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11. Binham and Beyond
Between Binham Priory and the sea
Between Binham and the sea there is a scattering of unremarkable parish churches which are, perhaps, significant for nothing more than that they all bear the signs of busier days. We have seen how the 16th century Reformation snuffed out the glory days of English church architecture, not least by ending the theological need for bequests; but here in north Norfolk the Reformation had another and perhaps more serious effect.
In closing the great Abbey of Walsingham some five miles distant, the reformers dealt a death-blow to the pilgrimage business. The flood of thousands of pilgrims who had trodden the lanes around Morston, Langham, Stiffkey and Cockthorpe for several centuries competely dried up, depriving these parishes of a serious source of income. This combined with the demise of Blakeney Haven as a port meant it became difficult for the local economy to support the population. Binham Priory also closed, the industry of its precincts sinking back into agricultural silence.
The population declined, but the Priory church survived, thanks to its use by the parish - as did all of these buildings, and with the exception of Cockthorpe they are all still used by the Church of England today.
Binham, of course, is a national treasure, famed for its west front, its magnificent seven sacraments font, a fascinating screen, bench ends and so on, not to mention the Priory ruins. The other four churches are less significant (although Morston's screen deserves to be better known) but are all in their way worth a visit, if only to see the effects of their occupation by the reformed church for nearly half a millennium. Pretty Cockthorpe and comfortable Langham have their glass from either side of the Reformation gap; and, in former Rector Harold Davidson, the church at Stiffkey has one of the great English eccentrics, another national treasure.
Simon Knott, November 2004
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