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St Mary, Hickling
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You step into a building which is vast and urban, quite anonymous and retaining nothing of the rural, rustic feel of its neighbours. We could as easily be in west London, or Buenos Aires, or Calcutta. It is a Victorian gothic temple interior, and although some architectural details survive there is little of interest.
However, Hickling does retain one absolutely facinating testament to the mindset of the 17th century. An otherwise anonymous tombchest at the east end of the north aisle is covered with graffiti, almost all of it from the years of the Civil War and Commonwealth. There are a couple of carved matrices for Nine Mens Morris, a popular board game of the time, and a multitude of hands drawn around, initialled, and dated. It seems that 17th century East Anglians had smaller hands than those of today, or at least than mine.
Perhaps most striking of all is the bold scrawl ROUNDHEADE 1645. This was the year of John Wilson's 'pious call for a new purity and single-heartedness', A New Anatomie or Character of a Christian, or a Roundheade. Could it be that the scrawler had read this pamphlet and wanted to declare his support for it here? It was the year of the great Parliamentarian triumph, victory over the forces of the Crown at the Battle of Naseby. From this moment, Charles I was doomed, and the world began to turn upside down.
You could spend a lot of time examining this graffiti, probably longer than you'll need for the rest of this church. For example, what is that curious tangle of lines? Is it a game? A map? A sketch? Intriguing, and, if you have a sense of history and a feel for the English Civil War, this corner of Hickling church will send shivers up your spine. And then, down into the village, which has two fine pubs, and the beautiful Broad beyond.
Simon Knott, August 2006
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