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

St Andrew, Little Snoring

Little Snoring: remarkable, beautiful

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
as if hinged Norman Norman forms again, but obviously later blocked priest door blocked north door 
grotesque on tower elegant head on  porch curious

  St Andrew, Little Snoring
man with lifted heart   You cross the Stiffkey from the Burnhams, and it is as if you are entering the real Norfolk, where the driver of a pickup truck is more likely to be wearing a baseball cap and carrying a shotgun than to be delivering a pine dresser from an antique shop in Burnham Market to its new home in NW3. Suddenly, the pubs are no longer haute cuisine restaurants but authentic village inns, which in rural England today means pool tables, country and western music and 'special value' Sunday roasts. It was a curious relief.

Little Snoring is a large, working village joined to its neighbour Kettlestone across the busy Fakenham to Cromer road. Of all Norfolk place names, it is the one that outsiders find the most amusing - in fact, it simply means the place of a people who followed a man called Snear.

As with the neighbouring Walsinghams, Little Snoring is bigger than Great Snoring, and has a decent pub, shops and a village school.The church sits out to the north of the village, on the edge of the WWII airbase. This has now all gone, ploughed under decades ago, but it still provides romantic associations. Unusually in Norfolk, it wasn't a base used by American bombers, but by British fighter aircraft, Spitfires and Hurricanes. During the war years, St Andrew was used as the base chapel.

As you probably know, and as you'll have spotted in the photos if you don't, St Andrew is remarkable for having a tower that is detached from the rest of the church. The two sit together on a mound above the road. The south side of the graveyard has been largely cleared of headstones, but there are some fine 18th and 19th century ones that line the path, in a mist of celandines on this early May day.

The round tower is doubly attractive; not only is it free standing, but it is topped by a little 18th century conical cap with tiny gables and a spike. On the eastern face, there is a filled-in tower arch, into which a door and grotesque have been fitted in more recent years.

  mind the gap

Undoubtably, then, this tower once stood at the west end of a church. Unlike Bramfield in Suffolk, where the round tower has always been free-standing, this one is situated alone more by accident than design.

Nobody knows for certain why. At some point, the church that the tower belonged to was demolished. But was it replaced by the one that now stands a few metres to the north, or was that church there already? At Reepham, for example, the two churches in the churchyard are so close together that they are actually touching. The matter is clouded by the fact that the tower archway is Norman, and the south and north doors of the existing church are also Norman, as are some of the windows. Could they be contemporary?

detached   The south doorway must always have been the main entrance, being the more elaborate of the two. Curiously, it has an Early English doorway set within the Norman doorway. The red-brick porch, with its elegant heads, is so close to the tower arch that from a distance it appears that they might be hinged. What happened here?

To my mind, the most likely explanation is that an enlarged replacement church was built on slightly higher ground to the north of the old one, probably because of drainage problems. At Little Whelnetham in Suffolk, the remains of a round tower survive to the east of the current chancel, so the decision there was obviously taken to rebuild on slightly different ground.

Either the doorways, which are rather fine, came from the old church and were moved, or the way of life has always been so laid back around here that they were still using Norman forms until well into the 13th century.

Perhaps this kind of thing happened a lot, and the tower usually followed, being demolished and then rebuilt. But it didn't happen here, leaving this beautiful anomaly.

Inside, the church is earthy and rustic; the roof could as easily be that of a barn. The wide nave and chancel are separated by a fairly narrow chancel arch, creating a feeling of uncluttered rooms; the sturdy font sits in an expanse of tiles. There are seats stepped up at the back, presumably for school children in the 19th century. There is nothing remarkable, except for the Royal Arms, which are unusually to James II. Curiously, there is another set across the fields at Great Snoring, perhaps revealing Jacobite sympathies in these valleys.

St Andrew is still a place of pilgrimage for those who flew from the wartime base, and for those who remember them. Large boards up at the back record 'hits' on German aircraft and awards received; at first, I thought the triumphalism out of place, but then I thought I prefered their bullishness to the often mawkish memorials you find to many airbases.

  looking east

You can see why people might have a fondness for St Andrew, even without its associations. It is interesting, mysterious and beautiful. On this sunny spring day it was a place to lift the heart.

Simon Knott, May 2005


looking west narrow chancel arch font rare James II royal arms
light from nave windows ledger stone hits if only that so many dead lie round

"Life is Sweet"


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