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

All Saints, Great Fransham

Great Fransham

Great Fransham Great Fransham Great Fransham

happy lion   This is a lovely church in a lovely spot, and I hasten to say this because when I first visited the church about ten years ago it was in a terrible state, and locked without a keyholder. A couple of years later I found it surrounded by builders' security fences, undergoing a proper restoration, and so today you see a church in superb condition, a delight to the eyes.

We are in the lanes between Swaffham and Dereham here, and in fact Great Fransham's neighbour Little Fransham straddles the busy A47, but Great Fransham itself is away to the north in the peace of the fields. The old Dereham to Swaffham railway line ran to the north of the church, actually touching Little Dunham churchyard a mile or so to the east. The Greats and the Littles are in abundance around here, and White was so confused in his 1845 Directory that he allotted All Saints a round tower. He was probably getting his notes confused with Great Ryburgh to the north.

The church was pretty well complete by the time the Black Death came along in the 1340s, and provided a grand home for the 15th Century memorials to the de Fransham family and the contemporary font which they no doubt bankrolled. But the building itself had obviously fallen on hard times, perhaps because of the reduced population, and so the south aisle was demolished, leaving the Early English arcade leaning like something no longer needed against the new south nave wall, which is of course exactly right. Four hundred years later, the Victorians redid most of the windows, including the jolly tracery in the east window, but that was about it.

The best memorials are the brasses. Geoffrey de Fransham's figure of 1415 has been reset on the north chancel wall, but rather better, perhaps surprisingly given its date, is Cecily Legge of 1500 in her winding sheet.

Having said all this, perhaps the most interesting feature of the whole church is from the 20th Century. This is the Art Deco war memorial, in pressed copper to the design of Sidney Hunt for the firm of Osborne & Co. Below the names, a triumphant St Michael dispatches a dragon.

Sidney Hunt's work is highly valued today, and it is unusual to find it in a country church. Hunt was an English artist who was one of the major artists in the European Avant Garde movement of the 1920s, and was probably better known abroad than at home. His work was considered on a par with the work of movements in Europe like Mecano and De Stijl. Like his near-contemporary Eric Gill, one of his specialisms was bookplates, and in this field his best known work is not always comfortable viewing through today's eyes, often featuring homoerotic abstractions of young men in bathing scenes. Hunt was killed in the London blitz while working in his studio.

  St Michael

Simon Knott, January 2018

Great Fransham leaning arcade leaning arcade
reset niche leaning arcade shroud brass knight
Sidney Hunt del. F Osborne & Co Ltd London

Late of the Necton Town Farm serious cherub and scrolled foliage jolly cherub and squiggles

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