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

All Saints, Burnham Thorpe

Burnham Thorpe

Burnham Thorpe Burnham Thorpe

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All Saints, Burnham Thorpe

This is perhaps the most attractively set of the six surviving Burnham churches, being a couple of miles south-east of the Burnham Market town in a pretty village, the church set away from the main street near to the 18th Century Manor House. This is a thorough-going East Anglian church, with tower, aisles and clerestories, but if it looks a little crisp this is because there was a substantial 19th Century restoration, and it was a good one. The tower had fallen in the 18th Century and a pre-ecclesiological replacement came in 1842. This was remodelled in the 1890s when the south aisle was rebuilt, the nave and chancel were reroofed and everything else made shipshape. The cost was five thousand pounds, about a million in today's money, so you may fear that you are going to step in to an urban interior indistinguishable from a 19th Century Anglican church in Sheffield, Shanghai or Buenos Aires, but this is not the case, for your step into a wide interior full of light falling on wood and stone, Victorian pews replaced by modern chairs, the only sign now that the restoration was enthusiastically bankrolled being the sprawling tiled floors, which are good of their kind.

The thing that everyone knows about Burnham Thorpe is that Admiral Horatio Nelson's father Edmund was rector here, and Nelson himself was born in the old rectory. This was demolished in the 19th Century, and so the church has a become a place of pilgrimage for those interested in Nelson, and there is plenty to be interested in. The large flags, a White Ensign and a Union Jack, came from HMS Invincible, and the Nelson memorials are in the chancel, ledger stones for Nelson's father and mother, and then, on the north wall, a bust of Nelson himself under a memorial to his father. The middle of the chancel is the setting for a large and unusually complete military brass of 1420 to William Calthorpe.

William Calthorpe, 1420 William Calthorpe, 1420 (detail) Nelson Nelson and son

Arthur Mee imagined the young Nelson contemplating the brass before making his career choices, and of course in stone he still does. The story of Trafalgar is easily grasped, and Nelson's stubbornness ("I see no ships") and his tenderness ("kiss me, Hardy" - or was it kizmet?) still seem quintessentially English. There is a temptation to think that, like that of King Alfred, Nelson's modern fame is a product of Victorian enthusiasm, but Nelson was a hero from the start, and John Henry Newman (as true and brave an Englishman in many ways) recorded that his earliest childhood memory was of seeing candles burning in a window to celebrate victory at Trafalgar. There's a small display at the west end of the south aisle about the Nelsons of Burnham, but otherwise the church doesn't make a big thing about it. Nelson's mother was Caroline Suckling of Barsham in Suffolk, and I learned that Nelson was named after her brother, his Uncle Horace, who preferred the Latin form of his name, Horatio. By contrast, Nelson himself apparently used the name Horace in his daily life.

As you might expect in this part of Norfolk, the 1851 Census of Religious Worship showed that the great majority of the residents of Burnham Thorpe were non-conformists. Out of a parish population of well over four hundred, just twenty-five people attended divine worship on the morning of the census, this proportion of fewer than one in sixteen being one of the lowest rates in all Norfolk. Ninety people tipped up for the afternoon sermon, which always more popular than the morning service in rural East Anglia, but even this was low, especially as it often included non-conformists. The rector, the Reverend Augustus Cooper, was in receipt of a annual 700 for his troubles, which is roughly 140,000 in today's money, and that didn't include additional income from fees. In answer to the census question about how many sittings there were at Burnham Thorpe, which is to say the capacity of the church, he replied wistfully that there was ample accommodation. But the 19th Century Anglican revival was only just beginning in rural East Anglia.

Simon Knott, May 2022

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white ensign looking east Nelson's font
meekly resigned her soul into the hands of God he died at Torquay of a rapid consumption father of Horatio first Viscount Nelson of the Nile
Nelson's father Philip Cornwaleys, 1680

Burnham Deepdale - Burnham Norton - Burnham Overy - Burnham Sutton - Burnham Thorpe - Burnham Ulph - Burnham Westgate

   
   
               
                 

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