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St Ethelbert, East Wretham
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Ethelbert, East Wretham
Norman was not Street's favoured style, but in fact the body of the little church against this tower is probably his best work in all East Anglia. Once you step inside it, you re-enter his favoured world of 13th Century Europe. Further, Wyrley Birch, Street's patron, was that unusual thing in Norfolk, an early Anglo-catholic, and over the next twenty years or so he furnished Street's church in a predominantly 14th and 15th century style, creating an illusion of continuity that is so often missing from 19th century churches. He provided stained glass of the highest quality, mainly by Powell & Sons and Clayton & Bell. The best of this is the triple light window of the Holy Kinship, depicting St Elizabeth with St John the Baptist, St Anne with the Blessed Virgin, and St Mary Salome with St John and St James.
The feature which catches the eye first is the magnificent font cover, a near-replica from the 1880s of the early Perpendicular cover at Elsing. The eye is led eastwards to the intimacy of a chancel wihich seems to float, the polychromatic frescos of angels giving a sense of impending Anglo-catholic twilight and incense. In the north aisle, the side chapel is a pretty altar with a riddel screen, like something out of a Sarum textbook.
The short life of this building has known some bitter conflicts, and a brass plaque here remembers Hugh Travers Rowley, who was one of more than 20,000 young men slaughtered on the first of July 1916, during the storming of the German lines on the first day of the Battle of the Somme. Rowley was 23 years old; his father was Herbert Seddon Rowley, the Rector of East Wretham. The Rector's son was a Captain in the Royal Berkshire Regiment, and was probably one of the first boys to die that day: the Berkshires were in position close to the front line where a British mine exploded prematurely at just before half-past seven that morning. Forced into action early, the lads of B company had reached the front German trenches by ten to eight: but, by then, more than three hundred and fifty of the eight hundred who went over the top twenty minutes earlier were dead. Rowley's body was never found. He is remembered on the Thiepval Memorial to the Missing, along with 70,000 other boys.
Simon Knott, July 2008
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