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

St Botolph, Limpenhoe

Limpenhoe

Limpenhoe blocked doorway

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St Botolph, Limpenhoe

Limpenhoe is a small place, little more than a hamlet really. It sits on the edge of the larger village of Cantley, although the labyrinthine network of tiny twisting lanes around here keep it at a distance from the chimneys, storage tanks and settling basins of the British Sugar factory in the valley below. The small churches and tightly packed parishes of south-east Norfolk are a reminder that this was one of the first places in the British Isles settled by the enthusiastic Angles and Saxons. There have been churches here for well over a thousand years, and when the manorial estates were consolidated by the Normans at the end of the 11th Century, the churches began to be rebuilt. And yet, the area has never been terribly wealthy since, certainly not in comparison with the rest of East Anglia, and so there are a fair number of small, substantially Norman churches, some of them very fine. Not far from here are Hales, Heckingham and Haddiscoe, three of the loveliest 12th Century churches in England.

However, Limpenhoe is not one of them, for the next great age of church rebuilding in rural south-east Norfolk came in the second half of the 19th Century, and so it was that St Botolph was almost completely rebuilt in about 1880. The lower part of the 15th Century tower survives, and there is one reminder of the true glory days of Limpenhoe, a beautiful Norman south doorway. The architect for the rebuilding was AS Hewitt of Norwich. In the early 20th Century he would become better known for designing banks, but here in the 1880s we find him often in east Norfolk renovating, restoring and rebuilding.

You step through the north porch into an interior which is, as you would expect, that of a simple, rural 19th Century church, a sacramental space replacing the preaching house which the original building had no doubt become. The one older survival inside is a 13th Century Purbeck marble font, familiar from dozens of churches close to the Norfolk and Suffolk coasts. Despite the clear glass in the nave, the serried ranks of pitch pine benches create a rather gloomy feeling, a tunnel-like effect despite the chancel arch, from the long run of nave and chancel together. Beyond the arch, the chancel glows jewel-like from the east window, a spectacular example of the faux-Decorated style popular at the time. It contains some vivid 1890s glass depicting the Baptism of Christ and the commissioning of St Peter. Birkin Haward wondered if it might be by a local Yarmouth firm, which is perhaps a polite way of indicating that perhaps he didn't think it isn't terribly good. Still, its splendour and that of the ornate arcaded stonework of the reredos beneath it suggest that worship at Limpenhoe might have been Higher in the 1890s than it is today, although I am told that in the 1970s the incumbent here was a militant Orangeman who stacked anti-Catholic leaflets at the back of the church!

Before the late 19th Century there were two churches in this benefice. The other was at Southwood, but it was dismantled in the 1880s when Limpenhoe church was rebuilt. It is now a ruin half a mile or so off. At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship, the incumbent Rupert James Rowton had been at pains to point out that morning and afternoon services alternated between the two churches, meaning that there was only one service at each church every Sunday. Rowton recorded wistfully that when it falls in the morning it is generally thinly attended, and this was certainly the case, because out of the combined population of about three hundred, average attendance for morning worship at the two churches was fifteen, excluding the scholars who had no choice but to be there. As with almost everywhere in East Anglia, the afternoon sermon was more popular than the morning service, attracting about thirty people, but this was still only about one in ten of the populations of Limpenhoe and Southwood. The Methodist chapel in Limpenhoe attracted an average of fifty people to its services, and there were many more at the larger chapel in nearby Reedham, a reminder of quite how enthusiastically non-conformist East Anglia was. But the 19th Century Anglican revival would change that.

Simon Knott, July 2022

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looking east chancel
font looking west
Baptism and Commission St Botolph

   
               
                 

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