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

St Mary, Haddiscoe


Haddiscoe Haddiscoe Haddiscoe
Haddiscoe Haddiscoe The Haddiscoe dead
south doorway back door three brothers born at one birth

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St Mary, Haddiscoe

One of the best known of Norfolk's round-towered churches, not least because of its attractive exterior and dramatic setting. A great bleached whale of a church, it sits on a hill above the Reedham to Beccles road, its telescopic tower a landmark for miles. In this corner of Norfolk with hundreds of tiny churches and a multitude of Norman survivals, it stands out as being of tremendous interest, an intriguing and impressive place. As Pevsner points out, the lower part is apparently Saxon, the upper parts Norman, but there is no obvious break and so it looks the work of one campaign in what he calls the C11 overlap. The chequerboard battlements came later, perhaps the 15th Century. This crowning of the Norman with late medieval is repeated on the south side, where the 15th century porch guards an impressive Norman doorway and a great surprise above it, for Norfolk is not known for Norman sculptures. What appears to be a priest in eucharistic vestments sits on a throne in an alcove, hands raised aloft. Traditionally it depicts St Peter, but this doesn't seem quite right. Is it God the Father Enthroned, perhaps, or even Christ in Judgement? And what is he holding? The north doorway on the other side of the nave is also Norman, though simpler.

south door God in Majesty?

Coming around to the chancel there are a number of filled in round windows. These have been variously described as Saxon and Georgian. Neither seems likely, and they are probably a local 13th Century device. You can see something similar nearby at Toft Monks in work of the same age. They perhaps date from the original building of the chancel. The north aisle is not of tremendous quality, and was probably built as a lean-to, the arcade then being cut through the Norman north wall. However, a variation in the arcade suggests that there was once a transept chapel on this side.

St Mary can be gloomy inside on a winter day, and it takes a moment to adjust to the darkness. When you do, you discover that this is one of those churches that has something from every century. Under the tower, green light pours from a lancet through the Saxon round-head arch, a foil for the creamy light coming through the elaborate Decorated tracery in the eastern distance. Near the other end of this church's journey through time is Martin Travers' glass of 1931 in the south aisle of the young John the Baptist meeting the infant Christ in a sort of Art Nouveau meets Chinoiserie style, with this church itself set in the background. It commemorates Mia Armesby Brown, wife of the artist Sir John Armesby Brown whose memorial plaque is nearby.

The young St John the Baptist meets the Blessed Virgin and child by Martin Travers, 1929 Blessed Virgin and child by Martin Travers, 1929 The young St John the Baptist with Haddiscoe church by Martin Travers, 1929

Above the arcade are surviving wallpaintings - just. The head of St Christopher with the Christchild on his shoulder is clear enough, but the others are fragmentary. Even more curious are two little niches set in the eastern face of the most westerly arcade pillar - that is to say, to see the images in them you would need to face west. Odd, but there is something similar at neighbouring Thorpe-next-Haddiscoe that may have been an alms cupboard, although it is hard to see how that could have been the case here. There are some interesting ledger stones of the 16th and 17th centuries, and one in particular is worth a look, because it is in Dutch. This is to the Barbele Jan, the wife of Pier Piers the dyke reeve, and dates from 1525. A translation shows it to be curiously secular for the date.

Back outside, a sad and memorable headstone stands beside the south porch. It remembers three brothers, born at one birth, sons of William & Sarah Hubbard who died in their infancy, 1840. William Hubbard was born in Freethorpe, Norfolk in 1802. He was baptised in the church there on the 3rd of April that year. He may have moved to this area when he was young because his wife Sarah was born in nearby Norton Subcourse in 1812. William was a farmer, and the family lived at Rectory Farm, The Street, Haddiscoe. At the time of the 1841 census, the year after the deaths of these triplets, they had a two year old son living with them, also called William.

The three baby boys here must have been the young boy's younger brothers. Sadly, the births and deaths of just two of the babies were registered, in the Loddon registration district first quarter of 1840, suggesting that the other one was stillborn. Neither of the two born alive were given names at registration, so I don't think they could have lived very long.

Ten years later in 1851 William was a farmer of 40 acres, employing two men, that is to say he was not a wealthy landowner. By 1871 he was a widower, a farmer now employing one man and one boy. He was probably the William Hubbard whose death was registered in the Yarmouth registration district in the second quarter of 1875. The words of Thomas Gray come to mind:

Let not Ambition mock their useful toil,
Their homely joys, and destiny obscure;
Nor Grandeur hear with a disdainful smile
The short and simple annals of the poor.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east sanctuary font
St Christopher and the Christ child in ye yeare of oure lord two image niches
Christ at Gethsemane The wife of Pier Piers (ledger stone in Dutch, 1625) wild man I H S
John Alfred Arnesby Brown Kt RA, landscape painter


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