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Church Post Code  PE32 2DQ

Open to visitors

Visited April 2021

It was a fine, sunny and warm Saturday morning, early April 2021 and it was the start of what was to be a full day churchcrawling in Norfolk; exploring churches between Swaffham and Dereham. We had started out from the west of Peterborough fairly early and according to Google maps it was exactly 60 miles to Little Dunham out first point of call.

Google suggested that I should have been able to have cycled this in five hours. As always, Google maps appear to over estimate my abilities these days on the cycle; with the proposed time being highly optimistic but remaining untested!

Little Dunham can be found some six miles to the north east of Swaffham, with Dereham some eight miles away to the east. The neighbouring village of Great Dunham is a mile and a half away to the north, with this page looking at the churches in these two villages. Both Little and Great Dunham were mentioned in the Domesday Survey of 1086, with the figures for both being combined. There was no church of priest mentioned here in either at that time.

Little Dunham recorded a population of 314 at the time of the 2021 census, with the church of St Margaret to be found at the very north west of the village, standing isolated a little from the rest of the village.


The church grounds were a delight, with daffodils in flower throughout on this beautifully warm April morning. The church that we see today consists of west tower, nave with north aisle, south porch and chancel.

Most of the church dates from the 13th century, with the tower dating from the 15th century. The north aisle here would at one point have extended out to the east end of the chancel, forming a north chapel.

Taking a look at the exterior, the perpendicular square west tower is heavily buttressed at the western end, with the buttresses ending at the belfry stage; with stair turret to the south east corner. There is a doorway and a three light window to the western face of the tower, but the remainder is quite plain with just a two light window on each side of the belfry stage. The top of the upper stage looked as if it might have been repaired at some point back in time. Interesting that John L’Estrange in his Victorian study of Norfolk church bells, published in 1874, noted that a faculty had been secured for the sale of two of the three bells as the ‘ancient steeple’ was insecure and unable to support the weight of three bells.


The south porch has a very faded slate sundial over the doorway and those entering through the south door will note a female head in a quatrefoil shape over the door. There are no real identifying features but it is logical I daresay that it would be for St Margaret, after whom the church is dedicated.

Over to the north there is a recess on the outside north wall of the chancel. This would have been the piscina for the former north chapel, showing that the Mass was taken at an altar here in the past.

Moving inside, there was a lovely light quality inside, as the early morning sun streamed in through the south windows. There is no chancel arch here, with nave flowing straight in to chancel; the north arcade is of six bays with three of these being the nave arcade, with the other three being the chancel arcade, with two most eastern bays of the chancel arcade now bricked up with a window added.


The three bay nave arcade has quatrefoil piers and circular capitals, with two of the piers resting on large circular bases. The north aisle has an altar at its east end, with three light east window of clear glass.

 The west window is of three light and clear glass; the font is medieval and came in from another church, and has finely carved human heads around the base of the bowl.

There are a couple of large consecration crosses to be seen here. When the church was first constructed, or when there was a period of construction, the church had to be blessed by the Bishop; in effect making the new church or restored church holy. To do this the Bishop blessed the church with holy oil, 12 times inside and 12 times outside. Where the oil was applied, a cross was painted on.

Moving in to the chancel, the altar is plain and simple, with just a vase of daffodils at either end and a cross positioned on the ledge of the east window.  Against the south wall of the chancel, in their traditional positions are a sedilia, the seating for the priests during the mass; which here takes the form of a window ledge. To the east of this is a piscina, in which the Holy Vessels used during the Mass would be washed.


The east window is of three lights and contains stained glass from the late 1860’s; brightly coloured, this depicts the nativity, the crucifixion and the ascension with two angels with wings unfurled in the tracery each holding out a crown of victory.

The only other stained glass here dates from 1885, and is a memorial window to one, Edward Hare, the Rector’s son who died fighting in the Sudan in 1885. In this depiction, Edwards kneels before Jesus, dressed for battle. Jesus holds out a crown to him, with Revelation Chapter 2 verse 10 reading ‘Be faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life’.

A couple of ledger slabs are of interest. A stone to Ellen the daughter of William and Mary Nelson records that she passed away in 1736 aged 18 years; a reminder of the hard lives and low life expectancy that people endured at that time; even for those with enough wealth to afford a slab inside a church! Another slab, to Mary her mother, shows the human skull, a symbol of the mortality of Man, along with leaves of a plant; life carries on in the midst of death!

