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

All Saints, South Pickenham

South Pickenham: the enchantment

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like a proud-chested lion Norman tower with a 14th century bell stage the church folds behind it

    All Saints, South Pickenham
Adoration   We are roughly halfway between Watton and Swaffham here, which are hardly East Anglia's most urban towns by any measure. Out here, the lanes meander as if they have no particular business to attend to, and near a junction with the main road sits this endearingly lovely church. It made me think of what the philosopher Roger Scruton has called the enchantment of England, a land possessed by its own story, and by the story of its people. All Saints feels like something that was built from the ground up by people who knew they were the land's before the land was theirs.

The rebuilt tower arch inside still reveals that this is a Norman tower, despite its pretty late medieval crown. With the body of the church tucked in behind it, the tower puffs out its chest like a proud-hearted lion.

There are idiosyncracies to the building, a fat little chimney on the north side of the nave, a nave roof that feels like opening wings behind the steepness of the chancel roof. There was a major restoration here in the first decade of the 20th century, a date which coincides with the building of the adjacent Hall. Pevsner tells us that Pickenham Hall was built in an Arts and Crafts style by the architect Robert Weir Schultz, and perhaps he was responsible for what happened here too. The nave roof is very unusual, the braces hanging beneath the beams before rising to lift the roof, a very whimsical effect. The wall plate appears earlier, but may be a clever Edwardian medievalism.

The interior has an intensely rural feel, simple furnishings doing the jobs they've done for generations, and this would be little more than a charming rural space if it not for the fact that it contains one of the great East Anglian art treasures of the 19th century. This is the organ which Augustus Pugin built for West Tofts, his rural masterpiece, now marooned within the British Army's battle training area, inaccessible to the general public. It is an extraordinary sight in the gallery here, where you might expect to see the village band or perhaps a crowd of workhouse children. The wings open out to show images of the Nativity and the Adoration of the Magi, and the keyboards still play a fine note. The organ was moved here in the 1950s.

Pugin's organ Nativity of Christ the infant Christ 
Pugin's organ St joseph and the Blessed Virgin Adoration of the Magi 

There is a 15th century wall painting of St Christopher, rare in this part of Norfolk, and a gorgeous piscina and font, full of 14th century flair. The greenish lozenges in the east window are not good, but do not detract from the beautiful silence here, a space which is a complete contrast with its urban, sophisticated sister across the fields at North Pickenham


Simon Knott, May 2007

looking east 
from the gallery sanctuary looking west pentagonal pulpit 
font organ: left leaf organ: right leaf piscina
Seymour George Frederick Taylor Fishers of Men The raising of Jairus's daughter St Christopher
     wallplate reticulated east window chimney

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