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St Peter, Kimberley
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This church is most attractive in its setting, shadowed under big trees on the edge of the village green. Fields roll beyond the graveyard, large black birds arcing and wheeling above the greening furrows. I had passed St Peter several times before; it sits on one of the main roads from Norwich to the west of the county, and I had become used to seeing it in early morning and late afternoon lights. Heading into west Norfolk and back, I had come to think of it as a landmark, and I wondered what it might be like inside.
If you walk around the outside of the church, do be careful of the steep drop at the eastern end of the graveyard, especially if you tend to walk backwards away from a church like I do. Externally, you might think that the chancel is largely 19th century, and in truth there was a considerable restoration here; but the church is still of interest, and this is in no small way due to the Wodehouses.
But the finest glass, and what makes Kimberley famous, is in the chancel. The east window is a patchwork of English and continental glass of the 14th and 15th centuries, full of life and quite a contrast with the austere sanctuary. It was placed here in the early 19th century by the Wodehouses.
Quite how much of it came from this church originally is debatable. As was fashionable, the seriously rich antiquarian-minded squires of the time would often travel to Flanders and Germany, buying up old glass from monasteries closed by wars and the French Revolution. Usually, they would install it in the Houses, and then bequeath it to the parish church in their wills.
However, it is unlikely that the Wodehouses did this. Just as it became fashionable to collect old glass, so it became possible to buy it from several English suppliers. We know that the Wodehouses gave the more famous glass to Hingham church for the east window there, and, as is often the case in Norfolk, they did not have to leave the country to do this. Almost certainly, the glass in both churches came from a Norwich merchant, JC Hampp, who dealt widely in that kind of thing, and was installed in the 1820s by Samuel Yarrington, a stained glass artist who made a living installing antiquarian glass for display. These two men were also responsible for the provenance and installation of a lot of foreign glass in churches in the Loddon area. It may be that the English glass here also came from Hampp - or, perhaps, it is Kimberley's own.
It is rather dirty now, and not in as good condition as that in some churches, but it is a remarkable collection and there are plenty of recognisable figures. The smaller ones, mostly 15th century and about 20cm tall, include a fine St John the Baptist, a St Catherine, and the pairing of St Philip and St James the Less with the bull of St Luke climbing between them. The larger figures are slightly older; the best is probably the crowned figure (a queen?) wearing green robes. You can click on the examples above to see them enlarged.
Reading about this church in the literature after visiting, I realised that we missed the Wodehouse brass under a mat in the chancel. A reminder to me not to be hasty, but also a good excuse to go back and visit St Peter, and to wonder again at that east window.
Simon Knott, January 2006
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