These stones were to relatives of Admiral Lord Nelson with a memorial brass to Charles Nelson, son of the Rector John Nelson, being cousin of the Admiral.

One of the most intriguing things to be seen here is a carving of what appears to be a human man’s head with bull’s horns, which I have not seen the like of before.



Church Post Code PE32 2LJ

Open to visitors

We moved on, just over a mile to the north, to Great Dunham and the church of St Andrew. The church is set back a little from the main road which runs through the village. Approaching the church from the west, there is a delightfully rural feel here; an attractive setting, little changed over the years. The daffodils were out in force again here and this early in the spring the trees were for those most part still skeletal. It was quiet and peaceful; and I relished the first real warmth of the year after what had been a cool start to the spring.

At one point there were two medieval churches in Great Dunham, with the church of St Mary once standing 100 metres to the south west of St Andrew. It was recorded as still standing in 1500 but nothing of it remains today, with its altar stone being moved to St Andrew.

There is great history in this village, with evidence of Roman occupation; and some reused Roman stone is used as dressing throughout the exterior in the church that we see today.


The church here is best known for its Saxon origins, dating back to the late 11th century, with claims that this is the most complete Saxon church in Norfolk. Given that no church was recorded here in 1086, the date for the founding of this church is liable to be just after this date.

The church that we see today consists of central tower, nave, south porch and chancel. The tower dates from the late 11th century and is pretty much unaltered from that time with the exception of the addition of the parapet during the 15th century. The tower windows are Saxon, with round headed double splayed windows; these being a type of early window where the glass is positioned in the centre of the wall thickness, with the surrounding walls being cut away inside and out, to direct more light in to the building.

The visitor entering from the west will see a triangular Saxon doorway built in to the west wall of the nave, which would have been the original entrance to the church before the south porch was built. The nave is very tall, as is the way with Saxon structures.

The south porch is a little battered and bruised, with red bricked buttresses to west and east; with small empty image niche over the doorway.


Looking at the church from the east, there is the outline of the original chancel roofline against east wall of the tower. This shows that the original roofline was taller; this fitting in with the generally tall nature of Saxon buildings.

Moving inside, again there was a beautiful light quality inside on what was turning in to a glorious spring morning. The interior of the nave shows the work of the Victorian restorers, with the pews and flooring all dating from that period. The nave walls are painted white, with shallow blind arcading along the walls. Over to the south, alongside the finely carved Jacobean pulpit is a piscina; a reminder of the days when an altar would have been set up and the Mass given out from there.


The central tower arches are semi circular, and are contemporary with the building of the tower in the late 11th century. Looking towards the west of the nave, the three light west window is of clear glass. The octagonal medieval font is badly damaged and depicts the four evangelists on four of the panels, with angels surrounding the bottom of the bowl. In amongst the damaged panels we see what remains of a pieta, with Mary the mother of Jesus cradling his body after the crucifixion.

Stepping inside the chancel the altar contains and single cross and two candlesticks. A medieval piscina is set in to its usual position against the south wall. A finely carved oak reredos, which would date from the Victorian restoration here, sits behind the altar.

The east window is of three lights and contains a stained glass depiction of the risen Christ, dressed in white with white light pulsating out from him; wounds visible, with Abraham and Andrew looking on. Abraham carries a spear and Andrew, after who this church is dedicated, is easily recognisable, carrying a saltire cross, with this denoting the manner of his martyrdom. The symbols of the four evangelists surround this scene, whilst up in the tracery the Holy Spirit descends in the form of a dove; with below this two golden haired angels, with blue wings unfurled, hold out their hands in blessing.


There are a few finely carved gravestones in the church grounds here, with one in particular catching the eye. The stone is to one Jemima Dunger who died in 1795 aged 18 years. Her epitaph is partially sunken below ground but the first two lines read ‘O here she lies whose deeds delivered joy. Her body’s here her soul is far above’. A distant memory of another young life lost in what were very harsh times. Worth noting as well that most wouldn’t have had the means for a gravestone; how much worse would things have been for those that lived in poverty!

Two fine churches to start the day’s churchcrawl; a crawl which promised much and lived up to expectations. Around 15 churches visited on the day, with the vast majority being open. We headed north towards Litcham, before heading clockwise towards Dereham, ending the afternoon at Yaxham to the south of Dereham. A fine day out, in a beautiful area in a glorious county! This is why I do what I do!

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