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

All Saints, Wighton

Wighton: the feel of a proper village

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Kirkgate Lane something of a landmark holding its own

  All Saints, Wighton

Wighton has the feel of a proper village in a land of hamlets along secret lanes. It also feels like a northern village. One of the reasons for north-west Norfolk having a character quite different from other parts of East Anglia is that its building materials are different. The flint is local of course, but the red slates were brought into Lynn from Hull and the north, at a time when red bricks and tiles were being brought into Yarmouth and Ipswich via London. I like this difference a lot. It is helped along at Wighton by the hilly road to the church being called Kirkgate Lane in the Viking fashion rather than Church Street.

Wighton church is something of a landmark, sitting on a high rise, and visible for miles around. At Warham St Mary Magdalene, it can be seen two miles off, from the churchyard gate. It must have caused quite a stir then, when, one winter night in 1965, the tower collapsed in a storm. Thankfully, it fell away from the church. At that time of pessimism in the Church of England, when so many Norfolk churches were being declared redundant, it must have seemed an unlikely prospect that it would ever be rebuilt. You imagine the parishioners shrugging their shoulders and saying "that's that, then", probably thanking their lucky stars that they still had a church left. The ruins were made tidy, and people went on with their lives.

And then something a little unlikely happened. A Canadian engineer and businessman, Leeds Richardson, whose ancestors are buried in the churchyard, offered to pay for the rebuilding of the tower in its exact original form.

"well, we just couldn't believe it", the churchwarden's wife told me. "We thought that anyone who wanted to pay for rebuilding the tower must be mad!" The bank did all the checks you'd expect a bank to do, and it seemed that the offer was genuine. Even then, the bank insisted on half the money being paid up front before work could begin. And so, a fairy tale happened, and in 1976 the tower was topped out and rededicated, this time with six bells instead of one, the extra five coming from a redundant church in Maidstone.

It would be easy for me as an outsider to say that it is a shame the new tower wasn't a bit more adventurous, but for the people of Wighton it was a case of getting their church back. Sometimes, all you really want is healing, and that is what Good Samaritans are for.

Obviously, the tower looks brand spanking new in comparison with the flintwork of the rest of the church, but it will mellow with age. All Saints is another one of those vast churches you find along the north Norfolk coastal strip; the 15th century porch is similarly substantial, and can live up to it. There are two large bosses above the windows on either side, one showing the head of Christ, the other a mermaid. I was a little distracted by the wedding party standing here, stuffed with straw. They were part of the village's annual scarecrow festival. I was tempted to give them my usual talk about not seeing the point of getting married in this day and age, but they wouldn't have listened. Nobody ever does.

And so, you step inside to a vast, echoing interior. As at South Creake and Worstead, the aisles have been cleared of all chairs, and this creates the sense of a church within a church, surrounded by a large ambulatory space. At the back, the large font is built up on two steps in an imposing manner. Its panels are probably recut, but are still interesting, including the Instruments of the Passion and a Holy Trinity symbol.

There is a good view of the nave, and those gorgeous arcades, from the top of the roodloft stair, but I probably shouldn't tell you that. The screen has gone, the furnishings are 19th century, a lovely modern reredos in the naive Walsingham style shows the Annunciation, and a Sarum screen backs it. The Royal Arms on the west wall are worth a look; the central shield is set on the skew.

There is a scattering of medieval glass, but most of the Perpendicular windows have a single large Victorian apostle in the middle. To be honest, they aren't terribly good, and probably came from another church originally. But now they are here, and the parish is responsible for paying thousands over the next few years to get them all releaded. But I have no doubt that they will triumph. When the original Wighton bell was recast before being rehung in Mr Richardson's tower, they inscribed on it With Determination, Success is Inevitable.

Simon Knott, May 2005

 

face of Christ nobody ever listens mermaid
looking east imposing font looking west chancel
view from her rood sanctuary tower memorial
curious royal arms organ medieval glass 
Kirkgate Lane

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