East Lexham Great Dunham Houghton on the Hill Newton by Castle Acre

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

St Andrew, East Lexham

East Lexham: Ancient of Days

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from the south-east - note the bell window primitive and perfect south side

    St Andrew, East Lexham
gravestone with the farm buildings beyond   Our visit here on the 2003 Churchcrawling AGM was simply to give List Boss Phil a rare treat - his first ever round-towered church. Since then, I have been back here three times, because it is one of the most atmospheric places in the county, and always a pleasure.

Almost entirely an East Anglian speciality, round-towered churches look wrong in towns. Acle and Bungay Holy Trinity both suffer the heavy burden of generations of urbanites trying to make them look grander than they really are, although both remain beautiful inside. Gunton, land-locked by inner-city Lowestoft, closes its eyes and pretends it isn't happening.

No, for my money a round-towered church should be remote and surrounded by silence; cut off from the world like Stanford, on a bluff above the marshes like Ramsholt, or best of all marooned in a farmyard like here, with sheep cropping among the gravestones and agricultural smells all around.

There is something wildly resilient about a church in a place like this, as if it is saying I have survived. I will not succumb easily. For, while the CofE goes into managed decline and its often wholly unsuitable buildings shiver on death row, churches like St Andrew shrug off despair. They seem to exist for something more than the here and now, and there will always be people who love them. If churchgoing becomes, as a recent article in the Telegraph put it, an esoteric activity, then what is that to East Lexham church? Wholly organic, it has grown out of the earth it sits on in this outpost, and doesn't need to be useful.

superb war memorial the view east the view west royal arms

It helps that St Andrew's tower not only looks ancient, it is ancient. Here we have one of the few round towers in East Anglia that is almost entirely Saxon. Most are Norman, but everything up to the parapet here is pre-conquest, including those enchanting bell windows. The one facing east is probably the most beautiful. Indeed, as far as we know this may well be the oldest tower of all, being dated at about AD900.

Inside is wholly Victorianised, if not unpleasantly so. The base of the tower is in use as the vestry, so there are no garish extensions. Like most churches of this type it is narrow and dim without being gloomy. There is a sense of timelessness despite the overwhelmingly 19th century window tracery and furnishings, which presumably was an intention of the Victorians so they can be pleased with themselves. It is so easy to do these things badly.

The 20th century war memorial is superb, an image of St Michael set in the filled-in north doorway. In poor taste I know, but I noticed that the seven names included a Butcher and a Coward. There is a fascinating triple misericord seat up in the sanctuary.

Refreshed by the calm, we took the opportunity to surprise List Boss Phil with a book token as a mark of appreciation for all his hard work in promoting our esoteric activity. It seemed a wholly appropriate place; an outpost of England, an outpost of the mind.

Simon Knott, November 2004

  Thanks, LBP!

you can also read an introduction: Ancient of Days


    Sheep may safely graze 

an introduction: Ancient of Days

East Lexham Great Dunham Houghton on the Hill Newton by Castle Acre

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