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

All Saints, Dickleburgh

Dickleburgh: we all love a good moan

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
Dickleburgh in the rain peek a boo Marian monograms niches beyond the war memorial
Dickleburgh magnificent porch porch: detail school

    All Saints, Dickleburgh
Dickleburgh screen   2010 will remain memorable for a number of reasons, one of them being that it was the year in which, at last, I got to see inside Dickleburgh church, at the sixth attempt. Back in 2006 I had moaned heartily on this site about arriving here on my bike in driving rain hoping to shelter from in the church, or at least in the porch in the traditional manner - one of the functions of such structures was to provide shelter for pilgrims and travellers. But it was not to be. As the heavens emptied on me, I was reduced to rattling the outer doors of the porch in frustration, for I was kept out by a fearsome padlock.

There was no notice to tell me where the key was - indeed, it wasn't actually possible to read any of the notices, because they were all locked up inside the porch. When I said as much on this site, a kind and gentle lay reader contacted me to tell me that Dickleburgh church is, in fact, open all day and every day, and I must simply have arrived too late in the day to find it open.

Be that as it may, my visits over the next few years, at differing times of the day and in various months of the year, found exactly the same situation, so when Peter and I learned that Dickleburgh church was taking part in the Norfolk Open Churches week in 2010, we headed on the first morning at a reasonably good speed up the A12 to check it out. You'll not be surprised to learn that we arrived to find the church locked.

It must be said that Peter partly blamed me. He had a point - he had seen inside already, because on one occasion he had found the church open, but every time he had come this way with me it had been locked, just as when I had attempted to see inside on my own. However, leaving Dickleburgh by a different route we found a roadside notice advertising a flower festival, due to begin that afternoon. So, after a few hours we headed back, and not even fate or circumstance could this time prevent us from finding the porch gates open.

I'm not a huge fan of flower festivals, but it is a useful way of seeing inside more reclusive churches, and in any case All Saints is such a vast barn of a building it would be difficult for the arrangements to be a distraction. Although considerably restored and renewed, the building is essentially a typical 15th Century great East Anglian church, with an earlier tower as is often the case. The porch, which I had got to know rather well, is spectacular, the very apotheosis of devotional craftsmanship on the eve of the Reformation. If the tower had been rebuilt it would no doubt have been much higher.

The kind man on duty gave us a leaflet and told us which was the best way to go round to see the flowers. It seemed churlish to say that we'd actually come to see the church rather than the flowers, especially as we were planning to take photographs. As we wandered up the aisle he pressed a cassette into the deck on the PA system behind him, and soon the building was filled with the rather unedifying sound of what appeared to be the London Symphony Orchestra's version of A Whiter Shade of Pale, probably from an album called something like Rock Goes Classical: the LSO Play the Hits, or something. I sighed, and decided that I would have to accept that my visit to Dickleburgh church was not going to be like my other visits elsewhere - which, as it turned out, was quite all right, because Dickleburgh church is not like other churches.

The most famous feature is probably the screen, of which only the dado survives, but it is intricately and beautifully carved, and, as Pevsner observed, very unusual. Restored sympathetically in red, green and cream, it features in its spandrels a cavalcade of mysterious beasts and people, of which the monk playing pipes and the dog catching a rabbit are among the most striking.

Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen 
Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen Dickleburgh screen

Turning back west, the early 19th Century gallery survived the Victorians, possibly because it was still so new. On the front of it there is a good set of royal arms for Charles II dated 1662, although Mortlock thought they might be a repainted earlier Stuart set from before the Commonwealth. It is interesting to see a set so soon after the Restoration of the Monarchy. Dickleburgh was plainly a solidly royalist parish, as can be send from two splendid memorials up in the chancel, one to Dame Frances Playters, who died on the eve of the Restoration in 1659, and the other to Christopher Barnard, the Caroline Rector of this place. Dame Frances has one of the most memorable memorials in Norfolk - she is shown standing in her graveclothes looking out over the chancel for all the world as if she is surveying it from a window, or more precisely an opera box. The inscription below it notes that her husband William Players, deputy lieutenant and Vice Admiral of Suffolk, a Justice of the Peace and Colonel of the Regiment of Foot, was turned out of all by the then rebellious Parliam't and... out of the Hous of Parliam't whereof he had ye misfortune to be a member.

Barnard's inscription records an even more extraordinary story, telling that, after he was arrested by the Puritans, his parishioners... thought it a judgement upon them when ye soudyers drag'd him away to carry him to Norwich Castle; but his beloved flock follow'd him and resqued him and hid him a long time after. it is said that they hid his corn and threshed it secretly. You'll be pleased to know that Barnard survived the long Cromwellian night, and lived to see the Restoration. The puritan arrogance and stupidity against which the good parishioners of Dickleburgh positioned themselves has a much quieter presence here, its only relic being a most unusual ledger stone of the 1650s, which is scratched poorly with an image of a lady of substance. It is a gentle reminder of the glorification of ignorance which I am afraid has continued to run as a minor yet occasionally visible thread through certain secttions of English culture ever since.

The east window is by Hardman & Co, more usually employed by Catholic churches, and inevitably the work seems somewhat out of place in what is now a thorough-going evangelical worship space. Unfortunately, all the internal lighting was on full, which made taking photographs of the glass rather difficult, especially as the great east window is most unfortunately covered with perspex, presumably to help keep the heat in.

To the strains of the LSO struggling manfully with You Sexy Thing or somesuch, we thanked our kind hosts and headed out in to the churchyard. To the west of the church is the fine school built in 1812 and extended in 1842 for the Parish, an unusual survival. To the north of it are a number of most interesting headstones, perhaps the most memorable of which is to Basil Charles Lines, a private in the 4th battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. The deep cut relief at the top of the headstone depicts an enlaurelled rifle and cap, bearing the Norfolk Regiments badge. Basil Lines lied about his age to enlist, but died of pneumonia before he could be sent abroad. He was just 17 years old.

  Dickleburgh screen

Simon Knott, February 2011

   

looking east looking west
opera box memorial looking east sanctuary
St John the Baptist out of a pious and affectionate regard to his memory Alma, Inkerman, Sevastapol, Crimea welcome to heaven
arms and colours welcome to heaven incised ledger stone (1650s) Charles II 1662
emergency exit killed in the charge of the Australian Light Horse, Gallipolli flower festival descended to the grave with an humble but fervent hope

Basil Charles Lines Basil Charles Lines Basil Charles Lines
shake hands shake hands dove descending

              

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