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

St Andrew, Eaton, Norwich

Eaton, new and old

Eaton Eaton, new and old lime avenue to the church

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St Andrew, Eaton, Norwich

Here we are in the pleasant south-western suburbs of the city of Norwich, and Eaton is within the city boundaries. As such, this means that St Andrew is the last surviving thatched church in the city. You approach it from the north through the lychgate up an elegant avenue of line trees, and the first sight of the long nave and chancel, all in one, with its 12th Century windows under the thatch is a pleasing contrast to the confident late Perpendicular tower against which it stands. But there is a greater contrast to be seen, for this church is rather more than just a medieval village church subsumed by urban development. This unfolds as you make your way around to the south side, for there, hidden from the road, is one of the most dramatic extensions on any Norfolk medieval church. Three pointed prows lean away from each other to finish in dropped, angled glass curtains.

Despite being an urban church, St Andrew is welcoming to strangers and pilgrims, and is open every day. Facing ahead of you as you step in is the church's one great medieval survival, a late 14th Century depiction of the warning against idle gossip set above the south doorway. This subject is found several times in East Anglia, and conventionally depicts, as here, two women kneeling to pray with their rosaries. However, they lean their heads together to have a chat instead, and behind each of them stands a devil whispering in their ear and writing down the things they say. Although there is something a little misogynistic about the scene (I have never seen a version of it depicting the gossipers as men) it is a useful reminder that until at least the early 15th Century the main purpose of a church nave was as a place for people's private devotions, not for congregational worship.

the warning against gossip

This is the only surviving part of a wider scheme which was originally uncovered and recorded in the 19th Century, before being whitewashed to preserve it. It was exposed again when the extension was built, for the former south doorway of the church is now the entrance to the new church. You step into a space full of light, and and so it effectively creates a second, separate church, a contrast with the contemporary extension at the medieval parish church of Kesgrave in the suburbs of Ipswich, where the entire south wall was removed and a similarly dramatic, boat-like extension added. The lights of the lower part of the south window are successively blocked, creating a dramatic backdrop to the simple altar. If this was a Catholic church, there would probably have been an attempt to make the altar more central, but here, the clean, fresh lines are thoroughly traditional. As if to set the Anglican seal, the royal arms formerly in the old church have been reset above a gallery which extends above the south door.

the new church looking back from the altar in the new church (2007)

Coming back from the light of the new church, the old nave and chancel can seem a little dark, not least because they are so narrow in comparison. The 19th Century restoration was by Thomas Jekyll, although much has happened since. The partition screen at the west end creates a kind of Galilee or baptistery, and looks to be contemporary with the rebenching of the nave, presumably in the 1950s. There is a sequence of saints in 1920s glass which look the work of Kempe & Co but which I think are actually by Herbert Bryan. On the north wall is a grand High Victorian monument of 1859, the painted inscription now faded but the bold relief of a cross, anchor and heart representative of Faith, Hope and Charity. In the wall plate of Jekyll's scissor-braced roof above, a later hand has lettered in the words of psalm 148: He hath made them fast for ever and ever : he hath given them a law which shall not be broken. Praise the Lord upon earth : ye dragons, and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and vapours : wind and storm, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills : fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle: worms and feathered fowls; Kings of the earth and all people : princes and all judges of the world.

Simon Knott, August 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
An angel with Barbara Mary Eaton (Kempe & Co, 1920) St Bartholomew (Kempe & Co, 1920) Christ calls the Disciples, 1890s St Andrew (Kempe & Co, 1920) St Philip (Kempe & Co, 1920) Faith, Hope, Charity (1859)

   
               
                 

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