NORFOLK (& A LITTLE CAMBS) NOVEMBER 2020
PARSON DROVE, THE WIGGENHALLS & ANMER.

Early November 2020, and it was two days before England went in to a second lockdown. I was offered the chance to head in to Norfolk for the day, so work was rescheduled (Tuesday’s work rescheduled to Saturday just in case any of my customers are reading this) and we took the chance to travel for the last time before lockdown started.

    It is important for me to travel if I can; this has been an important part of my life for the last 15 years, but to do it safely and morally during these times.  This has to be taken in to account when deciding when, where and if we can go.  I live in an area with a very low covid infection rate, and we were heading in to one of the least affected parts of the country. So, mask and hand sanitiser in hand, we went for it!

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The church of St John The Baptist, Parson Drove, Cambridgeshire (redundant)

   It was good to be back in Norfolk again, but we started off in Cambridgeshire, with a visit to the church of St John The Baptist at Parson Drove. This large and impressive church is redundant and is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. The majority of CCT churches have been open since they were allowed to open after the first lockdown and it was good to be able to see inside.

    I am not sure which was worst affected by bat droppings, here or Threddlethorpe All Saints in Lincolnshire. I suspect the former. Amusingly, the bats had even messed on some signs laid out for visitors read up on which kind of bats were living here!  For all its run down condition today, the size of this church suggests past wealth, and to be fair we are close to the area of grand wool churches, with Walpole St Peter just 12 miles away.

Just a couple of things to note, it was interesting to see a fire grate in the chancel. I imagined the faithful feeling the warmth on a cold winters morning in the fens as they went up for communion.  It was also great to see a trinity shield stained glass window in the north aisle, which illustrated what God the Father, God The Son and God the Holy Ghost  are and aren’t!

   The church grounds are, to be fair, completely overgrown now. This is a shame as from a previous visit, I know that there some very important Georgian headstones to be seen here. A small army of volunteers helps the CCT to do their work and there are always going to be more jobs than there are people to do those jobs.

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The church of St Mary Magdalene, Wiggenhall St Mary Magdalene.

   We crossed in to Norfolk, heading for the Wiggenhall’s, four villages all very close to each other, with each village having its own church. Of the four, two of these churches are still used for worship. One is a ruin and one is another cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust.

St Mary Magdalene was first. This beautiful church sits in the centre of the village. The tower dates from the 13th and 14th centuries with the rest dating mainly from the 15th century.  Looking at the church from the south, the architecture is mainly perpendicular. There is no stained glass in the south aisle here, the result being that it was bright and welcoming inside on this gloriously sunny late autumn morning.

The church was open with hand sanitiser to be used on entry and exit and names and contact phone numbers of all visitors to be left. It was good to see that so many people had visited in the previous few days. The south aisle is fitted out as a café, which I imagine, in better times, would make a great focal point for the community. There was no access to the north aisle and the chancel was barricaded off, blocked by a bier, which was probably doing its first job of work for many years! There is some fine and interesting medieval glass to be seen here, in the tracery of the windows of the north aisle. Interesting to also see the remains of a medieval rood screen, which at one point would have been an elaborate affair, separating  nave from chancel, but which now stands at the west end.

 As I mentioned earlier, this was my first visit to Norfolk since the pandemic started. Norfolk is justly proud of its collection of medieval parish churches and pre covid, the majority were to be found open. Here today, with infection rates rising after the summer lull and the country due to lock down again shortly, there was a higher percentage of churches open in Norfolk that any other area visited.  In the previous three months I had found approximately one church in every five open. Here it was one church open in every two. I admit that I have fiddled this figure slightly though. I am including Wiggenhall St Peter as open as I went inside it. The fact that it doesn’t have any doors or a roof is irrelevant!

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Wiggenhall St Peter.

    St Peter was the next church visited. There are complete ruins and incomplete ruins. I photographed a couple of priory ruins in Nottinghamshire earlier in the year which basically just had a single column left still standing. This was a complete ruin though, looked after today by the Norfolk Churches Trust, and it was good to be able to wander around inside. This church is thought to date from the 15th century. The area under the tower arch was out of bounds due to the possibility of falling masonry, the integrity of the tower no doubt affected by a lightning strike in 2013. The roof was still intact here in the 1920’s.

