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

St Margaret, Thorpe Market

Thorpe Market

Thorpe Market Thorpe Market Thorpe Market

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St Margaret, Thorpe Market

The lanes to the north of North Walsham are narrow, winding and occasionally wild, especially as you pass the secretive hulk of Bradfield church. Continuing on beyond Antingham, however, and just before the lane cruelly spits you out on to the busy Cromer road, you come to a most sedate and perhaps surprising sight, Thorpe Market's elegant parish church. It was built at an unusual date, 1796, when almost no other churches were being built in East Anglia. More than this, the use of 'Gothick' is mature, with a number of ecclesiological features which anticipate the Oxford Movement and the Camden Society by almost half a century. These include tall, blank image niches, which flank the two south porches and are also set in the west and east walls. The porches are more typically of their century, with spiked pinnacles which echo the towers at each end. The church is broadly symmetrical about the centre, with the east and west ends being just about identical.

The great mystery about St Margaret is who the architect was. A plaque reads This church was rebuilt, fitted up and finished by Harbord, Lord Suffield, at his own expence in the year 1796. Now, no one is suggesting that the great Lord Suffield of Gunton Hall built it with his own hands, or even drew up the plans. Indeed, the work was designed by someone recorded simply as Mr Wood. Nothing more is know about him, except that thirty years later Pevsner has him also designing the village school a few hundred yards to the east in much the same style. However, Pevsner goes on to point out that at about the same time an architect called Henry Wood was at work on a mausoleum at Blickling, so it is likely that it was the same man.

The church replaced an earlier building on the same site, although I'm not sure if there is any record of its predecessor. There are some survivals of it inside, but you step into an interior which has an atmosphere quite like any other Norfolk church I know, the unfamiliar feeling of the late 18th Century. The symmetrical scheme continues inside with screens at both ends with painted glass work set into them. The Hanoverian royal arms in enamelled glass on the eastern screen, facing west, were originally in St Margaret at Lowestoft, and were the work of Robert Allen, the Lowestoft porcelain painter. There's more of his glass in the Lowestoft church. On the west screen are the church's own original Hanoverian royal arms dated 1796. At the west end of the church a third set of royal arms for Elizabeth II has been put up to celebrate the Diamond Jubilee.

George III royal arms (Robert Allen?) George III royal arms, 1796 Elizabeth II royal arms, 2012
Moses (Robert Allen?, 1790s) Equanimiter Aaron (Robert Allen?, 1790s)

Other glass includes the figures of Moses and Aaron, who were often used in the 18th Century to flank a decalogue board of the ten commandments. It is an intriguing thought to wonder if they were once part of a glass decalogue, which would be unique in my experience.

The font survives from the earlier church as do several memorials, including those to members of the Rant family who we have already met at Marlingford and Yelverton. Only the imposing Victorian sanctuary furnishings are a later development. In front of the, a ledger stone with a wholly secular inscription from the middle years of the Commonwealth reads in part: This stone covers the dust of William Rant, Doctor of Phisicke, and fellow of the Colledge of Phisitians in London, who after that he had exercised there his art with much honour and successe for full 20 yeares... he finished the race of his life at Norwich, where he first tooke breath to runne it.

Simon Knott, July 2021

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looking east eastern screen looking west
Elizabeth and Robert Britiffe, 1740s font and baptistery sanctuary William and Elizabeth Rant, 1710s
Sir Thomas Rant, 1671 Robert and William Morden, infants, 1796 fell mortally wounded leading his men in the afternoon attack at Givenchy The men belonging to this parish who fell in the Great War
enwreathed skull (late 17th Century) nave roof This stone covers the dust of WIlliam Rant
Thorpe Market Thorpe Market Thorpe Market


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