               
                 

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