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

St Andrew, Wood Dalling

Wood Dalling

Wood Dalling Wood Dalling Wood Dalling

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St Andrew, Wood Dalling

St Andrew is in the remote heart of Norfolk and close to giants, for the great churches of Heydon, Salle and Cawston are all a country walk away. Because of this, Wood Dalling, pronounced dor-ling, is perhaps not as well known as it might be if it was in another part of the county, and the great perpendicular tower rising above the fields and copses might suggest that St Andrew is just another of those large 15th Century churches for which Norfolk is famous. However, a closer look at the nave and chancel shows that that these parts of the church are the products of an earlier age, in the years when the 13th Century was heading towards and becoming the 14th Century. This is to say that this church is a product of a quite different mindset to those of its neighbours. The aisle windows are obviously later, but there were aisles here before as the arcades inside will show. This means the church was here for almost two hundred years before its more illustrious neighbours were rebuilt, and for a while at least may well have been the largest church in the area.

More than this, St Andrew is unusual for a large church in Norfolk in having a tower which was built later than its nave and chancel, so perhaps this tower was built, or rebuilt, to compete with the neighbours. Pevsner notes that in 1422 there was the first bequest of several through the 15th Century for the Wood Dalling tower, and this coincides almost exactly with the building of the tower at Cawston. The tower at Salle appears to have been complete by 1440, but there were still bequests at Wood Dalling into the 1470s, so it may have been the last of the group to be completed.

I like small churches best, but this is exactly the kind of big church that I like. You step into a wide open space, quite uncluttered and full of light, and ever so slightly ramshackle. There is no coloured glass, and St Andrew has no secrets, it is a building you can take in as a whole at first sight. Tall, creamy arcades lift to the old wood of the roofs, the benches from which they emerge are also old and a bit primitive, and perhaps not terribly comfortable, though full of character. The brick floors complete the sense of an ancient space at one with the land outside, organic, a touchstone down the long generations of the parish.

Wood Dalling's brasses are notable. There are half a dozen of them and the remains of several others, including several figures and a rare chalice brass. Oddly, they appear to have been reset, sometimes clumsily, in new indents, perhaps in the 19th Century, which of course begs the question of whether they all came from here in the first place. The stairs set above ground level in the south-west corner lead to the parvise of the porch, and there is a curious corbel that seems to serve no purpose above it. The effigy of a 14th Century priest in the north aisle is even stranger, for some mid-Victorian fancy has recut it as a woman.

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship there were two independent chapels in Wood Dalling as well as the parish church, and the parishioners who attended services that day spread themselves fairly equally, with about a hundred people attending each of the three places of worship for the afternoon service. As you would expect, the attendance at St Andrew for the morning service was much smaller. The church was in the care of a resident curate, a Reverend WH Webb, for as he explained in the return, the parish of Wood Dalling, normally considered a vicarage, is incorporated with the Rectory of Swannington, about 7 miles distant, of which the Reverend Frederick Hilyard is the incumbent, and there resident. The tithe, glebe and fees that supported the incumbent at Wood Dalling were fairly small, about 130, roughly 25,000 a year in today's money. The Reverend Hilyard received a much more handsome income from Swannington church, more than 400 annually, or 80,000 in today's money. You can't help thinking that Swannington must have been Hilyard's priority, despite its smaller population, leaving Wood Dalling in the hands of a poor curate, like something out of the pages of Trollope.

Even today, you can't help thinking that not a lot happens here. The old hassocks enjoin us to kneel to pray, a cupboard at the back of the church tells us that it contains prayer bookes. And 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.

Simon Knott, November 2022

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looking east

looking east, north aisle chancel looking east, south aisle
medieval effigy recut as a woman Victorian lady Wood Dalling looking west
north aisle light falls south aisle
prie-dieu farewell my wife and children dear pulpit, prayer desk, benches
south door and parvise stairway Wood Dalling crucified
prayer bookes Wood Dalling
Wood Dalling Wood Dalling
kneel to pray kneel to pray hymns, psalms


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