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

All Saints, Barmer

Barmer: almost disappeared

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
from the south Preedy's chancel and north aisle overgrown graveyard Preedy's Early English chancel
cast iron tympanum with Kerslake arms tower Norfolk Churches Trust

    All Saints, Barmer
looking up the tower   It is a testament to the extraordinary record of Billa Harrod's Norfolk Churches Trust that this tiny church, lost in the fields near Fakenham, has not only survived but prospered. There can be no possible sensible economic reason for it still to be with us - there is no village, and in any case it had ceased to be parish church at the Reformation. But here it is, a small Victorianised Norman church hidden in a thick copse of trees and entirely surrounded by fields, a quarter of a mile or so from the nearest road.

You need to cross the fields to get to it, and although All Saints is by no means the most remote church in East Anglia from the nearest road, we didn't think the track was driveable.

So we left the car at the entrance to the field, hoping that we weren't blocking the path of any tractors. In any case, the field appeared to have been left fallow since the harvest of the previous year's rape crop, leaving a wide expanse of rigid, sharp stalks from which young rabbits exploded as I tramped.

The Norman round tower is visible from within the copse, but not much else. In fact, work has started on trimming the large trees in the graveyard, opening up new views, especially from the east. The graveyard is still overgrown with nettles and ground elder - I was glad I'd worn sensible shoes.

There is a crispness to the building which becomes apparent as you approach, a reminder that All Saints was, in fact, a ruin for three centuries.

Then, in 1885, the Kerslake family, who owned the land, decided to restore it as a mausoleum in the fashion of the day. This meant engaging London architect Frederick Preedy, who rebuilt the north aisle in a Decorated style and added an Early English chancel for the sum of 650, about 100,000 in today's money. Not bad, for rebuilding a church.

The building you step into today is still entirely Preedy's work. It is not without character; the tympanum above the door is made of cast iron, and Preedy's imitation medieval ironwork on the Priest door is also worth a look.

  plain and simple

All Saints is kept open for visitors, and you step into a simple, plain 19th century interior. There are no great medieval survivals - how could there be, for it was a ruin from the Reformation onwards. The chancel arch and tower arch both survive from the original Norman church, but have been altered at some time to be pointed. Was this done in the 13th century, or was it Preedy's work? It is in keeping with his chancel, but of course he might have chosen that style to fit in with the rest of the church.

The Victorian furnishings have been replaced by modern chairs, which creates a sense of space and allows Preedy's font to dominate the little nave. If you look up the tower, you can see the single bell.

looking east chancel looking west simplicity Preedy's font dominates  

There are no major Kerslake memorials, just a ledger stone set below the tower arch, recording deaths over a period of a century or so. It must have been written in retrospect, but it makes poignant reading. For example, the deaths of three young brothers is recorded in 1815. John was six, Samuel was three, Francis was just one year old.

No more than the bare facts, but you have to wonder what happened. An infectious disease seems most likely, of course: measles, perhaps, or scarlet fever. Or perhaps it was an accident. How heart-breaking! The bareness of the church makes the inscription seem all the more stark.

As this church was in Syderstone parish, it came in for occasional parochial use, but was finally declared redundant in the 1970s. In the great scheme of things it had existed as a church for a fleeting moment, and even then had been of small consequence. Quiet, small, lonely in the fields, it was exactly the kind of church that the Norfolk Churches Trust loved. The area around Fakenham has the greatest concentration of ruined medieval churches in England; but All Saints was not to become one of them.


Simon Knott, September 2006

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