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

St Andrew, Hempstead

sea frets in the trees around St Andrew

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
The north side That grand porch tower and porch Priest door Silent in the fields    

  St Andrew, Hempstead
From the south   Hempstead church sits alone in the flat fields less than a mile from the bleak, caravan lined Eccles beach in north-east Norfolk. In winter, sea frets spread like smoke across the bare soil, the few trees drip with damp, and the occasional farmworker on a bike is the only movement in the ancient, narrow lanes. It might be any century. It seems impossible that we are less than 150 miles from central London.

One winter's day in February 1982, someone came into St Andrew and used a screwdriver to remove one of the boards of the rood screen. It was an image of St Eligius, patron Saint of farriers, found once only elsewhere on a screen in East Anglia. He stands at his forge working on the leg he has miraculously removed from the no doubt astonished horse beside him. The panel has never been found.

If thefts are ever going to happen in churches, this is exactly the kind of spot where they will occur, and so the poor old Church of England has to balance its responsibilities to be an open act of witness and to safeguard the nation's heritage. Today, St Andrew is kept locked, but they will gladly open up for you to take a look at what is simply one of the major art objects of England.

For a start, it is very early, certainly no later than the end of the 14th century. The uneven top beam is completely unrestored; indeed, the whole piece has only been lightly touched since its original construction.

But the the real significance of this screen comes from the quality of the painting. It is exquisite, and certainly on a par with Norfolk's best at Barton Turf. Indeed, if it were in better condition it would be as well known as the screen there. Norfolk's most famous is that at Ranworth, but the painting there is certainly not as fine as that here at Hempstead. Tom, who has seen many more screens than me in both Norfolk and elsewhere, pointed out the superb quality of the panels featuring St Stephen and St Lawrence, and the use of that pale and radiant blue, fabulously expensive to produce and unique in his experience.

The screen dado consists of two ranges of eight panels each, the panels arranged in pairs, some pairs significant, others apparently not so. You can see images of all of them below - click on them to enlarge the images.

They are, on the north side:

I: St Juliana - she has the devil on a halter
II: this image is lost to us

III: St Helen - little remains, but the label at the bottom survived
IV: this image is lost to us, but enough of the label survives to show it was probably St Agnes, possibly St Agatha

V: St Theobald, a Bishop
VI St Denis, another Bishop - he holds his severed head in his hands

VII: St John of Bridlington. He holds a fish, and is curiously represented as a Bishop, which he wasn't
VIII: St Giles, with the hart he rescued sitting at his feet

On the south side:

IX: St George, splendid with a red beard and the English banner above his head
X: St Erasmus, rather gruesome, his entrails being wound out on a windlass

XI: St Stephen, holding stones, the instruments of his martyrdom
XII: St Lawrence, with a gridiron, the instrument of his martyrdom

XIII: St Blaise, patron Saint of woolcombers, as a Bishop
XIV: St Francis as a friar, holding up his hands to show the stigmata

XV: St Leonard, patron Saint of prisoners, in fetters
XVI: St Eligius, the stolen panel.

   

North side of screen: St Juliana; missing; St Helen; missing (probably St Agnes); St Theobald, St Denis, St John of Bridlington, St Giles
North side of screen: St Juliana; missing figure; St Helen; missing figure (probably St Agnes); St Theobald, St Denis, St John of Bridlington, St Giles

     

The Hempstead screen - gloriously rustic, gloriously alive.

The Hempstead screen - gloriously rustic, gloriously alive.

     

South side of screen: St George, St Erasmus, St Stephen, St Lawrence, St Blaise, St Francis, St Leonard, St Eligius (stolen)
South side of screen: St George, St Erasmus, St Stephen, St Lawrence, St Blaise, St Francis, St Leonard, missing St Eligius (stolen)

 
 

north side: St Juliana
St Juliana

 

north side: St Helen
St Helen

 

north side: St Theobald & St Denis
St Theobald & St Denis

 

north side: St Theobald
St Theobald

 

north side: St Denis
St Denis

 

north side: St John of Bridlington & St Giles
St John of Bridlington & St Giles

 

south side: St George & St Erasmus
St George & St Erasmus

 

south side: St George
St George

 

south side: St Erasmus
St Erasmus

 

south side: St Stephen & St Lawrence
St Stephen & St Lawrence

 

south side: St Blaise & St Francis
St Blaise & St Francis

 

south side: St Leonard & stolen St Eligius
St Leonard & stolen St Eligius

The stolen panel of St Eligius
St Eligius: the stolen panel

detail: Saint Juliana's devil on a halter detail: St Giles's tamed hart
details: St Juliana's devil on a halter, and St Giles's hart

Apart from its screen, Hempstead is not a remarkable church. It is as serene as its setting, a place where not a lot happens. The font is overwhelmed with damp, but this somehow makes it more organic, as if the whole place is comfortably blending into the fields. A couple of medieval angels look from a north window into the silence. Most curiously out of place, three massive baroque bench ends that came here from Kings College Chapel in Cambridge. A contrast with the homely hand-painted decalogue boards in the simple sanctuary, the handwritten roll of honour. Such a quiet place for this wonderful screen.

Simon Knott, April 2005

Angels look on
The view east greening font view through the screen ancient tracery
hand-painted decalogue wierd, baroque bench end from Kings College chapel handwritten roll of honour rood loft entrance

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