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

St Clement, Terrington St Clement

Terrington St Clement

south porch south transept Terrington St Clement

    St Clement, Terrington St Clement
Faith, Charity, Hope (Jones & Willis, c1900)   I came back to Terrington St Clement on a bright day in the hot summer of 2016. It had been a very pleasant bike ride from Downham Market through many of the churches of the Norfolk marshland, almost all of which are open these days. But Terrington St Clement was by far the largest village since I'd crossed the Ouse,

I'm never sure what I think about this church. One of the biggest churches in England, so magnificent from the outside, so entirely Victorianised inside. It isn't that it is done badly, but there's something half-hearted about it, not all of a piece at all, and it is not helped by the fact that the evangelical congregation here would probably prefer to be in a big modern auditorium somewhere.

Recently, they've done something horrid to the nave floor, the parquet flooring pasted with dark varnish that makes it look like a school hall. And yet it is still a homely interior, despite the vast size. But this is probably the most architecturally important church in England which is kept locked. The key is at the village shop. I picked it up in the middle of the day, but I was already the third person that day to sign the visitors book - and that's just the people who sign the visitors book. The obvious conclusion is that the congregation see this building mainly as a venue for the Sunday club, and that other visitors are merely tolerated. Mind you, the people in the shop are very nice.

I remembered my previous visit in 2006. Despite my natural arrogance, I still have the capacity to be gobsmacked; this is what happened to me as I stood in the churchyard looking at the west front of the so-called Cathedral of the Marshes. Of course, no real cathedral would be kept locked. This Dec-becoming-Perp church is simply enormous, 168 feet long and cruciform, with an elegant separate tower sitting immediately beside it. The tower was originally intended for the crossing, but despite massive piers inside the builders lost confidence, and built it beside the west front instead, probably because of the experience of the builders at Elm, not far off over the Cambridgeshire border, where the tower leant out of kilter within ten years of being finished, and still leans today. The builders at nearby Wisbech, West Walton and Tydd St Giles got the same message. And perhaps because of the offsetting of the tower, this huge building is not bulky or clumsy; the clerestory continues into the transepts, to reappear triumphantly in the chancel, and imparts a delicacy to the vastness. Flying buttresses, turrets and spires complete an almost wedding cake effect.

Like many huge churches, St Clement repays a tour of the inside before one of the outside, giving you a sense of the soul beneath the skin, the ghost in the machine. The south side is best, with its pyramid of windows on the transept; the transept itself asking a few questions with masonry appearing to be intended for a lost chapel - was it ever built? - and some terrific 14th and 15th century grotesques, including an imp that is the spit of Italian TV puppet Topo Gigio. At least one of these appears to be an image stool reset in the wall, in which case they might all have been collected here, probably by Victorians.

The interior can’t live up to it, being pretty much all Victorianised, but it is still an awesome space to wander in. This is obviously low church in character, but I liked the way they had organised the nave so that, despite the vastness, it is still used for worship. On Sundays they have a central altar under the crossing, but when the church is not in use this is moved into the south transept (along with the drumkit) and the long vista to the east is opened up. I think that the stepped image niches above the crossing arch must be a Victorian conceit. There is a good collection of early 20th Century glass, mostly by the Powells but also by Jones & Willis, among others, as well as some mid-19th Century glass by WIlliam Wailes.

two singing angels holding scrolls Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven (detail) three angels praying (William Wailes, 1860) Christ in Majesty (Powell & Co, 1918)
two angels playing a harp and cymbals four angels holding a helmet, a shield, a sword and scabbard, and a lance and belt (Powell & Co, 1918)
Noah, David, John the Baptist (William Wailes, 1860) St Stephen, St Paul, St Peter (William Wailes, 1860) Charity's child Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven
The Miracle at Cana Of such is the Kingdom of Heaven (detail) Christ and St John at the Last Supper

One of the windows, based on James Clark's The Sacrifice and probably by Jones & Willis, remembers John Henry Brown, a volunteer with Kitchener's Army. Terrington St Clement may be a large village, but there seems an obscenely large number of names on the War Memorial. There are also a number of individual war memorials scattered around the church.

The most famous feature is the towering font cover, which seems to have been put together by someone very clever in the early 17th century, cannibalising something 15th century Perpendicular and putting it over an opening stage which is warmly painted with scenes from the Baptism of Christ and the Temptation of Christ.Voce Pater Natus, it says, Corpore Flamen Ave! Mortlock thought these paintings might be Flemish panels, and not actually intended originally for the inside of a font cover.

font cover detail, St Matthew: 'this is my beeloved sonne in him I am wel pleased' font and font cover open font cover

In common with several churches around here, there is a Georgian screen towards the west end of the nave, leaving a kind of narthex behind. This has been converted into a cafeteria, which I assume is only in use on Sundays. There are massive decalogue boards now reset in the transepts. They are signed and dated 1635, and Mortlock thought them the best in England. All in all, there are some wonderful things here. And yet, there is that awful floor. A brass plaque beside the tower arch tells us that the first block of this floor in commemoration of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee was laid by Mrs Marlborough Crosse, treasurer to the Ladies Committee for Reseating the Church on 17th August 1897. So we have Queen Victoria to blame. I suppose it would have been too much to hope that Elizabeth II's Diamond Jubilee might have been celebrated by replacing it.

Simon Knott, September 2016

looking east Jesus
Our Father (1635) Faith and Hope war memorial Queen Anne royal arms
Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by the Sower and the Good Samaritan Dorcas, full of good works John Henry Brown, Volunteer of Kitchener's Army Crucifixion and Christ in Majesty surrounded by angels and saints (Powell & Co, 1918) Christ in Majesty flanked by prophets, saints and angels (William Wailes, 1860)
King Edward the Peacemaker Killed while doing his duty near Sailka, North Iraq died on service at Danzig, East Prussia, the result of war strain
Killed in Action in France, Easter Week 1917 Killed during the Defence of Cassell Killed in Action at Thiepval, Killed in Action at Fricourt

O Prosper THOU our handy-work

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