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

St James, Southrepps

Southrepps: a beacon over Poppyland

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
from the east west front one of the best 
rising mightily west door scallops on the base course glazed low side window

    St James, Southrepps
angel   This massive church rides the gentle hills to the south of Cromer. Its great tower is visible for miles, one of the tallest in the county. Until the late 18th century, the huge nave had aisles as well. It must have been one of the biggest churches in England.

You could never have any doubt about the dedication of this church, because all around the base course of the tower are scallop shells, the pilgrim symbol of St James. The tower dates from the middle years of the fifteenth century, slightly earlier than its neighbour at Northrepps, and is replete with flushwork and carving. The west door is a grand entrance, the bell windows tall and elegant. It rises almost fifty metres, a beacon over Poppyland. For Frank Allen, writing the definitive account of English church towers in the 1930s, Southrepps served as an exemplar for anyone wanting to understand the church towers of East Anglia. Mortlock thought it one of the best in Norfolk.

We arrived here at the end of a long and successful day working our way up the coast. Everywhere we went, the churches were open and welcoming, and Southrepps was no exception. Indeed, as the mother church of the Trunch Team Ministry parishes, it could be said to been one of the instigators of the practice. All the churches around here welcome pilgrims and strangers, and you go away from all of them with a warm feeling, which is exactly how it should be.

Now, it was starting to spit with rain, the first proper rain of July, a month that will remain long in the memory for its warmth and dryness. We scurried outside taking our photographs, and then went into the church.

The first impression of St James is of quite how well looked after it is, a church which is obviously and vibrantly in regular use. The new screen to the tower arch, and the renewed roof above, create a warmth, the organic feeling of wood on stone. The arcades in the nave walls race eastwards, and you yearn to see daylight through them, but the aisles were demolished in 1791.

The chancel was substantially restored in the 19th century, the tracery of the great east window renewed and everything made neat and seemly. I think that the south wall, with its sedilia and piscina and intricately carved figures, is pretty well complete, the work of the early 14th century as Decorated architecture reaches its peak. Incidentally, the way the east and west windows echo each other, the one Decorated and the other Perpendicular, is tremendous. This building must often feel full of light.

The late 19th and early 20th century glass is of a high quality. A fine medieval angel in a south chancel window is un-East Anglian in style, and may have come from elsewhere. There are otherwise few medieval survivals, but there is a sense of every age, a touchstone down the generations. I liked looking up at the west window, and at the roof, and the curiously primitive early 18th century memorial to the Barton family, with an inquisitive skull and the inscription squeezed in. Best of all, I liked being here, because St James is a harmonious whole, an aesthetic delight.

  west window
   

Simon Knott, August 2006

arcade in north wall looking west looking east tower arch arcade in south wall
nave roof calming the storm; the Good Shepherd; with Martha and Mary royal arms Barton skull
south side of chancel Good Shepherd organ Barton memorial 1940
Christ the Good Shepherd three sheep


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