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

St Martin, Houghton


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Houghton please close gate

    St Martin, Houghton

There are three Houghton parishes scattered around west Norfolk, and this one sits on the beautiful Houghton Hall estate. The church is only open and accessible when the Hall is open, so that means Wednesdays, Thursdays, Sundays and bank holidays in summer at present.

This is a small church, pleasingly set among the trees and open spaces of the Park, but unfortunately resurfaced in the 19th Century with bright flints which give it something of the air of a seaside non-conformist chapel. This disguises the fact that this is an old church, much older than the Hall, and in fact it is set on the site of the lost village of Houghton, its population transplanted away to the south of the Park by Sir Robert Walpole in 1729. The new estate cottages would of course have been much finer than the hovels they replaced.

The tower, or at least the top part of it, dates from the same time. Pevsner thought that the nave roof might have been raised and the clerestory added when the tower was rebuilt, so all in all it seems likely that Walpole's main intention was to provide himself with a view. The aisles had probably been added to a 14th Century church in the early 16th Century, judging by the window tracery, which may of course have been put there by the Victorians, though that in the north aisle at least appears original.

Inside, the view eastwards is through a squarish nave which is oddly furnished, with box pews in the aisles but none in the main body of the church. The handful of benches there seem almost an afterthought.

The 18th Century font is flanked by a grand Art Nouveau Easter candlestick by Sir Charles Nicholson. The chancel beyond the nave weeps noticeably to the south, but before you get to it there is the oddly placed effigy of a late medieval Priest. Mortlock says that it was moved to Houghton in 1522, which seems an odd date. Presumably it was in the chancel until the Victorians moved it. Up in the chancel still are 17th Century benches carved with the marionette-like figures popular at the time, these in praying attitudes.

Houghton is great place to come if you get excited about hatchments, there are ten of them. But all that seemed rather dry and dusty to me compared with the loveliness of the setting, especially on this day of high summer. I went and wandered around outside for a while, not without notice. It isn't entirely unknown in Norfolk for locals to take an interest if a stranger is seen in the churchyard. What makes the suspicious custodians at Houghton unusual is that they are red deer.

  praying man

Simon Knott, July 2016

font looking east looking west
praying man sanctuary font effigy of a priest
cassis tutissima virtus pari quae sentiat
deer at Houghton

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