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Some Churches In The Great Massingham Benefice


Church Post Code PE32 1LN

Open to visitors

Visited April 2021


We headed on to the church of All Saints at Ashwicken, a small village five miles or so east of Kings Lynn. This was the first of the churches in the Great Massingham Benefice to be visited that day. Most were due to be open. A friendly and welcoming benefice. This is a very remote location, with the church sign saying 'Welcome To Our Church In The Fields'

The church of All Saints dates back to the 13th century, with the west tower being the oldest part of the current structure. The church consists of west tower, nave with south porch,  north vestry and chancel. There are no aisles or clerestory. The square tower has a 19th century cap on the top, and  is supported by two massive buttresses.

What a pleasant scene, this isolated church, with its sloping red tiled roofs, looked a picture. The sun was blazing down and there was hardly a cloud in the sky. A bench is situated against the south wall of the nave, looking out across the fields. What a pleasant place to sit during lockdown, armed with a book and a packed lunch; finding a little calm as the horrors unfolded around us. 

The war memorial stands to the south of the church, recording those who died in both world wars. This has a Grade II Listing in its own right.


All Saints was open to visitors; there were still covid restrictions in place but we were free to travel and the churches were allowed to be open again. There was no restrictions on movement throughout the church. 

   The interior of this church dates mostly from a period of Victorian restoration. The walls are whitewashed and it is bright and welcoming inside. The alter has the words 'Do This In Remembrance Of Me' carved in to it. Below this wording is a carving of Christ crucified, with images of the crucifixion; ladder, spear and hyssop stick also included. A floral display of daffodils could be seen on the alter, a green cross rising up from the display. 

    Two boards on either side of the alter depict the 10 Commandments; in the nave a figure with wild lockdown hair and large ears, looks down at the congregation from a capital, tongue stuck out in medieval gesture of insult,

   The fine east window has a depiction of the crucifixion at the centre; the parable of the Good Samaritan told in four panels around it. Jesus told this parable to an expert in the law who asked Jesus 'who is my neighbour?" The answer that Jesus gave him was not what he would have been expecting! The first panel shows the Jewish traveler left for dead; his two attackers making off with a bag of money each, with one robber looking back over his shoulder as they flee. The second panel shows the Jewish man being helped by a Samaritan, traditionally the bitter enemy of the Jews, They would have nothing to do with each other but here the thankful Jew clutches the arm of his helper whilst a priest and a Levite each walk past, ignoring the plight of their fellow Jew. 

   The third panel shows the Jew on the Samaritan's donkey, being taken to safety; the two holding hands as they go. The fourth shows their arrival at an inn, the Samaritan arranging for the Jewish man to be looked after at his own expense. What a powerful and challenging parable to tell the Jewish people at that time; to love their bitter enemy as themselves. Jesus completed the exchange with the expert in the Law by saying 'go and do likewise' The challenge was given to the expert then to the expert in the Law, and the same challenge is issued to us today

    The elaborately carved font looks to be Victorian and is again adorned on top with daffodils. The British Listed Buildings entry for this church states that much of the interior is wholly of the 19th century with no features of special interest! That may well be so, but it does not stop it from being beautiful; and a lovely tranquil place to visit on a glorious day in challenging times!



Church Post Code PE32 1PN

Open to visitors


We headed off east a short distance and came to the delightful round tower church of St Mary at Gayton Thorpe. Another fairly isolated church, and another basic structure of round tower, nave with south porch and north vestry and chancel. This is another with no aisles or clerestory. 

    As I mentioned in my page covering East and West Lexham, some of my favourite sights involving churches over the years have been in Norfolk; involving round tower churches. Burnham Norton, Hales, Little Snoring and the Lexham's hold special memories for me. To be fair, the church here is also on this list. A lovely sight on a glorious day.

    Entrance to the church grounds is via a wide gravel path to the west, daffodils in bloom to both side of the path. A sign up on the gate tells of the Bats In Churches project. The church here holds regular 'Bats Nights' and Gayton Thorpe has, according to the Bats In Churches website, one of the largest colonies of pipistrelle bats in Norfolk, with over 800 Common and Soprano Pipistrelles to be found here. Beautiful and charming creatures and good to see them thriving in a safe environment; I do cast my mind back though to a trip to the Lincolnshire coast a few years ago, and a visit to Theddlethorpe All Saints. There was so much bat droppings in the church here that I had to wash my hands on leaving, with the only liquid available being a bottle of Volvic hint of lemon water!


