Blakeney Cley Salthouse Wiveton

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

St Mary, Wiveton

Wiveton, under a Norfolk sky

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From the north-east The interlaced east window From the south-east

    St Mary, Wiveton

I still can't believe that sky in the top picture. I will no doubt stand accused of altering it in Paintshop or something, but it really was like that. The north Norfolk sky, rolling in from the sea. If you could bottle it and sell it, you'd make a fortune.

St Mary faces across the former harbour towards the much grander St Margaret, Cley, half a mile off. It is eerie; today, all in between is green fields, but it is quite easy to make out the shape of the harbour mouth, and the way the port curved around upriver towards Blakeney. The harbour silted up; but it was allowed to do so. By the 17th century, grazing was more profitable than wool-exporting, and the traffic in pilgrims for Walsingham was long gone.

Externally, this is a fine example of a building whose construction straddles the great divide of the Black Death. The flushwork on the chancel is absolutely stunning, creating an illusion of arrayed niches. Pevsner thought it some of the earliest of its kind in England.

In the 19th century, someone wanted to make St Mary as grand as St Margaret across the valley, but this was a terrible mistake because today the church has been severely neutered by its 19th century scouring. It is all neat, clean and, I am afraid, a bit dull. The terrible coloured glass makes you feel as if you are underwater. And those awful inscriptions above the arcade need to be whitewashed before English Heritage see them and the parish is stuck with them forever.

The church is not without its charms; there are some excellent brasses, including a very rare and unusual 1470 cadaver brass, once one of a pair, the rotting corpse of Thomas Brigg entwined in its shroud. Another brass, for William Bisshop, a Priest of 1512, is a rare survival in itself, considering how his Catholicism would become anathema in in the next half a century; but there is an aspect to it that makes it quite remarkable. The stone into which it is set also remembers another Minister, Robert Lowde, a Vicar of Wiveton in the late 17th century. A few short years after the restoration and triumph of Anglicanism, he is remembered in Latin as Presbiter Ecclesiae Anglicanae, a Priest of the Church of England, either as a mark of that triumph or, indeed, demonstrating a need to cut through the confusion of the previous decades. Whatever, he deliberately chose to tie his passage through eternity to that of a Catholic Priest who happened to have led the parish almost two centuries earlier.

Also remarkable is the story behind the tiny piece of glass set high up in the north sanctuary window. It depicts St Mark, holding the opening of his Gospel and accompanied by his lion. It was actually found about ten years ago in the top of the next window to the west, where it had been bricked up, probably as part of a 17th century attempt to save money on heating and glass. They couldn't be bothered to take the surviving medieval panel out first. Extraordinary stuff.

Barmy Arthur Mee, who isn't always the most useful of sources when researching churches, does come up with the goods here. He remembers James Hackman, Rector of this parish, who in 1779 was publicly hung at Tyburn after shooting dead his fiancee outside the Haymarket Theatre in London; he had fallen in love with another. The tabloids of the time must have had a field day. So unlike our own dear Church of England.

Don't go without taking a second look at the fine organ, and the vast chandelier put up in 1981 to replace an 18th century stolen one. Apparently, they were about the same size; how on earth did they get it out of the building? Whatever, it probably ended up in some antique shop in Maine or on Cape Cod. A shame.

Simon Knott, October 2004

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The bricked-up chancel window that held a secret Austere: looking east Tom examines the font The font St Mark, found bricked up the organ
images/Cadaver brass and inlay John Briggs George and Ann Brigge, 1597 Ann Brigge (detail) William Bisshop, 1512 William Bisshop (detail)
Those hideous inscriptions Robert Lowde, a Priest of the Church of England Gloom in the north arcade Royal Arms

an introduction to the Ships of the North

Blakeney Cley Salthouse Wiveton

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