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

St Clement, Burnham Overy

Burnham Overy: the odd one out

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south side, west end south side, east end north side

  St Clement, Burnham Overy

There are several ways in which Burnham Overy (the name means over the river) is the odd one out of the Burnhams. Although it is barely a mile from Burnham Ulph, it feels much more remote, closeted in rolling hills, a thoroughly agricultural setting. You get the impression that people actually live here. And there are simple rows of cottages that do not appear to be the weekend homes of merchant bankers, television personalities and government ministers. The houses huddle around an ancient hill, and on top of it is a most extraordinary church. You walk up a narrow grass alley behind a terraced row to reach it, and it takes a couple of circumnavigations to work out what has happened here.

St Clement was a large, sprawling cruciform church. The transepts have now gone, except for the stub of the southern one which has been added into the south aisle of the nave. But there were once other aisles, certainly one to the south of the chancel, that have been lost. The tower has been shortened, and topped out with an elegant and beautiful bell turret. There is no other church in Norfolk quite like it.

If the outside is unusual, wait until you go inside. For what we have here is effectively two churches. During the long centuries between the Reformation and the Victorian revival, the area beneath the tower was blocked off, and the nave used as a church while the chancel became, among other things, a village school. Now, the whole thing has been reunited, but still the only connection between nave and chancel is a narrow passageway through the tower about five metres long through two simple doorways. The area beneath the tower is used as a vestry and for storage, and effectively there is no way of sitting in the nave and seeing what is going on in the chancel.

A nave altar has been installed beside the westerly of the two doorways, but the chancel is also fitted out for liturgical use. I had assumed that they usually used the chancel, but the nave had hymn boards up, extraordinary things, the numbers chalked on slate.

St Clement, then, is a quirky delight. Its atmosphere is added to by north-west Norfolk's only St Christopher wall-painting, the gothic horror of some 18th century monuments, the forbidding decalogue board still hanging at the east end of the nave, an awesome George III royal arms with sexually aroused supporters, and, strangest of all, the surviving south arcade still inside the south wall of the chancel. What an extraordinary place! It became for me the church against which all quirkiness will be measured.

I later discovered that the footballer Thierry Henry has a holiday home in Burnham Overy. This seems appropriate somehow.

Simon Knott, May 2005

 

inside the nave, looking north-east doorway to tower and chancel, and nave altar In the nave, looking east in the chancel, looking west
south arcade inside the chancel brass royal arms with, umm, excited supporters
chancel St Christopher gothic horror under the tower
banner chalk on slate font
18th century gravestone 18th century gravestone 18th century gravestone 

The Burnhams
Deepdale I Norton I Overy I Priory I St Henry I Sutton I Thorpe I Ulph I Westgate

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