Breckles Lynford Merton Thompson Threxton

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

St Margaret, Breckles

Tree-surrounded St Margaret

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From the south-east

    St Margaret, Breckles

The village of Breckles happily finds itself bypassed by the main Thetford to Watton road, standing on higher ground on a quiet parallel lane. We had left the Breckland behind, and the hills began to roll greenly on this Spring day. The 16th century Hall is one of East Anglia's best, built in the 1580s for Francis Wodehouse, whose wife was known, says Pevsner, as a popish seducinge recusant. That's my kind of woman. The Hall has what appears to be a genuine priest hole for saving passing Jesuits from their mandatory sentence of a shameful, painful death; but half a century before, the Breckles parish church of St Margaret had been in the care of the Catholic Church, and its ministers were Catholic Priests. All of this had changed in less than a life time.

If those early 16th century Priests could come back today, they would still recognise the outside of St Margaret as their church. They may even have been among those who commissioned the late 15th century octagonal bell stage, familiar from the churches of Lothingland, although the main part of the tower below is very old, Saxon perhaps, and certainly one of East Anglia's oldest. The tower archway has intriguing designs on its capitals which may well predate the Norman invasion.

Once inside, our Priests would be on less familiar ground, despite the rigorous attempt by the maverick EB Lamb to restore the medieval integrity of the interior in 1862. The survival of their font might comfort them; it was already ancient in their time, hacked out by Normans when they enforced the increasing practice of infant baptism in the late 11th century. The designs seem so unfamiliar to us because there is no attempt at unity or symmetry; Mortlock calls it lively and barbaric, which is about right. The eastern face is the best; four standing figures in archways, who may be the evangelists, or the four Latin Doctors, or orders of the clergy, or anything else I suppose.

I dare say they wouldn't think much to what's been done to their screen, but what survives is rather lovely, the great chains of flowers carved directly out of the wood. Beyond, they wouldn't begin to comprehend the theology behind the ledger stones to John Webb and his daughter Ursula Hewyt. Webb was son-in-law of the puritan Sir Thomas Richardson, Lord Chief Justice of England during the later years of the Commonwealth. But it is Ursula's stone that amazes, because it is small and round rather than long and rectangular. In keeping with the lunacy of those times that were so out of joint, she chose as her epitaph Stat ut vixit erecta - and so she was buried standing up.

Simon Knott, July 2004

You can also read: an introduction to churches beyond the battle zone I

   

Late medieval window set in the tower, probably contemporary with the bell stage Looking east The font, lively and barbaric The font: detail
Four figures - who are they? Font from the south-east The screen, elaborated by enthusiastic Laudians
Stat ut vixit erecta The Saxon tower arch Amazing capital relief

an introduction to churches beyond the battle zone I

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