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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Ethelbert, Alby


    St Ethelbert, Alby

Three medieval churches sit about a half a mile apart along the Holt to North Walsham road near Aldborough, and the most westerly of the three is the parish church of Alby, its small village just to the north. The churches come so thick and fast in this area to the north of Aylsham, and the parishes are so scattered, that sometimes you have to look at the church noticeboard to find out exactly where you are. I had been here before, in 2005, but it was one of the very few East Anglian churches into which I had never set foot, because I had found it locked. I remembered its austere, rather forbidding exterior, quite different to that of its two neighbours, and this with the secretive, bowering churchyard made me wonder if I was to be disappointed again. But I was pleased to discover that Alby church is now open to pilgrims and strangers every day.

This is a wide church, but aisleless, creating a sense of space enhanced by the clear glass which is punctuated only by what appears to be a collection of off-cuts from late 19th and early 20th Century workshops. These include St Christopher carrying the Christ child, the head and shoulders of a grieving Blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross which looks as if it may be the 1860s work of Robert Bayne, and a crowned arms of medieval France to match the set at Thwaite. The most curious piece is a crucifixion, for the figure of the crucified Christ appears to be medieval, and has been set in 19th Century glass depicting the Blessed Virgin and St John in the same style.

Blessed Virgin at the foot of the cross (Robert Bayne? 1860s?) Christ (15th Century) set in Blessed Virgin and St John (19th Century) scene St Christopher and the Christ child
Blessed Virgin and Child (19th century, fragment) instruments of the passion instruments of the passion crowned royal arms of France (19th Century)

Looking up, there is another curiosity, for the clerestory consists of just two two-light windows on each side, at the eastern and western ends. The font has blank shields like that to the south at Tuttington. They would once have been painted - indeed, Arthur Mee, coming this way in the 1930s, claimed to have detected traces of colour on them. Whether or not he did, it has all gone now.

Simon Knott, May 2018


looking east chancel
looking west font 1914-1918 1939-1945
Crowned Blessed Virgin


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk