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

St Peter, Brampton

Brampton

Norfolk in spring Brampton my bike (and a church)
first view from the farmyard war memorial sprawling St Peter

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  St Peter, Brampton

If there is a more intensely rural and deliciously remote spot in Norfolk than Brampton churchyard then I do not know of it. As before, I had come here from the church at Burgh-next-Aylsham, stepping down out of the churchyard into the water meadows of the Bure, the lazy river winding aimlessly on its way to the far distant sea and separating the parishes of Burgh and Brampton. A wooden footbridge crosses the river and then a muddy track takes you downstream through clambering thickets of angelica and nettles energised by the spring sunshine after the long cold sleep of winter.

I was cycling from Cromer to Norwich through the back lanes, and this was one of the highlights of the day for me - still the sun beat down, and my heart was full. A doleful swan regarded me with hope from beneath the footbridge. When she saw I had nothing for her to eat, she snorted and turned away huffily. I didn't mind. I was happy to be here.

If you are in a car, of course, you cannot make this journey from Burgh to Brampton. Only pedestrians, cyclists and those on horseback can do so, and even then I had to push my bike. Eventually, the track took me up a steep bank and into a farmyard on the far side of the river. There is a narrow road beyond, and already I could see the brick crown of St Peter's round tower above the trees.

I knew that the church would be locked, and that there would not be a keyholder notice. Brampton church seems always to be locked - except for one occasion, when I came this way on one equally sunny Saturday in 2005, almost thirteen years ago to the day exactly.

It was the first time I had crossed from the Burgh side of the river, and as I got closer to the church I could see bunting suspended from the trees, and a small marquee set up among the gravestones. What on earth was going on?

The door was open. With some surprise, I stepped into the open church to find it a hive of activity. It was the day of the parish spring fair, and there were about twenty people standing behind tables laden with jumble, raffle tickets, cups of tea and what are known as 'crafts'. It sounds terrible, but it wasn't - they were mostly elderly people coming together in the one building at their centre of all their lives, to celebrate another winter survived, I suppose.

I was pleased to be there, not least for the cup of tea I had been gasping for during the last thirty miles. I felt slightly awkward at first, as I was the only customer, but they made me feel welcome, and were quite happy for me to wander around taking photographs. It only made me wonder why they didn't welcome pilgrims and strangers at other times.

This church is heartily Victorianised inside, with tiles and pitch-pine benching. At some point, the arcade between the south aisle and the nave has been removed, presumably to allow a single roof span, and the result is a large, square space with the long, thin chancel off at one corner. It isn't possible to see the altar from most of the nave.

If you only read Cautley, you probably wouldn't bother to visit St Peter. For some reason, he fails to mention this church's one great treasure. But surprise, surprise, it has fine figure brasses, more than half a dozen of them, as well as numerous inscriptions, all to members of the Brampton family, half a century or so either side of the Reformation. Some, unfortunately, are remounted vertically on the wall and in the splay of a window (if there is ever a fire, they will melt and run like butter) but the best are in the sanctuary floor.

Best of all is the one that Pevsner unaccountably missed. It lies on the north side, a metal flower-stand placed roughly on top of it. It shows Robert Brampton and his wife. They lie in shrouds, their inscriptions still intact, a shield between them. They gaze up at a perfect, precious and rare image of the Holy Mother of God and the Infant Christ. How on earth did that survive the Anglican and Puritan reformers? It felt like a secret, here.

Coming back in 2018, I wasn't able to see it again, but I thought of it, ancient and secret, while the churchyard boiled with the coming of spring, the singing of birds, and the surreal yet happy laughter of a wedding party in the garden of the old rectory across the road. I stood there for a while, and then got back on my bike and headed on to Stratton Strawless.

Simon Knott, March 2019

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view into the nave from  the chancel sanctuary Bramptons in their splendour Bramptons in their shrouds  memorial precious survival - Madonna and child
more Bramptons inscriptions in a window splay vanishing Bramptons

 

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