NORFOLK OCTOBER 2021
Fakenham St Peter & St Paul Open
Houghton St Giles St Giles - Open
Wighton All Saints - Open
Wells Next The Sea St Nicholas - Open
Early October 2021 and a couple of days our exploring the churches between Wells Next The Sea and Fakenham. Part of this time was spent in Walsingham, and a report of my time at Little and Great Walsingham can be seen on this site. I have also created a single page looking at the symbolism of the saints in stained glass panels at Wighton. The rest of the write up from Wighton can be found on this page.
I did visit East Barsham but I have not included this on here. As someone who has lived in a farming village for my entire life I am ashamed to say that I was seen off the church grounds there by a small flock of quite boisterous sheep!
A glorious part of Norfolk; one that I have developed a real love for over the last 15 years or so. Wonderful churches, which it was good to see were open and welcoming, as they were pre covid, and warm and friendly people. The photographs on this page come from two different days and are not chronological in order. I am starting at Fakenham, and working towards Wells.
The fine perpendicular tower at the church of St Peter & St Paul, Fakenham stands centrally in this very pleasant market town. Fond memories of staying here in 2014 and exploring this area, and its friendly open and welcoming churches. In pre covid times there was a popular Christmas tree festival held inside the church here. At the time of this trip, Fakenham church was open daily until 1pm. There was hand sanitiser on entry and every second pew was not being used to help with social distancing.
It was peaceful and calm inside, a far cry from the usual scrum of people congregating around the Oak Street bus stops outside the church. The church here dates back to the 14th century, with the present structure replacing an earlier Saxon church on this site. It consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, south porch and chancel.
The perpendicular tower was built between 1400 and 1450, and is of four stages. There are intricate flushwork buttresses with the top of the tower being battlemented and pinnacled. Ancient gargoyles look out centrally from all four sides. The church clock is set on to the south face. Entry is through the double decker south porch which dates from the late 15th century.
With the exception of a friendly local, there was no one about inside. The interior here was heaviy restored during Victorian times. It was bright and welcoming inside; with the small amount of stained glass relative to the size of the building helping with this! There is some stained glass though, with the east window depicting small scenes from the life of Christ.
A three light window illustrates Jesus raising Jairus' daughter. Jesus holds her hand and blesses her as she is brought back from the dead. I found the reaction of those watching of interest. Jairus looks shocked whilst one of Jesus' disciples, who I think might be James, just looks relaxed, arms folded as if this was what he saw day in day out; and I daresay it was!
A modern roundel depicts a shrouded Jesus wearing the crown of thorns; haunting and beautiful!
The octagonal font dates back to the 15th century. Just to mention two of the panels. One shows some of the instruments of Christ's passion. The cross in central, with crown of thorns hanging from the top. Also shown are nails, hyssop stick, speak and whip. Another panel has a diagram on it, which consists of four interconnected circles. Both the circles and the lines connecting them will have had text on them, removed now possibly by the reformers. which helped to explain the trinity! God is central with The Father, The Son and The Holy Spirit being the other three. Each line would have either 'Is' or 'Is not' written on them, no doubt in Latin.
The sequence would read "The Father is God" "The Son is God" "The Holy Spirit is God" "God is the Father" "God is the Son" "God is the Holy Spirit" "The Father is not the Son" "The Father is not the Holy Spirit" "The Son is not the Father" "The Son is not the Holy Spirit" "The Holy Spirit is not the Father" "The Holy Spirit is not the Son"
I moved on, heading to Houghton St Giles, some four miles north of Fakenham, on the outskirts of Walsingham. This is a tiny picturesque village, with the church of St Giles standing by the side of the main road through the village. It had been a day of contrasting weather, with bright sunshine followed by heavy rain on several occasions during the day. A brief shower while the sun was out led to this reasonably half hearted, but still beautiful rainbow. It was lovely to see this! The church here is another favourite of mine, and I have visited three or four times over the years. I have never found it closed to visitors; and it was open again on this occasion.
The church here dates back to the 14th century, but was rebuilt in 1877 with materials used from a previous structure. St Giles consists of square west tower with small pyramid cap, south porch and nave, which runs seamlessly through to the chancel. The church grounds are left to grow wild on the east side, with sheep grazing in glorious rolling countryside off to the west.
A quiet peaceful scene with hardly a soul about. I mentioned on another page about how thousands of people would have made pilgrimage to Walsingham to pray for deliverance from the black death of 1348. Many would have found their way to Houghton St Giles; what tragic times those must have been!
