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

St John the Baptist, Lakenham, Norwich

Lakenham St John

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north side Lakenham St John Lakenham St John priest door chancel

    St John the Baptist, Lakenham, Norwich

Just off the outer ring road in Norwich's dreary southern suburbia sits this sad little church on an ancient hilltop churchyard site, hemmed in on all sides by housing. You can't see it until you get right up to it. Lakenham parish is long and wedge-shaped, driving into the centre of the city. The chapel of ease to this church, St Mark, sits close to the inner ring road.

The trimness of the churchyard to the north of the church belies the fact that this building appears to be very neglected - indeed, it had an air of being abandoned to its fate. There were no notices, no signs of any kind. Even the noticeboard by the gate had gone, just two uprights remaining. Whether it had been destroyed by vandals or the elements it was hard to say. There was, of course, no open door, no welcome. As at Earlham on the other side of Norwich, here you felt was a medieval building, the touchstone down the long generations, which was now in its last days. Perhaps there is still a congregation, but I wondered if they now worshipped elsewhere, because there seemed no sign that this building had been used for a long time.

A large and alarming porch faces the gate, initialled by the churchwardens and dated 1824, a slightly pre-ecclesiological time which was not a happy one for church restorations. Perhaps this date gave the stark brick aisle on the south side too, which at least in the sunshine lifted the heart a little more than the depressing, grey cement render of the north side. There were cobwebs across all the doorways.

Sam Mortlock, who saw inside in the 1980s, remembered a fine late medieval font and a grand 1807 memorial to James Crowe, Sheriff of Norwich and twice Mayor. We tried peering through windows to see if they were still there, but the frosted quarries defeated us.

The south side of the churchyard was beautiful, especially in contrast with the sad building. Heavily wooded, it drops steeply away. And all around there are substantial memorials of the 18th and 19th Centuries, a reminder that this parish was home to many of Norwich's prosperous merchants and tradesmen and their families. A large cube of a memorial, topped by an urn, sits to the east of the chancel, and several memorials record the remembered's calling in life. A winged skull by the former priest door points to all our destinies, but saddest of all is the broken rose stem on a headstone by the path, remembering Martha Morgan, who died in 1814 at the age of three.

  HJ and TK, churchwardens 1824

Simon Knott, November 2012

tomb chest 1825 footstone gloom, gloom, gloom
winged skull mourning merchant snapped rose stem with falling bud 


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