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

St Peter, West Lynn

West Lynn
east end (1930s)

    St Peter, West Lynn
Seven Sacrament font: Last Rites   It was good to come back to West Lynn after ten years away. Back in 2006 it had seemed a separate place, but ten years on it was quite clear that the prosperity of Kings Lynn was spreading westwards to grasp it avariciously. So many east coast ports are in decline, but King's Lynn seems to go from strength to strength, which can only be explained by its position on a railway line into Cambridge and then swiftly on to London.

That day in 2006, we had driven 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 was a fairly rough place in those days. The shop beside St Peter had razorwire barriers like I'd seen in the Shankill in west Belfast the previous month, and I’d 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 marshland 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 he’d been beaten, he gave in and smiled, giving us the key graciously.

Coming back, the church was still locked. But there was a different keyholder. She was very nice, and didn't quiz me as to my motives.

The exterior of the church is interesting. Cruciform, as many churches are around here, the chancel is an addition of the 1930s by the aged Walter 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. There’s 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 Vicar’s rather than of the parish as a whole.

The font is a delight – probably the most primitive of the series after Wendling's, the figures like cartoon characters. It has been repaired with darker cement, so you can see what is original and what isn’t, and it is actually relatively unvandalised. The Priest hearing confession is wearing a cowl or hood, as was the convention of the medieval period, but in this case it doesn't half make him look Mother Teresa. The Mass panel, seen from the side on, is absolutely crowded with figures, some standing and kneeling to the left of the rood screen, which is seen end on, and the Priest elevating the host to the right. 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').

Seven Sacrament font: Confirmation Seven Sacrament font: Confession Seven Sacrament font: Mass Seven Sacrament font: Holy Trinity Seven Sacrament font: Holy Orders Seven Sacrament font: Matrimony Seven Sacrament font: Last Rites Seven Sacrament font: Baptism

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 north transept is fitted out as a lady chapel, both elegant and seemly. There is a bold squint through to the high altar with its grand reredos. Indeed, the fittings of the sanctuary are all boldly 20th century Anglo-catholic, and the sedilia and piscina an exercise in modernist devotion. The whole piece is triumphant, but poignant too, the beleaguered anglo-catholic movement of the CofE in its last days. It looked lovely, but it reminded me of churches which I'd known years ago which had since lost this tradition, which made me feel a bit sad. Here, everything was done well, but it was fading, and would fade out. I was glad I'd come back now.

Simon Knott, September 2016

looking east Seven Sacrament font altar and reredos
Here Lyeth interred the Body of johnbird Plater the eldest sonne of Thomas Plater who Departed this lyfe the 9th yeare of his Age december 26th 1669 bench end: knight and two eagles St Peter
reredos: St Nicholas reredos: St George side altar squint from lady chapel In Childbed Jane Whall of Blessed memory here lies, Plow Munday from all Teares did free her Eyes
'He is not here, He is risen' by WJ Bolton, 1849 Adam Outlaw, priest 'He is not here, He is risen' by WJ Bolton, 1849
looking west

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