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

St Mary, Ellingham

Ellingham

Ellingham Ellingham Ellingham

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    St Mary, Ellingham

From the Suffolk side of the river you reach this church through the narrowest of lanes. They spread like a lattice on the south bank of the Waveney, and you leave the busy Bungay road near the former Anglo-catholic shrine church of Shipmeadow in Suffolk, and suddenly you are lost to sight. It is like entering Norfolk through the back door. The area reminded me of bandit country, the borderlands between the Republic of Ireland and the North in the 1980s, as if only the main roads would have customs posts, and these back lanes were left to farmers, smugglers and terrorists, although obviously I was rather less concerned about what we might meet around the next corner, unless it was a big tractor, in which case we would need to reverse all the way back into Suffolk.

St Mary appears rather prim from the north, but you come around to the south side and the church expands, as if relaxing. There is a big, blockish south aisle, and a curious stair turret to the tower, presumably added in the 19th Century. It is a long, handsome church inside, obviously well-kept and well-used, and the white walls and light box pews give it an air of light and space. This is fortunate, because it offsets an excellent range ofglass from the late 19th and early 20th Centuries. Best of all are the windows on the north side of the nave. They get more recent as you head westwards. A wonderful Annunciation scene is accompanied by a harvest window depicting an angel, and another of Christ the Good Shepherd, two subjects which must have had a real resonance in such a remote, rural parish. They are the work of Reginald Bell. The sower stands with Ellingham church behind him. At Colne Engaine in the lanes of north Essex you can see exactly the same window, but with Colne Engaine church depicted instead.

More curious, the older window remembering a vicar's wife, Amelia Harriet Smith, shows her as Mary at Bethany sitting at the feet of Christ, and then as one of the mothers allowing their children to come unto Christ. There is a decent Kempe window of the Adoration of the Magi, and a Ward & Hughes scene of the story of Naomi and Ruth.

There's something very odd about the arrangement of the nave and aisle. At one time there were two aisles, or possibly a north aisle predating the south aisle, because in the north wall there are remains of the arcade. This must have been very early, probably 13th Century, because on the central remnant there is a bishop's head and upside-down dragon in the style of the period. But even odder is the south arcade. It extends the full length of the church, and the two most easterly bays in the nave were rebuilt to match that in the chancel. Curiously, the older part of the arcade is simply cut in the wall. Is it possible that at one time a solid wall separated the western part of the nave from its aisle?

At first sight, there are two World War One rolls of honour hanging on the south arcade. In fact, one of them is for the workers of W. D. & A. E. Walker Ltd. Jonathan Neville's Norfolk Mills site tells us that they ran the wherry boats which carried goods up and down the Waveney, and also owned the mill and maltings we had passed to get to the church. They were obviously the largest local employer. Shortly after the First World War, the navigation rights and boats were sold to the brewer Watney, Combe, Reid & Co, while after the Second World War the mill was bought by Hovis. All are done with today. The mill closed in 1967, the railway line that ran beside the Waveney was grubbed up, and boats no longer bring food along the river. Instead, articulated lorries thunder through the night up and down the dual carriageways that cut across old East Anglia. Sic transit gloria mundi.

Simon Knott, December 2020

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ellingham (1) looking west font
Annunciation by Reginald Bell Ascension of Christ to God seated in Heaven by Lavers, Barraud & Westlake Ruth: 'she gleaned in the field until even' and Naomi and Ruth: 'intreat me not to leave thee' Amelia Harriet Smith as Mary at Bethany and allowing her children to come to Christ
a sower by Ellingham church by Reginald Bell reaping angel by Reginald Bell Naomi and Ruth by Ward & Hughes Ruth by Ward & Hughes feed my lambs, feed my sheep by Reginald Bell?
Adoration of the Magi by Kempe & Tower feed my lambs, feed my sheep Amelia Harriet Smith as Mary at Bethany
W. D. & A. E. Walker Ltd ellingham (5) WWI Roll of Honour

   
               
                 

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