CHURCHES IN THE BURNHAMS
Early October 2021 and a four night, five day stay in Norfolk. The plan was to stay in Heacham and hire a cycle; spending a few days exploring the villages in the area. However, it didn't turn out that way with rain and strong winds forecast during my stay. Plan B was to take a taxi out to the Creakes, spending a day visiting the churches at North and South Creake, as well as the abbey at the former. This didn't happen either due to the petrol crisis.
Plan C was to visit the churches from Kings Lynn to Wells Next The Sea, and inland towards Fakenham, using the Coastliner bus. The second day of my trip was scheduled to be wet all day but there was a couple of hours of dry weather during the late afternoon and I hastily decided to head towards Burnham Market and re-visit the churches in the immediate area.
I started off with a visit to the church of St Clement at Burnham Overy, moving on to All Saints at Burnham Ulph then the short distance to St Mary at Burnham Westgate, these latter two being at the east and west ends of Burnham Market respectively. After that it was a revisit to one of my favourite churches in Norfolk, the church of St Margaret at Burnham Norton before ending the afternoon in fading light at the ruins of the Priory church of St Mary, Burnham Norton.
The Burnham's, and the area in general to be honest, has a reputation, at least pre covid, as being an area of open and welcoming churches. So it proved to be on this occasion with all churches being open to visitors; with 21 out of 23 churches visited during this stay being open.
BURNHAM OVERY : CHURCH OF ST CLEMENT
Church Post Code PE31 8HU
Open to visitors
Visited October 2021
Burnham Overy is a small village a mile or so north eastish of Burnham Market. A scattering of houses surrounding the 12th century church of St Clement. A mile or so off to the north is Burnham Overy Staithe, where it is said that Horatio Nelson learned to row and sail a dinghy at the age of 10, two years before he joined the navy. The public house at Overy Staithe is called the 'Hero' in his memory. A mile or so away to the south east is Burnham Thorpe, the birthplace of Horatio Nelson, whose father Edmund was the rector of the church there.
The church here was cruciform, with north and south transepts, each of which are no longer with us. The church that we see today consists of central tower, nave with south aisle, south porch and chancel. The north transept was demolished whilst the south transept was incorporated in to the south aisle. Approaching the church from the south, the battlemented parapet of the tower, with lantern top, stands above some delightful stone cottages, the base of the medieval village cross standing on a small green. A delightful scene, despite the poor lighting and threatening weather.
Moving inside, the nave is pretty much cut off from the chancel. There is no arch to the central crossing, just a normal sized doorway, leaving almost no view of the chancel from the nave. A small altar is set up to the east of the nave, close to this doorway and tables and chairs are set out in the chancel itself. It looks as if the services are held in the nave with possibly refreshments served in the chancel. The chancel would also make a really good area for meetings.
The visitor entering in through the south door is greeted by a wall painting of St Christopher who carries the infant Jesus on his shoulder. An interesting floor slab from the mid 17th century, in memorial to Jane Harris who died in 1648, shows two angels holding a crown of victory; the victory here being over death. Jane is, we are told 'Expecting the resurrection of the just'.
Above the doorway leading from the nave is a board which has on it the 10 commandments, the creed and the Lord's prayer, along with the names of the church wardens of the day, this being dated 1745 and 1748.
On leaving I took in the church grounds briefly. A headstone close to the south porch is of the highest quality and, with the exception of its neighbouring stone, is unlike any that I have seen in this area. Two beautifully carved skulls have an angel and crossed bones beneath. A memorial to those of means. Over to the south west of the grounds is a reused stone which just has the crudely carved details of the deceased; Isaac Overman with a date of death that could be 1717. A memorial to those without means but surely carved with as much love as the former!
BURNHAM ULPH : CHURCH OF ALL SAINTS
Church Post Code PE31 8HQ
Open to visitors
With the rain still holding off, and if anything the sky starting to clear a little, I made it the mile or so to Burnham Market itself, and the church of All Saints, Burnham Ulph. Burnham Market has the nickname 'Chelsea On Sea' due to the number of affluent Londoners who have second homes here. The modern day Burnham Market is an amalgamation of three villages, Burnham Sutton, Ulph and Westgate. There is little left of the church of St Ethelbert, Burnham Sutton; but the other two churches are still standing and open for worship.
