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

St Lawrence, Beeston St Lawrence

Beeston St Lawrence: distinctive tower

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heightened, lengthened, elaborated... open 24/7 a strong handsome church, worth keeping if we can

  St Lawrence, Beeston St Lawrence

This round tower, with its distinctive carstone detailing, will be a familiar sight to many. It sits hard against the main Norwich to Stalham road, and the lack of a place to park is just one reason why it has now fallen pretty much entirely into disuse. Another is the lack of any parishioners, and a third may just be the loss of the patronage that sustained it through the thin years between the Reformation and the Victorian revival.

Externally, St Lawrence is a typical Norfolk village church, heightened, lengthened and elaborated as the long years went by. Although not formally declared redundant, it is no longer used for services, so it was with some surprise that I discovered the door was not locked - in fact, St Lawrence is open 24 hours a day. As we shall see, this may very well turn out to be its salvation.

You step inside to something of a surprise. In the 18th century, the Preston family of Beeston Hall took it upon themselves to turn this church into their mausoleum. This is the kind of thing that was common where a church had strong ties with the Hall, especially in a tiny village, which Beeston has always been. However, the Prestons were actually quite restrained about their monuments. Instead, they spent their money on refurbishing the interior in the Gothick style of the day, and it is a bit like entering the inside of a long, low wedding cake.

The nave roof is vaulted with what looks like icing, so delicate you almost feel the urge to snap bits off and suck them.The Preston memorials and hatchments are spread about the white walls, and this still might just be any Norfolk village church, if it wasn't for the pile of mouldering service books, the bat and bird droppings, the layer of dust on everything. I found the original church sign, now propped up beneath the tower.

  the view west inside the wedding cake

There is a great sadness in the air, as if the Preston dead are all that's left it now. You can't help thinking that it will need a miracle for St Lawrence to survive. And yet...

I said that this church's open door might well be its salvation. This is because St Lawrence has become a place of pilgrimage. The visitors book shows a constant succession of strangers seeking sanctuary, and many feel moved to write at great length, some in hours of darkness by torch light. This is, of course, how the shrines of the past came about, ordinary people finding them and spreading the word before the Church ever recognised them as special places. Sometimes it was the particular character of a place that drew people to it, or something that had happened there, even a miracle. Perhaps it will be so here; perhaps St Lawrence will continue to attract those seeking spiritual refreshment and peace. It might even become more important for that than for local services. Perhaps the Church of England will recognise it as the special place it is. St Lawrence is a strong, handsome building, worth keeping if we can, I think. All it needs is a miracle.

Simon Knott, April 2005

 

the view east inside the wedding cake I found the old church sign under the tower dead Preston more dead Prestons
memorial memorial memorial memorial
the last of the Prestons


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