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

St Mary, Anmer

Anmer: gorgeous

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east window headstop

    St Mary, Anmer
15th century nave window   And so we came amid the smell of bonfires and the first falling leaves of another Autumn through the backroads of the Sandringham estate. The air was thickening into late afternoon mist, and we wanted to reach Harpley and Tattersett before the light failed completely; but here we were by Anmer Hall, negotiating the farm road up to St Mary. It sits at the back of the Hall farm, beside a long abandoned stockyard and outbuildings. There was a gate that no one had opened for years, and as we got out of the car into the silence we could have been in any time.

St Mary is a small church in a narrow graveyard, the undergrowth deep and damp, a haze simmering below the trees. Early October in west Norfolk, the land mellowing and beginning to die back, but still rich and abundant.

Apart from the chancel, which is a 19th century rebuilding (though they seem to have kept the east wall and buttresses intact, replacing only the tracery) this building is a product of two phases. The mysterious early 14th century, before the Black Death made us pause for thought, gave it the nave and the south chapel; the Perpendicular 15th century gave it the tower, which is perhaps a little too serious, especially when compared with the gorgeous tracery of the chapel east window. As if to compensate, there are two very fine little 15th century windows in the nave.

On a day like this St Mary was never going to be full of light, but its Decorated features make it an atmospheric place rather than a gloomy one. And, as is common with churches close to Sandringham, there was a lot of work in the early 20th century, which gives it a particular character. Curiously, part of this later work was the placing of a screen about halfway up the nave; the western part has become a baptistery, cleared of all seats and setting the Victorian font in stark relief. Beyond, the Victorian benches have been replaced with modern chairs, which always looks good, especially in such an Anglo-catholic setting.

Spreading along the walls of the nave are six hatchments for the Calthorpe family, and a royal arms of George III that could do with a bit of a clean.

Overseeing all of this is a very fine, large west window under the tower, the work of Ward and Hughes. It depicts Christ inviting the children to come to him, but it is the figures in the flanking scenes that attract attention; the sensuous mothers to the north, and the positively homoerotic Peter and John to the south. It is a perfect foil to the clear glass of the east window.

Peter and John 'Let the little children come unto me' sensuous mothers

The high altar with its sarum screen and reredos is beautiful, a perfect combination of blowsy early 20th century embroidery and marble. The south chapel has been reordered as a Blessed Sacrament chapel for regular use, a 15th century-style screen separating it from the nave, finely gilded. There is one of those dinky little 18th century birdbath fonts here; the reredos is perhaps a little too mawkish for modern tastes, perhaps. The chapel furnishings are Edwardian in the most exact sense of the word, being the commission of Edward VII himself.

Later, this church seems to have been a hobby of Queen Mary, wife of George V. After she died, it fell into considerable disrepair, giving Mortlock cause for concern when he came this way in the early 1980s. A major restoration in 1986 has put things right. True, it removed the paintings that formerly hung in the chancel back to Sandringham House, from where Queen Mary had taken them in the first place; but if this means that this pretty little church can continue to be open every day, then it is a price worth paying.

Simon Knott, October 2005


looking west looking east south chapel altar screen to the south chapel
sanctuary birdbath font Calthorpe memorial mawkish St Christopher George III
Calthorpe hatchments A truly Edwardian Christ walks on water Calthorpe hatchment

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