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

All Saints, East Barsham

East Barsham

East Barsham former south doorway East Barsham

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All Saints, East Barsham

Few Norfolk churches are as memorable as East Barsham's. It is a smallish, rather ramshackle building in a wild churchyard, nothing dramatic about it at all, and yet, and yet... We are in the orbit of Walsingham here which spills its numinous magic all around, and on a sunny day at any time of the year the setting of the church beside the splendours of the 16th Century Barsham Manor House is, as Mortlock observed, breathtaking... making a trip to East Barsham a 'must' for tourers in Norfolk. Pevsner was equally bowled over by the Manor House, observing that it still seems too good to be true when one first sets eyes on it. There is no real village here, but the church may be familiar to many people because it sits on the old road from Fakenham to Walsingham, a mile or so south of Houghton St Giles where the Catholic National Shrine of Our Lady is. It will be familiar if they know it is there, that is. All Saints huddles organically below the road, hiding among the blue alkanet in late spring, overshadowed by trees. You might easily pass it and think it a ruin. Indeed, while gazing in wonder at the manor house or pausing for a pint at the adjacent White Horse pub you might not easily notice the church at all.

The first sight as you climb the path is of the blocked Norman south doorway. Coming around to the other side, what passes for a tower is truncated to a little above the roofline of the nave, forming a porch above the Norman north doorway. The churchyard falls away on this side to the grounds of the Manor House. Large later windows give the nave a flavour of the Perpendicular, but as the doorways suggest this is at heart a Norman church, or at least the remains of one. The chancel and a south transept have gone too, so this is all that is left. There was a restoration in 1880, but as Pevsner points out the building looks today pretty much as it does in Ladbroke's drawing of the 1820s.

You enter a spacious rectangular church under an impressively primitive roof. The feel of the organic persists inside, a smell of earth and damp. There is plenty of light from those big Perpendicular windows, but the light creates shadows, and in the glass of the windows some lovely 15th Century glass. The Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth meet at the Visitation, flanked by two angel musicians playing a shawm and a harp. A curious circular fragment creates the illusion of a late medieval face peeping into the church.

angel playing a shawm (15th Century) Blessed Virgin at the Visitation (15th Century) St Elizabeth at the Visitation (15th Century) angel playing a harp (15th Century)
here's looking at you... The Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth at the Visitation (15th Century)

On the south side of the sanctuary is an impressive memorial of the 1640s by the Christmas Brothers in the 'Resurrection' style popular at that time. It is to Mary Calthorpe. The Calthorpes, who we have met on the other side of the Stiffkey at North Creake and Burnham Thorpe, lived at Barsham Manor in the 1640s. Mary Calthorpe climbs out of her coffin, although she does look disconcertingly as if she might be sitting in the bath, on the side of which is inscribed COME LORD JESU, COME QUICKLY. Angels wait with crowns for her in the alcove above, while at the top is the angel who started it all by blowing the last trump, his banner reading Arise and come to Judgement.

As you'd expect around here, this is a church militantly in the orthodox Anglo-Catholic tradition, and in common with others it has some survivals brought here from elsewhere. The rood group in a blocked window splay on the north side came from the now-closed Tatterford Seminary on the other side of Fakenham. Tatterford was once one of the stars in the Anglo-Catholic firmament, a stopping place on the way to Walsingham and, in the 1930s, the parish of Father David Hand, who opened a school there for boys without a university education seeking a vocation to the priesthood. From Tatterford the boys went to Mirfield Theological College to train for holy orders. Dozens of boys from Tatterford went on to become priests, among them some local north Norfolk boys. However, the goings on at Tatterford were not approved of by the Bishop of Norwich, and the school finally closed in the 1940s.

Probably from about the same time is the reredos, very much in the Walsingham style, vaguely naive and yet somehow triumphalist at the same time. Six saints flank the Blessed Virgin and Christchild. St George looks martial, St Monica demur, and then there are St Edmund with his arrows, St Margaret with her dragon, Julian of Norwich with her Revelations of Divine Love, and lastly St Augustine. I don't know if it was made for the church, and perhaps installed when it was rescued from dereliction after the Second World War, or if it was brought here from elsewhere. On this day in April 2022 it looked very fine with the altar dressed for Easter beneath it.

Simon Knott, May 2022

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looking east altar dressed for Easter
Our Lady of Walsingham Calthorpe memorial crucified
St Edmund of East Anglia Julian of Norwich and St Augustine St George and St Monica

   
   
               
                 

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