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

St Mary, Little Fransham

Little Fransham: a reclusive delight (click to enlarge)

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from the south-east chancel porch

    St Mary, Little Fransham
font   St Mary is a reclusive delight. You probably won't find it without a map. It is set in a secluded graveyard set back from the Mileham road. There is no sign on the road, and there is no tower to poke tellingly above the treetops. But if you can find it you'll be rewarded by a delciously ramshackle building, the chancel higher than the nave and a 15th century porch topped with a redbrick upper storey. This has the date 1743 worked into the ends of the braces. It replaced a tower which fell about fifty years earlier.

St Mary is one of those welcoming, open churches you find so many of in the area between Dereham and Fakenham. There is nothing tremendously exciting here, just a lovely little rural church.

The window tracery is mostly Decorated, but the 13th century doorway and font illustrate the true age of the walls. The font is a fine example of the ideas buzzing about as Norman developed into Early English: still square, but with the arcading that would shortly become fashionable on octagonal fonts.

The royal arms of George III are some of the best in the county, on a tall wooden board with the arms set on a pedestal in what I believe is called a full achievement. There is some good old woodwork, including tracery-backed benches in the chancel. But most pleasing of all, perhaps, are the roofs, with arch-braced hammerbeams in the nave and tie-beam braces in the chancel.

To finish, a puzzle. The splendidly named Hamond Alpe was High Sheriff of Norfolk in 1758. He was candid, humane and generous to his neighbours, indulgent to his family and affectionately tender to his wife. We know this, because his memorial on the narrow south-east nave wall tells us so. It also tells us that he died with Christian submission in 1767. It is a fine memorial; not spectacular, but carefully crafted with dignity and taste. But there is a poignant addendum to it, for almost forty years later the bottom plate was crudely inscribed to record the death of his wife. There is no eulogy here, no exposition of her qualities. Even the scrollwork looks as if it was done by a child. It looks the work of 150 years earlier, it is so primitive. What happened? Had forty years of widowhood removed her from a sphere where she might be remembered decently? Had the family fallen so far that this was the only memorial she could merit or afford?

Simon Knott, May 2006

   

Norman careers into EE looking east looking west chancel Hamond Alpe George III
tracery backed bench tie beam braces in the chancel

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home I index I latest I glossary I introductions I e-mail I about this site

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