The interior is pretty much Victorian, dating from the restoration of the late 1870's. Rows of Victorian pews lead to the medieval rood screen. The walls are whitewashed and the stations of the cross line the walls. There is no chancel arch here, the whole of the interior being a single unit, with nave and chancel separated by the screen.
The three light east window depicts the crucifixion. To be fair, this is not my most favourite depiction of this scene. The background colours are vibrant but the representations of Mary and John are quite wooden and have strange facial expressions and features.
A depiction of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is a memorial window. Jesus has long flowing red hair, looking distinctly un Jewish. The lamb that He carries looks directly and perhaps accusingly as the onlooker! There is also stained glass depicting St Giles, who was a hermit who lived in solitude from other humans but who had a deer as company. There is also a statue of St Giles against the north wall of the chancel.
The rood screen is a gem! It dates from the 15th century and is unusual in that it has six depictions of female characters to the north side and six male figures to the south. The marks of the 16th century reformers can still be seen with the faces on these images being defaced, It is interesting to see the various levels of damage inflicted by the reformers. Not all have the same level of destruction on them. Some images have just had the faces lightly scratched over; in others the damage is much greater. I recall seeing a seven sacrament font in which all of the carvings were chiseled away, leaving just the ghostly shadow of what was there before, At Loddon, across the county, faces looking upwards at Jesus during the ascension have had their eyes punched out. Some destruction by the reformers appears almost half hearted; in others the onlooker could almost still feel the hatred! The destruction here is quite bad with faces mostly scratched away completely.
Interestingly, on a panel illustrating St Anne instructing the Virgin Mary to read, the face of St Anne is scratched away almost entirely, curiously with the exception of one eye, whilst Mary's face is just very lightly scratched. This reminded me of a seven sacrament font seen at Little Walsinghan a day or two earlier. The eighth panel depicts the crucifixion. It is interesting to see that the cross is bare, Jesus having been removed. John, standing to the right of the cross as we look at it is without head, but the depiction of the Virgin Mary is pretty much untouched! Fascinating, the mindset of the reformers.
Heading towards the coast I visited Wighton, and the church of All Saints. Wighton is some seven and a half miles north of Fakenham and four miles south of Wells Next The Sea. Walsingham, a page for which is included in this site, is three miles off to the south. Set close to the main road which runs through the village the church is a commanding sight. I stayed at a bed and breakfast in neighbouring Warham a few years ago and there are some lovely long distance views of All Saints to be had from Warham village.
Fond memories of visiting Wighton for the first time before I started photographing churches; visiting an aunt who lived in the village and hoping to take in Wighton's scarecrow festival. I arrived at roughly the same time as a terrific thunderstorm and spent my whole time there sitting in my aunts living room while the rain lashed down. A lovely, peaceful village.
All Saints consists of perpendicular west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, double decker south porch and chancel. The nave was reconstructed during the 15th century, with the work overseen by James Woderove, one of the most important mason architects of the day. The onlooker might notice that the flints on the tower look crisper than on the rest of the structure. This is due to the tower being rebuilt. The original tower, from 1300, fell in a storm in 1965 and this replacement tower was provided by a Canadian businessman who has relatives buried in the church grounds. The new tower was completed in 1976.
I have never found the church here closed to visitors; moving inside it is bright and welcoming, even on a dull day outside, the six clerestory windows to north and south doing their job; this is a small village church on a large scale! The village population was in the mid 200's at the time of the 2011 census and I daresay that it has never been all that high. The churches were not built for the size of the population of the parish, they were built on a grand scale to reduce the time that the donor and family had to spend in purgatory following death, the religion of this country being catholic prior to the reformation.
There is not a great deal of stained glass here, which helps the lighting situation on a dull day. Scattered throughout the nave are individual panels depicting Saints. They are depicted with symbols, sometimes detailing the manner of their martyrdom and I have listed these on a separate page on this site so that I could have a closer look at their symbols.
The five light east window is of clear glass. The sanctuary is plain and tasteful; the altar just having a single cross on it. Four large candlesticks support a plain curtain which surrounds the altar on three sides. Standing at the chancel and looking towards the west, there is no tower arch, just a solid wall.
There is a little 15th century stained glass here. Two bare chested angels, wings curled tightly against them, can be seen in one window; in another four angels play lyra's. Interestingly, one of these musicians is left handed. Interesting as those who were left handed were often looked down on in medieval times; and were more likely to be accused of witchcraft.
There are two grotesques, happily retired in the nave, one of which pulls open its mouth in medieval gesture of insult, these no doubt previously being on the tower when it fell.
