Gaywood, King's Lynn
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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.