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

St Andrew, Deopham

Deopham

Deopham Deopham south doorway

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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 the almost exactly contemporary tower at 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 here, who preferred to stick with what they knew, the detailing of the previous century. The corner buttresses are at angles to each other, and rise in no less than six stages. This tapering makes the whole tower appear as if it would eventually come to a point somewhere in the far distance. The most singular and spectacular part of the detailing is the triangular motif containing a flushwork wheel and flanked by flushwork shields on each side of the parapet. Also memorable are the flushwork blind windows facing east and west, with their elaborate tracery.

Deopham, pronounced Dee-f'm, is a scattered parish in the deceptively remote rolling landscape to the south-west of Norwich. The great church is visible from miles around. However, since I was last here in 2006 the building has fallen on hard times. The clerestory windows are boarded up from the outside, and the lead stolen from the south aisle roof in 2016 has never been replaced, the roof still covered with a tarpaulin in what was presumably intended to be a temporary arrangement. As you can imagine the church is dim and dusty inside, and a notice tells us that Heritage England have declared Deopham to be a church at risk.

The west doors are contemporary with the tower itself, but more impressive is the battlemented south doorway, also with its original doors and contained by a porch which is by comparison somewhat subdued. The aisle windows and chancel side windows are Decorated, the clerestories and east window Perpendicular, though for the reason already stated it is unlikely that many years separate them. 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, despite its current state. 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 19th Century return stalls crowned by elaborately carved poppyheads depicting scenes from the story of the Good Samaritan. The benches of the stalls have small heads, one of which was probably intended as a green man, but looks more like a Victorian patriarch with mutton chop whiskers.

For such a large church there are strikingly few memorials, and in the gloom from the boarded up clerestory this wide space seemed rather sad without features to punctuate its walls. There are a few medieval survivals. The screen must have stretched across the church, and part of the dado in the south aisle screens the chapel which has been pressed into service as some kind of storage area. There is a scattering of medieval glass at the east end of the north aisle, mainly canopy work. A pretty piscina survives in the south wall of the sanctuary.

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 arcade 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.

Early 20th Century banners include one for a Servers of the Sanctuary Guild, and the Mothers Union banner has Ave Maria embroidered on it. These, and a contemporary statue set in a 14th Century image niche suggest that there was once an Anglo-Catholic tradition here, perhaps even into living memory. However, half a century earlier at the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, the recently appointed vicar George Henry Turner had commented that this has been a long neglected parish, without either Day or Sunday School. The congregation is now increasing and schools (National) are to be erected immediately. Perhaps it was a result of this neglect that the parish boasted at the time two Primitive Methodist churches, which bizarrely claimed a total attendance between them of five hundred and fifteen congregants on the day of the census at a time when the parish had a population of just four hundred and ninety-four. Of course, some of these people would have come from further afield, and some probably attended more than one service. The parish church on the other hand was host to just forty people for morning service that day. There was obviously a lot of work for the Reverend Turner to do at Deopham.

Simon Knott, August 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
bench end (17th Century) font looking west through the 19th Century return stalls
canopy and vinework fragments (15th Century) font south aisle screen
green man? or muttonchop whiskers? (19th Century) The Good Samaritan pays the innkeeper, Christ in Majesty seated behind (19th Century) The Good Samaritan (19th Century) girl's head (19th Century)
Deopham Servants of the Sanctuary image niche (14th Century) grateful remembrance Ave Maria Deopham Hackford M U

 

   
   
               
                 

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