The font is interesting, as with the font as Fakenham it has the trinity shield and items of Christ's passion. This one also has scallop shells, a symbol of Christian pilgrimage and the keys to the Kingdom of heaven.
Moving outside, and the wind was gusting and rain was imminent. As I was walking towards the east of the church I disturbed a mother hen who had around a dozen chicks safely under her wings. Refusing to pose for a photograph they fled north at speed!
There are some gloriously carved 18th century gravestones to the south of the nave, featuring the deaths head; a carving of a human skull designed to remind the onlooker that Man is mortal and will die.
One of these is winged; with this symbolisibng the flight of the soul to heaven' Another has the skull set above a human bone, this being another symbol of mortality. Close by is a depiction of an hour glass, which is winged; tempus fugit, time flies. The sands of time have run out for the deceased, who in this case was a mere 17 years old and the message is clear, live a good Christian life and do not be caught lacking when your own time comes. In days where life expectancy was low, this could come sooner than you might think!
I arrived at Wells Next The Sea, looking forward to lunch! The churches in this part of North Norfolk have not fared well over the years. The church of St Mary at Little Walsingham burned down in 1961, the chancel at St Peter, Great Walsingham lost its chancel centuries ago, All Saints Wighton, as mentioned earlier saw its tower fall (thankfully away from the church) in 1965. The church of St Nicholas here at Wells Next The Sea burned down in 1879 after the church was struck by lightning. The tower and the exterior walls were left standing; with the church being rebuilt and reopened by 1883.
The weather had turned by the time that I reached this delightful North Norfolk seaside town. The original plan was to sit outside a tea room on Staithe Street, the very narrow main shopping thoroughfare and then off to the church of St Nicholas. The rain put a stop to that and the tea room was packed out so it was straight off to the church.
The church of St Nicholas consists of perpendicular west tower, which is battlemented and buttressed, with clock in blue and gold set to the west face, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories south porch, north west vestry and chancel. Some decent long range views of the church are to be had on the long walk on the sea defences from the beach to the town; the tower standing proud over this exquisite little coastal town, with the added bonus of possibly seeing a train of alpacas with handlers in tow, for which the town had a reputation, at least pre covid!
As one would expect, given the severity of the fire that affected this church in 1879, virtually the whole of the interior is Victorian. A delicately carved late 15th to early 16th century door to the north wall of the chancel did survive the fire; winged creatures are interspersed between floral designs.
There is not a great deal of stained glass here but a three light window depicts the Madonna and child in the central panel, with St Nicholas to the left as we look at it, St Christopher to the right. St Nicholas is portrayed with three symbols associated to him. They are the Bishops miter and crozier (staff) and he carries a ship, this symbolizes the close association St. Nicholas has with sailors, ships, and the sea. A very relaxed looking St Christopher balances the infant Jesus on his shoulder as he carries Him across a river.
The fine six light east window, and the tracery is all of clear glass. Wooden Victorian pews line the nave but the chancel is stacked out in folding chairs. This is a very large church but possibly the congregation can be housed on service days in the chancel. I was interested to see some books for sale by an author who appeared to be on the clergy of the church here. A book explaining the Psalms purchased I ventured a look outside, deciding if it was worth looking around the grounds in the rain, fortunately it had stopped.
The church grounds here have been partially cleared, with many stones now leaning against the outside walls of the grounds. Some of the more interesting gravestones are still in situ though. To be honest though the most important stone is now safely inside, mounted on to the west wall of the south porch. This is the stone to John Fryer, who was Master of the Bounty, this ship being famed for the mutiny of 1789. The 1962 film of this event starred Marlon Brando as Fletcher Christian with Eddie Byrne playing the part of John Fryer.
Obviously, we are in a coastal town here which will have seen its fair share of shipwrecks over the centuries. One eighteenth century stone has a lovely carving of a sailing ship on it; another though captured my interest as it shows a ship going down, the ship at a precarious angle as it sinks.
In amongst the usual human skulls and hour glasses we also see here a serpent with its tail in its mouth. This is an ouroboros, an often used symbol for eternity. In this case it is wrapped around an hourglass. Two contrasting symbols here with the hourglass, a symbol of mortality through the passing of time, being circled by a symbol for eternity.
...and to close, just a glimpse of the south east corner of the church of All Saints, East Barsham. The sheep were moving at quite a lick to be honest and I exited quite quickly, despite having lived in a farming village for my entire life and being 98 percent sure that they would have been harmless.
Animals can be an occupational hazard! Memories of being trapped for a brief time inside a church in Northamptonshire with a friend by an angry dog and the episode of the psychotic horse at Great Gidding, Cambridgeshire, this one being with the sane friend!