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

St Peter and St Paul, Carbrooke

Carbrooke

south doorway Carbrooke Carbrooke

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    St Peter and St Paul, Carbrooke

Carbrooke church is visible for miles, standing on its ridge to the north-east of the town of Watton, a typical example of a great East Anglian medieval church of which there are several around here, for Saham Toney, Hingham and Deopham are all close at hand, their prominent towers also an adornment to this intensely agricultural Norfolk landscape. The construction of the church unfolds, broadly speaking, from east to west. The 14th Century chancel, as large as some East Anglian churches on its own, has striking east window tracery, a foil for the grand late medieval tower with its curiously restrained battlements at the other end of the church. An aisle and a clerestory flank both sides of the nave. Carbrooke is a sizeable village with its own school, but the church sits above parkland and meadowland, ruling all it surveys.

The south porch conceals another of those ogee-arched doorways that seem to have been a local fashion. There is one very similar under the tower at Caston.You step through it into a remarkably large space, accentuated perhaps by the relative narrowness of the doorway. The 19th century restoration here was considerable. The church is a big one, and the result is not entirely satisfactory, for there is an anonymous, almost urban feel to the nave, the arcades lifting the beautiful clerestory windows aloof from the middlebrow Victorian furnishings, despite some of them retaining medieval bench ends. The 14th Century font feels a bit lost in the openness of the nave. The roof above is odd, for there is a plaster ceiling, but protruding through it are parts of the beams, like the skeleton of a great white whale. Angels holding symbols have lost their wings, but are probably the 15th Century originals.

Separating the chancel from the nave are the remains of what must have been a fine late medieval screen. More unusual are the image niches arranged either side of the screen climbing up the chancel arch. At the very top of the arch is a curious painted board, as if it were a fire curtain waiting to descend. It appears to have three subjects painted on it, a large one flanked by two smaller ones. The immediate suggestion is that it was a royal arms, but the central image looks very much like the crossed keys and sword of St Peter and St Paul. Yet another unusual survival, and a much earlier one, is in the floor of the chancel. This is a pair of coffin slabs that date from the 13th Century and have the cross marks of the Knights Templars. The antiquarian Francis Blomefield deciphered their inscriptions as being for Roger de Clare and his mother, who founded an order of Hospitallers here in the the final decade of the 12th Century.

The triumphant early 20th Century scheme of glass by Powell & Sons would dominate a smaller church. The incumbent here from 1927 until 1955 was George Chambers, known to his parishioners as Father George. He set the parish on a course into the upper spheres of Anglo-Catholicism, one tempered by his own radical socialism. He memorably commissioned a processional cross with a hammer and sickle on it! He was a friend of the Bohemian artists John and Katin Moray-Smith, who were based nearby in Norwich, and they provided a number of sculptures and reliefs to Carbrooke, the most endearing of which is the 1930s memorial at the east end of the south aisle. It remembers Elizabeth Chambers, the sister of Father George, and depicts a young woman, willowy, with her clothes blown against her, consorting with two deer in the style of St Francis. It is set next to what was in those days no doubt a flower-bedecked lady altar, but no trace of Carbrooke's Anglo-Catholic past survives today. But still, a Latin inscription commits her soul into the hands of God, and continues with the beautiful words from Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner:

He prayeth best who loveth best all things both great and small
For the dear God who loveth us he made and loveth all.

Simon Knott, June 2021

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looking east chancel sanctuary
St Luke looking west chancel arch flanked by image niches he prayeth best who loveth best Angels
royal arms? symbol of St Peter and St Paul? font coffin slabs (early 13th Century)

   
               
                 

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