Tuesday 11 September 2012

Norfolk churches: Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham

It’s that time of year when a long, long blog entry doubles as an illustrated begging-bowl for our annual church walk in aid of the Norfolk Churches Trust. Last Saturday we covered 19-plus miles and 12 churches, Methodist chapels and ruins (not the more usual 16 owing to a scheduling hitch which I’ll explain later). Numbering from the first walk back in 2002 marks them down as 111 - 122. There's still some way to go, since as Pevsner notes 659 churches in Norfolk date from before 1700 alone.

The hand of Victorian restoration lies heavy or helpful, according to taste, over all the still-functioning buildings we visited. Multitalented Frederick Preedy, cousin of the le Stranges who were the local big cheeses based in Old Hunstanton, added plain chancels and/or self-designed stained glass in every case. Though by no means hostile to all Victoriana, I can’t be as enthusiastic as the gentleman who has a huge online picture gallery devoted to Preedy’s work throughout England. Let’s remember, though, that without the resurrections of the 19th century many of the churches would have quickly become ruinous, and the grandest we saw is unquestionably the better for the late Victorian salvation of its 1430s steeple.

Peer close enough and there seems to be an anomaly in the top two photos: the clock at All Saints Thornham stands at 10.40, yet I’m claiming it was the end of our trail. So it was, but well after dark, when we knew this rather well-stocked interior would have been locked for at least three hours. So King’s Lynn friend Jill left the car outside Thornham’s Lifeboat Inn, our ultimate destination, and we took a look around the church before catching coasthopper buses to Ingoldisthorpe and the proper start of the walk back.

Inside All Saints we found the lady who was to sign us in sweeping a week’s worth of bat droppings from the sheeted stalls (to see the extremes to which the priority of endangered species over endangered buildings can be taken, see the Toftrees section in last year’s entry). She took some persuading that we were indeed on foot, or about to be, and not velociped-bound, but now there's proof on the form that the original ‘sponsored cycle’ has at last become ‘Ride and Stride’ in honour of our peculiar minority. The bus timetable meant we only had ten minutes to look around, which explains why among medieval poppyhead + figure benchends like this

I missed the poetically carved unicorn and headless mermaid depicted on Simon Knott’s quirky and detailed Norfolk churches site, referenced after the event. Pevsner, Linnell and Wilhelmine Harrod, sketchy guides, had at least alerted me to look out for a post mill – the sails are on the side -

and three survivors from a seven deadly sins sequence, each with a transgresser about to be engulfed in the jaws of hell: here’s gluttonous imbibing.

The late 1400s painted dado of the rood screen, with its sixteen slightly mutilated but well executed figures, merits an upgrading in the revised Pevsner from ‘not without merit’ to excellent; maybe the John Miller (d. 1488) who gave it inspired nameplay in the form of the windmill benchend.

Thornham also boasts an octagonal 15th century font emblazoned with cusped shields

and (you can just see it behind the font to the left) a slice of Elizabethan moralizing on the wall.

The second of our two buses crawled through the straggle of Heacham, where I’d rather hoped we would catch the church’s monument to Pocahontas; some time after her famous rescue of John Smith, she married the local squire, became plain Rebecca Rolfe and lived nearby for a while. Still, this would have been unattractive walking, and our route for the first stretch lay further inland. St Michael Ingoldisthorpe (pronounced ‘Inglethorpe’) is tucked away in the middle of an outlying group of relatively recent houses which must have been built on sold-off church land. We received an ever more ecstatic welcome from the reception committee as not one, not two, but four of us emerged from the trees – the first visitors at 11.45.

Knott waxes lyrical about both the tlc still lavished on the church – by no means ‘redundant’ as the revised Pevsner claims – and the quality of the late 19th and early 20th century glass. There’s certainly a curiosity in the tracery of one chancel window, which depicts local boy Thomas Beckett at his desk before sailing to Canada at the age of 21 where he died in a wood, an unexpected source tells me, after tripping over a log and breaking a kneecap. This bloody silly way to die is discreetly hinted at in the central panel, where young Tom lies asleep rather than dead under a tree clasping his rifle. Knott has better details than my inadequate pocket camera can provide, but this will have to do for a fuzzy hint of the sequence, which ends in a New Brunswick harbourscape with ships.

The objects of antiquity in Ingoldisthorpe Church are a wooden screen, a brass of a sharp-featured Jacobean family and  another octagonal font, this time originally square in its Norman incarnation but altered a century or so later.

