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

St Andrew, Langford


Langford Langford
forbidden Langford bell turret

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St Andrew, Langford

If you didn't know, you would never guess. Although Langford church is one of the four churches of the Norfolk Battle Training Area and is not generally accessible by the public, its surroundings are so familiar that if you came across it by accident you would think it just another lonely, lovely little East Anglian medieval church. Norfolk and Suffolk have dozens of small churches with settings like this. Standing by the narrow track with a field of barley on the right, only the barbed wire topped fence around the church suggests that something is a little odd. Not far off, melting mounds of Norfolk clunch tell you that there was a village here once, but it was never other than tiny.

Like its former village, St Andrew is also not very big. It is the smallest of the churches in the training area, a simple two-celled 12th Century building which once had a medieval tower. At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, the rector of Langford, John Raven, recorded that it had been destroyed by time or accident. The west wall that replaced it is made of stone, which looks curious in this heartland of flint. The bell turret is late 19th Century, but has Norman-style detailing that was intended to fit in. In truth, anything here that is not understated is out of place, as we shall see inside. A 15th century window opens beside a blocked Norman lancet, and there are curious faces up in the eaves of the nave east gable, a grinning creature to the south reminiscent of the Cheshire Cat in Alice in Wonderland, and a green man to the north. When I first came here in 2004, a kestrel had been recorded nesting most years in the porch. On my most recent visit in 2023 the porch floor was a mound of owl pellets!

The fine Norman doorway contains what appears to be a late medieval door, and perhaps the metalwork on it is that old too. Opening it brings you into a small and simple open space, now completely cleared of everything except for the 14th Century font and, up beyond the surprisingly wide 12th Century chancel arch, the grand early 18th Century Garrard memorial. Grandfather, father and son stand around an urn, dressed in Roman togas and striking attitudes of rational calm. The three figures are wholly pagan. Since my previous visit, white sheets have been hung to shield the memorial from sunlight coming in through the east and south chancel windows, presumably to slow the growth of green mould on the stonework. Although the memorial does dominate the place somewhat, there is also a sense in which it feels tucked away against the north chancel wall, as if it were sulking there, and so perhaps it should.

The Art Nouveau altar rails, installed as part of the 1880 restoration, must have been very fine, but all that survives of them is a couple of uprights with their wrought iron curls and copper flowers. A ledger stone for the Rt Hon General Sir James Pulteney, who died in 1811, has been reset on the south wall, presumably also during the 1880 restoration. Eversons and more Garrards are remembered by other ledger stones. This was the closest church to the great Buckenham Tofts Hall, but of course most residents preferred to be remembered in the grander church of West Tofts. The west window glass has bullet holes in it, scars of a time when the activities of the training area were perhaps less controlled than they are today.

Stepping outside, there are few headstones in the churchyard in comparison with those of the other three training area churches, but in places in the grass there are little pools of flat stone, 19th and early 20th Century memorials now almost hidden by overgrowth, soon to be lost forever. Ghosts of ghosts. I don't often quote Arthur Mee, but when he came here in the 1930s he found it hiding away in a valley where the River Wissey flows... with its few farms, a tiny church with one of them for company. We see it from the river through an arch of tall beeches, lowly and trim, with a mellowed red roof and a turret for its bell. The farms have gone, but otherwise it is not so very different today.

Simon Knott, December 2023

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south doorway looking east any old iron
Garrard memorial Garrard memorial (detail) Garrard memorial (detail)
font (14th Century) bullet holes west end
art nouveau communion rail stanchion Rt Hon General Sir James Pulteney, 1811

grinning cat green man

a general introduction to the churches of the Norfolk battle training area

a visit to the Battle Training Area churches in 2023


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