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

All Saints, Earsham

Earsham - apparently big

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    All Saints, Earsham
Norfolk in winter   Like neighbouring Ditchingham, Earsham is saved from being mere suburbia by the way the lazy Waveney sprawls, forcing water meadows between the Suffolk town of Bungay and its Norfolk adherents. Unlike Ditchingham, Earsham has a feel of remoteness; it is neatly bypassed by the road from Diss, and you wouldn't even know that Bungay was there, the illusion is so complete. Mind you, there are far worse towns than pretty Bungay to find yourself a suburb of.

While Earsham successfully retains the feel of a small village, there can be no doubt that All Saints presents itself as a big church. This again is something of an illusion, sleight of hand if you like; the nave is quite long, but there are no aisles, no clerestory.

The chunky 14th century tower is surmounted by a rather squat spire, one of few in East Anglia. It is this, coupled with the substantial chancel, that creates the feel of a sprawling building.Around the back is one of the most successful 20th century extensions I've seen in Norfolk. Cutting into the rising graveyard, the parish rooms take the length of the building as their cue. Close up, there is an elegance to the connecting walkway that reminded me somewhat of a cloister.

Stepping inside there is no doubt that length is the over-riding feature of the structure, the almost tunnel-like nave leading the eye into the bright, majestic high Tractarianism of the chancel.

But before that, the font. Earsham has one of East Anglia's thirty-odd seven sacrament fonts, but is rather different from others I have seen in that it is slim, with portrait-shaped reliefs. This require some simplification in the iconography, the Last Rites and Mass panels in particular being awkwardly squeezed into their spaces, but there is no doubt that this font is a most elegant example. The eighth 'odd panel out' is the Crucifixion. The whole thing is in excellent condition, and really deserves to be better known.

  Earsham's seven sacrament font

SE: Confession S: Matrimony SW: Last Rites W: the Crucifixion
NW: Ordination N: Baptism NE: Confirmation E: Mass

The collection of foreign glass in the east window is very successful, - the most striking panels are the death bed scene on the north side, which I take to be the Last Rites from the seven sacraments rather than the Dormition, and a very strange panel on the south that appears, at first, to show the Annunciation - but the woman at the prayer desk with her back to the angel is clearly not Mary, but probably a donor. The four roundels of the Evangelists are tender to the point of mawkishness. Their symbols, obviously tame, look on adoringly like pets at their masters as the four men sit there writing; but the whole thing holds well together.

William Windham, the recipient of the grand memorial on the nave wall, died in 1730 having lost a limb in the defence of his country, which obviously leaves us wanting to know more.

All this apart, you come to Earsham for the glory of the late 19th century Anglo-catholic revival. Mortlock thought quite well of the reredos in the 1980s, seeing it anticipate the work of Ninian Comper (who was busy near to here at Eye, Lound and Barsham) but today, in the early years of the 21st century, it is just about in the very peak of modern fashion. The gorgeous child angels (surely painted from the life?) seem to step straight from London Underground adverts for the Victoria and Albert museum. We love this kind of thing nowadays.

Simon Knott, March 2005

Sanctuary Looking  west William Windham, 1730 Poignant children's graves to the west of the church
Curious 'donor in Annunciation' Last Rites Matthew and Mark Luke and John
The gorgeous reredos angel children Adoration of the Magi angel children


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