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St Peter and St Paul, Tuttington
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and St Paul, Tuttington
Through the hills from Skeyton, along narrow lanes on the first bright spring day of the year. Not a car in sight - in fact, apart from a couple of people gardening in Tuttington itself, and another cyclist on the back road down to the Bure, I saw not a soul between leaving RAF Coltishall and meeting the vicar of Burgh-next-Aylsham some eight miles later.
In this strangely remote area between Aylsham and North Walsham, pretty villages huddle in the dips, and roads obey the old medieval strip field plan system, cutting back at dog legs for no apparent reason. Coming into Tuttington, I found it a compact, pretty village, with flint cottages, houses with Flemish gables and its fair share of bungalows. The church is tucked fairly tightly behind farm buildings, and although I had visited enough churches in this area to assume that it would be open, I had not read anything about it, and had no idea whatsoever what to expect.
The big perpendicular windows and two storey porch outshine the simple round tower a bit, and a homogenity in the flint of the whole piece suggests a late medieval rebuilding, and then a considerable restoration. You step into a wide open space, free of clutter and full of light. There is no step into the chancel, which is cleared completely apart from the sanctuary. Big windows, white walls, sunlight falling on tiled floors. Just another church? Well, not quite. Tuttington has an exceptionally fine collection of medieval bench ends. In Norfolk, we expect to find some in big churches, but not small ones in little out of the way places - that is a characteristic of Suffolk. But these are as good as anything you'll find in a small church in the southern county, putting me in mind of Ixworth Thorpe and Lakenheath.
Strikingly, they appear to form a set - there are about a dozen of them, and they have been placed as the front half of the benches in the nave. Either there were once more, or this churched was only benched for half the nave, or, I am afraid, they are from somewhere else originally. Never mind, and in any case we can never know.
On the north side, the bench end that was obviously designed for the most westerly bench features an alert guard dog wearing a collar. On the bench end in front of him, a grinning wild man with a club creeps up on a dragon. Also on this side, a woman churns butter, her hands and the stick now lost, a man beats on a tambour, and, curiously, a woman allows her basket to be rifled by wild animals, one of them a beaver.
On the north side there is an excellent elephant and castle, a grinning face peeping out of the castle. The elephant is very lifelike, and you can't help thinking that the artist must have seen one. There are two dogs, one with a duck or goose in its mouth. There's another musician, and another curiosity: a man appears to be feeding a gryphon - or is it eating him?
They are a bit battered about, but the damage is as likely to be the rough and tumble of the centuries as much as any form of iconoclasm. One of the poppyheads takes the form of a face with the tongue sticking out. I have sometimes seen this described as 'scandal', but it is such a common thing to find, and so rarely in conjunction with the other deadly sins, that I think this cannot be right.
There is a big rustic font, and on it a cover that is probably 17th century. The pulpit is also of that period, dated 1635, so perhaps they are contemporary. I liked this church a lot, and it provides a perfect setting for its treasures.
Simon Knott, May 2005
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