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St Michael, Langley
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St Michael is enclosed within its own copse of trees, only the top of the tower giving the secret away. Nearby is Langley Grange, splendid enough in its own way, where we found the key to the church. To get to the church, you have to cross a broad meadow on foot, and part of the way across is an intriguing memorial stone for the journalist Deborah Hutton, who died in 2005 at the age of 49. The inscription reads And if I could ask you just one more thing It would be to go out and do a little kindness. Deborah 13 July 2005. I thought this was touching and lovely, and still deep in thought I squeezed through the narrow gap into Langley graveyard.
The church is perhaps not the most attractive or exciting in Norfolk, but it possesses a quiet gravitas in this enclosed space. The exterior character of the church comes from a rebuilding in the 14th century and a restoration very early on in the 19th century. Almost certainly, there was a Norman church here once, and before that a wooden Saxon one, for these are the oldest English parishes of all. But the important thing about Langley church is inside, for this is one of several churches in this part of Norfolk which are home to parts of the Beauchamp Proctor collection of continental stained glass, and this is the largest and best grouping of them. The Beauchamp Proctors lived at Langley Park in the late 18th and early 19th Centuries, and the glass, much of it from Rouen in France, was imported for them by JC Hampp of Norwich. As with Chedgrave and Thurton, it was installed by the early Lowestoft stained glass designer Samuel Yarrington, and probably restored in the 20th Century by the King Workshop of Norwich. The best are the roundels, and the best of these depicts Mary Magdalene meeting the Risen Christ in the garden and mistaking him for the gardener - not surprisingly, perhaps, as he wears a gardener's hat and carries a spade. The best of the larger panels depicts the shepherds on the hillside with the angel appearing to tell them of the birth of Christ: one of the shepherds sits and plays his bagpipes.
The chancel was rebuilt as part of the early 19th Century restoration. Pevsner says it was re-Gothicized in the later C19, but it retains its Georgian character under a ceiled roof, which was unfortunately breaking away and falling to the floor at the time of my visit, the whole east end of the church cordoned off as a consequence. But I took my life in my hands to photograph the glass you see above.
Simon Knott, July 2009
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