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St Peter and St Paul, Edgefield


Edgefield Edgefield Edgefield

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    St Peter and St Paul, Edgefield

Canon Walter Marcon, who was Rector of Edgefield for more than sixty years from the 1870s to the 1930s, is remembered in this part of Norfolk as the cycling parson, and for moving his church half a mile, stone by stone. If you stop to think about it, this is rather curious, for few and far between must have been the ministers of the time who did not cycle about their parish, and the rebuilding of their medieval churches was also a common thing. Even the moving of a church building was not so unusual, for the same thing happened only a few miles off at Hindolveston, and also at Fulmodeston and Croxton.

Perhaps the reason for Marcon's fame is his long incumbency. It is as if a Rector of a Norfolk parish today had comforted the same flock at the time of the Suez Crisis. And perhaps there is another reason, for Marcon's new church is very successful, a template for what a successful small-scale village church should be like for the new century.

In 1882, the
old church out in the fields was dismantled, and the materials put towards the new one nearer the middle of the village. The architect was JD Sedding. The plan is familiar, in the style of a typical East Anglian Perpendicular church of the 15th century, with aisles and a clerestory. The cool lines and use of flint and brick are at once confident and organic, fitting the setting perfectly.The coy tower, in the north-east corner, is in the spirit of its age but perhaps unfortunate. It was added thirty years later, and has the appearance of a scaled-down unbuttressed west tower of the early Perpendicular period. It is functional, with a vestry at the bottom, but even so has a kitschy air that detracts from the gravitas of the rest of the building.

You step into a cool, clean, wide interior that still has the feeling of the early 20th century. The arrangement is traditional, with benches facing a wooden screen. The chancel space beyond is wide and open, the altar dressed and backed in restrained embroidered fabrics. Perhaps the best memorable feature of the church is the scheme of glass by John Hayward from the 1980s and the year 2000 set to north and south of the nave. In contrast, the east and west windows are clear, flooding the building with light as Sedding and Marcon obviously intended. Perhaps because of this, Hayward's glass has a kind of water colour effect, at their strongest in the centre of the design with the outer edges diluting into nothing.

The 1980s window remembers the building of the church. Canon Marcon is depicted riding his bike in a roundel at the bottom, and the church's twin patrons sit enthroned at the top. TA plough followed by seagulls at the bottom, which is reminiscent of the work of Escher, the ploughshares apparently turning to birds as they move. The greater part of the design is taken up with the new church appearing to rise out of the ghost of the old one, with the symbols of the eucharist at the heart of it all. The Millennium window is simpler, with Christ at the centre calling Peter and Andrew in the left hand side to come and be fishers of men. To the right, St Paul, undergoing his Damascene conversion, looks on.

millennium window  (John Hayward) Dagless memorial window (John Hayward) Walter Marcon and bicycle (John Hayward)
St Peter and St Andrew fishing (John Hayward) Risen Christ (John Hayward) Paul, a servant of Christ  (John Hayward)
put down your nets - detail   (John Hayward) the many generations of the Dagless family (John Hayward) speed the plow (John Hayward)

There is more recent glass in the porch. Paul Quail is not an artist I consistently admire, but here his work is very fitting for a rural parish church, the symbols of Peter and Paul, the breaking of bread and a hen with her chicks.

As at Hindolveston, fixtures of the old church were rescued and installed in the new one. They don't make the same impression here, possibly because St Peter and St Paul is a much bigger church than the new one at Hindolveston, but they are of great interest, particularly the part of the rood screen that now divides off the south aisle chapel. This depicts William Harstong and his family, donors, and is dated at 1526. Presumably there were once Saints on other panels. The dedicatory inscription along the top has been vandalised by iconoclasts, the opening clause orate pro anima ('pray for the soul of') scratched out.

The font is a typical arcaded Purbeck marble job of the 13th Century, reset on a polished marble collonade and a triple-deck pedestal. The west window is also said to come from the old church. It is set very high, as is the east window, an echo of the early 16th Century and another idea to re-emerge in the early 20th Century.

Simon Knott, October 2020

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Edgefield donors iconoclasm: 'orate pro anima' excised
St Peter and St Paul MM (John Hayward) Edgefield war memorial font
hen and chicks (Paul Quail) keys and fish of St Peter (Paul Quail) sword of St Paul and nasturtiums (Paul Quail) wheat and bread (Paul Quail) keys and fish of St Peter (Paul Quail 1981)
Walter Hubert Marcon


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