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

St Nicholas, Dilham

Dilham

Dilham Dilham view from the porch

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    St Nicholas, Dilham

I had remembered St Nicholas, but coming back this way in 2019 I couldn't find it, and it took a patient old local in Dilham village a couple of miles off to set me right. And yet, I should have remembered where it was, for St Nicholas is visible off in the fields to the north of the village from the Wroxham road, appearing odd from this angle, and you need a second glance to reassure yourself that it really is a church. There is a truncated round tower which has all the appearance of a vast flower vase, and as you leave the road up the tiny lane and get closer you can see the clean lines and unknapped flint that suggests a considerable restoration.

In fact, nothing that you see is ancient, and virtually all of it is 20th century. The church was rebuilt in the 1930s, and the stump of tower comes from only a hundred years earlier. I'm not convinced that it has ever been any higher, and I think the 'ruins' against the west wall were a folly. And this isn't the first time that history has been effaced and reimagined at Dilham, for the medieval building was demolished in the 18th century and replaced with what was a new building for then. This appears to have been done on the cheap, and 19th century additions and elaborations, like the round tower, could not prolong its life. So, it was demolished and completely rebuilt, the stump retained as a baptistery.

When you know this, you can see at once the clean 1930s lines, the Gothic revival stripped of all Victorian neuroses. Inside and out, there is a modernistic simplicity to this articulate rendering of Norfolk vernacular. Even the angel roof is understated. An American correspondent of mine, on seeing these pictures, said that it was like a college dining hall, and I think that is exactly right.

St Nicholas successfully combines this simplicity with an air of Anglo-catholic devotion, including stations of the cross. The only disappointment is the insipid crucifixion in the east window. Mercifully for them perhaps, the workshop that produced it does not appear to have been recorded. Survivals from the old church include a medieval font and the organ, and a large piece of lead set in a wooden frame. It has a long Latin inscription on it, and seems to be from the roof of the previous church, since it describes the demolition of the old west end and the building of the round tower in 1835. All in all this is a pleasing little church, a simple yet splendid modern building set alone in the barley fields, well used, much loved, and open to pilgrims and strangers every day.

Simon Knott, December 2019

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looking east sanctuary
font (15th Century) sanctuary Crucified St Nicholas Dilham
G III R royal arms war memorials lived by love & died lamented (1834)
roof lead

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