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St Mary, Denton
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Denton has one of the most curious church towers I know, with evidence of three rebuildings, all of them quite different to each other. The earliest was a flint round tower, and the curved eastern face of this survives, abutting the nave. This round tower fell in the 18th century, and it was rebuilt in the late Tudor style, a beautiful red-brick square tower. Finally, the Victorians added the unusual west windows in the Decorated style, and a top stage was added in flint and freestone. There's nothing else quite like it. Across the valley to the west, the tall, stern tower of Alburgh stands, a sentinel.
St Mary has a number of features that would be famous in almost any other county, and the first of these is the extraordinarily good series of bosses in the fine 15th century north porch. They are obviously by the same workshop as those at Hethersett and Wymondham. They are intricately carved, at once delicate and bold. They have been sympathetically restored, and depict the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection, the Ascension of Christ and the Coronation of the Queen of Heaven. This is effectively a rosary sequence, and it is easy to imagine 15th century Dentoners standing in this porch telling their beads as they looked up in wonder.
In this part of Norfolk the churches are very welcoming to strangers and pilgrims, such a contrast with those to the south-west around Harleston, so you will be able to step inside to what at first seems a large, anonymous, Victorianised interior. It was difficult for the Victorians to resist giving such a big church as this an urban feel, but there are still local, rustic survivals that provide a link with the lost generations.
Anyway, on the east end of the chest are St Agnes, with a dagger and a little lamb, and St Dorothy, with a basket of flowers. The eastern range on the front consists of St Jude with a boat, St Peter with a bunch of keys, a Bishop who appears to be wearing a papal tiara and is therefore St Gregory, and St Clement with an anchor. The western range on the front is St Zita with her household keys, St Barbara with a tower, St Edmund in royal robes and carrying an arrow, and St Edward the Confessor in royal robes carrying a ring. The west end of the chest contains probably the most interesting figure, St Walstan of Bawburgh with his scythe, and St Paul with a sword.
Perhaps the most spectacular feature of St Mary is the east window. This is an elegant four light window, with interlocking tracery, and it is crammed full of English and continental glass, mostly from the 16th and 17th centuries, but with a small amount of very good English medieval glass set in it.
Windows of this kind are not unusual in Norfolk, and are of two kinds; either, as here, the collection of some antiquarian local Squire or Rector that was bequeathed to the church, or sometimes a collection bought as a job lot, often from the Norwich dealer JC Hamp. According to Mortlock, the glass here was collected by the Rector, John Postlethwaite, and it was left to the church along with an astonishingly large amount of money, £200, to have it installed. This is about £40,000 in today's money. No wonder they did a good job. The most interesting thing is quite how early this was; many of the collections of this kind made their way into churches in the late 18th and early 19th century, but this dates from 1716.
The best feature here are the two roundels in the centre, one depicting St Christopher and the other the eagle of St John. Just above, the Flemish glass is signed C Le Grys Manfylde, 1567. There are two sets of Royal Arms (the Stuart set is particularly vivid) and some of this glass probably came from secular buildings originally.
There is a magnificent piscina and a single seat of the former sedilia up in the chancel, which must date from its early 14th century construction. At the other end of the church, the entrance to the stairway that leads to the parvise, the upper storey of the porch, is in the north-west corner of the nave. It is a grand entrance with a fleuroned doorway set under a triangular pitched roof. You can go upstairs and take a look; it is mow used as a meeting room, and the most interesting thing about it is that this upper storey was obviously open to the elements for many years.
Simon Knott, March 2006
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