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

All Saints, Shotesham

Shotesham All Saints: trim and lovely

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long and narrow hilltop

    All Saints, Shotesham
eagle on a sanctus bell turret   England is such a small country. This always strikes me particularly coming back from France, where I have usually spent a few weeks cycling in remote hills, visiting tiny village churches in the back of beyond. Even the autoroutes seem empty in France, but when you come back to England the first thing you have to deal with is the madness of the M20. England has roughly the same population as France, with less than a quarter of the land area. In the south-east of England we are packed in so closely together that it is hard to be alone.

And yet, and yet. The two roads that leave Norwich to the south head towards Ipswich and Bungay, and as they get further apart a hidden valley unfolds between them, a valley of tiny lanes and high hedges and lost little villages. It is one of the loveliest parts of England that I know, and yet, remarkably, it is barely a hundred miles from the centre of London. It is a reminder that England does still have its rural heartland, its lost Elysium, and we must do everything that we can to keep it that way in the face of the savagery of steely-hearted developers and the philistines of central government.

Shotesham, pronounced shot-s'm, is one of the villages in this lost valley, although it might be more accurate to describe it as a parish, as it sprawls pleasingly along back lanes. It had no less than four medieval churches. One has almost completely disappeared, another is a handsome ruin, but the other two, All Saints and St Mary, are still in use, and they face each other like fortresses on hilltops either side of the valley, a mile or so apart. All Saints is closer to civilisation than St Mary, with a beautiful village green at hand and some lovely cottages.

The large windows in the nave and the Perpendicular tower make the church look newer than it is - the nave has the proportions of a much earlier building. The chancel is pretty much all from the start of the 20th century, with a shed-like south chancel chapel which Pevsner charitably suggested might be on the site of a predecessor.

Perhaps the most striking feature of the outside is the large sanctus bell turret on the eastern gable of the nave. A giant eagle sits on it, unable to take flight as his wings have been broken, but proud nonetheless. It is obviously a composite, although I have read a story that it was found in the churchyard and 'restored to its original place'. Barmy Arthur Mee, in one of his more wayward fancies, thought it was a vulture. It looks rather like something that might have come off of a pinnacle of a spirelet.

You step into a long, tunnel-like interior; there are no aisles, and few windows in the nave. Some grand memorials line the walls, but later restoration has revealed part of a fascinating sequence of wall paintings now partly concealed beneath them. The best is of St Lawrence being slowly toasted on a grid iron, and there is also a dynamic St George further along the same wall. Opposite St Lawrence is a jaunty fellow in a plumed cap, who looks as if he might have been restored a bit fancifully.

St Lawrence being barbecued jaunty hat St George

All Saints is a narrow church, and there is rather less light than there might be if the glass was clear. However, what there is is mostly very good; several of the windows are glazed in a colourful abstract pattern that appears to be Art Nouveau becoming Jazz Modern. A particularly fine window on the north side depicts Christ in Majesty on the Day of Judgement, a richly detailed piece with attendant angels and people. I thought it was very good indeed.

William IV royal arms are not common, simply because the poor old man was not on the throne long enough for many churches to get around to replacing the old arms of the Georges. It was easy enough to adapt the arms of Hanover from George I to George II, and then to George III and George IV, but replacing a G with a W was a different matter altogether. It must have been a relief when Victoria came along with a completely new set of arms and they had an excuse to stop adapting the Hanoverian ones.

There are William IV royal arms both here and across the valley at Shotesham St Mary, but the ones here, hanging above the south door, are probably the best of their period in East Anglia, a fine gilded moulding set on a black background in a gilded frame and dated 1833.

  fine William IV royal arms

But St Mary has the better font; the 15th century East Anglian one here is a near-twin, but it has been very recut, and now hides beneath the tower which forms a kind of baptistry for it.

   

Simon Knott, September 2006

looking east
south doorway East Anglian font sanctuary memorial 
angel sounds the last trump decorative glass the Ascension Christ in Majesty attendants on the Day of Judgement


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