Hackford Reepham Whitwell
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St Mary, Reepham
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The surviving one of the three Reepham churches is tucked away beind the prominent, prettier Whitwell St Michael, to which it is now joined by a corridor. The parish boundary ran along the west wall, and so the tower is tucked neatly against the south side, in the manner of many of the churches of south-east Suffolk - although there, it usually forms the entrance, while here there is a rather awkward porch sandwiched to the west of the tower and to the east of the chancel of St Michael.
The interior was extensively restored in the 19th century in that municipal manner beloved of small-town worthies; it has an urban self-confidence that has pretty well eradicated any sense of the medieval. However, the few medieval treasures that do survive are significant. The font, for example, which evades the mundanity of its setting in encaustic tiles by topping out its large, square platform like the tier of a wedding cake. Still square, yet no longer Norman, the bowl is an excellent example of Early English patternwork.
Turning east, there are aisles but there is now no clerestory; it was removed in the late 18th century, presumably because of probems with the roof, and a single span roof over both nave and aisles replaced it. This makes the nave and chancel seem uncomfortably gloomy by contrast with the light beyond the arcades.
Up in the chancel, there are two remarkable relics of the Kerdiston family. One is a superb altar tomb to Sir William de Kerdiston (most guides give Sir Roger, but Pevsner is convincing on the matter) where he lies in full armour, a lion at his feet, on a bed of stones. The thing is, he looks alive - there is a tension in his arms and legs as if he might leap up at any moment. At the base of the tomb are eight weepers, all in 14th century dress and with traces of original colour behind them. A couple of them are damaged, but this does not appear to be iconoclasm - or, at least, one of the undamaged figures carries a rosary, which the reformers would have thought pertinent to destroy. A hanging lion pendant has done even better to survive the accidents of six hundred years.
A younger Sir William lies with his wife Cecily in brass on the chancel floor. You will miss this unless you look for it, as it is hidden by the carpet, but it is well worth the look, because pairs of 14th century figure brasses are few and far between. He is damaged, but she is more or less complete, and looks very pious. There are a number of other memorials in the chancel that vary from the mundane to the truly hideous. In addition, the east window is very meagre; it was installed in the 1840s, and Pevsner quotes architect Joseph Stannard as claiming the tiny slipper chapel at Walsingham as the source of its design, a curious choice for a church as big as this.
The view westward is better than the view eastward; thanks to that southerly tower, the west window is quite simply superb. Despite its restored character, this building has more to offer than might first appear.
Simon Knott, June 2004
You can also read: an introduction to the churches of the Reepham churchyard
an introduction to the churches of the Reepham churchyard
Hackford Reepham Whitwell
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