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All Saints, Thurgarton
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A towerless church can disappear into an Ordnance Survey map of Norfolk. All Saints' lonely spot by a remote crossroads does not catch the eye, and in fact this church was nearly entirely lost to us. Abandoned in the 1970s, when Mortlock came this way in 1980 he found the thatch in a dreadful state and the inside of the church propped up with scaffolding. The churchyard was completely overgrown.
Today, Thurgarton church is in a fine state again thanks to the tender mercies of the Churches Conservation Trust. The roofs have all been renewed, the walls made sound, and the treasures of this church cared for once again.
The tower fell in the 1880s, and as at nearby Ingworth the stub of it was made into a vestry, its roof ridged and thatched in an echo of the nave. The chancel appears to have been truncated (Pevsner hazards altered), judging by the proximity of the south-east window, and a funny little flying buttress used as a prop in that corner. The south porch is big and plain; one of the headstops to the arch appears to be a cat.
You enter a church with the CCT stamp to it - all clutter has been cleared, and there is a smell of age. The great survivals here are the bench ends, which have done remarkably well considering that they spent a few years exposed to the elements. Ironically, anywhere else I would have complained about the dark, tarry Victorian varnish with which they are covered; but here, it probably saved them.
The best are two figures, huntsmen apparently, possibly wild men, who creep up on the scene on the other side of the bench end; one approaches a dragon, the other two dogs fighting. Even more interestingly, awinged figure, possibly a gryphon, holds a man's head in its paws - there's something similar at Neatishead. The several musicians include a man playing the bagpipes (though the bag itself has been lost) and an elephant and castle very like the one at nearby Tuttington. You can see a selection below; click on the images to enlarge them.
Other survivals of the years of neglect include fragments of Elizabethan texts on the wall (one punched through with two earlier medieval image niches, which must have been plastered over), a brass inscription, a delicate 19th century fretwork screen and balustered communion rails. The medieval font has an 18th century cover, although it isn't clear if this came from here originally.
Pevsner mentions a 15th century alabaster panel, presumably from an altar, that was found in the church in the 19th century; but I couldn't see it anywhere, and when I mentioned it to the keyholder she hadn't heard of it. Still, so much has survived to be thankful for.
Simon Knott, October 2005
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