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

St Mary, Brancaster

Brancaster: well-kept, well-used, open and welcoming

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  St Mary, Brancaster
earnest tower   St Mary is by no means the most interesting or exciting of the churches round about here, but it is well kept, well-used, open and welcoming, so can be forgiven almost anything else. Externally, this is a Dec and Perp church on a small scale, the narrow graveyard making it seem larger than it is. The graveyard, incidentally, is full of interest, with several 18th century headstones to victims of shipwreck, including one to a couple who were left to drown while all their goods were pilfered, which may have been raised as an act of penance.

The church guide emphasises that, unusually, the Victorians left St Mary almost completely untouched; but there was a massive early 19th century restoration, and in the early 20th century the interior was completely refurnished, leaving the church rather dull by comparison with the extravagances the Victorians might have conjured. Fortunately, the almost universal Anglo-catholic character of this corner of Norfolk has tempered the dullness.

While the early 20th century furnishings are discreet, the east window is glorious, particularly the hosts of angels. The earlier restoration also brought the William IV royal arms, and most unusual of all the clock high up on the west wall of the nave. This is what is known as a preacher's dial, positioned discreetly so the minister could see it but the people couldn't - or at least, not without giving themselves away. Incidentally, such things were intended to make sure the preacher went on for long enough, not to keep him brief.

There are a couple of earlier survivals. A font cover, more artifice than art, and a couple of ancient poor boxes. A Tudor brass. But it is hard to imagine yourself back beyond the dour Hanoverians.

Simon Knott, May 2005


looking east
perpendicular font cover sanctuary lamp in the chancel arch a host of angels
a gathering of saints brass William IV unusual: preacher's dial
18th century headstone 18th century headstone 

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