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

St Mary, East Raynham

East Raynham

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East Raynham porch war memorial

    St Mary, East Raynham
soli deo gloria   Shortly after this decade ends, I shall celebrate my fiftieth birthday. And yet, I find that I can still shock people by telling them that, in all that time, I have set foot in the part of England south of Birmingham and west of Oxford no more than half a dozen times. "But that is the real England!" they tell me, and perhaps they are right. In any case, in my heart I know that in my travels around East Anglia it has been a peculiarly East Anglian history which I have found myself tracing, and not a definitively English one. The same has been true in other places I have lived, Yorkshire in my twenties, and in our frequent sojourns in Northumberland. The closer you get to the ground, the smaller the picture gets. To try and build a vision of Englishness from closely packed, introverted East Anglian parishes would have you gibbering and blithering like barmy Arthur Mee.

And yet, when I visit a place like East Raynham I do sense a wider picture, and inevitably so. Here it was that Turnip Townshend helped to turn English agriculture upside down, putting in place at least some of the preconditions for the Industrial Revolution. Big estates like this defined a peculiarly English form of rural patronage which would last until the beginning of the First World War. Here, with a big country house and a big church beside it, there is a sense of being a part of a tapestry of the kind of Englishness for which Roger Scruton wrote his famous and articulate elegy.

For St Mary is a reminder of something that we all too easily forget. The Victorian imagination was not concerned with conservativism, but with continuity. John Henry Newman, who I consider, alongside Darwin and Marx, to be one of the three great thinkers of the 19th century, famously defined tradition as something organic, something constantly unfolding and changing. Darwin, Marx and Newman were all concerned with development, and their ideas freed us in the 20th century to follow courses with astonishing consequences.

Here on the Raynham estate, there were three churches, but the one at West Raynham, the biggest village on the estate, had fallen into disuse by the early years of the 18th century. Few people attended the established church for religious reasons in those days, and the very meaning of the Church of England had come to be little more than a part of the ideological apparatus of the state. This would not really change until the rise of evangelicalism in the later years of the same century, and so it was of little consequence that West Raynham church was abandoned, and the church beside the hall became the parish church for both villages.

However, the religious landscape had altered significantly by the middle years of the 19th century. At the time of the National Census of Religious Worship in 1851, perhaps as many as 30% of the population were attending the Anglican parish churches (although less so in non-conformist East Anglia) and the rise to prominence of the Oxford Movement had created a new understanding of the meaning of Anglican church buildings. Most of England's churches were restored and even rebuilt at this time, and in the 1860s the old East Raynham church was demolished, and rebuilt on a grand scale.

The architects here were Clark and Holland. Pevsner calls them rather obscure architects from Newmarket. The construction took two years, at a cost of 7,000, about a million and a half in today's money. At about the same time the Lowestoft architect William Chambers was building the hideous Newmarket All Saints - I know which one I prefer. The church is broadly similar in outside appearance to its predecessor on the site, although the overall effect is of something rather grander. A plaque under the tower records the dedication on April 17th 1868, the Friday of Easter Week.

If the exterior promises an anonymous, urban interior, you step into a pleasant surprise. This is a quiet, calm, seemly building, with none of the fireworks of the broadly contemporary rebuilding at Blickling, with which it bears some similarities. There is a simplicity to the interior, but it is a prayerful one. This is a church in which to sit as much as to wander. The glass in the aisle east windows is modern, depicting the Road to Emmaus on one side, and Christ flanked by St Margaret and the Blessed Virgin on the other.

The overwhelming presence here, of course, is of the Townshend family, their memorials going back more than half a millennium. The Easter Sepulchre is a surprise, elegant and full of eve-of-the-Reformation detail - I think it is little-known. It remembers Sir Roger Townshend, the first of Raynham, who was a lawyer; among his clients were the famous Paston family. My favourite is to Lord Charles Townshend and his wife Charlotte, a sentimental piece with angels praying over a cross.

Perhaps the most interesting memorial here is to Townshend of Kut; again, now a little-known name, but almost a century ago he was a national celebrity.

Kut-al-Amara in Iraq was the scene of one of the more infamous events of the First World War. In the winter of 1915, about 30,000 British soldiers, led by General Charles Townshend, holed up in the city to defend it against Ottoman forces led by the German high command. Fed on stories of the siege of Khartoum thirty years earlier, the British public avidly followed the course of the event in the new popular tabloid newspapers.

It was a military disaster. Empire forces tried to break the siege, at the loss of some 33,000 lives. Townshend finally surrended to the Germans in April, by which time some 17,000 of those in the city had died. The historian James Morris called it the most abject capitulation in Britain’s military history. Poignantly, his memorial records that his widow erected it to the one whose memory will always live.

  St Margaret   Blessed Virgin

Simon Knott, October 2007

looking east font looking west altar
pulpit royal arms winged lion Lamb of God
Easter Sepulchre monk St Margaret of Scotland civilian Townsend
Herbert William Leonard Southgate Gave his Life at Mareth Townsend Townshend of Kut 
Roll of Honour Road to Emmaus Christ flanked by St Margaret and the Blessed Virgin Road to Emmaus 

headstones Thomas Fenn faces Robert Burton
angel harvest Mann headstones     

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