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

St Andrew, Colton

Colton

Colton

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St Andrew, Colton

Norfolk is a big place. After North Yorkshire, Lincolnshire, Cumbria and Devon it is the fifth largest county in England, and inevitably there are parts of it which are less well-known than others. In that triangle of quietly agricultural countryside between Attleborough, Dereham and Norwich, for instance, there are perhaps eighty medieval churches, but only a handful of them - Ketteringham, the two Tuddenhams, Ringland - ever make it into the guidebooks. And yet, in any other county, Colton church would surely be better known. The church sits away from its village along the rolling back lane to Barnham Broom in a delightful churchyard carved out of the fields around, with just the old rectory for company.

Externally, this church is still what most early 14th Century East Anglian churches would have looked like when the Black Death arrived. A bequest at the very end of the 15th Century probably topped out the tower and provided a new bell, and most of the window tracery was replaced in the 19th Century, although probably along fairly authentic lines. And yet, all may not be as it seems. Curiously, Pevsner says that the church originally had aisles but the arcades were removed at some time to widen the nave. Certainly, inside we will see a blocked opening to the south of the chancel arch which is curtailed by the south wall of the nave. If an aisle was removed on this side then the south wall must have been rebuilt further north, but it seems just as likely that Pevsner has misinterpreted what happened here. He points to the 17th Century roof as a likely time that the changes were made, whatever they were.

A low north porch leads into the nave, and you step into a church with an unashamedly old-fashioned atmosphere. Not a lot has happened in the nave since the 1850s, when a substantial restoration brought the furnishings and a remarkably low gallery at the west end, primarily to contain a large and elaborate organ in the High Victorian Gothic style. This was a time, of course, when many galleries were being removed from churches as unsuited to the liturgy of the 19th Century revival. The organ here rises from its gallery like a sea monster from the waves. To the north of it on the west wall there is an unusual survival in the form of a wall painting. It depicts the Warning against Gossip, a popular late 14th Century teaching tool designed to depict a dangerous occasion of sin. Two women sit on a bench ignoring their rosaries but having what older East Anglians might call a good old mardle. Devils encourage them by pushing them together, meanwhile writing down on scrolls the things they say, doubtless to be used in evidence against them on the day of judgement. The scene survives in perhaps half a dozen East Anglian churches.

warning against gossip (detail) warning against gossip

The gallery was paid for by the Daveney family, whose ledger stones pave the nave and chancel. You walk eastwards across them through a church of light and shadow, the interplay of air, stone, wood and metal. In front of the delicate screen, with its wheels in the ogee arch above the entrance, hangs a brass lamp. Above, an Art Nouveau wrought iron rood completes the piece perfectly. Some of the benches appear to be old, and on one a pair of two-headed goats butt each other in symmetry either side of a poppyhead. Lavers, Barraud & Westlake produced the glass in the chancel, the date of 1900 perhaps being an attempt to bring the church back into the latest fashion. A brass floor memorial to Thomas Spendlove tells us that he was late cheife constable of this hundred. He died at the age of 45 in 1631.

The money of the Daveney family may have left its mark on the church, but it is a Pooley that dominates the nave. He is Philip Pooley, who died in 1715, and his memorial in the north-east corner of the nave is surmounted by his painted bewigged bust life-size in effigy, a somewhat pious expression on his face. You can't help thinking that his memorial was deliberately positioned so that he is looking over the shoulder of the minister preaching from the pulpit. His inscription tells us that he was an affectionate Husband, a good Father, a kind Master, a devout Frequenter of the Publick Worship, a true lover of the Clergy, a charitable Benefactor to the Poor, an obliging Neighbour, a generous friend, a Pious Christian, whose exalted Soul through the infinite Merits of Jesus Christ, enjoys a blessed Immortality. The more restrained memorial beside it is to his wife.

Philip Pooley, 1715 Philip Pooley, 1715

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, Henry Daveney was curate here, serving in place of the rector Henry Girdlestone who was also rector of Landford in Wiltshire. This was not uncommon in the first half of the 19th Century before the Anglican revival got going and more or less did away with plurality and absentee incumbents. Henry Daveney was the major landowner in the parish of Colton and presumably did not rely on the church for any of his income. It is interesting to note that out of Colton's population of two hundred and forty one, just seventeen people chose to make it along the lane to attend morning service that day. However, there were nearly a hundred people in attendance for the afternoon sermon. It was quite usual in East Anglia for the sermon to attract more people than the service, but the size of the difference in attendance here is suggestive of a Low Church parish who would certainly have been more comfortable with Daveney's west gallery than they would with the new fashion for altars, candlesticks and crosses.

Eventually, afternoon sermons would die out and the familiar pattern of matins, evensong and communion services become the norm, but for now it was the sermon that most attracted people. Interestingly, Daveney recorded the rector's income from farm, rent charge and glebe at Colton as being 350 a year, roughly 70,000 in today's money, but, as he added in a footnote, in the absence of the rector I am unable to state how much is derived from each source.

Simon Knott, June 2022

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looking east sanctuary looking west font and organ gallery
font Crucifixion (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1900) St Mark (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1900) St Matthew (Lavers, Barraud & Westlake, 1900) John Deveney, 1855, 'after restoring this church he presented and finally endowed the organ'
Thomas Spendlove, 1631, 'late cheife constable of this hundred'

   
   
               
                 

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