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

St Margaret, Hardwick

Hardwick: delightful

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decent little porch all of a late Norman piece the round tower collapsed in the great storm of 1770 original Norman doorway, and a curious window

    St Margaret, Hardwick
you might wonder if it is a church at all   This delightful little church sits just to the south of its more famous neighbour, St Mary at Shelton, one of those churches that regularly makes it into people's Norfolk top twenties. Shelton and Hardwick are both part of the wonderful Hempnall Group of parishes, one of the friendliest and most welcoming benefices in East Anglia, and so a visit to any of them is always a pleasure.

Both Shelton and Hardwick are lost in the lanes, but if you can find Shelton then it is worth coming a mile down the road to find Hardwick as well. Here is a church full of interest and yet quite different from its neighbour. It has a lovely atmosphere, and a sense of its place in its local community. It is one of those churches that sticks like a burr in the memory, as Mr Mortlock famously observed of one of his favourites. Here is a church that is the organic result of centuries of care and neglect.

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.

St Christopher Christ child faded birds and tree

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.

rood screen John Ebbets and Joseph Cock looking west

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.

A mile or so to the west of Hardwick, at Long Stratton, rests one of the political architects of the 17th century Puritan project in England, Sir Edmund Reeve. Here lies one of his adversaries. Up in the chancel, brightly coloured and beside the tomb of his father, is the memorial to Sir Peter and Lady Penelope Gleane. He served the Crown faithfully above 40 yeares... in which several services for his King and country he spent his strength and weakened his fortunes, and the wounds which that received were not healed...

Simon Knott, February 2006

  the bell
   

looking east west end and squire's family pew chancel
Sir Thomas Gleane Sir Peter Gleane Hardwick and Shelton war memorial Bacon brass
south doorway Buxton, a famous local name rood loft stairway

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