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St Andrew, Blofield
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We came here towards the end of the day of the Norfolk Historic Churches bike ride 2007. We had seen this great tower all afternoon from a distance, and as we approached the church unfolded itself beyond it. The windows give a clue of the extent of the Victorianisation, and once you get inside the first impression is of a fairly anonymous, urban church of the period. And yet, the building contains features of great interest, almost entirely from centuries before and since.
Finally, the Ascension of Christ into heaven, which follows the medieval convention of having the disciples gathered on their knees on both sides looking up to see Christ's feet disappearing into a cloud.
Rosary sequences of contemplative scenes are more usually found in wall paintings and glass, but are not completely unknown on fonts. Elsewhere in East Anglia there is a sequence of Joyful and Glorious Mysteries on the font at Ipswich St Matthew.
If the font is the most historically significant feature of Blofield church, the most striking is certainly the sequence of late 19th and 20th century windows. The best, and most famous of these, are the two Harker memorial windows of 1936 by Reginald Bell in the south aisle. Even at the time they were thought splendid, and there was a feature about them in the Illustrated London News. They remember Margaret Gordon Harker, of Blofield Hall, County Director and Controller of the Norfolk Branch, British Red Cross Society. The main lights are filled with two stunning Biblical scenes, one depicting Christ washing the feet of Peter, and the other of Christ bidding the little children to come to him. These themes of service resonate further in the six lower lights, where there are scenes of a war nurse, a school nurse, St John's Ambulance men, a midwife and a Red Cross nurse. Best of all, perhaps, is the charming depiction of Scottish herring girls gutting fish at Yarmouth. Taken together, the two windows form what is probably the best work of its decade in any East Anglian church. Click on the small images below to view them large.
Much of the other glass is by Hardman & Co, but there is also an excellent window depicting one of the Works of Mercy by J & J King of Norwich. They illuminate and beautify what might otherwise be rather a dour nave, although even here there are some features of interest. The box pews at the west end are banked up, probably for use by schoolchildren. 18th and 19th century banked seats may be seen in a number of East Anglian churches, but these were the first boxed ones that I had come across. The medieval pews nearer the chancel are lovely, although a little ill-fitting. I think they must have been brought here from the ruined church at Burlingham St Peter. One of the carved figures is holding a rosary, and you can imagine him contemplating the font.
Simon Knott, December 2007
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