We made our way across fields and a farm full of rare breeds, at which point the soaring spire of Snettisham, rebuilt in 1895, joined the body of the church.

Pevsner declares St Mary ‘perhaps the most exciting Dec parish church in Norfolk’, though the competition is limited, and laments the demise of its 40 foot long chancel, demolished in the 17th century; 300 or so years later Preedy did a tidy job on the east end, which had to be pieced together yet again after a zeppelin attack in 1915. A fairly precise Gothic revival replica of St Mary stands tall in Fredericton, New Brunswick, where as we have seen Beckett Junior of Ingoldisthorpe so prematurely expired. Here’s the real thing in its full glory.

The west front with its six-light window is supposed to be the glory; not having the book with me, I didn’t take as much note of that as I should have done. Here sits the great window beneath the nave roof with its ‘sweeping arched braces up to the collar beams’ (Pevsner).

Of the monuments, a late brass to John Cremer, who died in 1610, his wife and seven children, shows the fashion of the times, especially in the big breeches of father and sons

and there’s a fine alabaster effigy of Sir Wymond Carye (d. 1612) recumbent.

The greatest treasure of Snettisham, or Snesham in optional local parlance, is of course lodged not here but in the British Museum – the Iron Age (c.75 BC) hoard of gold, silver and bronze artefacts crowned by the neck ring which has had a magical sound to me since childhood, the ‘Snettisham torc’. Fellow blogger Will Fregosi may be amused to know that it has been fancifully attributed to Boudicca, subject of his latest post, and the hoard assigned to her Iceni. This photo courtesy of Johnbod on Wikimedia Commons.

Walking to the next two churches was sweaty work in the heat of what felt like a blazing August day. There was little shade as we followed the edges of fields, some of them poppy-fringed,

a disused railway track and a stretch of the Roman Peddars Way. The plunge into the cool of St Mary Sedgeford, hidden away in a hollow, was specially welcome, and all the more so since another welcoming lady had ice creams on offer, left over from a village celebration. This was a bonus to the usual offerings of Robinson’s fruit drinks and biscuits. As I mentioned last year, one day we’ll find a Norfolk church where someone has baked a cake or a pie, but that’s ungrateful of me.

Knott warmed especially to Sedgeford Church with its Norman round tower crowned by an octagonal top storey, and so did we. Here was another interior apparently given the stamp of Preedy’s saving hand, but its uncluttered look was more reminiscent of a deconsecrated building looked after by the Churches Conservation Trust. The square Norman font dominates the west end.

There are faint traces of a Saint Christopher wall painting, and fallen corbels rest on window ledges. The literature would have us believe they’re medieval, but they look distinctly Victorian to me; whatever the case, they add character.

18th century headstones dot the churchyard; here’s Old Father Time as a memento mori.

Having interrupted the next overheated slog for lunch in the shade of a hedge, we finally came in sight of Ringstead, a rather attractive village with the church of St Andrew at the top of the hill.

Knott’s amusing tirade against the locked door which most visitors encounter here has a note at the bottom to the effect that his words are ‘not in any way endorsed by the parish’. We had no cause to complain, for this much restored church was open on Ride and Stride day, and a local ancient gave us a lively  commentary on the 15th century brass. More intriguing, perhaps, were the ledger stones to various Fish (or Fysh) wives and husbands, their characterful arms featuring three interlaced, sharp-toothed pike.

Ubiquitous glass by Preedy has at least the interest of St Peter and St Andrew holding the two Ringstead churches.

Only the round tower of St Peter now stands, in the garden of a former rectory. We passed it but – tell it not in Gath, nor to those who sponsored us per church  – couldn’t see it; I suspect trespass would have been necessary. Another ruin, St Andrew, was unspectacularly in evidence at the end of our best walking stretch up to that point, the bird-loud valley of Ringstead Downs. I can give you photographic evidence of the remains, but I’d rather post proof that ‘very flat, Norfolk’ is not always true.

By now our late start was giving us problems. It was well past 5, pumpkin time for Ride and Stride church closure, when we reached St Mary Old Hunstanton, another Preedified edifice in the heart of le Strange territory, and the church was decidedly locked.

What did we miss within? Chiefly a very elaborate 16th century brass to Sir Roger le Strange, but its illustration in the old Pevsner has to be more impressive than the actuality, as we know from the hard-to-make-out masterpieces in St Margaret Kings Lynn.

