Acle Fishley Hoveton Ingham Neatishead
South Walsham St Lawrence South Walsham St Mary
Stalham Sutton Wroxham

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

St Mary, South Walsham

Full of confidence - St Mary
Mary of the Annunciation Niche above Angel of the Annunciation
Coronation of the Queen of Heaven 15th century overpowers 14th century

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    St Mary, South Walsham

We came down the road from Ranworth on a beautiful summer's day, and parked among the new houses opposite the churchyard. They seemed unfortunately placed, although I guess that people have to live somewhere. In any event, the tower of St Mary dominates everything around here. It is the kind of building that looks as if it has a bob each way on itself.

This church is one of two in South Walsham churchyard. Norfolk has several instances of this, and it is almost always for the same reason; we are on the border between two medieval manors, and both built their churches in the same shared consecrated ground. Why? Perhaps it was at the highest point, away from the river. More likely, the layout of tracks and lanes simply made it more convenient for it to be so. Both churches were built as new in the early 14th century, although we know there had been two churches here since at least the 12th century.

Part of the grandness of St Mary is later. It comes not only from the 15th century tower but the magnificent contemporary porch, utterly Marian in its decoration, with an Annunciation in the spandrels, Gabriel appearing to Mary, and the Coronation of the Queen of Heaven in the image niche above. Probably correctly, this has resulted in the restored dedication of the church. More precisely, it was probably to the Assumption, since the Annunciation and Coronation are key events in the theology of the Assumption.

St Mary is a text book example of its period, its clerestory and aisles making it seem much bigger than it actually is. Some late medieval furnishings survive, including the rood screen which, unusually bears a surviving dedicatory inscription across its panels, written in a mixture of Latin and English. In the Catholic manner it asks for prayers for the souls of John Galt and his wives. There are also some bench ends that, although now scattered about the building, carry the lines of the Ave Maria.

But for me, the great glory of St Mary is its collection of 20th century glass. Much of the tracery in the windows is renewed, but the WIlliam Morris workshop is responsible for many of the figures on the south side. There is a fine 'Sower who went forth to sow...' and an utterly gorgeous crucifixion. Most compelling of all is a single pane depicting 'astronomy'. It probably wasn't intended for church use, and may have been part of a set. Amusingly, when barmy Arthur Mee saw it in the 1930s, he misread the inscription, and reported in the Kings England series that South Walsham has a window depicting St Romona set among stars. Bless him.

James Rownce, a merchant of Norwich, has a very plain memorial brass inscription of 1638. Perhaps its simplicity reflected his puritan sympathies.

Simon Knott, September 2004

You can also read: an introduction to some Broadland churches I

   

Looking east John Galt's beautiful screen
Astronomy (NOT St Romona, silly) Crucifixion St Etheldreda, St Urith (?) The Blessed Virgin and St Cecilia
Sanctuary Looking west Part of the Ave Maria Supposedly, a banner stave locker in the sanctuary. Hmm... That wonderful screen again, with inscription
Orate pro anima (pray for the soul of...) A Sower went forth to sow... 17th century brass

Acle Fishley Hoveton Ingham Neatishead
South Walsham St Lawrence South Walsham St Mary
Stalham Sutton Wroxham

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