Blakeney Cley Salthouse Wiveton
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St Nicholas, Blakeney
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Externally, their legacy is a reskinning of the building, the nave in flint and the chancel in cement, a not uncommon approach where the structure was basically sound, but the materials were succumbing to damp. The first reaction on seeing the building, of course, is that it has two towers, a 'proper' one at the west and a curious, spindly beacon rising to the south-east of the chancel. This has been adapted to hold a light, but probably that is what it was always for; a ship coming into the now-silted up harbour could use it to navigate. A reminder that our churches had many secular uses before they became 17th century preaching houses. Both towers have also been reskinned, and you can go up the big one on a Friday afternoon - unfortunately, we were here on a Saturday..
Blakeney's major rarity is an architectural detail. The east window has seven lights, one of only two such windows in England. This is a mark that here is something quite unusual - an almost complete 13th century chancel. Now, I may be an old curmudgeon, but I think it is a pity it was resurfaced so crudely. Other external features include a small window above the seven light window that lets into the area above the vaulting, and the monograms at the base of the tower, although these look suspiciously recent to me.
This is a very welcoming church, and one of your first observations on stepping inside is that tea and coffee are always available, not just on Historic Churches bike ride day, a mark of welcome to pilgrim and stranger, something from which many other churches could learn. However, to see this your eyes will need to accustom to the gloom, for although the nave should be full of light from its Perpendicular rebuilding of the 15th century, it is not, for the Victorians filled the south side in dark glass. Some of this is actually very good, including a wholly erotic Annunciation.
But the building pays a price. The woodwork is dour and austere, especially in the main body of the nave where the screen and benches are entirely Victorian. The window sills in the aisles are lowered to form seats, a common feature in churches around here, and one that has been used as evidence for the old saw that 'the weak can go to the wall', meaning that in the days when congregations stood, there was a place for those who could not. But this is not right; for when these windows were made, all churches were fully benched.
There are memorials to those lost to the sea, little anglo-catholic chapels to various Saints including Our Lady of nearby Walsingham, and all the signs of a busy parish life. Above all, the impression is of a grand town church, a bit self-important, but with echoes and resonances of the town over the centuries.
The rood loft is reconstructed, with a rood apparatus above the original rood beam. Beyond, the vaulted 13th century chancel is gorgeous, so wholly un-East Anglian in that it has survived pretty much intact. There is some splendid Norwich School glass of the orders of angels in the north aisle, detailed below. There should be nine, and of the six figures only five are angels. Interestingly, the figure on the extreme right is a crowned female Saint holding a scroll.
There are other smatterings of old glass, some misericords (where did they come from? Binham? Or here? Blakeney had, after all, a Carmelite Priory), a Flemish altar piece in the north aisle chapel, devotional statues (but the hideous one of St Elizabeth of Hungary is just crying out for a Californian antique shop to commission its theft, please) and the imagery of the instruments of the passion on the font all pull together to make a church that is fun to visit, full of interest, and devotional too. Without, I am afraid to say, moving me very much. See, I told you I was an old curmudgeon.
Simon Knott, October 2004
You can also read an introduction to the Ships of the North
an introduction to the Ships of the North
Blakeney Cley Salthouse Wiveton
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