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

St Faith, Gaywood, Kings Lynn

Gaywood: you can see the postcard now...

Greetings from Glorious Gaywood   Introduction: I visited Gaywood in October 2005, and reported on the experience of my visit shortly afterwards. In August 2006, I received a two page letter from a solicitor, saying that, in his view, the entry for Gaywood was unreasonable and libellous.

This seemed incredible to me. All of the entries on the Norfolk Churches site are examined to make sure that they are legally sound. Further, the Gaywood article had been the subject of much correspondence with users of the site, who had in the main enjoyed it. One person, a local, reported a similar experience to mine.

It should also be recognised that the Norfolk Churches site is not intended to be a neutral record of the churches of the county, but as an ongoing narrative of the experience of my visits to them.

However, given that my visit to Gaywood church had not been pleasant, it was unsurprising that a member of the congregation might find the account offensive reading. It was, I thought, an accurate record of my visit, but I had also explained some of the feelings I'd experienced during the visit, and written down some of my reflections afterwards.

The letter from the solicitor went on to explain the appalling workload of the Rector of this Parish. I was quite shocked, that so much was expected of one individual. I had to agree that the Rector here is a very busy person.

I do not believe that the original article was libellous. However, as an act of Christian charity, I have agreed to tone it down. I have removed the name of the person concerned, and I have removed most of the description of the way I felt. One particular feeling, which still upsets me when I think about it even now, I have left in, but I have tried to explain why I felt like that. I have also removed my later reflections on my visit.

I will also quote a paragraph from the letter I received, which may assist future visitors: I feel it is unreasonable for you to expect to arrive at the parish, unannounced, and to request from the Rector immediate access to the Church. Had you researched the parish in advance, you would have known that there is a parish office, you would also know the times the parish office is open and you would have been able to ring the parish office to organise a visit. This is what other visitors do. - Dennis L Stafford, Solicitor

I do not believe that my desire to see inside Gaywood church was unreasonable. This is only the third time in Norfolk that I have had a hostile reception during a visit to a church. One of the other occasions was at Lingwood.

The third church I shall not name, because they contacted me to apologise profusely when they saw what I had written, and let me know that they had a new system for allowing visitors. I updated their entry accordingly.

As anyone who has read other entries on this website will know, the vast majority of Norfolk churches are exceptionally welcoming places, and their clergy, churchwardens and keyholders are the friendliest of people, often going well out of their way to help. Users of the site have contacted me to tell me of the kindness they have experienced. And so I hope that anyone reading this will not be put off of visiting churches in the county, or, indeed, of visiting Gaywood - only do ring the parish office first! - Simon

  Greetings from Glorious Gaywood

St Faith, Gaywood, Kings Lynn
view from the south   Greetings from Glorious Gaywood! You can see the postcard now. Unfortunately, although you are not a million miles away from the coast here, Gaywood is actually a post-war housing estate in an undistinguished eastern suburb of Kings Lynn, Norfolk's third largest town. St Faith is set back from the busy road through the heart of the estate; and, as you would expect under the circumstances, it is locked without a keyholder listed.

I often wonder if a locked door is what those enthusiastic restorers of our churches had in mind when they, as so often, surmounted the entrance with the inscription This is the House of God. This quotation from the book of Genesis, you will remember, continues And This is the Gate of Heaven.

Walter Caroe put those words here in 1923 above his new north doorway, which he placed inside a reset Norman entrance arch. Did he imagine then that one day his Gate of Heaven would be barred?

Caroe, one of the most interesting and important church architects of the early 20th century, was busy here in the 1920s, completely rebuilding the nave and giving it aisles. He'd done the chancel chapel and roof fifteen years earlier, at a time when some of his best work can be found a few miles to the south at Elveden in Suffolk. Ten years before Caroe, Diocesan architect Herbert Green had thoroughly restored the Perpendicular church, but in fact there were a considerable number of refurbishments and restorations throughout the 17th, 18th and early 19th centuries (one of 1808 is well documented) and so very little that is medieval survives.

Now, as you will know, many people think that there is nothing of interest in a place like this. The person who answered the Rectory door seemed a bit surprised when I knocked and asked for the key. She was extremely busy, but was able to ask me in before telling me that I'd have to come back later that day if I wanted to see inside.

I explained that Peter and I were on a whistlestop tour of Kings Lynn churches, and that we would deem it the highest privilege and the greatest honour if we could possibly see inside now. We were travelling as strangers and pilgrims, throwing ourselves on the unconditional hospitality of the ancient parish churches of England - so, could we see inside?

  view from the north-east

After a certain amount of negotiating, she went and got the key. I had ten minutes, she said, and then she'd have to come back. I realised then that she thought I wanted her to come with us, and so I offered to borrow the key and bring it back when we'd finished. I have visited more than 1200 churches in East Anglia in the last five years, a small proportion of which were locked with available keys, and this is the normal procedure. She laughed, and told me that I must be joking. This made me feel very small indeed.

On the way over to the church, she asked me what my interest in the church was. I explained about the Reformation, and the Laudians, and the Tractarian revival. She said that I wouldn't find much of that kind of thing in there. But she was wrong, because St Faith contains much of interest.

This is the House of God   We were let in through the Vestry, and reminded again that we only had ten minutes. Not expecting a time limit, I hadn't done my research very thoroughly, and so I was thrown on my own resources somewhat. Could I take some photographs? She thought about it. Yes, but I couldn't take a photograph of the painting on the south aisle wall. It depicts the celebrations at the defeat of the Spanish Armada, Queen Elizabeth taking the victory salute on the River Thames. We couldn't photograph it because it was very valuable.

