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

All Saints, Mundesley

Mundesley: something charming

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from the south-east from the road the sea beyond

    All Saints, Mundesley
Mundesley angel   There's something charming about Mundesley. This is the caravan coast of north-east Norfolk, but that in itself makes it feel quite old-fashioned, and people like it for being so. It was the promotion of this part of Norfolk as 'Poppyland' in the early part of the 20th century that led to the restoration of All Saints - until 1905, it was just another clifftop ruin. Inside, a plaque records that from this point eastward the nave and chancel of this church were in ruins for over a hundred years.

The wide North Sea spreads beyond the church, quite as dramatic a setting as that of the more famous Beeston Regis along the coast. On this humid day it was covered in a haze, as still as glass. The graveyard grass had just been cut, and rose like a velvet setting to the flint and tile of All Saints. There was another triumphalist Norfolk angel in the graveyard for me to collect.

The streets around have a seasidey feel, with gift shops and fish and chip shops and a bowling green. We could hear laughter caught by the wind, and the tattoo of an ice cream van. It was all very jolly. This part of Norfolk was very remote before the coming of the railways, but by the second half of the 19th century this beautiful coast had been discovered and reinvented as Poppyland. You could reach here in less than four hours from London, and so several former fishing villages began to develop as holiday resorts, becoming towns.

The most famous of these today is Cromer, but Mundesley had ambitions too. When the railway reached here a couple of massive hotels were built, and still stand today, rather oddly in this backwater. Plots were laid out for a a great housing estate, but the receding cliffs put people off, and they never came. And the railway, too, has gone now. Now, there are only the caravans.

In the early 19th century, Ladbroke had found All Saints a ruin, but the western third of the nave roofed and still in use - roughly, that part between the first and second buttress that you can see above. Mundesley's reinvention as a resort created a need for a new church, and so the ruin was rebuilt, spectacularly well, in two stages. Firstly, in 1904 the western end was extended to make an organ chamber, and then in 1914 the nave was extended eastwards, with a new chancel on the site of the old one. From the outside, the most obviously 'old' feature is the porch, although in fact a lot of old material seems to have been reused in the new building.

The first sign that anything is unusual comes as you step into the porch; the way into the church is just a small doorway, and you may want to open it before closing the main door behind you.

You step into a church which is very similar to nearby Sidestrand, which was rebuilt at almost exactly the same time. There is a similar air of an early 20th century enthusiasm for the Anglo-catholic, but also a gentle, rural feeling. For example, the vivid rood on the chancel screen is balanced by a fine west gallery. The royal arms of Victoria are on the front of the gallery. I couldn't decide if they were painted directly on with a trompe l'oeil effect, or actually made out of wood and stuck on. See what you think below.

The early 20th century glass is also very triumphalistic, the last gasp of a style which within twenty years would have been utterly replaced by simpler, starker styles. The Adoration of the Shepherds is rather lovely. I thought the image of Christ in Majesty being censed by angels rather unsettling, though. It seems to chime exactly with the near-contemporary triumphalism for the First World War. I put thoughts of war out of my head, and took the opportunity to snap a shot of my two regular collaborators, Peter and Tom, in conversation.

  an air of an early 20th century enthusiasm for the Anglo-catholic
   

Simon Knott, August 2006

looking east rood looking west
sanctuary royal arms - trompe l'oeil effect or made out of wood? from this point eastward the nave and chancel of this church were in ruins for over a hundred years.
Adoration of the Shepherds Christ in Majesty Peter and Tom in conversation


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