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

St Andrew, Deopham

Deopham: a jaunty, friendly church

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Myrtle Sylvia Barnard the great tower tapering buttresses head towards a point no less than six stages in the buttressing
spectacular buttress stage  south porch vine motif on the tower I vine motif on the tower II

    St Andrew, Deopham

The great tower of St Andrew faces across the valley to the even more imposing tower of Hingham a couple of miles off. Though clearly a work of the Perpendicular period, there is a jauntiness, dare I say a friendliness, about the Deopham tower that belies the austerity of almost exactly contemporary work like Cawston. Does this mean that the assumed date of 1450 is a wrong one? Pevsner thought not, imagining rather that the modernising enthusiasms of late medieval architects cut no ice with the masons, who preferred to stick with the detailing of a century earlier.

south doorway, one of the best   The corner buttresses are at angles to each other, and rise in no less than six stages. I love the way that this tapering makes the whole tower appear as if it is intending to come to a point, which then finishes short in the parapet stage.

The most singular and spectacular part of the detailing is the triangular motif on each face of the parapet, but don't miss the frieze of vines about ten feet up on the walls of the tower. The western doors are contemporary with the tower itself, but more impressive is the battlemented south doorway, contained by a porch which is at least rebuilt. The doorway has niches carved on the tablet and fleurons on the arch. Its the best of its kind in the county, I think.

Deopham, pronounced Dee-ph'm, is a scattered parish in the deceptively remote hills to the south-west of Norwich. The great church is visible from miles around. So often, a grand exterior of this kind conceals a neutered, urban, unatmospheric interior. The Victorians so often failed to resist the temptation to make grand country churches into town ones. But that is not the case here at all, and there is a nice contrast between the splendour of the exterior and the homely interior. Peter Stephens describes it as rough and ready, and that is exactly right.

It is an interior that generations of ordinary people have made their own. This is most obvious in the furnishings, the rows of locally carved late 17th century benches with their curious pagoda-like motif on the bench ends. There are a couple of stabs at grandeur, with solid oak choir pews crowned by elaborately carved poppyheads depicting scenes with figures.

18th century vernacular 19th century grandeur 19th century grandeur

The soaring tower arch echoes the south doorway, and above it in the nave there is a bit of a puzzle. There is a lovely late medieval tie-beam roof - but on the south side of the acade only there is a row of stone corbels doing nothing, about two metres below the wooden angel corbels of the roof. What are they there for? Did they support the roof before the clerestory was added? Or was there a more ambitious plan for a double hammerbeam roof that was later abandoned for the cheaper option of the tie beams? Whatever, it is odd that they are only on the south side.

The overall feeling is of a light, open, rural space which hasn't changed a great deal in the last couple of centuries. There are a few medieval survivals - the screen must have stretched across the church; part of the dado is in the south aisle, screening a chapel. There is a scattering of medieval glass at the east end of the north aisle, mainly canopy work. A pretty pisicina survives in the south wall of the sanctuary.

The Deopham bells are on the floor in the north aisle. Four of them are 17th century, the other earlier, although I couldn't find the date in the inscription. I don't know much about bells, but the headstocks seemed to be damaged on several of them, and what remains of the wood is in poor condition, which is presumably an indication of the state of the bell frame. A stack of new steel girders behind the bells promises a future, but it is hard to see how such a tiny parish will ever find the wherewithall to rehang them. How wonderful if they could ring out from that great tower again!

Before leaving, wander down to the east end of the graveyard and be surprised at the life-sized effigy of Myrtle Sylvia Barnard, who died at the age of eleven in May 1945, a few days after Victory in Europe. What mixed emotions there must have been then in this little parish.

  Myrtle Sylvia Barnard

Simon Knott, January 2006


looking west - note the corbels on the south side sanctuary looking east chancel soaring tower arch
the Deopham bells screen local woodwork medieval glass, mostly canopy work
font - early 16th century? piscina a puzzle: stone corbel below the tie beam angel

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