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

All Saints, Cockthorpe

Cockthorpe

Cockthorpe Cockthorpe

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All Saints, Cockthorpe

There's not much to Cockthorpe, just a straggling hamlet on a back road above the coast, a farm, a couple of cottages and the church. Much of the parish disappeared under the RAF Langham airbase during the Second World War, and as was often the case normality was slow in returning. As with many former airbases it is now the site of light industry which gives the parish a working feel, which is not unpleasing so close to the holiday coast. Not working, however, is the church, for during the long years of military occupation it fell into disuse, to be rescued in the 1970s by the admirable Norfolk Churches Trust who still look after it to this day.

It is not a large church, especially for this part of Norfolk, and yet seen from the road it is pleasingly familiar with its small south aisle and a clerestory with three double-lights. There seems to have been a rebuilding at the very start of the 14th Century which brought the current tower and chancel, and then another in the late 15th Century of the nave and aisle, although there probably already was an aisle judging by the arcade. The current east window in the chancel must have come from elsewhere in the church, probably moved at a time when the chancel was shortened. Going around to the secluded north side, however, we see a quite different church, for there is no aisle and no clerestory, indeed not a single window. It is like stepping behind a film set.

You enter what feels to be an open space despite its size, thanks to the clearing of clutter. With so few windows this should be a gloomy place, but somehow it isn't. The church is no longer used for worship, but still has a devotional feel. The two centuries from the late 1400s to the late 1600s were turbulent and often traumatic years for the Church, but they have left their mark in various ways in this entirely peaceful place. The wall painting of St Christopher high on the north wall was uncovered in 1990 during a major restoration. An intriguing detail is the pair of donors kneeling at the bottom, one on each side, one with a little dog. Contemporary with it is an angel musician reset in the glass of the west window. He is bowing a stringed instrument, and although he is partly restored, probably by the King & Son workshop of Norwich, it is done so well that he appears complete. Oddly, he is left-handed.

Beside the St Christopher is another wall painting, this time from across the great divide of the Reformation, for it is an Elizabethan black-lettered set of the Ten Commandments. This move away from sacramental devotion to more scripturally-based worship was partly reversed in the early years of the 17th Century under the influence of Archbishop Laud, and Pevsner thought that the font, with its shields of the Instruments of the Passion and the Holy Trinity, might date from this time. It is certainly unlike other fonts in this area, and would be an unusual survival.

The south aisle contains an imposing memorial to Sir James and Lady Barbara Calthorpe. Dame Barbara was a daughter of the Bacons of Hessett in Suffolk. The Calthorpes had fourteen children together, unremarkable for a landed family at the time, but it was thought worth noting here that by their severel marriages and issues the ancient glory of the name of the family... did reflourish and is dilated into many of the best houses in the country. And, as if that were not enough, Barbara, surviving her husband by a quarter of a century, was much comforted with the sight of 193 of their children and their offspring. No wonder she was content to have exchanged this life for a better in 1639.

This was a period of particular distubance in the Church of England, and a bench on the north side bears the year 1649, and the letters WS. The immediate conclusion is that a churchwarden with those initials commissioned a new set of benches at this time, but this would be an odd date for it to happen, and on closer inspection it appears to be the poppyhead of a medieval bench that has been whittled down. Whatever, it was elegantly carved. The date was a pivotal year for the Church of England and the English monarchy, with the execution of Charles I in January of that year, and perhaps this was what was being marked - although whether in despair or celebration we can't now know.

Simon Knott, March 2022

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looking east (and Cam Self) chancel chancel (September 2004)
Ten Commandments board (16th Century) 1642 WS angel bowing a viol
font looking west St Christopher with donor figures Sir James and Dame Barbara Calthorp, 1615/1639
Calthorp tomb candles (September 2004)

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