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

St Margaret, Upton

Upton

Upton looking down the Upton dead: white brick tombs

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    St Margaret, Upton

It had been fifteen years since I'd last visited this church, and cycling along the rolling road from South Walsham in the early summer of of 2019 I had been very much looking forward to my visit. However, while many churches that were locked during my first sweep through East Anglia at the turn of the century are now open, a few have gone the other way, and Upton is one of them. And yet this large church sits an area humming with summer visitors and is easily seen just to the north of the road between Ranworth and South Walsham. Perhaps it would be tempting to miss it if you were shuttling between its grander neighbours, but I remembered a large sign proclaiming it open, and that the place had been generally welcoming, and so it seemed a shame that this was no longer the case.

The exterior looks all of its 19th Century makeover, although in fact the tower is still later, being a 20th century rebuilding of one that tumbled in the 16th century. On my 2004 visit I had felt the nave over-restored and a bit gloomy, but the chancel was full of light and simplicity. Dividing the two is the dado of what must once have been a fine screen, although the saints have been restored in a very rough, local manner, which I quite liked, and rather hoped was indicative of what was there before. There are just eight of them in the narrow chancel arch. To the north are St Augustine, St Jerome, St Gregory and St Ambrose, the four Latin Doctors, a popular Norfolk subject, while on the south side are St Helena with her true cross, St Etheldreda with her crozier, St Lucy with her saucer, and a rather anonymous figure that Mortlock claims is St Joan de Valois. If so, it is one of the few English representations.

The font here can stand proud as one of the best of its kind in the whole county. Ostensibly of a familiar East Anglian style, with evangelistic symbols and angels on the panels, it has morphed these into gorgeous, ripe clumpy shapes, as if moulded out of playdough. The angels are full of life and character, some of them playing instruments like their smaller cherub companions around the bowl, one with a book of music. The pillar of the font depicts not lions and woodwoses but angels and humans illustrative of the sacraments of Baptism and the Mass. Again, they are full of character, as if pausing for photographs before setting about their business. It is a splendid, joyful piece, a super testament to 14th century humour and optimism.

In the south aisle, beside a consecration cross, an elaborately traceried piscina suggests that this whole building was once perfectly splendid, and I mourn for the loss of the experience of visiting Upton church. Until such a time that the parish decides to welcome us back, the photographs I took in the summer of 2004 are below.

Simon Knott, December 2019

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The photographs I took on my previous visit in 2004:

   

Looking east Looking west Soaring chancel arch The chancel Upton's splendid and characterful font Figures on pedestal: Mass
Figures on pedestal: Baptism (godparent) Font: Lion of St Mark Font: angel musician Sanctuary
Screen: north range (I-IV) Screen: south range (V-VIII)
I: St Augustine, II: St Jerome III: St Gregory IV: St Ambrose V: St Helena, VI: St Etheldreda VII: St Agatha, VIII: St Joan de Valois Consecration cross and piscina, south aisle
Upton church from Fishley churchyard

 

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