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

St Swithin, Ashmanhaugh

Ashmanhaugh

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    St Swithin, Ashmanhaugh

Here we are in the outer outer suburbia of Norwich on the edge of the Broads in a reasonably-sized village pronounced Ash-m'n-hay. And what a dear little church! It sits among cottages at the end of a lane from the village street, the south side unfortunately cleared of headstones to make a lawn, although this does create the effect of a garden. The building is tiny, but everything is to scale. The round tower is the narrowest in England, the buttressing is slender yet solid. The whole thing was substantially restored inside and out in the 19th century - the round tower was completely rebuilt in 1849 - but there are a couple of interesting medieval details inside. The most westerly bench back on the south side, dated 1531, has symbols of the wounds of Christ as at Fressingfield in Suffolk, and the animal bench ends against the former north door are also medieval, although the two beasts themselves are restorations.

The east window, of the women finding the tomb empty, is by William Morris of Westminster, the three Marys lush and the angel gorgeous in that brief period when English stained glass workshops portrayed angels as female. She lounges back in the tomb mouth displaying just enough ankle to entice, while barely summoning up the energy to point heavenwards. During dull sermons, this window must have proved something of a distraction to the repressed Edwardian male.

Big Norman doorways have been shortened and narrowed a few centuries later. Up in the tiny sanctuary, the 1591 tomb to Honor Bacon is sandwiched against the sedilia and piscina, presumably partly to stop them being used, but also because there simply isn't anywhere else for it to go. Another curiosity is the birdbath font, which I think must be a 20th Century version of 18th Century classicism. The pulpit is tiny, but exactly in proportion, as if this was a show house and they were trying to make it seem bigger than it actually is.

Coming back in the summer of 2019 I could instantly recall a visit of some fifteen years earlier, when I'd found two cheery, ancient parishioners inside doing the flowers for Sunday, one an extraordinarily old bloke who found it amazing that I'd come all the way from Ipswich ("Hear that, Rose? This man's come all the way from Ipswich! Imagine that!", all in the broadest north Norfolk accents). The church is so small that we had to keep apologising to each other for getting in the way ("Excuse me, after you","no that's alright, after you!", "can I just get through, I'm not in your way am I?" and so on). What lovely people! But goodness knows what it's like on a Sunday when they get a congregation in there.

Simon Knott, December 2019

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looking east The wounds of Christ (1531) dragon (19th Century)
font Honor Bacon, 1591 He is not here he is risen (William Morris of Westminster, 1920s) sanctuary blocked north doorway
The wounds of Christ (1531)

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