   The third of the Wiggenhall’s on the list was St Mary The Virgin, as opposed to St Mary Magdalene! This is another church maintained by the Churches Conservation Trust. This one though has yet to open up following the first lockdown. It was a shame to see it closed, but it brings home that every church that is open at all other times are open through the efforts of a small army of people, some elderly and at risk possibly during these challenging times. Perhaps the keyholder here, and other places, don’t feel that they want to come out and that is to be respected.  The fabulous monument with Knight and his lady at prayer, and the carved medieval carvings of Saints on the bench end will have to wait for another day.

The church here is set back from the main road, obscured by trees. The visitor walks up a grass path towards the south porch, ancient ivy covered gravestones to either side, the sound of birdsong constant.  A tranquil scene, and one that would probably have remained unchanged for the faithful making their way to this church over hundreds of years.

The church tower is heavily buttressed with the nave and chancel walls being rendered. Finely carved gargoyles look on from the four corners of the tower. One in particular caught my eye. This was a mouth puller, with mouth pulled wide open in a medieval gesture of insult. There are plenty of these about. What caught the eye was the fact that it was, shall we say, anatomically correct in other areas. I feel that the person who carved this should have a long hard look at themselves!

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The  church of St Mary, Wiggenhall St Mary.

We had one more of the Wiggenhall churches to visit before we headed off to the villages around the Sandringham estate. This was the interesting named Wiggenhall St German.  The church here was closed when we arrived, but was open for two four hour periods a week for private prayer.  St Germans parish contains the ruined church of St Peter and the redundant church of St Mary The Virgin within its boundaries.  

The church is situated close to the river Ouse and the bank to the west of the church rises up steeply as it approaches the river, flood defences being particularly important in this area, which has seen serious flooding on many occasions over the centuries. Wiggenhall was badly hit during the great flood of 1953.

It would have been good to have seen inside this one, but again that is for another day, when we are able to travel again. I had a look at Simon Knott’s excellent Norfolk churches site to see what the interior looked of this church looked like, and then pretty much regretted it!  I had a flashback to Jim Bowen, on a Sunday tea time in the late 1970’s saying “Let’s have a look at what you would have won”. Well, what I would have “won” here is some of the finest medieval wood carvings in the country, including a series depicting the seven deadly sins, with the subjects, for whatever reason, depicted standing in a fishes mouth.  This is very much one to revisit at some point!

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The church of St German, Wiggenhall St German.

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The church of St Mary, Anmer. Open and welconing.

Leaving the Wiggenhalls behind us, we aimed for some of the villages on the Sandringham estate. First point of call was Anmer, a small village with royal connections, Prince William and Kate Middleton, having a home at Anmer Hall, this being a belated wedding present from the Queen. I found out this information from the Woman and Home website and that is a first and last visit to that site!

We are deep in to rural Norfolk here. The population of the village is just above 60 according to the last census, and we didn’t see a single person in the time that we were there. Plenty of ducks though, with a large pond to the west of the church containing a large number of very noisy ducks. There were quite a few pheasants about as well, here and in the other villages. What a glorious county!

The church here was open, a friendly sign on the door asking that visitors enjoy the church but to refrain from touching anything whilst inside. Hand sanitiser in the porch and unrestricted movement within the church. It was good to see the church open sign hanging on the gate, welcoming people in.

 When churches first opened for private prayer, there was a discussion on one of the facebook church photography pages, chatting about whether photographers were allowed to go in as well. When I first started travelling again, I had a small amount of anxiety about going in to a church. Perhaps we would not be welcomed, and refused entry if there was a steward on duty. I am a practicing Christian and should be totally comfortable and welcome in any church. But when churchcrawling I am a practicing Christian with a camera and perhaps that is not acceptable to some in the current climate. Well, that was dispelled in Nottinghamshire when I arrived at a church shortly before it was due to open for a private prayer session. I was virtually thrown IN to the church by the church warden who had seen me in the grounds.

There is nothing remarkable about Anmer church itself. It was just a delight to be able to see it. The east window has tinted glass with the reredos depicting the Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end.  The south chapel has some fine quality stained glass illustrating Jesus surrounded by little children. Standing at the chancel and looking towards the west, the west end of the nave is curtained off. Looks like lots of Victorian restoration here.

I enjoyed my time here very much. Sadly, the sun had gone in and there were a few spots of rain in the air. The ducks were still in fine voice as we headed off to Sherborne, and a succession of open churches.