The church of All Saints is to be found at the eastern end of the town, tightly hemmed in by houses but with spacious and interesting church grounds. This simple, two cell structure is thought to date back to before the start of the 13th century. A simple structure of nave and chancel with small bellcote to the west end and south porch.
The interior has much Victorian restoration. with pews, organ and pulpit all seeming to date from that time. It was surprisingly bright inside considering how dull it was outside. The lack of stained glass here certainly helped in that respect. The chancel arch here dates back to the end of the 12th century, some ancient carved human heads look down on the congregation. A red carpet runs from west to east. The chancel is plain and simple; like the rest of the interior, the altar has just a cross and two candlesticks. Less is more. No bells and whistles here; just a simple and pleasant place to worship.
There were a couple of antique prints for sale in the church, which I purchased. One of them, dated 1817, was particularly interesting as it shows the church, as it was then, with just a scattering of houses to the east and nothing at all to the west apart from what might be a barn and a windmill. The church structure itself is pretty much the same; the priests door is still bricked up, the wall memorial is still there; admittedly the windows in the chancel are different due to some Victorian restoration but for the most part the church stands unchanging whilst life goes on around it!
BURNHAM WESTGATE : CHURCH OF ST MARY
Church Post Code PE31 8DH
Open to visitors
I walked the few hundred yards to the church of St Mary, Burnham Westgate, past the busy village centre and is selection of high quality shops for those with deep pockets. The church of St Mary is more rural than its close neighbour; away from the village centre a little and surrounded by trees to the north.
The church here consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles, south porch and chancel. Much of the church dates back to the 14th century with extensive Victorian restoration in the early 1870's. The tower is very heavily buttressed in red brick, to the west and south sides. The tower is battlemented and there is a series of carvings in small image niches at the foot of the buttresses. Many of these I was struggling to identify, but St Andrew is present with saltire cross and what appears to be St John with chalice. The church clock in the traditional colours of blue and gold sits on the east face of the tower.
Moving inside, the church was decked out with flowers and ribbons, the smell was lovely. Obviously a wedding had taken place or was due to take place. There is some interesting stained glass to be seen here. The east window features the Madonna and child, a fine early 20th century design.
Elsewhere, Victorian glass includes a two panel depiction of Jesus; one panel showing the raising of Jairus' daughter, with the other panel showing Jesus surrounded by children, with one child cradled in His arm. One other window shows a golden haired Jesus carrying His cross. Jesus looks anything but Jewish and shows none of the signs of having been scourged prior to the crucifixion. I can understand that the more graphic elements of the crucifixion are omitted but there is the danger that the message is diluted totally by sanitising it too much!
There are a few interesting 16th century brasses and, sadly hidden away under the tower arch is a recumbent effigy of a man, hands raised in prayer and feet resting on a dog. This used to rest in the north aisle before being moved to its present spot in 1823.
The church grounds are of interest. On one 18th century gravestone, a depiction of two cherubs holding a crown is identical to that seen on a floor slab at Burnham Overy. The crown of victory: death is beaten, a testimony to the faith of the deceased, dead some 250 years or more.
Another stone, dating from the mid 18th century, has the deaths head; two human skulls with single bone underneath each, symbols of the mortality of man. An hourglass is present between the two; tempus fugit, time flies! It could be later than you think so live a good Christian life, and trust in God so that you are not caught lacking when your time comes. Interesting to think that this stone had probably been here for more than 50 years when the drawing of neighbouring All Saints was produced in 1817!
BURTON NORTON : CHURCH OF ST MARGARET
Church Post Code PE31 8ES
Open to visitors
I was looking forward in particular to seeing the church of St Margaret, Burnham Norton again. Over the years that I have been doing this; the church here has grown to become one of my favourites. There is something about round tower churches and some of my most treasured churchcrawling memories involve them. Hales, Titchwell (which I was to revisit the following day) Gayton Thorpe, Sedgeford and Burnham Norton are special to me.