Moving on, around 6pm we hit Hunstanton proper, Norfolk’s only west-facing seaside resort cannily constructed by the Victorian le Stranges, and duly observed a wall of St Edmund’s Chapel just beyond the lighthouse. ‘Not one motif of any eloquence’, writes Pevsner sternly, and he’s right, but this time I guess it should be shown to prove that we gave at least the outskirts of  'sunny Hunny' a nod.

We were now faced with a dilemma. Should we traipse another half mile into the churchy town centre and the same distance back for the sake of ticking off the exterior of Preedy’s entirely Victorian ‘New’ Hunstanton church along with Methodist, Roman Catholic and Unitarian specimens, or should we proceed directly to our last five-mile stretch along beach and saltmarsh? The consensus was that we only had another hour or so of light, and so long as we found water supplies – which we did, just before the beach – we should press on.  A bathe would have been ideal, but the tide was so far out, and time was against us. So press on we did, leaving Hunstanton behind and heading for Thornham via Holme-next-the-Sea.

A spectacular sunset was promised, and duly materialized, the sun descending as we walked along the sands

and properly setting as we headed into the saltmarsh

until finally it departed, leaving skies and water incarnadine, as we took off our boots and waded a creek to reach the final stretch.

The only sounds were the distant breaking of the waves and the cries of oystercatchers. Finally we negotiated more or less in the dark the mix of boardwalk and sandy path with which the Peddars Way winds through the marshland, having clocked the solid tower of Holme's unexciting St Mary. Then we collapsed into the capacious gastropub interior of the once humble Lifeboat Inn for a generously-portioned fresh fish supper before the drive back to Lynn.

Previous instalments in the church walking saga: 2011 (around East Rudham) here, 2010 (Nar Valley) here, 2009 (Walpoles to Wiggenhalls across the Fens) here and 2008 (King's Lynn and beyond) here. Earlier walks dating back to 2002 were BB (Before Blog).


John said...

What a feat, what pictures, what style! I don't know that part of Norfolk but certainly want to go there now.

Laurent said...

Again so many beautiful old buildings. So interesting carvings on those pews. I am impressed by the long walks at a steady pace if you are to keep with your scheduled program of visits to various churches.
Such energy. I am also amused by the ancient names of places, one wonders how did they ever come up with such names.

Anonymous said...

Can you do some more in June so I can come too? The pictures are beautiful and make me homesick for England! I will send you something of course, as should everyone else too! Just let me know the bank account number!
xxxmuch ;love Sophie

Willym said...

I can tell you how delighted I am to see you back on form for this year's walk. As with last year's entry you make me feel that I am both there with you and very envious that I am not in reality. Welcome back dear friend I am overjoyed to be able to read you again.

David said...

Thanks, all. Laurent, you will gather from the above that the schedule didn't go entirely according to plan. This was mainly due to my suggestion that we start at Ingoldisthorpe rather than Snettisham, plan A, though I can't regret it. I was drawn to the name, which according to 'English Place Names' comes from the Scandinavian name Ingialdr.

Sophie, we shall do more, and not just on the day. Number winging its way to you.

Susan Scheid said...

David: I have been racing around in NYC this week, eagerly looking forward to coming back to this post. First of all, as others have said, "what a feat." 19 miles, did you say you covered in one day? And not just straight mileage, but really getting into these beautiful old churches and taking note of their treasures to share with all of us. We were in Norfolk this July, as you may remember, but I don't think we were in these places. I will say, though, remembering your earlier posts of these walks, my interest in getting inside churches (not something I tend to do) while in England was definitely piqued. And not only to get inside, but to try and understand and really pay attention to what is there. (My attempts, of course, were feeble compared to what you have done here.) I particularly loved the post mill and the glutton. It is just amazing, when you start to look, what all is tucked in the nooks and crannies everywhere. I am definitely going to send off a donation, but want to make sure first that this is the right organization: http://www.norfolkchurchestrust.org.uk/ I will also pass it on to our friends who have a place in Norfolk. As I think Sophie said, wouldn’t it be lovely if we all landed in Norfolk at the same time one day and could walk together (though I quickly add, I wonder if I would be able to make it the whole way—I will surely expose what a wimp I truly am). It is, by the way, likely we will be coming back to England, and particularly to Norfolk, where, also, the Edu-Mate’s brother lives, within the next year or two.

David said...

Hugely appreciated as ever, Sue. Yes, we did 19 miles from 11.45am to 8.45pm, taking time off in each church. The unusual heat made part of the going rather tough, flattish though the terrain was.

