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St Peter, West Lynn
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We drove right across Norfolk as it was waking up on a Saturday morning - well, a bit later than that; let's say it was washing up after breakfast, putting its shoes on and then going shopping. The whole of the Ouse Valley was pouring into Kings Lynn, looking for a parking place, and we were glad to be crossing the river and heading into the Marshlands. First stop was up the west bank of the Ouse, and just a stones throw from the centre of Lynn itself.
Talking of throwing stones, West Lynn is a fairly rough place. The shop beside St Peter has razorwire barriers like you see in west Belfast, and Ive not seen so much graffiti on the outside of a church before. The west window was completely boarded up.
Not surprisingly, the church was locked, with a keyholder in the adjacent close. He opened the door to us after about six hours and glared out with what I took to be typical fenland reticence. When I asked for the key, he said Why? but fortunately I knew the answer to this question, because West Lynn has a seven-sacrament font. Knowing hed been beaten, he gave in and smiled, giving us the key graciously.
The exterior of the church is interesting. Cruciform, as many churches are around here, the chancel is an addition of the 1930s by Ernest Caroe, and looks very much of that decade. It reminded me of Dilham. Old tracery has been built into the walls, and the tracery replicates the 19th century window (and contains its glass) that once was set in the blocked chancel arch. Despite the cement-rendering to tower and transepts, there is a nice mix of flint and red-brick, and a little carstone too. A 1920s vestry opposite the red-brick Tudor porch completes the piece.
We let ourselves in to what turns out to be a very high church the main Sunday service still styles itself Mass, and the Vicar is Father someone-or-other. Theres also evidence of this in the furnishings, including devotional statues and the like, but I didn't get the impression that the church gets used much for private devotions; there were certainly no candles burning. Perhaps it is an enthusiasm of the Vicars rather than of the parish as a whole.
The font is a delight the most primitive of the series Ive seen, the figures like cartoon characters. It has been repaired with darker cement, so you can see what is original and what isnt, and it is actually relatively unvandalised. A curiosity on it is that the Priest hearing confession is wearing a cowl. This may mean he was a religious, but it doesn't half make him look Mother Teresa. The Mass panel, seen from the side on, is absolutely crowded with figures fascinating. In the Baptism panel, the baby is held upside down. The eighth panel depicts the Holy Trinity (not, as Pevsner has it, 'Christ Enthroned', or Mortlock's 'God the Father').
There is a splendid brass of a priest, Adam Outlaw (what a great name for the fens!) and the benches are a not unpleasing mix of 15th, 17th and 19th century work, most of a local quality. Perhaps best are some poppyheads reminiscent of those in the chancel at Walpole St Peter. The misericords are fascinating - they appear to have suffered the attention of iconoclasts, but also do not seem as old as they pretend.
The fittings of the sanctuary are all boldly 20th century Anglo-catholic, and the sedilia and piscina an exercise in modernist devotion.
In the graveyard is one of the earliest tombstones I've seen in Norfolk, for William Law in 1621. Crossing the road, there is a stunning view across the water to the centre of Kings Lynn it looks as if you could reach out and grab the towers of St Margaret.
Simon Knott, July 2005
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