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

St Andrew, Raveningham


Raveningham Raveningham tower

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St Andrew, Raveningham

The woods and copses sprawl into the Yare marshes in this quiet south-eastern backwater of Norfolk. The settlements here must have been among the very first places that Saxon farmers stopped and said to themselves yes, this is the place, here we'll stay. And so they did, creating the manors which the Normans would divvy up among themselves. This quiet landscape occasionally gathers to the surprise of a spectacular country house, and one such is Raveningham Hall which was built in the late 18th Century for the Bacon family. Near the middle of the Hall Park, near to the famous restored gardens,sits the church, and to reach it you cross the wide expanse of parkland, the object of interest for the pedigree herd of Sussex cattle who on this bright October day seemed content just to graze, whisk their tails, shake their heads and snort occasionally. There is a glimpse of the front of the Hall from the fenced path which leads up to a churchyard which has a surprising number of 19th and early 20th Century headstones given how small and sparsely populated the parish is. Presumably many of them once worked for the Hall.

There must have been a small Norman church here once, but what we see today must be mostly of the 13th and 14th Centuries, including the round tower with its castellated top, I think. The elegant Early English arch of the south doorway is a world away from the rugged Norman survivals you find so often hereabouts, and remarkably the ironwork of the door appears to be contemporary with it. The overall cement rendering is perhaps unfortunate, but it probably dates from an unusually early restoration of the 1830s and 1840s. The Castell or Castyll family, who owned the manor for almost half a millennium throughout and beyond the late medieval period, made their mark here, but the overwhelming imprint today is of the Bacons, as we will see inside.

The church is open every day, and you step into a simple interior, perhaps a little gloomy on a sunny day, with two grand structures at the west end. One is a fine 15th Century font. On the panels of the bowl, which appears to be unrestored, the evangelistic symbols alternate with figures representing the Holy Orders of the church. A pope sits on a throne in the panel facing the door. Across from it at the west end of the low north aisle is the imposing block of a memorial to Major Edward Hodge, who died on the eve of the Battle of Waterloo in 1815. He was married to Maria, eldest daughter of Sir Edward Bacon. When I'd last visited the memorial had been set awkwardly behind the south doorway, but since then it has been moved, and you can now read all four sides. Hodge was, we are told, a Pious Son, Affectionate Husband, and Tender Father, the only Son of his Mother, and she was a Widow, the valedictory style of the previous century giving way nicely to the sentimentality of the new one.

pope sitting on a throne (15th Century) font the only son of his mother, and she a widow

Despite the north aisle this feels a narrow church, perhaps because of the low arcade, and the chancel beyond appears almost tunnel-like from the west end. The floor of the chancel is home to several notable brasses, the best known of which is to Margaret Castyll who died in 1483. Her inscription makes interesting reading. It tells us that Here lyth bureyd under thys ston of marbyll Margaret, sum tyme the wyff of Hounfrey Castyll, late wyff unto Rauf Wyllughby squier for Kyng Rychard the thyrd's body.
The yere of God MCCCCLXXX and thne on the IX day of Marche departyd lyfe ffor whos soulle I beseche you hartely to pray and devoutly a Pater Noster and Ave to say.
The Pater Noster and Ave we are asked to say were the Our Father and the Hail Mary of course. In her effigy above the inscription she clasps her hands in prayer, at her feet a familiar little dog and, less conventionally, a dragon. Sam Mortlock suggests it might represent St Margaret, her patron saint.

Margaret, widow of Hounfrey Castyll, wife to Rauf Wyllughby Untitled a dragon and a little dog

Other brass inscriptions remember members of the Walpole family, but the overwhelming impression of the chancel is of its role as the last resting place of the Bacon family of the Hall. Their memorials are set in an imitation of Early English arcading based on the canopy to what may have been the founder's tomb in the south side of the chancel. It appears to have been installed in the 1820s, hence its pre-Ecclesiological 'Gothick' character. At the far end, the only coloured glass in the church is that by Kempe & Co in the east window. The little vignettes at the bottom include a serious-faced Christ riding into Jerusalem, his mocking and beating, and St Veronica kneeling to tenderly offer her handkerchief as he carries his cross to Golgotha.

Simon Knott, October 2021

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looking east chancel looking west
memorial arcade organ here lieth the bodies (1593)
sanctuary St Veronica Christ is whipped south door
Stuart royal arms pray for the souls of Richard Walpole and Agnes his wife


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