The round tower here, with the exception of the upper section, is Saxon. The upper section is a Norman addition, zig zag carvings above the windows at the belfry pointing to this period. This is another church to stand isolated, surrounded by trees; which were still skeletal after what had been, on the whole,  a very cold start to the Spring.

   The church was open to visitors. As with the previous churches there is no aisles or clerestory here. No need for clerestory windows here on this gloriously sunny day. It was bright and welcoming inside, with no stained glass here to affect the natural light. It is plain and simple inside with the chancel offset a little to the south, so that it is in alignment with the tower. Someone with a talent for flower arranging had left two displays either side of the alter; which has just a single cross on it. The east wall behind has white 18th century paneling. Less is more; basic and pleasing.


The most notable feature of the interior of St Mary is the seven sacrament font. These were popular in Norfolk and Suffolk and they highlight the seven sacraments of the Catholic faith, Catholicism being the religion of this country prior to the Reformation. The first three sacraments are those of Initiation, namely Baptism, Confirmation and Eucharist. The belief is that the person is born anew by Baptism, strengthened by Confirmation and nourished by the Eucharist.

    The next two sacraments are sacraments of healing. The first of these is Confession (penance and reconciliation) and the second is the anointing of the sick, where the priest anoints the afflicted with Holy Oil. When this is administered to those who are dying it is called Extreme Unction. The final two sacraments are Holy Orders, which is the Sacrament by which a man is made a bishop, a priest, or a deacon, and thus dedicated to be an image of Christ. The final sacrament is marriage.

    On an eight sides octagonal font there will be one side that doesn't have a depiction of a sacrament. On this there is normally a carving of Christ crucified or, as is the case here, a depiction of the Virgin Mary with the baby Jesus. 

These fonts were hated by the reformers and were often defaced; seen as being idolatrous. The font here has come through pretty much unscathed but I did find some of the carvings difficult to pick out.


Church Post Code PE32 1PP

Open to visitors


We headed onwards, a short distance to the south west, to East Walton, another round tower church off the beaten path. This was the fourth church visited so far that day and the fourth to be open. Pre covid, Norfolk was a county of, for the most part, open and welcoming churches. A county rightly proud of its church heritage, and keen to show them off to people. It was good to see this most friendly and welcoming county start to open up again after a terrible year!

    We approached the church of St Mary from the south, the battlemented round tower visible above the trees. Another delightfully rural church. Arriving at the church, a gravel path leads to the south porch from the west, making its way past a decent selection of 18th century gravestones. Easy to image the faithful walking the same route to church hundreds of years ago, seeing the same view that we see now.

   The church here consists of round west tower, which leans slightly to the west, nave, south porch and chancel. The tower dates back to the 12th century, and is plain with the exception of lancet windows at the belfry stage and some very weathered and long retired gargoyles. As with the other churches visited in this benefice there is no clerestory here. Again, there is no need with three, three light windows running the length of the nave, with each window almost running from floor to ceiling!


Moving inside, elegant Georgian box pews leadup to the chancel arch. At one point, the chancel arch here was bigger and it has been filled in at some point, decorated outlines of the previous arch are cut part way by what would be a lowered ceiling. Red curtains also help to separate nave from chancel should the need arise. A triple decker pulpit stands to the south of the chancel arch. Double and triple decker pulpits were popular during the 18th century, with each tier having its own importance. The bottom tier was for the clerk, the middle was the reading desk for the minister, and the top tier was reserved for the delivery of the sermon.

    The east window is of five lights and is of plain glass. There are two steps up to the alter, which is in keeping with others in the area that I had visited that day so far; plain and simple with just a cross on it and nothing else. Standing at the chancel and looking west, there is a Royal Coat of Arms attached to the west wall above the tower arch, close by is a medieval font, with octagonal bowl with each of the eight faces having a quatre foil design

    Visitors entering in through the south porch are greeted with a delightful old stove. Again, the mental images of past times are conjured up; the faithful entering in to the church on a freezing cold winters day, huddled around the stove to get some warmth back in to them before service starts. 

