Garboldisham St John the Baptist Garboldisham All Saints

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St John the Baptist, Garboldisham

St John the Baptist: very charming

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
Grand from the south Elaborated pinnacles
Where the west porch used to be. Hmm... The north porch today. Hmm... Recut 'orate pro...' What on earth has happened here?
Faded porch angel 18th century graffito The cosy north side

    St John the Baptist, Garboldisham

It was a bit of a grim old morning when we arrived at Garboldisham. You can't expect a lot in late October, I know, but the sky had been clear when I'd left Ipswich and the forecast for Norfolk was for more of the same. But here there was a thin grey drizzle, and so we sought sanctuary inside, deciding to explore the outside later. There is a great mystery to it, but I will have to keep you in suspense a while longer.

As you see from the fancy tracery in the east window, the Victorians did a lot of work here, and apparently had a really good time. The effect is as striking from the inside as much as the outside, with vast acreages of 19th century glass, some of it very good, and that highly polished confidence that comes from a generation that took going to church seriously. They knew they were right.

But St John the Baptist is not without its medieval survivals, one of which is worth a visit alone. This is the base of the screen in the north aisle. Legend has it that it came from the abandoned neighbouring church of Garboldisham All Saints, the original St John the Baptist screen base being reset across the church in the south aisle after WWII, when it was found built into the structure of the rectory pigsty. All of this may well be true, of course, although it doesn't quite sound right - where was the All Saints screen in the time between the ruination of the church and its placing here by the Victorians?

Whatever, it features four panels, all of interest. They are St Germanus, patriarch of Constantinople and a minor Doctor of the Church, St WIlliam of York, St Mary of Magdala and a pleasingly simple St Agnes. It probably dates from the end of the 15th century.

Both Pevsner and Mortlock miss the 1579 brass to John Carlton, which is surprising because it has an associated merchant mark, a rarity. There's also a good set of Queen Anne arms.

That mystery outside, then. If you stand to the west of the tower you can see that there was once a western porch. These so-called galilee porches, named for their role in the Holy Week processions, are unusual in East Anglia. Pevsner points us towards the one over the Suffolk border in Lakenheath - in fact, this is quite wrong; the structure there was never a porch, but a lean-to building, and it was built after the Reformation. There is one at the other end of Suffolk on the round tower at Mutford, and a very grand one at Bottisham in Cambridgeshire, which you can see on the Cambridgeshire Churches site. But whatever was here has now gone.

Come round to the north side. Here there is a very grand porch, with flanking niches and invocatory inscriptions all about it; and yet, there is something not quite right. Simply, it doesn't seem to fit. The arch is the wrong shape for the spandrels, as if it has been narrowed, and there is a messiness about the way it fits to the side of the church. It would appear that at some point the western porch was moved around to this side. And there is more; the inscription above asks us to pray for the soul of William Pece - but this inscription is obviously recut, with no evidence I can see that it replicates exactly what was there before. Indeed, it appears incomplete. I wonder to what extent it is a Victorian confection.

In 1787, James Taylor sought himself a more furtive immortality, carving his name into a shield on the south face of the tower. You can still see it today. And despite the best efforts of those Victorians, the tower still speaks to us more of the 15th century than of their enthusiasms. It's beautiful.

Simon Knott, December 2004


Looking east Looking west Modern rood East window
Interesting - the north aisle screen Screen: St Germanus Screen: St William of York Screen: St Mary of Magdala Screen: St Agnes
John Carlton, 1579 Merchant's mark South aisle boss
Presentation in the Temple St Elizabeth, St Francis, St Dorothea War memorial: St Michael and angels
Tower window and royal arms font Tender nativity
Headstop to north doorway arch

Garboldisham St John the Baptist Garboldisham All Saints

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