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St Andrew, Walpole
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In almost any other village in northern Europe, St Andrew would be much better known, and a draw for tourists. However, as it sits barely a mile from Walpole St Peter, one of the grandest and most important churches in England, we can be forgiven for not beating a path to it. As it is, we would think this a big church if it were not for its neighbour, and St Andrew can beat St Peter in being wholly Perpendicular, a purer, later Perp that is a result of the mid-15th century and a couple of crisp late 19th/early 20th century restorations.
There are aisles, there is a clerestory. The rood turret spires and sanctus bell turret echo its neighbour. The gorgeous red-brick and stone tower has a little room built into the south-western buttress, which may have been a roadside shrine. There is another little door set in the south of the tower.
You get the keys from the post office. This is a CCT church, and there are FIVE locks, two in the outer door, two in the bird grill, one on the main door. When I first wrote about my visit to this church on the churchcrawling yahoo group, I complained that the five locks were overdoing it a bit. After all, there is very little inside that would be stealable, so I couldnt see the point in having even one lock, let alone five. I immediately received a rather snooty e-mail from someone in the Churches Conservation Trust putting me in my place. Among other things, it told me that this is the most heavily vandalised of all their properties, which probably tells you a lot of what you need to know about this part of Norfolk. The tone of the e-mail certainly told me something that I needed to know about the Churches Conservation Trust. A pity, because their Christ-like devotion to these abandoned churches is one of the things I admire most in the world.
The congregation have now all decamped to St Peter or to St Edmund at Walpole Highway, and so St Andrew has the authentic CCT feel - cleared of clutter, the interior seemly, if a bit grubby. The most striking feature of the interior is that the stone of the arcades, chancel step and pulpit base is heavily eroded. This is not unique; you will find it in several other churches, including a few in Norfolk, but St Andrew is probably the most famous example. An architect's report pointed to rising damp as the cause, but of course all medieval churches have rising damp. Probably, it is the result of a combination of the nature of the stone, the damp, and exposure to salt in the air - probably, the church spent years roofless. You cant help wondering why they never patched it up, but it is not unattractive, and very characterful.
If you ignore the distraction of the erosion, you find inside St Andrew the elements of a typical East Anglian village church - indeed, it could be used as a teaching example. The 15th century font has quatrefoils and shields, the pulpit is 17th century with a preacher's hourglass, the west gallery survives, there are even some rustic benches. There are some curious alcoves which may be associated with a shrine in the nave.The 1890s east window is not bad; the Three Marys, a locally popular subject, in the south aisle, is better.
Not much to detain you, however. Peter, who is far more conscientious than me, insisted on locking all five locks (I would have only done the outer door I might even have left it OPEN!) and then back in the car through the maze of Walpole lanes to the far side of the village and St Peter.
Simon Knott, September 2005
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