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

All Saints, Weston Longville

Weston Longville: a shining example

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from the south-east from the north-east merchant arms on porch

    All Saints, Weston Longville
gable sculpture   This is a large church, and pretty much exactly in the middle of Norfolk. In my opinion, All Saints is a shining example of what a parish church should be like; it is lovingly cared for, welcoming and interesting, with a strong identity and a sense of continuity. It is at once a museum and a living organism, both a touchstone down the long generations and the heart of a lively faith community.

It is most famously, of course, the church of James Woodforde, whose diary is still read and enjoyed more than two centuries on. Members of the Parson Woodforde Society seem a jolly bunch. Perhaps this is a reflection of their interest in this fascinating man. His vignettes of 18th century life are at times moving, at others intriguing, and occasionally bordering on the surreal:

I walked up to the White Hart with Mr. Lewis and Bill to see a famous Woman in Men's Cloaths, by name Hannah Snell, who was 21 years as a common soldier in the Army, and not discovered by any as a woman. Cousin Lewis has mounted guard with her abroad. She went in the Army by the name of John Gray. She has a pension from the Crown now of 18. 5. 0 per annum and the liberty of wearing Men's Cloaths and also a Cockade in her Hat, which she still wears. She has laid in a room with 70 soldiers and not discovered by any of them. The forefinger of her right hand was cut of by a Sword at the taking of Pondicherry. She is now about 60 yrs of age and talks very sensible and well, and travels the country with a Basket at her back, selling Buttons, Garters, laces etc. I took 4 Pr of 4d Buttons and gave her 0. 2. 6. (21 May 1778). You can read further excerpts on the excellent Parson Woodforde Society website.

Today, Woodforde's church is of the greatest interest because of what survives from centuries before he was alive. All Saints has important medieval survivals in its screen, its wall paintings and its glass.

The screen retains not only its dado but the upper tracery, and is as lovely as any in mid-Norfolk. It is beautifully painted, and it retains a dedicatory inscription. The dado features an over-restored but textbook example of what is called an Apostles Creed screen - that is to say, the twelve disciples (Matthias replacing Judas) each holding one clause of the creed. Unusually, the disciples are set in threes under huge interlocking tracery.

north side screen south side
St George? part of dedicatory inscription St Margaret?
St Peter, St Andrew, St Simon St Matthias, St Jude, St Matthew St John, St James, St Thomas St James the Less, St Philip and St Bartholomew 

Even more unusual is the carving in the spandrils. This is heavily damaged, but enough remains to be intriguing - one pair in particular, because the traces that survive suggest it is St George and the dragon on the left, and on the right the same subject as that in the spandrils of the porch of Swannington church nearby, the story of St Margaret. In the chancel arch above you can still make out the filled-in holes where the tympanum was secured.

The wall paintings are in two sets, and those flanking the chancel arch are the most dramatic. They are the two St Johns, the Baptist and the Evangelist, holding their symbols of a lamb and a poisoned chalice. The figures are bold and full of 14th century confidence. Perhaps a little later in the century is the complex sequence in the north aisle. This appears to be a Jesse Tree - that is to say, the family tree of Christ.

Jesse tree: detail Jesse tree Jesse tree: detail
Jesse tree: detail St John the Baptist (detail) St John  the Evangelist (detail) St John the Baptist

The glass is in the upper lights of the aisle windows. It consists of individual figures, all in various states of restoration. Some are Saints, some are angels. Subjects include St Andrew, St John the Evangelist, St James, St Philip and angels playing a zither, a lute and a harp.

St Andrew, St John St James, St Philip Angel with a harp angel with a lute

Perhaps the most intriguing feature of all is the font. At first sight it is a dull blank octagon set on a rather primitive collonade, but there is more to it than meets the eye. The bowl is slightly asymetrical, and although I can't be certain I think that this font has been cemented over. This was the customary fate of fonts with religious imagery in the 16th century - there is very little evidence of puritan damage of fonts, simply because what was considered superstitious was hidden by the time the 17th century came along. Most bowls had their cement removed in the 19th century, and a few revealed themselves as great treasures. As I say, I can't be certain, but if this a cemented font, I wonder what could be inside?

Although there are plenty of medieval riches at Weston Longville, there are some later memorials that are worth a look, not least among which is that of James Woodforde himself. he died here in 1803, a bachelor, and his memorial observes, rather dramatically, that his parishioners held him in the highest esteem and veneration and as a tribute to his memory followed him to the Grave. It goes on to tell us that the poor feel a severe loss as they were the constant objects of his bounty.

Nearby is Henry Rookwood, a rather severely remembered Westoner from an earlier generation. And in the south aisle, a grinning skull on a floor ledger reminds us Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi - mine today, your's tomorrow.

  angel with a zither

Simon Knott, April 2006

you can also visit the Parson Woodforde Society website

   

looking east looking west sanctuary intriguing font
Rookwood memorial detail towards the screen Parson Woodforde Edward Rookwood Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi 

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