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Church Post Code  NR10 4NZ

Open to visitors

Visited June 2022

At the time of my visit to the church of St Michael the Archangel at Booton in June 2022, I had visited roughly half of the parish churches in Norfolk. Of the ones left to visit, there was none that I wanted to visit more!

I attempted to visit the church here in late February 2018, during what was in hindsight an ill advised week’s holiday in Norfolk. As a self employed gardener most of my holidays are taken away from the peak growing periods. A week was pre booked in Norfolk, which coincided with the Beast from the East and named storm Emma.

On a cold and sunny Monday afternoon, with snow still on the ground, I attempted to walk to Booton from neighbouring Reepham; around a mile and a half, with the walk normally taking around half an hour. I got three quarters of the way there when I was stopped in my tracks with the road flooded by melted snow. Booton church was highlighted by the afternoon sun a few hundred yards away across the fields; but separated by the flood water it had to be left for another day.

And that day came getting on for four and a half years later; an unscheduled visit at the end of a Norfolk churchcrawl; where we had worked our way through the 13 churches of the Heart of Norfolk benefice, a friendly and welcoming set of churches; making our way in from Themelthorpe, a hamlet some six miles off to the west.


Booton was mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, with no church or priest recorded at that time. Aylsham is seven miles or so to the north east and Norwich 12 miles away to the south east. The church of St Michael can be found set apart from the rest of the village; the slender twin towers at its west end dominating the flat Norfolk landscape.

I was here on the day with Gary, who enjoys driving but does not really enjoy looking at the churches themselves. His reaction was a simple ‘I don’t like this one’ within seconds of getting out of the car. This was the first time that I had heard him say this out of the few hundred churches that we had visited together. I disagreed; but could see where he was coming from. Charmingly referred to as ‘eccentric French gothic’ on a website that I looked at when putting this together, this is very much a marmite church that does not appeal to everyone!

The church here is a Victorian rebuilding of an earlier medieval church, with the work here undertaken by the reverend Whitwell Elwin. This eccentric clergyman, who was a descendent of Pocahontas and who was an acquaintance of Charles Darwin, was the rector here between 1849 and 1900. He set about rebuilding the church along his own designs, declining to use an architect and financing the project himself.


The church was rebuilt between 1876 and 1900, along the lines of the previous church here which consisted of west tower, aisleless nave, chancel and north porch. The new church encased the previous building in its walls. The most notable difference in the new church was at the west end; with two slender west towers, one at the north and one to the side, with a small pinnacle between them. The twin west towers have blind arcading at their lower levels and have ornately crocketed pinnacles; and are are angled a little, with each facing inwards and not directly facing the onlooker.

 The nave and chancel have buttresses with flushwork decoration, with the buttresses again ending in crocketed pinnacles, which rise up above the walls. The exterior is perpendicular and the ornately carved, ogee headed priest door to the south with its empty image recess above is a delight.

Elwin ‘borrowed’ architectural ideas for his new church. The hammer beam roof was based on that of the church at Trunch, also in Norfolk. The west door is based on that at Glastonbury Abbey and the trefoil window above the chancel arch was inspired by that at Lichfield cathedral. The west window is the same as can be seen in the St Stephen Chapel at Westminster.

The building of the new church was not without its problems, with the newly built chancel arch starting to sink whilst building work was ongoing, with the chancel arch and west towers being underpinned as a result.

When John L’Estrange compiled his study of the church bells of Norfolk, which was published in 1874, there was a single bell here dated 1824. He notes that at that time a faculty was secured for them to sell three of their four existing bells, which were cracked. Today, two bells hang here, each dated 1897 at cast by Taylor of Loughborough.


The visitor enters through the impressive north porch, which has a statue of Michael the Archangel in a recess over the door. The church was open to visitors and is used as a ‘champing’ church; an interesting concept of camping overnight in a participating church. This explains the unusual seating arrangement in the nave with a circle of camping seats set up! Looking towards the chancel arch, there is a large empty image recess to the north side of the arch, and over the top, as briefly mentioned earlier, is an unusual trio of roundels, all of which contain a trefoil design.