I rushed around St Faith, feasting on unexpected riches. The chancel is full of Walter Caroe's delicious furnishings, reminiscent of those at Elveden. His also is the pulpit, as fine as Elveden's, which is the best of its period in England. There is a rare 17th century Laudian font, similar to that at Tilney All Saints. It has Latin inscriptions on it - elsewhere, virtually all of these were destroyed by the puritans. It is an extraordinary survival.

Perhaps Gaywood's greatest treasure is the south aisle chapel, where there is some super glass a century apart; the earliest shows Christ healing the blind by the Powell workshop, and that in the east window is by Suffolk stained glass artist Rosemary Rutherford, who died tragically young in the 1970s. Her work is rare, and I recognised it with delight - I hadn't known it was here.

In the end, we were asked to leave. We stood outside, watching the early autumn leaves falling sadly, a bleak confetti whirling and settling on the damp grass. The setting of St Faith is rather lovely, with sweeping horse chestnut trees weaving a skirt of gold and scarlet about the graveyard; outside the north doorway, a medieval font has been pressed into service as a perky flower tub, and the rich green grass and lichened stones of the graveyard offset Caroe's Fletton brick aisles.

I have, of course, unpleasant memories of my visit this church, but it's not the place's fault, after all.

Simon Knott, October 2005, revised August 2006

  Rosemary Rutherford, 1967

looking east looking west an ecumenical matter
Christ healing the blind, by Powells Christ healing the blind, by Powells south aisle chapel war memorial
rare Laudian font rare Laudian font pulpit by Walter Caroe font in the graveyard

Greetings from Glorious Gaywood  

Richard Green writes: As a boarder at King Edward VII Grammar School in the late 1950s, we would walk in crocodile to St Faiths every Sunday. Canon Bringloe (think thats how you spell it) was Rector then, he took us for our Confirmation instruction, sitting in front of the pulpit. We would sit at the back of the church on the right hand side, tucked away out of sight! Normally about 50 boys. What memories your photos evoke!

Christopher Manning writes: Keep up the good work, you have led me on a nostalgic journey from All Saints King's Lynn, where I was christened, to Gaywood, St Faiths where, as a pupil of Gaywood Primary School I attended services and sunday school, to St Mary's South Wootton where my mother and grandparents are buried. I too find it sad that some churches are now kept locked. As a boy I was fascinated by church architecture and cycled all over the fens visiting churches of great stature for the small villages they served.

A local Anglican Priest writes: may I say how much I enjoy your web-site. I regularly look to see what is new. I would rank your entries about Gaywood and Kirkley as two great comedy classics. I have circulated them to my friends. I heartily commend your efforts to get the churches of East Anglia open. A church which is locked has the air of a club house, whereas a church which is open and prayed in is instantly recognisable.

Pete Duxon writes: I am always amused to read the "controversial" entries on your site. I find it hard to believe that feelings are libellous! What were they going to do? take you to court? great publicity for the CofE! Surely Mr Stafford must know that the churches of Norfolk are incredibly popular. I suppose for every 50 people who show courtesy you get one who doesn't.

Peter Heseltine writes: Clergy are busy - but so are we all these days and it is their choice. There is no reason for them to be off-hand to visitors - or for their flock to write offensive letters. Keep visiting.

David Wyatt writes: I whole heartily agree with your commentary. I came from King’s Lynn originally and have numerous pictures of family members that have married baptized etc at St. Faiths. I even attended St. Faiths as a cub scout. My Mother lives a matter of yards from the church and when my wife and I visit from America we always go by the church so as to let her see it, of course it's ALWAYS locked and no one is ever around. We even enquired to have our wedding vows renewed at St. Faith’s but received a “can’t be bothered” attitude. Then after we said because of family history at the church it was something we really wanted, they explained the cost…. Incredible!!! We decided to go to St. Mary’s in Colkirk, where I still have many relatives waiting in their graves for us to visit..

David D writes: It's a sad reflection on Gaywood that all this fuss has been made. If the church is lively enough to maintain a parish office, it should manage to have several key-holders. The solicitor's letter is entirely unreasonable.

John V writes: These people need to get into the real world and see what their colleagues are able to achieve with very little effort. I know you probably don't want the adverse publicity but I feel the more this story gets out - and in the national press as well - that it can only be to the good of your cause.

Peter Stephens writes: They just keep demonstrating what a mean-spirited bunch of people they are, don't they? What on earth is Mr Stafford talking about saying you should make an appointment to visit a church? Does he not realize that the Church belongs to everyone and is meant to be readily available to pilgrims and visitors? I've never contacted a parish office in my life. And, as you know, about 70% of Norfolk churches are open anyway, and a further 20% have keyholders, usually very pleasant people too.

Janice T writes: Sorry to see the first write-up vanish, as I howled with laughter when I read it and am only sad that I never saved it. Masterful rewrite though and I howled again at the end when I read that the Anglican clergyman had happily distributed it. As one of my old teachers used to say, ' with wasps , bees and scorpions the sting is in the tail.'

Paddy Apling writes: My sympathy goes out to Simon for the atrocious response he has received from Gaywood Church. Talk about Christian charity !!!!

  Greetings from Glorious Gaywood



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