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St Margaret, Hardwick
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It's not actually possible to approach the church for the first time from the west, but if you did you would wonder if it was a church at all. The round tower collapsed in the great storm of 1770, and the little brick structure built into the ruins operates as both belfry and cleaning cupboard.
The church is long, all of a late Norman piece, and it retains its original doorways. There is a curious redbrick window at the west end of the north wall, and a decent little porch doing service on the south side. You step into a thoroughly atmospheric little space, with the smell of ancient stone and wood, a milky light filling a simple, thoroughly rural church. Directly opposite the entrance is a St Christopher wall painting, which seem to abound in south-east Norfolk. This one has always been considered one of the most interesting, because it features lots of birds including a group mobbing an owl on a tree to the right of the image, but all of these have now almost completely faded. The two main figures are still good though, pareticularly the Christ child, who appears to wear a patterned shirt under his cloak.
At the west end of the church, doing service as a vestry, is the squire's family pew, which was originally wedged into the chancel. It dates from the early 17th century, and has something of the character of a small caravan, with a roof and high walls. The panelling is plain, but the balusters are richly carved.
Also richly carved is Hardwick's rood screen, which can never have been very elaborate, but was rescued from decay in 1667 by the churchwardens, John Ebbets and Joseph Cock, whose names adorn the middle of the top. Historian Andy Foster tells me that this probably records not just a repair job, but the placing of the royal arms, Lord's Prayer and Ten Commandments on the screen; but these have now gone.
The former rood loft stairway climbs up in the north side window embrasure before disappearing into the wall, only to emerge at the place where the rood loft must have been.
Just inside the chancel, a brass to George Bacon asks us for prayers for his soul. The Bacons were a significant East Anglian family, and the shield here depicts the little pigs that were their symbol. Four hundred years later, the same symbol was used in the tiling of St Mary le Tower in Ipswich, the restoration of which was paid for by the family.
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