home I index I latest I glossary I introductions I e-mail I about this site

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

St Mary, Colkirk

Colkirk in the rain

Colkirk in the rain under the tower

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

   

St Mary, Colkirk

In the straggling, secretive lanes of the rolling landscape to the south of Fakenham, Colkirk comes as a surprise, for it is a proper village. The tower forms the porch on the south side as at nearby Sculthorpe and Briningham. The other thirty-odd churches with the tower on this side are on the river valleys west of Norwich and Ipswich, so this is an outlying group. The towers are all of an early 14th Century date, and so perhaps they were a fashion, or more excitingly perhaps the work of the same master mason. The rest of this church was rebuilt towards the end of the medieval period, with only the addition of the north aisle in the 1870s to come.

I'd not been back to Colkirk for nearly twenty years, and as it was late on a rainy November afternoon the interior can be forgiven for having seemed a bit gloomy. Colkirk has one of the 12th Century tub fonts familiar from this part of north-west Norfolk, albeit plainer than most, with just four decorative pillars at intervals on its sides. The legs and base are 19th Century, for as Francis Bond reminds us, these Norman tub fonts originally stood on the floor so they could be stepped into, in the days before infant baptism was universal (it probably already was in East Anglia by the 12th Century, but the style remained). There's some decent glass by William Wailes, and another window signed by Henry Hughes in the days before Ward & Hughes were dumbed down by Thomas Curtis's mass production style. I'm told that the large late 17th Century memorial to Samuel Smythe was brought here from the neighbouring parish church of Oxwick when it was abandoned in the 1940s.

On the day of our visit the font was draped with red poppies, and the panels of the rood screen dado had been fitted with silhouettes of mourning soldiers. I'd seen this kind of thing across Norfolk in the previous couple of weeks. At North Walsham a frozen cascade of poppies filled the tower arch, and at Aylsham the reredos of the high altar had been covered with a giant poppy, as if it was being worshipped. It was all a bit mawkish to be honest, and you couldn't help wondering if the modern cult of military death was being taken a bit far. I'm not convinced it is what the boys on the First World War memorial at Colkirk would have wanted.

At the time of the 1851 Census of Religious Worship there were almost five hundred people living in Colkirk, just twenty-five of whom chose to attend morning worship in the parish church. There were also forty-one 'scholars' present, which is to say pupils of the Sunday school, but of course they had no choice but to be there. As you'd expect in East Anglia there were far more present for the Sunday afternoon sermon, who along with the scholars brought the total attendance up to just over a hundred, which was pretty good going in this strongly non-conformist area. The rectory income was 474 a year, just under 100,000 in today's money, and so not surprisingly the parish was in the care of a curate, the Reverend WS Chapman, although the census return did not reveal his personal income. Almost half the 'sittings' (seats) in the church were rented, the others being free, including moveable benches for the Sunday scholars as the Reverend Chapman noted. The chapels just up the road in Fakenham must have been an attraction, but in fact Colkirk had two small chapels of its own, one for Methodists and the other for Primitive Methodists. The steward of the former chapel, a farmer called John Simpson, answered the question about sittings on the census return by making the point that they were all free - the poor have no money.

Simon Knott, December 2022

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

looking east military death cult
font north aisle chapel screen angels
sanctuary Untitled fragments Samuel Smythe, 1663

   
   
               
                 

The Churches of East Anglia websites are non-profit-making. But if you enjoy using them and find them useful, a small contribution towards the cost of web space, train fares and the like would be most gratefully received. You can donate via Paypal.

                   
                     
                             

home I index I latest I introductions I e-mail I about this site I glossary
Norwich I ruined churches I desktop backgrounds I round tower churches
links I small print I www.simonknott.co.uk I www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

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