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Church Post Code PE32 2AE

Open to visitors

Visited April 2021


It was a warm Saturday afternoon in April 2021, and a return visit to the church of St James, Castle Acre. A previous trip had been made on a cold foggy morning in December 2020; with the church open to visitors that day. Covid at that time was a real problem, and the second national covid lockdown had ended a few days previously, being replaced by three tier system (later to become a four tier system). Norfolk was in the lowest tier and we were good to go!

The three churches in the Acres were doing their best that December to ensure that there was always a church open for those who had a need; alternating their open days so that one of the three was open each day. A few months down the line, covid was still an unwelcome presence but there were far fewer restrictions and this April Norfolk churchcrawl was just about the first time that things resembled how they had been in pre covid times.


Castle Acre was an important place in the past. Geographically, it is placed on the Peddars Way, a Roman road which ran from London to Brancaster. The church of St James has the ruins of a priory to the south west, and the remains of a castle to the east. The main road through the village runs through one of the gatehouses to the castle.  Both priory and gatehouse are looked after by English Heritage. The village sign shows a representation of what the priory would have looked like pre reformation, a monk at the foot of the sign enveloped in frost covered spiders web on that original visit.

 The church of St James sits by the side of the main road, a long path leading up to the north porch. The church open sign was out. The trees had still to develop their leaves but there were clumps of daffodils in bloom throughout the grounds. It had been a tough winter but warmer, better times were close by.

This is a very large church. Most of the church that we see today dates from the 15th century, but there has been a church on this site since the end of the 12th century.  Norfolk is a county of large churches, many built on the profits from the wool trade, a rich county in its day; with Norwich once being England’s second city behind London. In those pre reformation Catholic days, those of wealth would build a large church to the glory of God, but also to lessen the time that the donor and their family would spend in purgatory after their deaths.


There was hand sanitiser on entry and unrestricted movement inside the church; different from the visit of the previous December when the chancel was out of bounds to visitors. Walls are whitewashed and it was bright and welcoming inside, with the sun streaming in through the clear glass windows to the south.

The wine glass pulpit is a superb piece of work, thought to date from around 1440, and features panels depicting the four Latin Doctors of the Catholic Church and two panels for the donors. The east window is of clear glass; the altar has a golden cloth, a liturgical colour used during the Easter period.


There is a medieval rood screen here, which has been painted over, possibly in Victorian times, but still bears the marks of the reformers. Rood is an Anglo Saxon word for cross. There would have been a screen, separating nave from chancel. This would be painted with depictions of saints and apostles. An upper tier, the rood loft, would have had a wooden carving of a cross, with Mary and John standing alongside. A staircase led up to this loft and a close look at the chancel arch shows a door high up to the south which would have allowed access to this upper tier.

Rood lofts were hated by the 16th century reformers, being seen as idolatrous and destroyed accordingly. Lower down the depictions of saints were defaced, with evidence of this still to be seen today.

The depiction of St James, with scallop shell on his hat; after which the church is dedicated, has had his eyes punched out. This reminded me of a depiction of the resurrection as Loddon which I saw a few years ago. The eyes were punched out on every figure there. The onlooker can almost still feel the anger that went in to this 16th century destruction!

Close by St Peter, holding the keys to the Kingdom of Heaven, has had his face crossed out. To the right of St Peter as we look at it, is a depiction of St Andrew, holding saltire cross. His face has also been crossed out but there are many puncture wounds on this panel and the church guide suggests that this is lead shot; but by accident, as someone attempted to clear birds from inside the church and not for any spiritual reason.

The depiction of St John shows him holding a goblet, out of which a serpent is rising. Christian legend states that John was given poison in wine whilst at Ephesus. Before drinking, John prayed over the wine and the poison came out in the form of a serpent.



Church Post Code PE32 2AD

Open to visitors

Visited April 2021


We headed off a short distance to the south west, to the church of St George, South Acre, which had been closed the previous December. South Acre is to be found five miles north of Swaffham; the river Nar flows close by. The population in the census of 2001 was a mere 32!

That December day was bitterly cold, with visibility poor due to early morning fog. What a difference on the return! The warmest day of the year to date, and a relaxing of restrictions leaving us free to travel again; with many taking the opportunity to do so. Castle Acre was bustling, here though, it was quiet and peaceful; the daffodils were out and the bees were hard at work.


As mentioned, there is very little left of South Acre as a village, with just a scattering of houses alongside this beautiful medieval church. The church of St George consists of west tower, which is battlemented and buttressed, with nave, north aisle, north porch and chancel. There is no clerestory. The main road through the village runs to the north of the church and entry to the church is via the north porch. The remains of a churchyard cross stand to the north of the grounds, close to the main road, this thought to date from the 14th century and having a Grade II Listing in its own right.

