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St Lawrence, Brundall


Brundall thatched

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St Lawrence, Brundall

The Broads begin at Brundall. This is furthest outer Norwich, and it is as if Brundall, and particularly adjoining Brundall Gardens, were Norwich's Metroland, with two railway stations, bowling greens, boats on the river and 1920s mock-tudor in abundance. How Betjeman must have loved it. And I liked it a lot too, for when I first came here I had been cycling in nearby parishes which had an unenlightened attitude to church-opening. It was a pleasure to come here and be able to step inside this lovely space, and on the occasions I've visited since I have always found this church open.

But first, you have to find it. St Lawrence is a long, towerless church set back from the road and hidden in a garden-like churchyard with a rectory and parish hall. You enter the churchyard through a pretty thatched lychgate which serves as the parish memorial to the local boys lost in the mud and blood of Flanders, France and Gallipoli. The path takes you to the east of the church and onto the south side which slopes down towards the river. Many churchyards have benches, but here was the first time today I was unable to resist sitting down and soaking up the sunshine and the birdsong. It was idyllic.

St Lawrence is a curious building. There probably never was a tower. A tall bellcote sits about a third of the way down the nave, level with the porch. As Pevsner notes, it appears to be medieval. The north aisle you see as you walk from the lych gate dates from as recently as 1900, but everything you see from the south side is apparently 13th Century, except that, in reality, the bellcote sits above the medieval western gable, for early in the 20th Century the nave was extended westwards. If you stand to the south you can see that the inside inevitably gets darker inside the further east you go.

You step into a small church with what is essentially an Edwardian era interior, that period of High Church triumphalism and gravitas between the end of the 19th Century and the First World War. It is the Church of England at its dramatic peak. But there is a memorable medieval survival here, for Brundall is home to East Anglia's only lead font. it is contemporary with the 13th Century church building, its design depicting a repeated motif of the crucifixion and fleur-de-lys. It seems oddly primitive in comarison with lead fonts found elsewhere in the country, for example at Low Halstow and Brookland in Kent.

font font font

There is glass by Clayton and Bell, and Kempe & Co, none of it very exciting or particularly intrusive, but it does let coloured light fall across the dark wood furnishings in an atmospheric way. In the north aisle, and probably installed here as part of the restoration in 1900, there is a markedly good roundel of continental glass depicting the church's patron saint with his grid iron. It is probably 18th Century I should think, unless it is one of those clever copies by the King workshop. Certainly of the 20th Century is the set of royal arms above the south door, because it is for Elizabeth II, one of several sets in East Anglia but probably the only one which appears to be painted on a fibre glass panel.

The view eastwards is to the early 20th Century roodscreen and the darkness of the chancel beyond. You can see that St Lawrence was restored for shadowy, incense-led worship. Once while I was visiting this church an old gentleman came in to 'prepare the altar' for the following day's weekday communion, which probably doesn't happen in a lot of churches these days. On another occasion I came during Lent, and the simple wooden reredos was veiled in purple with a purple frontal on the altar below, the only place I saw this that day.

Either side of the altar on the sanctuary walls are 19th Century memorials. The one on the south side is to Charles Leath, Midshipman of the British Navy... who died at sea in 1804. The memorial features his sword and sextant in relief at the top. Even more striking is the memorial on the opposite wall. It dates from half a century later, and remembers Robert Cubitt and his wife Henrietta. The relief depicts a schooner with its sails furled, basking on a choppy sea. Under the relief are the words Such is Life.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east Brundall
Fortitude and Valour St Lawrence E II R St George
Cubitt such is life Died at sea, Midshipman of the British Navy
agnus dei


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