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

All Saints, Brandon Parva

Brandon Parva: a great barn of a building

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a handsome building way in someone loves it big mistake: ragstone east wall

    All Saints, Brandon Parva
view from the nave   This poor, lonely church sits on its own at the end of a half mile long track from the Barnham Broom to Mattishall road. And yet, someone loves it, because in recent months the graveyard has been cleared of years of overgrowth, gravestones recovered and laid out in a line, and work has begun on restoring the structure of the building to something like a sound state. It is a handsome church, and if it was in a town or village it would be easy to love. But years of neglect have left it feeling sad and empty.

All Saints is a great barn of a building, and there is little heating, and of course no electricity. Because of this, it is only used in summer, and when we came here in early February it felt abandoned. Peter was pleased to see the cleared graveyard; he had found it almost impossible to photograph the outside of the building a couple of years previously. The only sign of life was an incongruous pair of used wine glasses on a table by the font. Mouldy peel in one suggested that they had been used for Christmas punch after a carol service a couple of months earlier.

There is no village, and the entire parish has barely a dozen houses. But the main reason for the air of abandonment inside is that the west end has been cleared of clutter so that workmen can get to the tower arch. This is one of the most singular examples in Norfolk; trailing vines entwine around the hood mould, and the whole piece sits on two massive heads. Unfortunately, the keystone of the arch has slipped, presumably as a result of movement in the tower, and an ingenious wooden frame has been put in place to hold it up until it can be mended.

The arch is surmounted by one of those scriptural quotes so beloved of the evangelical movement in the second half of the 19th century, and there are others scattered around the church, looking rather out of place in these modern days of quiet Anglican spirituality.

The nave is dominated by the massive memorial to John Warner in the south-east corner, his bones tied up in a winding sheet at the bottom. John died in 1702, and below on the wall is a very early post-Reformation painted wall memorial to his ancestor Richard Warner, who deceased the tenth daye of Maye 1587. On the floor in front of it is a fragment of a brass inscription. It seems to be made of two separate pieces, and so is probably a palimpsest, the back of a previously reused brass. It is obviously pre-Reformation, because it asks us in Latin to pray for the soul of Christine Buck and to commend her soul to Almighty God.

The off-centre chancel (was there a south aisle once?) is dominated by a very curious east window. The upper lights of the Decorated tracery are crammed in under a flattened arch. Mortlock thought it was Victorian, but I think it must be earlier, because it isn't shoddy as much as inarticulate. It looks like a confection of the 18th century.

You can see from outside that the wall has been rebuilt at sometime with ragstone rather than flint, which probably explains its current bulge. It is not an East Anglian material. The glass dates from the early 20th century, and depicts St Peter and St Paul; flanking the Baptism of Christ. They are all rather stern-faced and severe, I fear.

However, it was definitely the Victorians who reroofed the chancel, and this is of a high quality, and a thorough imitation of the medieval nave roof - the same people couldn't possibly have been responsible for that window tracery! Two bosses that are generally assumed to have come from the old roof are on the organ and the Priest's chair. One depicts the pelican in its piety, feeding its chicks on blood, and the other a rather alarming dove coming into land. I am going to be a real killjoy and say that I don't believe these carvings are medieval at all, but probaby early 20th century creations set on old backing bosses.

  pelican in her piety

I had recently received an e-mail from someone saying that a church only came alive when there was a service on. I had disagreed. Our medieval churches are folk museums and touchstones to the people of the past, their lives and their liturgies, a hand reached out to our friends and family down the long generations. The modern liturgy of the Church of England is just a passing fancy, and this has been true in any age of course. To be honest, I always find services a bit of a distraction. But here at Brandon Parva I thought that this was a building that cried out for human company. Whatever our final destiny may be, I am sure that it was never intended that we should be alone.

Simon Knott, February 2006


looking east to the off-centre chancel font chancel west end John Warner
east window sanctuary tower arch - the keystone fails south-west corner
John Warner's bones Sydney Thurston war memorial Christine Buck
Behold the Lamb of God Richard Warner tower arch - detail recovered gravestones laid out

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