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

St Andrew, Wood Dalling

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a lovely village first approach going up south porch west door
chancel (north side) chancel (south side) 

    St Andrew, Wood Dalling
magnificent   St Andrew is in the remote heart of Norfolk, and is close to giants; Heydon, Salle and Cawston are all a country walk away. Because of this, the mighty Perpendicular tower of Wood Dalling, pronounced dorling, is probably not as well known as it might be if it was in another part of the county. At first sight, St Andrew might appear just another of the large 15th century churches for which Norfolk is famous, with its aisles and clerestory. However - look closer. Ignore the tower, and you can see that St Andrew is, in fact, an early Decorated period church, probably from the turn of the 14th century. It was here for more than a hundred years before its more illustrious neighbours. It is worth remembering that, for a while at least, it was the largest church in the area, and is unusual in having a tower later than its nave and chancel. Perhaps the tower was built, or rebuilt, to try and compete.

I like small churches best, but this is exactly the kind of big church that I like. In common with other churches around here, it is open every day and welcoming to visitors, but St Andrew is quite different inside to its neighbours. You step into a huge open space, quite uncluttered and full of light, and everso slightly ramshackle. There is no coloured glass; St Andrew has no secrets, it is a building to take in as a whole at first sight. Tall, creamy arcades lift to the old wood of the roofs; the benches are primitive, and can't be terribly comfortable, but they are full of character. The brick floors complete the sense of an utterly rural space. The chancel space is enchanting. Oh, and the place is absolutely full of the crunch of bat poo.

Wood Dalling is not without treasures - there are half a dozen good brasses and the remains of several others, including a rare chalice brass. Oddly, they all seem to have been reset, sometimes clumsily, in new indents, perhaps in the 19th century. Did they come from Wood Dalling originally, I wonder? The stairs in the south-west corner leads to the parvise of the porch, and there is a very curious medieval corbel that seems to serve no purpose above it. The effigy of a medieval knight in the north aisle is even stranger - some Victorian fancy has recut it as a 19th century woman.

Not much happens here - the kneelers all appear to be from the early part of the 20th century, and some of them bear the stern words kneel to pray, which was one way of encouraging a robust response to the liturgy, I suppose.

Probably, not many people who visit the local tourist honeypots come here. That's a pity, because this is a cool, peaceful, sacred space, a place to sit and be alone in the sweet silence. The setting is superb, too - the village pond reflects the great tower, and the lovely village sits quietly about the church, surrounded by high-hedged fields. I'm looking forward to coming back.

  on your knees

Simon Knott, July 2006

   

looking east enchanting chancel curious corbel
brass chalice brass brass brass
looking west ramshackle benches head on armrest of stall piscina first sight south aisle
19th century transgender south-west corner brass brass monument


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