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

St Andrew, Blickling

Blickling: rather austere and urban

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    St Andrew, Blickling
Blickling Hall (c) Tom Muckley   Blickling Hall is probably the grandest of the big Norfolk country houses, and one of the grandest in England. Largely constructed for Sir Henry Hobart in the 1620s on the site of its predecessor, it is perhaps the great Jacobean country house. Robert Lyminge, the architect, died on the job in 1628 and was buried in the churchyard of St Andrew.

If Lyminge could come back today, he'd recognise the Hall, despite its additions in the late 18th century. But he wouldn't recognise the church. St Andrew, which sits rather awkwardly to the south-east of the Hall, was almost completely rebuilt in the 19th century; the chancel by Butterfield in the 1850s, the tower by Street in the 1870s. Street also remodelled the nave. What you see now is something of a contrast with the Hall, a rather austere and urban Victorian building which would be more at home in a provincial small town.

Given that the two architects were two of the most significant of that century, we may correctly assume that no expense was spared here. Little survives that is demonstrably medieval - most notably, the south doorway.

Internally, the church is much more successful, and perhaps even more urban, as if it would be comfortable in the middle of Norwich or Cambridge. It is dark, shadowy, as if intended for worship which was incense-led. Everywhere, shiny tiles lead into the darkness, and the building is big enough to unfold as you walk through it. I enjoy these churches that speak so soundly of the late 19th century, but nothing dates as quickly as the recent past, and St Andrew is perhaps less suited to modern forms of Anglican worship than its medieval predecessor might have been.

The great survival from the medieval church here is the collection of brasses. Each of them is in here twice - once as a replica for brass rubbing in the north aisle, and at the east end of the nave in reality. It has to be said that the replicas are not very convincing. Anyone reading this who is under the age of, say, thirty, may not realise that in the 1960s and 1970s there was a great craze for rubbing church brasses. However, this has now passed, a kind of ecclesiological train-spotting consigned to history, and I do not think I have encountered a single brass-rubber in the thousand or so churches I have visited in the last five years.

The brasses are a reminder of Blickling's association with one of the great tragic figures of English history before its rebuilding; several are to the Boleyn family, and Anne Boleyn, second wife of Henry VIII, grew up here. The Felthorpe family is depicted in its entirety, with eleven sons and five daughters. Most moving is Anne Wode, who carries her two dead babies in her arms. The best are, perhaps, the smaller figures, although the lifesize Sir Nicholas Dagworth is rather fine. You can see a selection of them below - hover to read, click to enlarge.

Felthorpe boys, 1454 Roger and Cecilia Felthorpe and family, 1454 Felthorpe girls, 1454 Sir Nicholas Dagworth, 1401 (detail) 
Sir Nicholas Dagworth, 1401 Anne Wode, 1512, holding her babies dead babies, 1512 Isabella Cheyne, 1485 another Ann Boleyn, 1479

I mention the brasses first because of their significance, but in any event your attention will have been drawn immediately on entry to the vast 1880s memorial to the eighth Marquess of Lothian, who paid for all this. He lies with his curly hair and beard guarded by life-size angels (or, at least, the size that I assume angels to be in the life). George Frederick Watts, a sculptor perhaps best known for his public works, was the artist. I assume he was well paid for his efforts.

What else is there? The medieval font has modern colouring, and in any case may be a composite. Some 17th century memorials in the chancel are not major, but are interesting for being contemporary with the rebuilding of the Hall. Oh, and the Victorian glass is good, mostly by John Hardman for the Butterfield restoration. And there's a smashing Art Nouveau relief in the south aisle. If I make it sound a bit like a museum, then you are not far wrong. But God bless the parish for keeping it open every day.

Simon Knott, September 2005


original doorway shadowy - looking east font looking west war memorial
the eighth Marquess of Lothian I join the heavenly host (c) Tom Muckley an angel in Blickling church the eighth Marquess of Lothian
font detail east window by Hardman east window by Hardman (top) 16th century memorial
James of Helveston 1378 art nouveau

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