home I index I latest I glossary I introductions I e-mail I about this site
All Saints, Rockland All Saints
the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to
see them enlarged.
Saints, Rockland All Saints
We were out in the wilds, heading south-west into that part of Norfolk that is the edge of the Brecklands, where the soil is sandy and the fields are rolling. We had left civilisation behind at Great Ellingham, and the lanes that carried us away were long and straight, cutting through the emptiness. Ahead, we could see the twin sentinels of ruinous Rockland St Andrew's split tower. It was easy to understand why it had been abandoned; it is so lonely out here. We had not passed a building for a mile or more, and we were still a mile short of Rockland village. But the ruin of St Andrew is not alone up here on the ridge, for just a few hundred metres further west is the parish church of Rockland All Saints.
The clean lines of the building are crisp and restored. Even the tower is cropped severely, without battlements or spirelets. The gravestones are rearranged in neat rows, and the grass of the churchyard was like a bowling green. As we approached, a deer broke from near the trees at the edge of the graveyard and headed off across the open field beyond, and some rabbits fled from the west end of the church. Quite what they had found to eat in the graveyard is beyond me. Maybe they had just come to stare in amazement at nature so severely tamed.
We wandered around the church, and found that on the north side there was not a single window at all. On this bright sunny day, the shadowed cold of this side increased the contrast with the south. It was as if we had stepped behind a film set; but even here, the grass was closely mown.
We came back to the sunny side and tried the door, but of course it was locked. I don't know why I was so sure that it would be; perhaps it was something to do with the way that wild nature was under the cosh here. It felt as if someone, or something, was in charge, in possession. In this part of Norfolk it is actually unusual to find an inaccessible church, but there were no keys indicated here on the sign by the church gates or on the porch door. Indeed, the brightly painted notice board below the sign was completely empty. Peter hadn't seen a keyholder notice on his two previous visits, and four other people I asked who'd tried to visit in the previous year had also been unable to find one.
Now, I know that I can occasionally be waspish, but Peter is the very model of politeness and gentlemanly conduct. It wasn't just laziness that made me stay in the car while he went and asked for the key. Peter is the kind of person you automatically trust. But the first response was not encouraging. "Why? Are you a bellringer?" asked the lady unpacking her car. Peter had to admit that no, he wasn't a bellringer, but he would like to see inside All Saints.
"Why?" the question came again. "We can't just let anyone inside the church you know." To cut a long story short, the lady called her husband and when Peter came back to the car he brought the churchwarden with him. The man was very pleasant, and I was grateful that he was willing to make the effort, especially as it turned out that they had only just just got back from holiday. But it always makes me feel as if I am not being trusted when the keyholder insists on accompanying me. Fortunately, this doesn't happen very often.
This piety is echoed in the single subject in the east window, a rich man dispensing alms. At first, I thought it was old continental glass, but on closer inspection it is a 19th century stab in the same style. The reredos below is very grand, the triumphalism of it rather ill at ease with the window, each making the other appear rather smug.
Our companion chatted cheerfully to us as we photographed the interior, but was a little doubtful when I had a go at the royal arms high up above the tower arch, because there was a cobweb beside it. I assured him that I would have a go at airbrushing it out.
It only occured to me later to wonder why All Saints is kept locked without a keyholder. Never believe anyone who tells you that most churches are kept locked. They aren't. In Norfolk, perhaps 60% of churches are open everyday, and most of the rest have a friendly keyholder notice.
But there are still a small number that are locked with no available keys. Some churchwardens follow this course because they fear having the contents of the church stolen; but there is nothing of value in All Saints. Others are afraid of casual vandalism, which would not be unreasonable here given how remote the church here is; but a keyholder is usually at hand to allow visitors who just want to a look or a pray.
What they said: In February 2006, John Scase, a churchwarden of Rockland All Saints, contacted me to comment on several of the points I made in the account of our visit. "Ive just had the opportunity to read your critique on the above", he writes. "While I appreciate that you have the privilege of being able to state your views, its a shame that you did not check some of your observations with us, before publishing on the World Wide Web. Taking your article in order of presentation I would like to observe:
.. trim verges, mown within an inch of their lives. The verges are the only place on which the congregation and visitors can park their cars. If the hedges/verges are not cut the whole area would be overgrown with brambles.
...wild flowers didnt stand a chance. Its a pity that you and your colleague did not properly look round the churchyard and see the three wild flower areas that are uncut and extended each year.
...the gravestones are rearranged. Not so, they have always been as seen.
...nature so severely tamed. See above, plus at least it shows that we CARE about the state of the churchyard. C.f.cutting back the undergrowth that our friends at St Peters were observed by yourselves to be carrying out, presumably with your implicit approval .
...signboard was completely empty. This was because the noticeboard had only just been repaired (while we were away on holiday), due to vandalism. The keyholder notice was put back immediately after your visit.
...kind of person you automatically trust. With no introduction other than wishing to take photographs in the church, and our experience of three break-ins thus losing 16th century plate and antique desks, I feel we were at least justified in being cautious. Presumably if we had not accompanied you to the church we would have been castigated for allowing complete strangers to drive off with the church key.
Saxon coffin-lid and Norman font tidied away Not so. They are in easy view.
nothing of value in All Saints .See above comments re break-ins and stolen items. Plus your definition of value may not correspond to that of our congregation.
60% of churches are open. Ergo 40%
Amazon commission helps cover the running costs of this site.
home I index I latest I introductions I e-mail I about this site I glossary
links I small print I www.simonknott.co.uk I www.suffolkchurches.co.uk
ruined churches I desktop backgrounds I round tower churches