I have made several visits here over the years; in spring with the church grounds full of daffodils, in the heat of summer and biting winter. This was by some way the worst lighting that I had seen it in; but that didn't matter it was good to be here again. The church can be found by taking Bellamy's Lane from Burnham Market; the church of St Margaret is around half a mile on, standing alone of high ground, or what passes for high ground in Norfolk! The rest of the village stands off to the north.
With daylight starting to fade I did wonder if the church here would be open to visitors, It was! I have never found this church locked, or any other in the Burnham's to be honest. An open church is an important Christian witness. I have said on several pages on this site that churches needed to be open, where possible, during the pandemic more than any time since World War Two. A chance to take in some peace and quiet, to sit whilst the world inflicts its horrors around it. Many churches were closed, for a variety of reasons, but I suspect without knowing for sure, that the churches in the Burnham's were open again as soon as possible and have stayed that way during these challenging couple of years.
The church consists of west tower, nave with north and south aisles and clerestories, north porch and chancel. The tower dates from the 11th or 12th century, the naves and aisles from the 15th century. The top of the tower is battlemented and very weathered gargoyles surround the tower.
On a clear day there is a good view of the village off to the north with a large windmill off to the east. This was by no means a clear day but they were out there somewhere in the gloom!
The porch here is on the north side; with the village off to the north, albeit a fair distance away! This is a very large church but the area that the congregation use for worship is limited due to a series of screens which in effect cut off the north and south aisles and the most westerly of the pews. The congregation sits in this enclosed space within the nave. A really clever idea which prevents the worshipers getting lost so to speak in a large area. I have not seen this done before like this but the principle is the same as holding the service in the chancel so that there is a body of people sitting close together.
The highlight of the interior here is the mid 15th century wineglass pulpit which has on it paintings of the four doctors of the catholic church, along with two sides having paintings of the donors who paid for it.
It is always interesting to see the marks of the reformers still evident here. The doctors of the church have damage to their faces and hands and curiously the reformers here appear to have taken offence to their hats as well. The donor was Johannes Goldalle and his wife Ketherina. A close look at his image shows that, along with his face being scratched out, there is also what appears to be a small piece of ship graffiti carved across him!
The font is Norman and probably dates to the formation of the church here. There is a rood screen here which dates to a few years later than the pulpit; the painted figures on this now being eligible sadly. A floor slab reads 'Mrs Lidia Thurlow who in fayth and hope of the resurrection while she lived' On one of the walls is a crude piece of graffiti, a small single cell house with a steeply pitched roof with a flag on top. There are two sets of initials but no date. Intriguing!
BURNHAM NORTON CARMELITE FRIARY
Church Post Code PE31 8JA
Ruins - Open to visitors
The light was fading quite quickly now. It had been good to have re-visited some churches and an area that I am very fond of. Before making my way back to Burnham Market itself, and the Coastliner bus back to Heacham, I paid a quick visit to the ruins of the Carmelite Friary at Burnham Norton.
The carmelites were originally hermits who lived on Mount Carmel in the Holy Land from around 1200. War forced them to flee and some arrived in England from 1242, setting up hermitages in mainly remote areas, including Norfolk.
In 1400 there were 15 friars living here. It was closed down in 1538, when the monasteries were dissolved, at which time there were just four living here. Prior to the closure, two of the friars here were accused of planning an uprising against the closure of the monasteries. One, John Peacock, was hung drawn and quartered at Kings Lynn.
The ruins here can be found half a mile or so from Burnham Market, opposite the junior school, and are looked after by the Norfolk Archaeological Trust. The gatehouse remains, substantially intact, along with the west wall of what would have been the church itself.
The top story of the gatehouse would have originally had a chapel in it. The church was still standing during the 19th century, at which point it was used for a time as a farm building. The top of the tower of St Clement, Burnham Overy is visible off in the distance. A pleasing ruin!
It was an enjoyable couple of hours seeing the churches here. Lack of daylight and the threat of rain meant that I didn't get to see Burnham Thorpe on the day. This trip wasn't what was planned when I was originally working out this trip but that is fine. It was good to re-visit places that I have become very fond of over the years and good to see them all open again after all of the problems of the last two years. These problems had not gone away, as I type this in mid October 2021, infection rates are very high and there are rumours of restrictions being reintroduced during the winter. The churches are open though, and as mentioned earlier this is an important Christian witness in these dark times.