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

St Peter and St Paul, Wramplingham

Wramplingham: emerging from the gelid mist

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delicious the cold light of winter Early English - note the low side window 

    St Peter and St Paul, Wramplingham
Early English - a serious fellow   The cold light of a winter morning, and here we are barely eight miles from the centre of Norwich. But you wouldn't know it; the soft fields roll gently to the horizon, woods and copses like dark fleeces spread across the folding landscape as the light whitens. Hardly a village in sight, hardly even a house, just the occasional church tower beginning to emerge from the gelid mist. One of them is Wramplingham.

We found it locked, but Peter knew that it was usually open; we were just too early. I went and found the keyholders, and I am afraid that I got them out of bed, but they were very lovely about it. The nice lady thought it was extraordinary that I had come all the way from Ipswich to see her church at this early hour, and she guessed that I must be something to do with the Round Towered Churches Society. But I reassured her that my obsession was of a much more general nature.

Apart from the delicious setting on this high ground above the Wensum valley, the most striking feature of St Peter and St Paul is the long Early English chancel, reminiscent of Burgh-next-Aylsham but of a much more rural quality. The building as a whole is a harmony of architectural periods; nothing built all in one go could have worked so well.

We unlocked the door and stepped into a church that was numbingly cold. The building had absorbed the sub-zero temperatures of the previous week, and we left the door open to let a little warmer air in. The furnishings are neat, understated, again rural in feel. It was all very harmonious, just like the outside.

looking east chancel Early English windows in the chancel from the north aisle

The north aisle is Victorian, and the plate tracery of the east window is also Victorian, I think, but this only accentuates the elegant rows of narrow windows to north and south. Even the low side window is a lancet, set in an arched alcove with a shelf. Perhaps that was where the acolyte rested the bell. Another little alcove contains the remains of the rood loft stairs, pleasingly picked out in what may be reused Roman brick.

Up in the chancel is the war memorial, and below it on a table is something extraordinary. The nice couple that I had got the key from earlier had undertaken a quest after their retirement. They had decided to track down the resting places of the fallen on the WWI memorial in Wramplingham church, and to take photographs of the graves.These photographs, and information about the young men, have been made into a book, which now sits on the table for anyone to look at.

Several of the lost villagers have headstones in northern French cemeteries; but, this being Norfolk, most are on the Thiepval Memorial, a classical structure bigger than Wramplingham church itself, which records the names of the more than seventy thousand young lads who were missing after the Battle of the Somme. Having stood on that inconceivably bleak hilltop near the small town of Albert myself, on a winter day very like this one, gazing out over the sad battlefields of the Somme, I felt a well of emotion rising in me. Another of the boys had ended up even further from home, and is buried in the war cemetery of the British Embassy compound in Teheran.

looking west rood loft stairs war memorial and book low side window with shelf I am the Bread of Life, I am the Good Shepherd...

The keyholder told me about the adventures he and his wife had, driving around France, searching for Our Boys. When he first used these words I thought he was referring to British soldiers in general, the way that the popular press does. But no; he meant the young men of the parish of Wramplingham, his parish, in their teens and early twenties, torn from the land and lost far away, almost a century ago now. It seemed a much more noble obsession than mine.

Simon Knott, February 2006

   

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