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

All Saints, Mattishall


Mattishall Mattishall

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

    All Saints, Mattishall

Mattishall is one of the smallest towns in Norfolk, no more than a village really, but it has at its heart a magnificent church. The church is set back from the pleasing little market square. All Saints has echoes of the great urban churches of Swaffham and Fakenham. Apart from the curious Victorian confectionery of the south porch and a 17th Century turret on the tower, what you see was all built in one long campaign. As Simon Cotton points out, the tower came first and is first mentioned in a bequest of 1383. Bequests to the nave and porch came in the 1440s and 1450s, and a 1453 bequest to the roodloft suggests a date for the finishing of the nave. Replete with aisles, clerestory and that long chancel with its side chapels, this is one of the great East Anglian late-medieval churches.

You step inside to a wide open space with an overwhelmingly urban feel to it, as if we were in the middle of Norwich or Ipswich. When I first visited here some twenty years ago the creamy arcades rose uncomfortably from a sea of imposing middle-brow Victorian benches. On an earlier incarnation of this page I made a case that they should be removed and replaced. After all, there is nothing traditional about them, and a photograph under the tower of the church in the 19th Century shows the nave full of box pews. I take no credit for the decision, but coming back in more recent years I've been pleased to see that the 19th Century benches have now been replaced by quieter modern chairs.

Mattishall's greatest treasure is the dado of the roodscreen, a work contemporary with the building of the church in the second half of the 15th Century. The panels to each light are not subdivided, which is to say there are two figures in each panel. Together they depict what is known as a creed sequence, where the 12 apostles hold a sequence of scrolls containing the clauses of the Apostles Creed.

Mattishall screen: St Jude and St Matthew (15th Century) Mattishall screen: St Mtthias and St Simon (15th Century) Mattishall screen: St Philip and St Bartholomew (15th Century)
Mattishall screen: St James (15th Century) Mattishall screen: St Peter (15th Century) Mattishall screen: St John (15th Century)

There is a traditional pattern to which apostle holds which clause in a creed sequence, and so identification is relatively easy. On the north side they are Philip, Bartholomew, Matthias, Simon, Jude and Matthew. On the south side are Peter, Andrew, James, John, Thomas and James the Less.

Of more interest perhaps is the tracery of the panel canopies, and the tiny details in the spandrels. A shepherd creeps up on a wolf or tiger, St George with a sword approaches a dragon, an armoured figure with a scimitar may be intended as a Turk, and in the only vandalised scene Gabriel appears to the Virgin Mary at the Annunciation.

Mattishall screen:  St George in armour with sword and shield (15th Century) Mattishall screen:  St George and the dragon (15th Century) Mattishall screen: a dragon for St George (15th Century)
Mattishall screen:  Mary at the Annunciation (15th Century) Mattishall screen:  Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation (15th Century)
Mattishall screen:  wolf or tiger attacking a shepherd  (15th Century) Mattishall screen:  shepherd in a cowl with a crook (15th Century) Mattishall screen: Turk with a scimitar and bell shield (15th Century)

There is another screen into the south chancel aisle, beautifully patterned. All Saints has three dressed altars, but perhaps the one in this chapel is the loveliest. In the middle of the chancel are a number of oddly placed brass inscriptions of the 17th Century that are to the same family, but the surname is spelt variously Cresheld, Croshold, Crolhold and Crollold. These are all post-Reformation of course, but another inscription back in the nave asks for prayers for the soul of Katherine Dene.

There are a number of medieval figure brasses in the nave, but they have been reused on late 17th Century ledger stones. One, to Geoffrey Dane (presumably a relative of Katherine) is now resplendent on the tomb of Susan Edwards, a curious arrangement. Perhaps they were unable to read the Latin, and assumed that the long hair made him a woman. No less than two brass figures have been reused on the 1688 tomb of William Brabant who was rector here.

The font is a curiosity. It has no designs on the eight panels of its bowl, but all of them are concave. The traceried panels of the shaft appear to be medieval. Can the bowl be old as well?

High above, the Royal Arms are to George II, and are only remarkable for being dated 1745, a notable date in English, Scottish and Irish history. Charles Stuart's attempted coup de'etat was a romantic fancy, and had no real chance of succeeding, any more than his grandfather James II was ever likely to have held onto his throne more than half a century earlier. And things would not have turned out well if it had succeeded. The power of the protestant London merchant classes, which had formerly backed Cromwell, had also guaranteed the success of William of Orange's takeover of the English throne in 1688. That power was now deeply invested in the Hanovers.

The Church of England and the regular Army, those two constant, essential arms of government, reacted to the uprising by forging a consensus which would be the key to the imagination of the people, a notion of identity which would at last reinvent and create the British as a Nation. Nothing would bend it from its path now. Meanwhile, in the rural backwaters, the Catholic aristocracy was little shaken by the events of '45. Perhaps they stirred, and perhaps they read their newspapers with a frisson. But after all, they were only just awakening from the long years of penal silence. Although the Old Religion was still technically outlawed, they were no longer persecuted, and many began to retake their place in the national hierarchy. It was a compromise, but an ordered and easy one.

But what of ordinary Catholics in England, Scotland and, most of all, Ireland? What of their hopes? They had been dashed along with the throne of James II at the Battle of the Boyne, and were now trampled with the troops of Charles Stuart into the blood-soaked fields of Culloden. No one had expected the Jacobites to succeed, but the fury with which the rebellion was put down had been startling. Those hopes would turn to a hurt, and it would echo uncomfortably for the emerging British State down the next two and a half centuries.

Simon Knott, December 2020

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.


looking east high altar

war memorial 1745 royal arms for G II R Mattishall Sunday School
angels hard at work (Herbert Bryans, 1908) St John the Evangelist (Herbert Bryans, 1908) St Barnabas (Herbert Bryans, 1908) angels hard at work (Herbert Bryans, 1908)
here lye three systers bured heare, they dyed all three within a yeare whose bodye kyeth buryed here together with thre sisters deer
lectern lion here under resteth the body of Judeth


The Churches of East Anglia websites are non-profit-making, in fact they are run at a considerable loss. But if you enjoy using them and find them useful, a small contribution towards the cost of web space, train fares and the like would be most gratefully received. You can donate via either Ko-fi or Paypal.


donate via Kofi


home I index I latest I introductions I e-mail I about this site I glossary
Norwich I ruined churches I desktop backgrounds I round tower churches
links I small print I www.simonknott.co.uk I www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

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