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

St Peter and St Paul, Bergh Apton

Bergh Apton

Bergh Apton it belongs to Bergh with every customary due

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St Peter and St Paul, Bergh Apton

Bergh Apton, pronounced bur ap-t'n, is one of those insubstantial, difficult to grasp parishes that are not uncommon in south-east Norfolk. The road signs that lead to it call it variously Bergh Apton, Burgh Apton and Berghapton, and the church is similarly elusive as you trawl the rambling narrow lanes. No doubt the people who live here would not have it any other way. The setting of the church, on a wide bend where the road doubles back, suggesting that this is an ancient site. We know there was a Roman camp here, but archaeological investigations have revealed something even further back, a Bronze Age settlement which may have been of some importance. And you can learn immediately the status of the parish when the Normans got here, because Bergh Apton's entry in the Domesday Book is inscribed on a slate board in the churchyard: Loddon Hundred - In Thurton 6 Sokemen whom Godric the steward holds at 20 acres always 1 plough & in torp 6 sokemen at 13 acres 1 plough & 8 bordars & it belongs to Bergh with every customary due and it has been valued there.

The nave seems of inconsequence beside the chancel, which is of an entirely different style, has a higher roofline and has been augmented by large transepts. A tension is created by the large arched transept windows and the tower appearing to squeeze the nave between them. This profile is a result of a surprisingly early 19th Century restoration of 1838 under that articulate diocesan architect John Brown, an enthusiastic gothicist but still with as much the mind of a carpenter as that of an architect, hence perhaps his retention of the shapes of what must have been 18th Century windows in the chancel. The north side of the church is close to the road, but the south side of the graveyard is wide and open and gives a good view of Brown's work here.

As you step inside, the narrowness of the nave is accentuated by the way the transepts open out. A large west gallery, again the work of John Brown, completes the sense of a contained space. Below it is Bergh Apton's intriguing font. This is at first sight a typical 15th Century East Anglian font with angels and evangelistic symbols alternating on the eight panels, but the carving is idiosyncratic, and the angel on the south-east panel is so like St Michael as depicted in contemporary images that it must surely be intentional.

Brown's work gave plenty of scope to the stained glass enthusiasts of later in the century and into the next. The tall Kempe & Co glass of the Crucifixion dates from 1910 and suits well the faux-classical profile of the east window. The rest of the glass is of the 1880s and 1890s by Ward & Hughes, a time when they were at their peak of massed production, although the subjects here are less formulaic than often found elsewhere. Birkin Haward thought it an interesting collection, while Pevsner declared it interesting but terrible.

Although this building is heavily restored and overwhelmingly 19th Century in character it is still a lovely, rural church in a pretty setting, so typical of this part of Norfolk. And I remember it fondly from my first visit about fifteen years ago because there was a handwritten notice in the porch to remind me that these south-east Norfolk parishes are among the most welcoming in England:

Everytime I pass a church
I pay a little visit,
So when at last I'm carried in
The Lord won't say 'Who is it?'

Twee, yes, perhaps even a little silly, but I couldn't help thinking that such a sentiment would be beyond the comprehension of the handful of Norfolk parishes that lock pilgrims and strangers out of their churches.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east looking west
font angel font angel
Jesus Carries his Cross (Ward & Hughes) Crucifixion (Kempe) Jesus and the Woman at the Well
foot of the cross (Kempe) Crucifixion (Kempe) Truly this man was the son of God (Kempe)


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