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

St Mary, Denver

Denver: gingerbread

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cat east window from the south Wallace

    St Mary, Denver

When you are young, the gingerbread house is always sinister. But in reality, these rugged, carstone buildings of north-west Norfolk are delicious, especially when the gingerbread is offset by the icing of ashlar stone on buttresses and window splays. The square tower is an interesting contrast to the round one in the same material at neighbouring Bexwell. The rose-bedecked south porch is a delight.

The north aisle that you see in the picture at the top is, in fact, a Victorian addition; but carstone blends so well as it ages that you might not even spot this. Much of the building was here in the 13th century, and there are intriguing grotesque faces on each of the eaves. One is a cat as at Tottington. Another looks like Wallace out of Wallace and Grommit.

Denver is a pleasant suburb of the town of Downham Market, and St Mary sits in a long graveyard at the junction in the old village centre. The church underwent a wholesale restoration in the 1870s, and in truth it was not a great one. St Mary is the perfect place in Norfolk to see a multitude of the mass-produced ecclesiological items turned out by the factories and workshops of Birmingham and London in the second half of the 19th century; the font, the furnishings, the memorials and the glass are all typical of the genre, and the sombreness of the period is accentuated by the dim light inside. The glass is by Ian Pace; examples of Pace's work, Pevsner drily remarks, are not common, which is a good thing. The Annunciation and Visitation are the best, but even so are curiously lacking in spirit, as if the characters themselves were not interested, or at least not trying terribly hard. You can't help thinking that the churchwardens must have resented forking out the final payment.

However, the building has an authentic atmosphere; it would be no surprise if your Victorian ancestors followed you into the church and sat down for the morning service. If they could overcome the tricky problem with time travel, then access would provide no difficulty, because despite its lack of antiquarian interest this church is open daily for private prayer and meditation, for which it is to be thanked and congratulated.

Simon Knott, September 2005


          rose-bedecked south porch looking east looking west
19th century mass-produced font organ sanctuary Annunciation - oh dear Visitation - yawn...

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