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St Peter, Shropham
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and St Paul, Shropham
St Peter and St Paul is a large Perpendicular church which still bears the marks of the Early English church which it replaced. The north doorway probably says something of the scale of the earlier building, as does the pretty clerestory of quatrefoils. Pevsner notes that the window tracery throughout was largely replaced in the 1860s restoration. He also points out the Early English details inside, but I am unable to confirm these.
We had come here from the romance of Hargham, a ruined church restored to life by the love and care of local people. It buoyed the heart to find it open on this Historic Churches Bike Ride day 2006. Hargham's nearest working parish church is at Shropham, and so we wondered if we might find something similarly heartwarming at the mother church, so to speak.
Unfortunately, this was not to be the case. Shropham is a big village, but we could see that there was not the bustle of activity around the church that you expect on this day, of all days. A man was putting a lawn mower into the back of a car, but was obviously a little deaf because he did not respond to my cheery greeting as he drove off. And then we were alone.
We walked round to the south porch, but not only was there nobody there to welcome visiting cyclists, the church was not even open. Even the porch was locked.
Quite frankly, I couldn't believe this. The Historic Churches bike ride is the one day of the year on which you can virtually guarantee being able to see inside churches, and also meeting the friendly people who worship there week by week, the vast majority of whom are hugely proud of their church and are desperate for you to see it.
Not so at Shropham. In all my years of visiting hundreds and hundreds of churches in Norfolk, Suffolk and Cambridgeshire on bike ride days over the last twenty years, this was only the third time ever that I had found a medieval parish church not open or taking part.
I could not conceive of why this was, although thinking about it afterwards I thought that there might be a number of possibilities. Was it simply that the congregation here had fallen into such a parlous state that they could not muster any welcomers? But even if this was the case, and it seemed likely, they could have left the church open and let people sign themselves in, and then have a look around.
Or could it have been that there were deep-seated theological objections to Shropham parish taking part in the Historic Churches bike ride? I know that some non-conformist churches prefer not to participate, because they are afraid that some of the money raised may go to churches with which they disagree. But I have never heard of such an unecumenical thing from an Anglican church.
Simon Knott, October 2006
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