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

St Faith, Gaywood, King's Lynn

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    St Faith, Gaywood, King's Lynn
Receive thy sight thy faith hath made thee whole by Powell & Son, 1926   It was good to come back to Gaywood, here in the outer suburbs of Kings Lynn. I hadn't actually intended to visit. I'd just cycled about fifty miles around north-west Norfolk, almost half of them into the wind, and I was pretty well knackered as I headed back to King's Lynn station. But as I passed Gaywood church I saw a 'Church Open' sign, and I couldn't resist.

My previous visit to this church a little over ten years ago was not without event or consequence. The minister, who has long since moved on, had treated me with something approaching contempt, and after allowing me a brief glance inside had told me I had to leave the church. I said all this when I wrote about it, and within a couple of weeks received a letter from a solicitor who was a member of the congregation. He told me that he considered the article libellous and defamatory.

Well, clearly it wasn't, as I'd only written what had happened to me, as I always do. However, as an act of kindness I toned it down, and mentioned that this was because of the threatening letter. To my surprise and grateful thanks I received more than a dozen e-mails from other people either supporting me or telling me about broadly similar experiences they'd had at Gaywood.

A couple of people took me to task for giving in so easily - 'you haven't toned it down, you've castrated it!' wailed the late Tom Muckley. But I'd thought it was the kind thing to do, although I can't help noticing that, even today, the original entry is still available to view on the internet if you know where to look.

Well, that was a long time ago, and as I say the minister concerned has long since moved on elsewhere. Perhaps the solicitor has too. But I remembered one thing she had mentioned when she laughed in my face when I asked to borrow the key, that Gaywood was a very rough area with a high crime rate, and that was why they didn't allow people on their own into the church. Working on the edge-of-town estates in Ipswich as I did, I must say it hadn't seemed rough to me, and it certainly didn't coming back ten years later. Indeed, King's Lynn generally seemed a prosperous kind of place now. But I was pleased to see that the church was open, and remembered from my brief visit that it had been rather lovely inside.

And so it still was. The nave and aisles were completely rebuilt in the 1920s by that great maverick Walter Caroe, and furnished in that lush, heavy dark wood Gothic style of which he was so fond. The Powell windows are perfect for this, nothing else would do, and all in all it is Norfolk's best example of that 1920s triumphalism in the Church of England which was its apogee. The church is not without earlier treasures, for it has a Laudian font with scriptural inscriptions, nor later ones, for the south aisle chapel has Norfolk's only window by that great East Anglian abstract artist of the mid-20th Century, Rosemary Rutherford, whose work otherwise is almost entirely in Essex and Suffolk.

There are also some 17th Century paintings which are not without interest, although they brought back the unpleasant memory of ten years before of the minister telling me off when I moved towards them with my camera. Apparently, they were under no circumstances to be photographed. I thought about that now as I stepped inside.

There were two ladies on duty, one sitting near the back reading a book, and another sitting at a desk in the north aisle, perhaps the parish secretary. I said hello, they said hello. The lady in the aisle went back to her work, the other lady to her book. They both kept a good eye on me as I wandered around, as you'd expect them to. It was slightly unnerving, but I did my best to take a few photographs.

Well, I studiously ignored the paintings in a slightly superior manner, as if I knew all about THAT kind of thing and it was of no interest, though I did notice the large hand-made sign beside them that said STRICTLY NO PHOTOGRAPHY.

Would I have photographed them if I'd been in the church on my own? Honestly, I don't know. I can see that there are plenty of photographs of them on flickr and other places on the internet, so other people have obviously not resisted temptation. However, on this particular occasion my guardian angel helped to deliver me from evil, or at least from the embarrassment of being told off in Gaywood church again. Or perhaps I'm completely imagining things, and no one would have minded.

I told the lady in the aisle that it was a long time since I'd last been inside the church, and how pleased I was to see it open. She was lovely, and we chatted for a while. And then I said goodbye, before I could say anything daft which would give me away, and headed back to Kings Lynn station in time to catch my train.

  For of such is the Kingdom of God by Powell & Son, 1926

Simon Knott, August 2016

looking east chancel Laudian font
St Faith's Gaywood Mothers Union first the blade then the ear then the full corn in the ear by Rosemary Rutherford, 1967 Laudian font

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