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

St Mary, South Walsham

South Walsham

South Walsham south porch

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    St Mary, South Walsham

The road from Ranworth winds through fields and wooded copses, and on a beautiful summer's day in late July 2019 I was retracing my journey of fifteen years earlier, for I had not been back here since. This church sits in the middle of its large, pleasant village, and is one of two in South Walsham churchyard. Norfolk has several instances of this, and it is almost always for the same reason, for 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, with an Annunciation in the spandrels, Gabriel appearing to Mary, and the Coronation of the Queen of Heaven in the image niche above.

Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation (south porch, 15th Century) Coronation of the Queen of Heaven (south porch, 15th Century) Angel Gabriel at the Annunciation (south porch, 15th Century)

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

There was a considerable 19th Century restoration, but perhaps the church is more notable for a good collection of 20th century glass, mostly the work of Powell & Sons and William Morris of Westminster. Other work includes a panel of the Crucifixion by Sarah Bristow made in 2000. Still more interesting is a panel by Reginald Pearson of 1907, but incorporating fragments of old glass, depicting the allegorical figure of Astronomy. Pearson was from a local family, and studied at the Royal College of Art, where teachers included Christopher Whall and Karl Parsons. After graduating, he took up a post at Chelsea Art School. He was influenced by the Arts and Crafts Movement, and the V&A has examples of his stained glass, jewellery and print-making. At the start of the First World War Pearson signed up with the Artists Rifles, and after a period of training headed to France where he was assigned a non-commissioned officer's role in the Lincolnshire Regiment. He was killed in the advance on Hooge on 16th June 1915. He was 29 years old. His body was never found, and he is remembered on the Menin Gate Memorial to the Missing at Ypres, and on the South Walsham war memorial. The Astronomy panel was presumably a studio piece of his, given to the church by the family as a memorial tribute to Pearson. When barmy Arthur Mee saw it in the 1930s he misread the inscription, and reported in his Kings England: Norfolk that South Walsham had a window depicting St Romona set among stars.

Simon Knott, December 2019

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looking east chancel rood screen
font north aisle altar south aisle
Three Marys meet the angel at the empty tomb (William Morris & Co, 1930s) Astronomy crucified A sower went forth to sow (William Morris & Co, c1930)
Blessed Virgin and St Cecilia (Powell & Sons, c1930) St Etheldreda and St Urith (Powell & Sons, c1930) Adoration of the shepherds and magi (Powell & Sons, c1920) St John, St Paul, St James (Powell & Sons, c1890) Light of the World and Redeemer of the World (Powell & Sons, c1920)

   

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