As for giving: I sent a round robin to (mostly UK) friends pointing them in this direction and soliciting either just a kind word or a donation sent to me in the form of a cheque made out to 'Norfolk Churches Trust'. I think you can make a general donation on that site, but I'm not sure the church we walk for, All Saints Burnham Thorpe, would benefit. Sophie's doing a bank transfer. E-mail me if you want to know more, or if it's too fiddly, never mind: the thought was certainly there. Thank you again and may we all walk in Norfolk in summer 2013!

Harpers Keeper said...

Wonderful photos!

Will said...

Thanks you for the mention! Tacitus does describe Boudicca as wearing "a great twisted golden necklace, and a tunic of many colors, over which was a thick mantle, fastened by a brooch."

As Heinrich Schliemann ascribed every piece of jewelry he found at Troy to Helen, it's understandable that people would want to find a connection to Boudicca wherever they might -- the dates don't line up, but that's never stopped myth creation!

David said...

Si non e vero, e ben trovato, Signor Will! 'Agamemnon's' death mask is another case in point

As for the pics, Harper's Keeper, I hope they hold those viewers who skim the text...we're always told to keep it snappy on blogs, but if I heeded all the rules about what makes a 'good' blog, I'd not want to carry on with it. Very difficult not to succumb to what one thinks the audience wants to read.

Anonymous said...

Amazing - particularly your sunset photos. I hope you did some gluttonous imbibing to celebrate your achievement

Anonymous said...

Your descriptions are so wonderful David! We were there in March and I dearly wish we had these insights. It really is the most amazing corner of the world. Well done on the campaign. Is there a justgiving type link for those of us who are unable to fathom chequebook, stamp and envelope faff?


Anonymous said...

on a sunny autumn day in London town this springy and evocative prose made me want to go walking....

Anonymous said...

David - wonderful pictures. I wouldn't mind coming with you next year if that is possible. do you have dates? Is it always the same weekend?

Anonymous said...

Wow !! How very interesting and well written. So many churches.

lookng forward to reading next yesars installment already


Anonymous said...

dusaste 103I would have thought that breaking a kneecap was a hideous way to die....poor bloke. beautiful as ever but don't you think that there must have been an awful lot of sinners in Norfolk for it to have so many churches????
Fyshe Wife Foster

Anonymous said...

I have been awe stricken by the dedication, physical effort and... arduous research and aesthetics of this endeavor of yours, dear David. I could only do it on a wheelchair and after 10yrs at a uni dept.,. BUT I enjoyed it thoroughly thanks to your photographs-you must have an exhibition soonest. I shall try to send in some money, which I haven't done immediately as there are formalities which necessitate my actual getting physically there to a (horrid) bank. Keep up the great work. You should be an ambassador of Britain abroad, a roving one, so that many people can profit from this wonderful wisdom and culture of yours. I thank you personally for giving (me) so much. xxxNiki

suzygillett said...

I read last year's pilgrimage with admiration and am very sorry I missed coming along this time too! What a very evocative piece on those quiet corner's of the English countryside I miss seeing.
I'd add a couple of Quaker meeting houses next time around! But the carvings on the benches make me want to sit down and take stock.

Lovely to see that the annual trip is being maintained. love Suzy

Christopher said...

Lovely to hear once again of your epic meanderings in sunny Norfolk. Caroline rhapsodic about the effect of black Norfolk mud on the naked foot. Your photos are sublime: you have a great eye for composition. Christopher

Kate said...

Looks like a wonderful walk. I haven't explored that part of Norfolk yet, but will. Enjoyed your photos very much.


Anonymous said...

Beautifully written and wonderful photos - thank you!

Deborah said...

It sounds as if you had a wonderful time. I'm trying to remember what churches in Norfolk we visited last month...our friend took us to so many fantastic ones -including Snettisham I think. We were suitably generous to Church funds then and feel we've done our Norfolk bit already, so sorry not to give to you too..

We stayed in Binham, which is pretty good to start with. I was interested in your bit about Preedy. We did see another -this time Edwardian - church and like you, I'm not a fan and was prepared for instant dislike. But Glandford Church is rather gorgeous - loads of carvings and all very exuberent and full of life. Have you seen it? Bang next door to the homely and very personable Shell Museum: not to be missed. Loved your sunsets too.

David said...

Lordy, what a delicious plethora of comments - I suspect a big bird may have been tweeting exhortations.

Gwendolen - you are quite right, we should have set up a Justgiving place for easy access. Something in me still rather likes the idea that cheques are not entirely obsolete, especially if they arrive with a pretty card. J will suggest an easier solution to David.