The reason that I wanted to see this church above all others in Norfolk was the stained glass. Walking in to the nave and looking around at the glass is like stepping in to Revd Elwin’s mind and seeing his vision of Heaven illustrated before you! A celestial orchestra depicted across the windows to the north and south of the nave, alongside various saints.

The characters are mainly young female, which the CCT booklet described as Elwin’s ‘blessed girls’, and are evidently based on a succession of young girls that he knew in real life. These are depicted with nimbus, with several having small strings of flowers in their hair. Several play musical instruments; one in particular caught my eye; an exquisite depiction of a young woman playing a violin, brown hair swept back in ringlets, highly detailed brightly coloured angelic wings of mismatched colours stretched out behind her.

Of those who are without instruments three young female figures huddle together, with the central figure holding open a book, to which all are looking at. The figure to the left as we look at it holds a garland of laurel leaves; a symbol of victory with the victory here being over death.


With regards the saints, there is a representation of King David, crowned and with impressive beard, looks upwards slightly as he plays the harp; with St George a little way away. There are a few depictions of female saints who were martyred as virgins. St Dorothy is show carrying Roses, St Agnes is depicted with a lamb, and is being watched over by a male and female figure, with the latter charmingly rearranging the flowers in Agnes’ hair. We also see St Ursula, who carries arrows, denoting the manner of her martyrdom.


Moving in to the chancel, the altar is plain and simple; just a table with a basic cross, with the reredos in the form of a section of blind arcading. There is further blind arcading against the north wall and impressive, empty image niches stand to either side of the altar.

The east window of the chancel is of three lights with a depiction of Jesus central in the main panels. He is flanked by Mary the mother of Jesus, to the left as we look at it and St John the Evangelist to the right. In the smaller panels below, we see St Michael the Archangel slaying the devil from Revelation, the Archangel Gabriel carrying lilies, symbolic of purity. The third panel shows an angel leading a small child; this could be Raphael, which would mean that all three Archangels named in scripture are included. Before anyone says anything seven Archangels are named in the Book of Enoch, but that is discounted and omitted from Christian Bibles.

The two windows to the north of the chancel show angels appearing to various characters from both Old and New Testaments. We see an angel of the Lord appearing to Hagar in the wilderness. A two light window close by shows the Archangel Gabriel appearing to Zachariah in the temple and the annunciation; appearing to Mary the mother of Jesus.

The windows to the south of the chancel depict the three men who visit Abraham, Jesus with angel in the Garden of Gethsemane; preparing to drink from the cup that he has to drink from and Abraham prevented from sacrificing his son Isaac.


The west window is of four lights and is a beautiful thing. This window is concerned with children, with a small child in each panel. The central two panels show a child being tenderly to by an angel; the two outer panels show a small child who are angels themselves, brightly coloured wings unfurled. Each panel has the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove.

It was a cloudy day outside and this, combined with the large amount of stained glass, meant that the natural light levels were quite low. I don’t light to photograph with the church lights on as a rule; but in hindsight I wish I had here as my photographs of the roof angels suffered as a result!

There is nothing of any great interest or rarity in the church grounds; with nothing in the grounds having its own Grade II Listing. However, the churchyard boundary wall is listed at its north and eastern sides, along with gate piers on the north side.

Booton was never a large parish and with declining numbers, sadly it was declared redundant in 1987, less than 90 years after the rebuilding was complete.

It had been a good day with around 15 churches visited, with all but two being open. The church at Booton was my highlight of the day there are fond memories of this gloriously eccentric church which will remain with me for (hopefully) many years! According to Google Maps it was getting on for 80 miles home and we had cleared well over 250 miles on the day. It was an early start and a fairly late finish; and it was time and effort well spent. The church of St Michael and all angels is generally open to visitors between 10 and 4 but opening times may be affected possibly by its champing activities so anyone wishing to visit could do well to check with the good folks at the Churches Conservation Trust before setting out.

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