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

St Edmund, Taverham, Norwich

Taverham

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Taverham Taverham Taverham

    St Edmund, Taverham, Norwich
a donor   The suburbs of Norwich straggle out to the north and west along the Drayton and Dereham roads, devouring whole the ancient parishes and leaving anonymous estates in their wake. And yet, the hearts of the old villages do survive, and with them their medieval parish churches, so often still with a sense of the former rustic peace. One such is St Edmund at Taverham, which now finds itself above a busy road and roundabout, but making an oasis of calm above the 21st century madness. The lower part of the round tower has Norman lancets, while the upper part is a beautiful Decorated crown of a belfry, which is to say that it was added on perhaps 300 years afterwards. From the south side, the body of the church appears entirely Victorian, but this is not the case: the aisle and arcade were rebuilt in 1862 when the church was found to be on the point of collapse, but this church is otherwise substantially a work of the 14th century. The chancel is attractively thatched, and the reticulated tracery east window is unusual.

St Edmund is, perhaps, a little-known church, mainly because it was, for many years, kept locked without a keyholder notice. But now it is open for a couple of hours every afternoon, and there are three keyholders for when it is not. We rang one of them who turned out to be the churchwarden, and he was very welcoming and very knowledgeable.

Of all Norwich's suburban, former village churches, St Edmund is probably the most interesting in terms of historic survivals. You step into the low south aisle, and then the high body of the nave opens up before you. There is no clerestory. Although St Edmund is now in the evangelical tradition, it was a well-known Anglo-catholic hotspot in the early years of the 20th Century, and still retains its stations of the cross and Big Six candesticks behind the altar, perhaps as a mark of respect for those days.

The first window on the north side of the nave contains a rare survival. This is a rood group in stained glass. It consists of Christ Crucified, flanked by the Blessed Virgin and St John, and was reset in this window by the King workshop. The Kings are accomplished at repairing and resetting old glass: from a distance it all looks old, but close up it is possible to see which bits are 15th Century and which bits are 20th Century. Four angels hold scrolls in the upper lights, and there is a kneeling donor at the bottom.

Mary crucified crucified St John
angel angel angel angel

The other great treasure here is the font, which is a variant on the familiar style of figures of Saints around the stem. It may well be recut, but the figures, which include St Margaret, St Leonard, St Jude and St Anne with the young Blessed Virgin, are very intricate and characterful. The 14th century age of the chancel is revealed by a particularly lovely piscina and the remains of the sedilia, both bearing traces of their original paint.

There are a couple of old bench ends in the chancel, but the most intriguing woodwork is to be found in the altar rails. The railing in of altars was only introduced in the early 17th century, but this is plainly woodwork of two hundred, and possibly three hundred, years earlier. The answer is that when Booton church was rebuilt by Whitwell Elwin in the 1870s, the old medieval screen was brought here. However, as Taverham already had a perfectly good medieval screen of its own, the Booton screen was butchered into a new set of altar rails. They contain circular tracery, a familiar motif from a number of Norfolk screens.

Propped in a window splay in the aisle is the head of a Saxon cross, found in the graveyard. These are not common, but coincidentally it was the second one I'd seen that week, having come across one a couple of days earlier at Hunston in Suffolk. A 20th century cross forms the war memorial outside, and the mere seven names on it are a reminder of quite how small Taverham was before suburban Norwich reached out and engulfed it.

  St Agnes and St Giles
   

Simon Knott, May 2010

lion looking east  St Anne and St Jude from the gallery
sanctuary banner piscina sedilia

war memorial reserved 


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