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

St Giles, Bradfield


Bradfield, 2019 Bradfield Bradfield
Bradfield Bradfield, 2006 Bradfield, 2006

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    St Giles, Bradfield

After one of the warmest and wettest springs for years, the winding lanes north of North Walsham threaded through burgeoning woods and fields, an intense green in the early summer light of May 2021. Since leaving the Mundesley road at Swafield I had not been passed by a single car in either direction, and the only sounds of human activity were of someone chopping wood behind an isolated cottage and, once, a small light aeroplane that buzzed invisibly above the enclosing trees before heading off westwards. And then, in the midst of the lanes, Bradfield parish church emerges, itself almost invisible in its wildly overgrown churchyard.

The last time I had come this way had been two years before, only to find St Giles surrounded by scaffolding and security fences as it underwent a major overhaul. The church is no longer in use for services, but rather than being declared redundant it is still looked after by the Trunch group of parishes and the Diocese of Norwich. And it is as welcoming as it has ever been, for as the signboard reminds you it is left open all of the time, a sanctuary in these hidden lanes.

Apart from a nearby farmhouse the church sits alone. It is a big church, but it was once much bigger. You can see this both inside and out, because the north and south arcades were filled in when the aisles were demolished. You can still see the pillars and arches set in the walls, the early 14th Century capitals indicating the age of the church. The porch is dated 1786, along with the churchwardens' names, so this was probably shortly after the aisles were demolished. Interestingly, this is only ten years before nearby Thorpe Market church was rebuilt, and if it was an attempt to restore St Giles to a useable state then we might detect the hand of the energetic Lord Suffield of Gunton Hall here too.

Given that there is no clerestory, and the east face of the tower suggests that there never has been, this must have been a wide, square, low space before the aisles were demolished. The chancel was large in proportion to the original nave and so seems larger today, and its huge interlaced Decorated east window fill it with light. There is no coloured glass. There are matching windows to north and south, but these are from the very good 1850s restoration by Robert Ketton, according to Pevsner.

Above the chancel arch is Bradfield church's most memorable feature, a wall painting of Christ in Judgement. He sits on a rainbow, and the feathery objects to left and right are angels' wings - you can see the angel to the south more clearly. It is 15th Century, but perhaps simpler and more benign than those terrifying Last Judgements we are more used to seeing.

There are three late medieval brass inscriptions to the Sebald family within the nave, asking for our prayers for their souls. Entering into the spirit of that age the 19th Century benches have shields on them containing the Instruments of the Passion. The floors and other furnishings are almost entirely of Ketton's restoration, but it is such a rustic, pleasing space that it avoids all anonymity.

Poignantly, Bradfield is one of those churches which still displays its handwritten WWI roll of honour, to which the names of local lads were added as they went off to fight. These were often produced by the newspapers of the day, or bought from a stationery supplier. Twenty-eight local lads went off to France and beyond out of a total parish population of one hundred and sixty six (it must be many fewer today). Five of them did not come back, and the adjacent war memorial remembers them, calling them Our Gallant Boys.

Simon Knott, June 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
font Christ in Judgement eagle lectern
Roll of Honour Bradfield pop 166 In Memory of our Gallant Boys who laid down their lives in the War instruments of passion
orate pro anima: Margaret, wedded wife of Thomas Beins

orate pro animabus: John Sebald and Agnes his wife

Orate pro anima: John Sebold son of John Sebold


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