The church here is known mainly for a fine monument to Sir Edward Barkham, who died in 1634. The monument is against the north wall of the north chapel and is closed off to visitors; a locked metal fence keeping it secure. It is, however, visible through a squint in the north wall of the chancel.


Sir Edward, dressed in armour and also wearing the robe and chains of the Lord Mayor of London, which post he held in 1621, lays recumbent alongside his wife. He wears an elaborate ruff and holds what could be a prayer book, which is held slightly open. From my viewpoint in the chancel, all that I can see of his wife are her feet

Underneath, are five children, three girls and two boys, with the figures at prayer. Curiously, the figures are not all looking straight in front of them as you would expect. One of the girls looks out to her right, in the general direction of the altar in the chancel next door.  One of the male figures looks to be peering over the shoulder of his brother at something.

In between the male and female figures is a charnel cage, in which are carved skulls and bones. I saw similar a few years previously at Stratton Strawless, also in Norfolk. The use of the skull and human bones is a statement to the onlooker as to the transitory nature of human life. Onlooker, be prepared ; live a good Christian life, be at peace with God and do not be caught short when your own time comes.

Above the recumbent figures, a depiction of a female figure holds a laurel wreath symbolising victory; the victory here being over death. To counter that, on the opposite side of the monument is a shrouded skeleton, the shroud is tied at the top but is open so that the full length of the skeleton can be seen. Again, be prepared as you will go the way of the deceased, and in times of low life expectancy. It might be later than you think. This message is hammered home still further with a winged hourglass; tempus fugit time flies!


    Approaching the entrance to the north chapel there is a recumbent effigy of a knight in armour, hands raised in prayer. This is thought to be Eudo Hersick, who fought in the Crusades and dates from the 12th century The chancel is spacious and plain; clear glass in the east window and the alter, which can be reached by climbing three steps, is itself decorated simply with a single cross and nothing else. There is no reredos.  At the west end, a medieval screen separates nave from tower arch, a couple of vertigo inducing ladders at the west end head up to the ringing chamber It was good to see a consecration cross and some interesting wooden carvings includes, for whatever reason, a large depiction of a snail!

It was time to move on; the intention being to spend the rest of the day enjoying the warmth and taking a look at churches in the Great Massingham Benefice off to the north. This was going to be a good churchcrawl!



Church Post Code PE32 1UB

Open to visitors

Visited December 2020


We visited the church of All Saints, West Acre in December 2020, on another dull morning. I had checked online and the church here was due to be open that day as the benefice continued to ensure that one of their churches was open each day. This was a church that was not revisited in the April of the following year.

The visitor, walking towards the north porch at All Saints, West Acre will see a carving of a human skull peering down at them from above the porch; the same message that was seen at South Acre; be prepared! Those looking up will probably note that the church clock has the wording “Watch and Pray” instead of numerals.

There was a priory at West Acre, with the ruins of the gatehouse to be seen immediately to the west of the church.  The church of All Saints dates back to the 14th century, but a repositioned carving in the north porch is older than that and may have come from the nearby Priory, which was founded as far back as 1100.


The church here is a fairly basic structure of west tower, nave, north porch, large north transept and chancel. There are no aisles or clerestories.

We in the depth of the Norfolk countryside here; it was really quiet  with just a few birds singing; probably making the effort to keep warm with not a soul about in all the time I was there. West Acre appeared to be closed on this cold winter morning and I didn’t blame it!

It was good to see the church open, with this benefice trying it’s best to keep their doors open in the most difficult of circumstances.


 The east window is of four lights with a stained glass depiction of the annunciation central. ‘Doubting’ Thomas appears to the left of the Angel Gabriel, with his traditional symbols of spear and carpenter’s set square. The carpenter’s set square signifies his trade as a builder and the spear symbolises the manner of his martyrdom.

 He also appears as one of four scenes below, with the risen Christ asking Thomas to feel his wounds; then to stop doubting and start believing!

The other three scenes accompanying this are the nativity, with three golden haired angels at prayer over the manger, John the Baptist baptising Jesus and the crucifixion, with Mary and John in their usual positions alongside the cross; both curiously expressionless.

More expressive is another depiction of the same close by. This time John has moved around to Mary’s side of the cross; Mary is distraught and John helps to steady here. Three angels fly above with one at prayer and two covering their eyes unable to look!


It was good to be able to travel again after the lifting of the second national lockdown a few days previously. The lighting was poor and we were finding, logically, a lot more closed churches than we would have normally found in this most friendly and hospitable of counties. It was good to be out though; perhaps we appreciate things more once they have been taken away from us for a while. We headed off, in the vague general direction of the coast, eventually ending up at Ringstead in failing light.

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