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

Holy Trinity, Loddon

Loddon

Loddon

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Holy Trinity, Loddon

If you leave Norwich and head south-east you eventually reach Loddon, a charming little town set as Norfolk begins to dissolve into the marshes of the Yare and the Waveney. The nearest other places of any size are in Suffolk. Its parish church of Holy Trinity is a large, urban building, although its size is somewhat disguised by the sheer breadth of its churchyard. The church was rebuilt in response to the late medieval piety of the local Hobart family and their bequests, particularly that of Sir James Hobart, who is depicted inside. The rebuilding commenced at the end of the 15th Century and was completed during the first decades of the 16th Century, the great south porch coming last, probably in the 1530s. The porch is reminiscent of its contemporary equivalent at Southwold in Suffolk, a church which bears a number of similarities with this one.

The overwhelming impression of the church you step into is one of height and light, and of Victorian urban gravitas. The vista to the east is an uninterrupted view of the great east window, one of the tallest in Norfolk. It is set with 20th Century heraldic shields, but the upper lights are filled with a curiosity, the figures of twelve Apostles and a pair of angels by the pre-ecclesiological stained glass artist Samuel Yarrington, probably made in the 1820s and reset in the lights at a later date.

There was a significant restoration here at Holy Trinity, and the medieval survivals are set in the context of this 19th Century reimagining. Suitably imposing in this space, therefore, the 15th Century Seven Sacrament font is set high on a Maltese cross shaped base at the west end of the nave. It bears considerable traces of its medieval colouring, and is grand, elegant even, but almost entirely defaced. It must have been magnificent in its heyday. A bequest of 1487 paid for it, a font depicting the seven sacraments of the Catholic Church, part of the reinforcing of orthodox Catholic teaching that was one of the main features of the late 15th Century English Church.

seven sacrament font Loddon font Loddon font Loddon font

Curiously, Pevsner repeats an assertion made elsewhere that the panels of the font were defaced in 1642. This seems to be because of an entry in the churchwardens' accounts for Loddon recounting the employment of a Mr Rochester, a glazier of Beccles, who was paid six shillings for the destruction of images. But clearly this cannot have referred to the font, for no seven sacrament fonts could have survived the Protestant Reformation of a century earlier unredacted. We know this, ironically, because of the journals of the iconoclast William Dowsing, who travelled through almost four hundred churches in Cambridgeshire and Suffolk in the early 1640s. This was the time of an intensifying reaction against what were seen as superstitious beliefs and practices, and one form that this reaction took was in a renewed assault upon imagery in church buildings. Dowsing's remit, which he partly designed himself, was to track down and arrange the removal of the work of the followers of the sacramental enthusiast William Laud, such as raised chancels and altar rails, but also anything which had survived the Reformation of a hundred years earlier. Interestingly, Dowsing hardly ever encountered images in stone, and only once does he ever mention imagery on a font. And yet we know that he visited several churches where there are fine seven sacrament fonts today, and others where there are screens with surviving images of saints. How come then that Dowsing did not order their destruction? Simply, he didn't see them.

The greater part of the destruction of English churches had taken place a full century before Dowsing made his way around southern East Anglia. The injunctions against images of the 1530s make it impossible that anything in the way of statues or wall paintings survived to the time of the Puritans a hundred years later. The Anglicans were busy cleansing the buildings of their forefathers, making way for the creation of their new model Church of England. But destruction can take several forms, and in many cases it was easier to cover over imagery than to destroy it. The roods were broken down, but the screens were often kept, their saints whitewashed. And why bother to smash up the font and replace it when you could more easily plaster it over? Often this would involve chiselling off the parts of images that stood proud of the panel so it could more easily be covered. This must have happened again and again in the 1640s, the most likely time for Loddon's more Protestant-minded parishioners to take the future into their own hands and erase the sacraments on the font.

The main 'superstitious imagery' that survived the Reformation was that which was hard to reach, or, if it was functional, difficult to replace. Statues, carvings and wall-paintings went, but angels remote in hammerbeam roofs and gable end crosses survived. Much medieval stained glass must have survived for another century. Unlike the Puritans, the Anglicans were pragmatists. It would have been madness to put out all the glass when it could not easily be replaced. The Puritans of the 1640s had no such qualms. The images in stone and wood had all been destroyed before the memory of anyone left alive, and the sacraments on fonts had also disappeared from sight so long ago that probably nobody knew they had ever existed. But at Loddon, as elsewhere, the stained glass still needed to be dealt with. Enter Mr Rochester, a glazier.

