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St Mary, Hillington
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Coming from the carstone belt of west Norfolk with its gingerbread churches, St Mary looked like a typically East Anglian church as we approached; in fact, it is not made from flint at all, but the blue carstone from the quarries on the Sandringham estate. Still, its form felt like a welcome home after some of the odd places we had been. Unfortunately, this welcome is also an illusion, because fortress St Mary is one of the few churches around here that is kept locked without a key for visitors. Strangers and pilgrims are not welcome at all - there isn't even a porch for them to shelter in. It may simply be that, falling south of the Kings Lynn to Fakenham road, it finds itself in a land of Neanderthal manners, a sharp contrast to those parishes north of this road, which are some of the most welcoming in Norfolk.
The church is overcrisp in detail, the nave being completely rebuilt to absorb the old south aisle in the 19th century, when all the windows in the chancel and chapel were also replaced. The chancel itself, and the tower, are 15th century, but so over-restored that you could be forgiven for thinking them 19th century as well. One nice detail is the image niche set in the external east wall of the chancel. I assume that it has been reset there as a Victorian affectation, but if it is in its original place then it suggests that a roadway once ran across this side of the church.
St Mary is noted in guidebooks for its monuments, particularly those of the ffolkes family in the transeptual chapel, and others to various Hovels and Brownes. But I have not seen them - and nor, I must add, has one of this site's guardian angels, Peter Stephens, who has so often boldly gone where I have failed to tread. He has been unable to gain access on no less than four occasions.
Simon Knott, October 2005
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