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

St Peter and St Paul, Oulton

Oulton

chancel door blocked north doorway

    St Peter and St Paul, Oulton
  The area between Aylsham and Holt can seem among the most remote in Norfolk, a landscape of scattered villages unknown to the busy traffic a few miles off on the Cromer road. Here, grand houses still stand among woods and fields, and a lattice of undulating lanes still bears mute witness to the pattern of the past. At a lost crossroads where four deep cut narrow roadways meet is St Peter and St Paul, not far from the great Hall. Elms and oaks are all about, their treetops restless on this late summer day. When the wind drops, you can hear a car approaching from miles off - but not many come this way.

The peaceful churchyard is a pleasant place to wander, and there are several interesting 18th and 19th century headstones. The church is small, and has two curious filled-in archways, one on each side, halfway down the nave. It seems there were once transept chapels, or even perhaps this church was cruciform, except that the roofline must have been very low. There was a fairly restrained 19th century restoration, which has left the curiosity of a terracotta carved and cusped archway to the priest door of the chancel.

Inside, the Victorian benches have been replaced by modern chairs, and I think this always looks good in a medieval church. There is a plainness that offsets the medieval survivals nicely - notably, the lower part of a St Christopher wall painting, the fish still swimming about oblivious of the passing of time.

There is a plain font reset on a pillar which is rather too wide for it. The whole piece is characterful. There is a gorgeous little piscina, with delicate carvings in the spandrils of the arch. Little things that please, and the simplicity of the Sarum-screened altar is pleasing too. There is a real feeling that this is a church of the common people, a building that has overseen the quiet lives of generations of ordinary Oultoners.    

A moving testament to the people of the past is a brass plate set below the chancel arch. It dates from 1636, right on the eve of the Commonwealth, and records that:

HERE LAYE EDMUND BELL AND KATHERIN HIS WIFE
WHOD THIRTY SIX YEARES DID LIVE MAN AND WIFE
THEY HAD THREE SONNS AND DAUGHTERES THREE
FARWILL OUR FREINDS ALL IN HEAVEN WE HOPE TO SEE

The inscription is harshly carved, and although the sentiment is touching, you might imagine from their poorly-spelt little ditty that the Bells were rural oafs from the outback. In fact, they were people of consequence - Edmund's grandfather had been Speaker of the House of Commons under Elizabeth I. Further, this crude memorial was produced at a time when the Renaissance was in full flower in continental Europe. A telling reminder of the price the English paid for Puritanism, and the protestant tradition would continue to hold strong in this backwater over the next century and more, as witnessed by the congregational chapel of 1728 in the narrow lanes to the north-west.

  farwill our freinds all in heaven we hope to see

Simon Knott, September 2005, updated December 2017

looking east sanctuary looking west
died at Melbourne in the Colony of Victoria served the office of High Sheriff for this county St Christopher's fish The Great War Mothers' Union Oulton Norwich

   

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