Fyshe Wife Hen - you're right, death from a broken kneecap is awful, not silly. But I couldn't resist the reference to the end of Daphne du Maurier's 'Don't Look Now'.

Niki - how humbling! Thank you.

Suzy - I'd prefer Quaker Meeting Houses too, not overprone to worship at the riven shrine of CofE. It's the artistic legacy I like. I think there's a QMH in Lynn, possibly - if I remember right - above a pub.

Deborah - I see from my records that we passed through the model village of Glandford on our 2003 walk. My memories of the church are hazy; perhaps it was shut by the time we got there. Certainly I was sorry to miss the Shell Museum.

All others - thank you. Sorry you've had trouble posting. There are two easy accesses - if you press the button on the Name/URL entry you can supply your identity. Most of you preferred anon, so I can't trace the unsigned eulogies. I hate Google's identification process - the fuzzy number and the often illegible word, which on other sites I've sometimes had to try three or four times.

Elizabeth Holt said...

David, this is me resurfacing too. I love the photographs and your comments on where you went and what you saw and it's great to know that you still have such an eye for the strange and marvellous. What a hike. I am always in the wrong shoes and I never walk far from a tea shop so you were better off without me tagging along and complaining. Plus I'm not terribly religious but I'm starting to wonder if I might have Quaker potential. Your Quaker House above a pub sounds particularly promising. I also loved the mountain pictures in your earlier summer blog. I often copy one of your photos and use it as a screensaver to remind me of you and J. I miss you a great deal and hope to see you soon. I was in Paris seeing Alvin Ailey in July (3 separate performances) and remembered our evening together at Sadlers Wells watching them dance to Otis Redding. To be repeated on a future occasion, please.

David said...

Liz - lovely to hear from you. I was thinking of Alvin Ailey's troupe and its hundred and ten per cent communication only the other day. A fellow blogger who drops in here was lucky enough to catch them in Canada recently. Looking forward to seeing you when you're next in London.

Also - don't know who the Anon. was who wants to come and join us next year, but it's always the same (approximate) date: the second weekend in September.

Anonymous said...

Es macht Lust sofort hinzufahren!
We want to go immidiately! Your walks are such a great project and your blog too! Kisses from Vienna MUT

David said...

And we, dear MUT, after our Chamonix experience want more Alpine walking, with you of course: a fair exchange?


Susan Scheid said...

David: Will comment formally Over There in due course, but had to race over here and say, oh, my, what a treasure trove of information you noted, worthy of its own post, and yes, yes, the synergy with Boudicca/Snettisham is wonderful. So wonderful, in fact, that, now that I think (hope?), I've got a handle on my sidebar, I've put up a link to this post over my way so folks can come take a look at what you're referring to. I love the idea of exploring the English landscape in tandem like this. Thank you so much! (Now only wish I could find that duet you wrote of. I shall keep searching!)

David said...

Kind of you as ever, Sue. The Caractacus duet in question is that of Orbin and Eigen in Scene III, getting underway properly with 'Cling closely to me'. I don't think it's on YouTube but it sounds good as sung by Judith Howarth and Arthur Davies on the Hickox recording.

Curious to note that the children of the late Sir Edward and Joan Downes are named Boudicca and Caractacus...

Susan Scheid said...

Thanks so much for noting the duet--I've found and bookmarked it to obtain. There is just so much to listen to! I didn't know of the Downses--quite a poignant story there. Sort of glad that my parents didn't name me Boudicca. Would have been pretty tough to live up to that.

David Damant said...

Jung said that if the Christian religion was not true it was at least psycologically valid. He was speaking philosophically, but surely the manifestations of Christianity described in these wonderful pictures and comments prove Jung's point (not forgetting the "at least"). The natural thoughts and emotions of so many generations of believers created these beautiful things, inspired by the Christian revalation and crystalised in stone and paint

David Damant said...

David - did you know that when Major General Stanley boasts of knowing "every detail of Caractacus's uniform" he was NOT speaking of the uniform in which Caractacus and his colleagues fought - they went into battle virtually naked, and pictures showing this have led to the suspicion that the General was rather exaggerating his abilities. The uniform in question was however the formal uniform worn on ceremonial occasions, which was most elaborate with all sorts of glamourous additions.

David said...

Good old Jung. I do think the great treat of these walks is finding unexpected beauties in the nooks and crannies of even the less well endowed churches.

As for Caractacus's ceremonial getup, did Gilbert know about that, or is it wisdom after the event?

David Damant said...

I think that the ceremonial uniform must have been well known even though there are some pictures of a rather handsome Caractacus wearing little