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

All Saints, Santon

Santon

Santon Santon Santon

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    All Saints, Santon

This is one of England's smallest churches, and it sits on the edge of its largest forest. You cross the river out of Suffolk, and before you reach the Cambridge to Norwich railway line 50 yards on, you turn off right on a track that leads down to the picnic site. Beyond the tables and benches you reach three houses, all that remains of the village of Santon. All Saints huddles among them. Remains of a moat to the west of the church look likely to be all that is left of a now-vanished moated farmhouse, a reminder of quite how close we are to Suffolk. Santon Downham was once the hamlet to this, the larger settlement, but the centuries turn, the world changes, and now there is only a name on the map. All Saints managed to continue services up into the 1970s, but its redundancy was inevitable. Today, the village is part of the Norfolk civil parish of Weeting, but its ecclesiastical parish is Santon Downham, which is mostly in Suffolk. Because of this, All Saints was not only Norfolk's smallest church, it was the only Norfolk church in the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich.

The church was essentially rebuilt in the 19th Century, as though some spoilt Victorian child had demanded a toy church, and Daddy had one built in the back garden. Mortlock notes that it had in any case been rebuilt previously in the early 17th Century, restored to use at that exciting time of sacramental revival before puritanism triumphed, after being abandoned at the Reformation.

The pretty little octagonal tower actually tops the vestry, which is shoehorned into the south-west corner. There are simple little pews with doors, and a clever arrangement towards the east allows access through a baby roodscreen into quite the tiniest little chancel - you could almost touch all three walls at once. The altar rail can accomodate just two people at a time.

The screen is of the highest quality, and when you look up, the nave roof is painted gloriously in blue and red with gold stars and flowers, intentionally echoing the best of work of the late medieval period, and there may well be a good reason for this. The chancel was rebuilt in 1858 with materials rescued from the demolished transept at West Tofts in the Stanta Battle Training Area. Some of the glass has been brought here from elsewhere, again most likely from West Tofts. Although there seems to be no record of who was responsible for the restoration at Santon, we know that West Tofts was restored by none other than Augustus Welby Pugin, and, after his death, his son Edward was responsible for further work there. The Pugins were good friends of the Weller Poley family here at Santon. Given the connection between the restorations of the two churches, it seems quite likely that Pugin's son Edward may have been responsible for the restoration here. Further, the screen is likely the work of AW Pugin himself, made for the transept chapel at West Tofts.

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religous Worship, when rural populations in East Anglia were reaching a peak, the Reverend Henry Sims was the minister who had the cure of souls both here and across the river in Santon Downham. he recorded that there were just seven families of labouring people living in the parish, and that the average Sunday morning attendance at All Saints was nine. The tithes he received at Santon amounted to 80 a year, and he received another 64 for his ministry at Santon Downham with its population of seventy, which added together is about the same as 28,000 a year in today's money, which is probably not a bad return for the work required.

Simon Knott, December 2020

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looking east Santon looking west
wild rose St Matthew and St Mark St Luke and St John Saints (from West Tofts? by Pugin?)
Santon agnus dei

a map for Rich, to settle an argument

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