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

All Saints, Tilney All Saints

Tilney All Saints: delightfully ramshackle

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looking very East Anglian
massive Early English becoming Decorated huge porch at peace with its parish 

    All Saints, Tilney All Saints

West Norfolk is flat, but without the haunting bleakness of neighbouring Cambridgeshire. To be honest, it is all a bit too suburban to be mysterious, and where there aren't bungalows there is an agro-industrial busy feeling. Tilney All Saints is unusual because it is actually rather a pretty village.

All Saints is another very big church with an absolutely massive tower. The building is delightfully sleepy; ramshackle, and looking as if it would rather not be bothered too much. It reminded me a bit of a cat I used to have. The spire is like the one at nearby Walsoken, but this is a move into Decorated, and is full of confidence.

Oddly, Pevsner refers to this as one of the C12-C13 Fenland churches with very long naves, built when the land was reclaimed from the sea. While it is certainly true that evidence survives of Roman sea defenses to the north of here, and there is also evidence of late Saxon attempts to prevent tidal incursions locally on a small scale, it is extremely unlikely that the technology existed in early medieval England to reclaim land from the sea on such a large scale. Pevsner is probably confusing the Norfolk marshland with the Cambridgeshire fens, which were successfully drained by the Dutch half a millennium later. Certainly, this area was once under water; but it is the rivers themselves that have turned it to land, by bringing silt down out of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and building it up into banks at the river mouths. The estuary has slowly moved northwards, but this happened long before the 12th century. We may assume that this land was more vulnerable then to inundation than it is today, but that's all.

The clerestoried and aisled nave speak of a familiar East Anglian Perpendicular. The ivy on the north side is covering windows and working its way through the north door. You enter through the vestry, which is at the west end of the south aisle and originally had two stories, not dissimilar to Terrington St John. I wondered if it had been a Priest's residence, although later I was told that it is not medieval at all, and was a school room.

You step into a glorious wide open interior, full of light. It is similarly ramshackle to the outside, laid out under a fine angel hammer-beam roof. Gorgeous Norman arcades reveal the true age of this place (again, as at Walsoken) and stretch away to the east. The capitals increase in elaboration towards the chancel, and then, just before they disappear, they jump a century and become Early English pointed arches. Turning back, you see that they are matched by the breathtaking tower arch - this is very much a church where the presiding minister gets a good view.

There is a very curious Laudian font with what seem to be local dialect forms of scriptural quotations (see, here is water: what doeth let me to be baptised) and maze reliefs. Of a similar age must be the screen, one of the most unusual I've seen, turned and balustered as if for a staircase in a country house. The chancel itself is full of the soberness of the early 17th century, quite at odds with the glorious arcades behind.

The war memorial window features St George and St Martin, and there is a good Queen Anne royal arms. An old font sits on the floor in the north aisle, along with some early medieval grave slabs.

Tilney All Saints is probably less well-known than its near neighbours at Walpole, Walsoken and Terrington; but I thought it was lovely, a subtle and gently beautiful place at peace with its parish.

Simon Knott, July 2005


looking west: Norman becomes Early English Looking east  "see, here is water: what doeth let me to be baptised" Laudian font 
from beneath the tower 17th century screen glorious roof Norman becomes Early English
arcades looking west north door incursion ivy takes over roof angel Queen Anne royal arms sanctuary
old font in the north aisle war memorial window roof angel

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