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

St Andrew, Northwold

Northwold Northwold Northwold

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.

    St Andrew, Northwold
gloom   This village was once on the main road between Thetford and Kings Lynn, but the A134 bypasses Northwold to the south now. Not far off is one of Norfolk's most haunting little churches, St Mary at Cranwich, hidden in the woods beside the Mundford road. But the grand edifice of St Andrew raises its mighty head above the quiet streets of what was once obviously a prosperous village with some fine houses, including one which now stands sadly derelict to the south of the church. The Breckland has in its time been among the poorest and wealthiest parts of East Anglia, but it has always felt a place apart. Now that the busy roads bypass the villages, It can sometimes seem that they are more remote than they really are.

St Andrew sits peaceably in a narrow graveyard just off of the main village street. The green roofs of the nave and chancel are striking behind their battlements, and the clerestory is one of the most interesting and beautiful in the county: sets of six blank arcades in flint alternate with crowned windows. At the west end there is a dedicatory inscription asking for prayers for the soul of the donor, John Starlyng. Above the body of the church, the tower rises majestically through four stages to a late Perpendicular crown, a testament to the skill and devotion of Catholic England on the very eve of the Reformation.

Northwold has a rather eccentric policy towards pilgrims and strangers. The good news is that the church is open to visitors daily. But, come four o'clock, they lock up; and not just the church, but all the entrances to the graveyard. A notice tells you that if you are seen on the grounds after that time, they'll call the police. Further, if you are a teenager, they'll tell your parents and your school. The notice informing you of this would have more authority if it wasn't for the errors - maybe they could find some teenagers and ask them how to spell authourised and premisis. But this is nit-picking, because St Andrew is a splendid building that is also generally welcoming, in an area where many churches are kept locked. You step into a large space which is, at first sight, almost entirely Victorianised. There is none of the endearing rustic shabbiness you'll find not far off at Gooderstone and Foulden. Rather, this is a building full of the confidence of the late 19th Century Church. Its urban anonymity must have seemed more in keeping when the busy road passed by, but in fact this building contains much of interest, and some of it a little unusual.

The great surprise of the interior is that, despite the impressive late Perpendicular exterior, the elegant arcades are those of two centuries earlier. Pevsner points out that the most westerly bays are later replacements, probably from the 14th century, as if a tower was planned. But it would not be built for another hundred years. But Northwold's most famous feature is the spectacular Easter Sepulchre up in the largely 19th century chancel. It is probably the best in Norfolk, despite its battered appearance. The most interesting feature is that the Roman soldiers at the base, waking in confusion to witness the Resurrection, are wearing late medieval armour.

Just a fragment of the Three Living and Three Dead wall painting in the north aisle survives, but it is a delicious little fragment. It depicts the hunting falcon sitting on the wrist of one of the Three Living, as they meet the walking corpses of the Three Dead in the forest, to be told As we are so you shall be, therefore prepare to follow me. The view westwards from beneath the chancel arch is stately and urban, a building full of confidence, but along the walls are reminders that this was a significant place in the 18th century. Some fine stone tablets are guarded by putti with faces depicting their grief and astonishment, and the inscriptions are very models of the sentiments of the period. Ann Hopkin, we are told, was an Indearing Wife, An Indulgent Mother, An Affectionate Relation, An Honour to her Family and An Ornament of her Sex. When she died in 1732 at the age of just 22, her husband also recorded that two of their children were before interr'd in the same grave.

Best of all is a wooden tablet to former Rector Robert Burhill. It was erected in 1727 to the memory of a man who had died more than eighty years earlier. It is painted in a Trompe-l'œeil style that makes it appear, at first sight, as if it might also be made of stone. It records that Burhill was a man who by his learned works writt in Latin Against the greatest Champions of the Romish Church did great Service to the Protestant Cause in general as well as to the Church of England in Particular. It goes on to note that He was most intimate with the Famous Sir Walter Raleigh, and assisted him with the Critical part of his History of the World. Was also a good Antiquary and Poet as well as a great Divine which appears from Several Valuable Manuscripts now in Oxford. In this Place he took Sanctuary at the breaking out of the Troubles in October 1641. Burhill was the type of man who had made the ammunition for the Puritans to fire, and he died as their project was developing into a full scale and bloody war. No doubt he would be appalled by the way that the Church of England enthusiastically embraced the imagery of the Catholic Church in the 19th Century, to which event this church is such a rich testimony.   angel

Simon Knott, November 2008

looking west view east chancel Easter sepulchre organ font
poppyheads knights angel roof 
an ornament of her sex wooden memorial an ornament of her sex birdbath font roll of honour on these premisis
misery horror sanctuary skull and crossed bones
a monkey and two horses falcon: one of the Three Living roof where I am, there shall also my servant be
Gaffin TL Bennett

Amazon commission helps cover the running costs of this site.

Free Guestbook from Bravenet 

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