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St Peter, Bittering
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It is easy to describe quite a few East Anglian churches as being lost in the fields. St Peter is only about a hundred metres from the nearest road, but this is such a remote country lane, and Bittering itself is so far off of the beaten track, that St Peter really feels as if it could be one of the most hard-to-find churches in Norfolk. The church was declared redundant in the 1970s, not unreasonably.
There are no headstones, and the tight little churchyard is neatly trimmed. But the fields around are abandoned and wildly overgrown. To the north of the church is the site of the former Bittering Hall, an Elizabethan moated house which was demolished only in the 1960s. Now, sunken trees mark the site of the moat, and exploration is not recommended.
There are no other houses for a mile or so, but this is not a rural idyll. Immediately to the south of the church, between here and the Gressenhall to Beeston road, there is a huge quarry. It is hidden from sight behind high hedges and fencing, but the air is filled with the sinister sound of machinery and the fall and clatter of earth and stone. As beautiful as the setting may look in the photographs above, it is actually a rather bleak place.
But St Peter should not really have survived at all, of course; hardly anybody lives in the parish, and this is a part of Norfolk with plenty of churches. This building is a happy amalgamation of Early English work and a most un-ecclesiological 17th century restoration, giving it a character all of its own. Although no longer a part of the Diocese of Norwich's plans, it remains in use as a church, still hosting two or three services a year, a a testament to the energy and commitment of a handful of local enthusiasts, as well as the Saintly influence of Billa Harrod's Norfolk Churches Trust.
Bittering church is, alas, kept locked, when churches like this really shouldn't be. I put this down to the Gressenhall effect, for we are in a black hole here, a small part of Norfolk with a high concentration of locked churches, and precious few keyholder notices. Norfolk is, of course, a country which rejoices in its huge numbers of open churches, with a good seventy per cent of them open for business every day, and most of the rest accessible.
In fact, Bittering does have a little keyholder notice, up on the top road. But it was telephone numbers only, and guess what? My mobile phone could not get a signal here. I was tempted to head off elsewhere and make a call, as Pevsner says that St Peter has an east window by Lydall Armitage in the 1920s, which is often my kind of thing, but it was getting late in the day and there were other churches to see. And as I say, almost anywhere else in Norfolk St Peter would have been open.
Simon Knott, September 2006
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