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

St Peter, Dunton

Dunton: idyllic

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from the south-west delicious graveyard the Earth coming alive again from the north-east 

    St Peter, Dunton
three services in 2006   This delicious, idyllic church was an absolute pleasure to come to on this bright, warm spring day. It immediately joined my pantheon of lovely little churches that, although of no major historic or architectural importance, are a joy to visit. As with several of the others, St Peter is redundant, and this is no surprise. We are in the area around Fakenham with one of the largest concentrations of medieval churches in England. Indeed, Dunton is unusual in that it was still in use well into the 1970s - many others around here fell into disuse before, and there are more ruined churches around here than anywhere else in Norfolk.

Interestingly, when Monro Cautley came this way in the 1940s in the course of his magnificent survey of Norfolk Churches and their Treasures, he found St Peter in a terrible state, disused and completely overgrown with ivy. The fate might have befallen it that befell nearby Oxwick. But St Peter is lucky in that it came into the saintly hands of the Norfolk Churches Trust, and thanks to the late Billa Harrod's strident enthusiasm it is in a good state of repair and is open every day.

Not governed by the strictures of the Churches Conservation Trust, it is also used regularly for services. The three main ones for 2006 are on a poster on the gate. But even if St Peter was a locked shell, it would still be worth a visit, because the graveyard is so lovely.

On this late April day it was as if the Earth was coming alive again, burgeoning with spring growth and the tremor of bird song. After a wander around the narrow, sloping graveyard, which contains a sad memorial to all the children of one family, you step into a bright, open space, cleared of clutter and coloured by some magnificent decorative glass featuring rows of peacocks. The East window is less exciting, but is most interesting because the inscription shows it was the gift of the local workhouse guardians as a memorial to a Master. I preferred not to think about the cruelty of the workhouse in such a lovely spot, but it is an interesting Victorian period piece. It depicts two scenes from the Works of Mercy, Feeding the Hungry and Clothing the Naked, which are not inappropriate, I suppose. There was something odd about it, and it took me a moment to realise that the two inscriptions had been transposed so that each was under the wrong scene. How did that happen?

The lecterns (there are two of them) are unusual, because they appear to be set in the bases of preaching crosses - or are they old fonts? Very odd. But the most interesting feature of St Peter is that at some point, probably in the 1920s, the entire rood apparatus was rebuilt so that you can still enter the rood loft through the medieval rood stairs. There was no sign warning me that this would be a dangerous thing to do, but I did it anyway. I came out into a gangway about three feet wide, surprisingly high in such a small church. I could look down into the chancel and the nave. I was just growing confident enough to lean over when the loft began to creak alarmingly, and so I hurried back down.

A row of seats facing west in the loft shows that some liturgical use was intended. No more, of course, but the admirable Rector of Colkirk, Father Paul Inman, celebrates Mass regularly here, and fills in the visitors book accordingly.

Ironically, the following day I happened to visit Monro Cautley's grave in Westerfield churchyard, and found that it, too, is now suffering from the burden of ivy, brambles and elder. I wrote to the Vicar offering to clear it, but have not yet received a reply.

  Norfolk Churches Trust

Simon Knott, May 2006


looking east modern rood loft looking west from the rood loft
looking west from the altar medieval rood stair up in the loft memorial a sign of modern devotional life in an old piscina
looking east from the rood loft decorative window on the south side of the nave peacock glass Mary of Magdala and Christ in the Garden war memorial
looking west Works of Mercy base of the lectern 

outside looking in dead children

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