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St Mary, Syderstone
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Not living in Norfolk myself, I've always had a hazy idea that once you leave Fakenham and head north-west you are on the coast, pretty much. This is quite wrong, of course; Fakenham is a good twenty miles from Hunstanton, and in between the two towns there is a sprawling, undulating land of fields and woods and secret villages. One of them is Syderstone, and I was surprised by its size and sense of independence. The church of St Mary is set in a wide graveyard above the village street, and looks long and lovely from the south.
Mortlock's elegant guides are a preferable companion to Pevsner if you are exploring the churches of East Anglia, and he explains clearly and succinctly what has happened here. After giving it a look over inside and out, it is satisfying to work it out for yourself, because this was once a Norman cruciform church, with transepts and a south aisle. You can see as much from the remnants of the arcades, now set in the walls of this extraordinarily narrow church.
I can't think of another round towered church that you enter from the west, but the doorway here is the original one from the 12th century. The niche above is from two hundred years later, and this gives a hint of the next major event in the life of the building. During the Decorated period, a north aisle was added along with the beautiful tracery of the east window.
The third chapter of the story is written in the fact that the aisles and transepts are now lost, and the arcades filled in. Originally, the 17th century churchwardens who consolidated the building after the demolition of the aisles put windows into the north wall, but these have now been filled in as well, leaving a north side of the nave which is one unbroken expanse of solid wall.
Inside, the results are happier. At the south-west corner, an arch of the arcade forms a kind of mini-baptistry, with a mid-20th century window depicting the Presentation in the temple and Christ teaching in the temple. As you head east, the liturgical fittings are broadly Anglo-catholic, and the east window is a simple, some would say naive, piece of the 1940s.
The memorial beside it is dour, and quite out of kkeeping with the rest of the church. It remembers a Rector who died in 1607, and its style and inscription might justifiably lead you to think that we were a miserable bunch in the early 17th century.
Gifted Norfolk church photographer and writer Geoff Robinson lives in this village, and most of his interesting guide books are available for sale inside the church, so bring your pennies.
Simon Knott, September 2006
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