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

St Peter and St Paul, Scarning


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on the very eve of the Reformation sun dial two storey vestry

    St Peter and St Paul, Scarning
Eucharist   Most East Anglian churches are open every day, but there are sticky areas and this is one of them. At least Scarning church has a keyholder now, although the process of obtaining the key was somewhat convoluted, mainly because the natives were so friendly. The keyholder was out, but a man in the street directed us to where he thought the keyholder might be. It turned out that he wasn't, but a lady there pointed us in the right direction. The keyholder was a very affable chap, although he was at pains to make sure we didn't see where he took the hidden key from. However, when we took it back he quite happily replaced it in its hiding place while chatting to us, so either we looked decidedly dodgy when he first set eyes upon us, or he forgot that he was meant to be keeping it a secret. But I digress.

Scarning church sits on the main road into the town of Dereham ('The Heart of Norfolk!') but it is an attractive church despite the busy road, and there is an intriguing two-storey transept to the chancel. Mortlock dates this to the 1570s, the lower storey a vestry and the upper storey as a residence for the minister, and it does have the familiar Tudor look about it, although I'm not convinced about the residence. A schoolroom seems more likely. Pevsner went for the 19th century restoration of the chancel, pointing to the slightly odd tracery of the east window as a companion piece, but his revising editor Bill Wilson has put him right on this..

The tower is dated by successive bequests to the very eve of the Reformation - and then almost beyond, because Bill Wilson notes one Thomas Secker leaving money in 1547 as a bequest as the new werk goethe forwarde on the tower. Presumably the death of Henry VIII that year put an end to this, as the protestant reformers' gloves came off, and bequests became a subject of suspicion of idolatry. You can easily imagine that his widow had Edward VI's Thought Police knocking on her door as her husband looked down in distress from purgatory. Heartless times.

The most striking impression on stepping into the church is of the clear, wide, light nave, with a shadowy chancel beyond. It is an attractive juxtaposition. The 13th Century square font shows the flourishing of English art as we moved out of the Norman period. Its cover is a beautifully colourful piece, mostly 17th Century I should think, though there are later elaborations. The east end of the nave is beautifully done, with red and white chequerboard paving and a big holy table serving as the nave altar.

The lectern is a curious piece, at once rustic and elaborate with its gothic tracery and cartoon-like figures of the orders of the church around its base. Behind, the chancel's gloom beyond the screen is an atmospheric backdrop, full of mystery. The screen is a good one, the upper parts as bubbly as lace, the whole thing recoloured dramatically. The sanctus bell is still in situ on the south side, although this is probably a modern reconstruction. You step through into the chancel which owes all of its presence to the windows of William Wailes, that mid-19th Century master of shadowy stained glass intricacy.

Enthusiastic Latin scholars will be detained for more than a while by the elaborate inscription to Maria Burton, who died on New Year's Eve 1710. The brass on which it is inscribed looks as if it might actually have been a coffin plate. Nearby, the memorial to Edward Games, an infant sonne of John Games of London Esq who died 14 Maii 1623, features the little fellow lying in death, his head on a skull. He was just twelve hours old. Beneath him is a funerall elegie on the death of Edward Games, a long and elaborate tribute to one so tiny. O cruell fate that robdst a doleful mother!

  lion on the font cover

Simon Knott, May 2015

Scarning Scarning cross font a funerall elegie on the death of Edward Games an infant having served his generation he fell asleep holy table looking west Priest Maria Burton Scarning G III R a funerall elegie on the death of Edward Games an infant Scarning Bishop screen detail

Orate pro anima John Rullell




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