   Again, a simple and beautiful Norfolk village church, full of interest and history and captured on the most glorious of days. This was turning in to a really good churchcrawl. We headed off in the direction of Harpley, which will be covered on another page on this site,


The Great Massingham Benefice is friendly and welcoming and I found seven of the ten churches open. As well as the churches covered on this page, the churches at Great and Little Massingham, Harpley and Congham are all covered on other pages in this site.

With regards the other three, I was unlucky with St Botolph at Grimston. The church is normally open each day but was closed on that April 2021 churchcrawl due to, from memory, building work going on inside the church. Photographs included are from a previous visit at the end of a bright sunny day in December 2020, with the church closed that day; either due to covid restriction or the lateness of the day.

The church of St Nicholas at Gayton was closed on that April visit as well, as was All Saints at Roydon. A check on the Benefice website shows that Gayton is now open each day should anyone wish to visit whilst Roydon is kept locked but with keyholder listed.


Church Post Code PE32 1PF

Closed to visitors


Gayton is a large village which can be found six miles east of Kings Lynn, just over a mile to the north west of Gayton Thorpe, which recorded a population of just over 1500 at the time of the 2021 census. The church of St Nicholas stands at the side of the main road which runs through the village and consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.

The church that we see today dates mainly from the 14th century, and was restored in the mid 19th century; and stands on the site of an earlier structure. The tall, four stage west tower has a church clock set on to the west face, with pinnacles to the four corners which are of the four evangelists, who are seated and holding shields. One of these was catching the attention of a couple of Jackdaws , busily basking in the glorious sunlight.

The south porch contains and empty image niche, which would have held a statue in pre reformation days. The clerestory is unusual; consisting of four windows alternating between standard two light windows and roundels, which contain a quatre foil design within.

As mentioned above, the church was closed to visitors but the benefice website states that this church is normally open to visitors. One to try again on another day.


Church Post Code PE32 1AR

Closed to visitors


Roydon, and the church of All Saints, is the only church in the benefice which keeps its doors locked but a keyholder is listed for anyone who wishes to see inside. The village itself is not to be confused with the Roydon just to the west of Diss.

The Roydon that we are concerned with here is the most westerly of three nearby villages which form a triangle, along with Grimston and Congham, to the east of Kings Lynn. The church itself can be found at the very north of the village, with Castle Rising as a neighbour across the fields to the north west.

There is some age to parts of the church with two doorway dating from the 12th century and the west tower dating from the 13th century. The rest of the church was pretty much rebuilt in the style of the Norman doorways in 1857 by GE Street, whose resume includes the nave at Bristol Cathedral and the restoration of the Christ Church Cathedral, Dublin.

This is a fairly basic structure of west tower, nave, south porch and chancel. There are no aisles or clerestories here and to be fair, nothing to keep me occupied for very long.



Church Post Code  PE32 1BH

Closed to visitors

Visited December 2020


The helpful benefice office had confirmed that the church of St Botolph at Grimston would not be open so we missed that one out completely on the day. The church here is normally open to visitors and another attempt will be made at some point. The photographs enclosed here are from December 2020; the last church visited in a Norfolk churchcrawl in the villages around Kings Lynn.

The sun was setting as we arrived and the church was closed, which I think was due to the lateness of the day rather than covid concerns. The light was beautiful and it was the case of being in the right place at the right time as we headed in to that two minute period where the sun is just at the right height, and all suddenly turns golden for a brief time.

The church that we see today dates from the 13th century, with additions over the centuries and two periods of late 19th century restoration. It is thought though that there could have been a Saxon church here, which was in turn on the site of a Roman temple.

The church here consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch, north and south transepts and chancel. The west tower is tall and elegant, with stair turret running the entire height to the south east corner. Gargoyles peer out from all four sides and a carved parapet contains shield of the donors.

Just a quick mention of a gravestone seen in the church grounds here; which has crossed symbols of trumpet and arrow. The trumpet is an often used symbol of the resurrection and an arrow was often used as a symbol denoting sudden death. Sometimes the arrow is depicted being thrown by death in the form of a skeleton at the unsuspecting deceased! The two together state sudden death but resurrection on the final day; a testament as to the faith of the deceased!

Turning to the west, there was time to play with the camera settings and try to get a decent shot of the Grade II Listed war memorial, silhouetted against the setting sun. A definite revisit required here at some point!

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