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St Fabian and St Sebastian, Woodbastwick
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and St Sebastian, Woodbastwick
Woodbastwick sits on the edge of one of the loveliest parts of Norfolk - but we had come to it in late winter through the grim flat fields and workaday villages to the east of Norwich, so it was doubly a surprise to arrive suddenly at the pretty village green with its thatched well house, and Sir George Gilbert Scott's tower of St Fabian and St Sebastian beyond. All around are pleasing 19th century estate cottages, some with biblical texts on their frontages. And, this being the Broads, the church was open, as they all seem to be around here - a welcome change from Postwick, Little Plumstead and Great Plumstead.
St Fabian and Sebastian is one of Norfolk's three nationally unique dedications (the others are at Bixley and Little Plumstead) and seems to be a 19th century Anglo-catholic affectation, the two Saints have nothing in common other than a shared feast day, Fabian being an early Pope, and Sebastian the martyr whose life was rather colourfully portrayed by the late Derek Jarman.
Woodbastwick was the home of the Cator family, the Anglo-catholic enthusiasts suggested above, and in the 1870s they paid for a massive rebuilding here. There had been a stump of a tower, and the nave had rather attractive stepped gables, which have been retained, as has much of the window tracery. The budget was a massive £5,000, about a million in today's money; by contrast, the 1890s rebuilding of nearby Great Plumstead cost a mere £1,500, and that was after the rampant inflation of the 1880s.
Scott's tower is pretty rather than massive, and the thatched roofs are very attractive in a sort of Olde Englande way.
Inside, even on this dark day, we could see the glimmer and sparkle of the best that the Anglo-catholic movement had to offer. Rather annoyingly, a security light at the back of the church came on every time one of us moved, going off again five seconds later to plunge the nave back into gloom. It is possible to switch it off during your visit, but I had probably better not suggest this as there is a notice telling you that you shouldn't.
Pretty much everything is renewed. The font went to Salhouse (although the lovely churchwarden at Salhouse said I shouldn't mention this, in case they want it back) and virtually all the woodwork was replaced, although the lower part of the screen is the medieval one, and we found a couple of old benches stacked up in the vestry.
Considering the budget, the glass is not great, considering that that in the chancel is by Clayton and Bell, and that in the nave by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake. It may just be that these attempts to replicate small scale 14th century glass are not as fashionable nowadays as thorough-going Victorian style work like the lovely set in the vestry of St Cecilia, the Virgin Mother of God, and St Catherine, probably also by Clayton and Bell. The reredos is better than any of the glass, I think. Best of all in any case is the superb art nouveau war memorial in the nave, one of the best I've seen in Norfolk.
There are some very good 20th century memorials to the Cator family on the north wall of the nave, and generally this is a well-kept, cherished building that is usually open and welcoming. I liked it a lot.
Simon Knott, February 2005
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