Turning to the east, a great expanse of late 19th Century furnishings hides Loddon's other late medieval treasure, one that is in its way more remarkable. This is the lower surviving part of the screen. It ran all the way across the church from aisle to aisle, and the sequence of paintings is most unusual. They depict a series of scenes, and each scene takes up two panels of the screen. Altogether there must have been about twenty scenes running from north to south. Five whole scenes and halves of two others survive on the north side, and just one on the south side. The paintings were made very late in the medieval period, probably the 1520s as the church was being finished. There is a cartoon quality to them, the blocks of colour outlined in black which stands out now that the colours are faded. They depict a rosary sequence with one very unusual odd panel out, the martyrdom of St William of Norwich.

Loddon screen: Martyrdom of St William of Norwich, Annunciation, Adoration of the Shepherds

Loddon screen: Martyrdom of St William of Norwich Loddon screen: Annunciation Loddon screen: Visitation and Nativity Loddon screen: Circumcision of Christ
Loddon screen: Adoration of the Magi Loddon screen: Presentation in the Temple (part) Loddon screen door: Birth of the Blessed Virgin (part) Loddon screen: Ascension of Christ

The martyrdom is the most northerly surviving panel of the dado. Moving southwards from St William of Norwich are a delightful Annunciation scene, and then the Visitation and the Nativity share the next panel. Next comes a somewhat graphic Circumcision of Christ, and then the Adoration of the Magi, and finally the left hand side of the Presentation in the Temple. This sequence on the north side is preceded by St Anne and the young Blessed Virgin which is set on the right hand gate leading into the north chancel chapel. Sadly, only half of this gate remains, and the one which must have been beside it has been lost completely. That probably depicted Joachim and Anne meeting under the Golden Gate in Jerusalem, as recounted in the apocryphal Gospel of St James. The only panel remaining on the south side is right near the end of the sequence and depicts the Ascension of Christ, unfortunately now partly obscured by the book rest of a pew.

Who was St William of Norwich? Jewish communities had been expelled from England in 1290 (they were eventually allowed to return by Oliver Cromwell in the 1650s) but before this there had been a number of hideous pogroms. One in Norwich in 1144, which resulted in a number of deaths, arose from the malicious story that the Jews of Norwich had sacrificed a Christian child on the eve of the Passover to provide blood for rituals. It is unlikely that there really had been such a death, let alone a murder, but the sensationalising of the event by the local Christian community led to the eventual development of a cult for the supposed dead child as St William of Norwich. This must have had the monks of Norwich rubbing their hands with glee, for now they had a saint to compare with their rivals forty miles off at Bury St Edmunds, but fortunately history has largely forgotten the focus of their cult. Even so, William of Norwich continued in the popular imaginiation long after the return of Jewish communities to England in stories and folksongs such as Little Sir William.

A number of brasses survive at Loddon, many to the Hobart family, from the late 15th Century to the 17th Century, marking perhaps not only the limits of that family's influence and prosperity but also that of the town of Loddon. An effigy in marble of Lady Dionys Williamson, born a Hobart, reclines at the east end of the north aisle. She died in 1684 and Pevsner tells us that she left a remarkable eight thousand pounds for the rebuilding of St Paul's Cathedral and other City churches after the Great Fire, the equivalent of well over two million pounds in today's money.

Perhaps the most striking memorial is not old at all, but to two brothers who died in the First World War. It is set in the north aisle and depicts them in uniform together in semi-relief. Lieutenant Frances Cadge was killed in action at the Gallipoli landings in April 1915. His brother Captain William Cadge was killed in the Battle of Loos less than five months later. The Cadges were from a wealthy family, as suggested by the quality of their memorial, but it made me think of the hundreds of families who lost two or more of their sons in the carnage of the First World War, mostly too poor to have them commemorated in any form. The Cadge memorial seems to stand for more than just those two boys alone.

Simon Knott, October 2021

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looking east looking west
ego sum Alpha et Omega north aisle chapel chancel The Cadge brothers
east window 12 Disciples and angels

   
               
                 

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