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

St Mary, East Rudham
East Rudham

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    St Mary, East Rudham
Crucified (14th Century English alabaster, fragment)   I'd been cycling quiet lanes for hours, so it was with something of a shock that I was shot out onto the busy King's Lynn to Fakenham road which forms the main street through the village of East Rudham. Unlike many paired village names in west Norfolk, East and West Rudham merge into each other, their churches barely half a mile apart. St Peter at West Rudham is small, secretive and redundant, all of an early 14th Century piece, but East Rudham's St Mary is quite different, big and triumphant beside the busy road.

The clean, crisp, Perpendicular lines of the church are a witness to its complete rebuilding after the tower collapsed into the nave in 1873, although Pevsner got quite excited about the way that some of the materials from the original church were reused. It is likely that the plan is exactly as-was, with the transepts a pleasing feature unusual in this part of Norfolk. The south doorway was retained, and some old bosses were reset in the new porch. But as Pevsner also hints, the somewhat dull and anonymous tower is a disappointment at this time of high triumphalism in the Church of England.

It is an ill wind and all that, because during the rebuilding an alcove opened up on the north side of the chancel was found to contain fragments of a 15th century alabaster reredos, as well as other fragments of images, which are now on display in the north aisle. The most haunting of these are probably the fragments of the Crucifixion, Christ's head dropping in heavy-eyed agony while a crouching angel at the foot of the cross collects drops of his blood in a chalice.

Coronation of the Queen of Heaven (14th Century English alabaster) an angel collects Christ's precious blood in a chalice (14th Century English alabaster, fragment) The Queen of Heaven enthroned (14th Century English alabaster, fragment)

Sam Mortlock thought the interior rather wide, open and bare, which isn't unfair, but the church has the blessing of clear glass throughout, and on this summer day it was full of light. The little spots of High Church colour dotted about, especially in the south transept, are lovely. Even so, it would take a big congregation not to rattle around in here.

The chancel is similarly wide and open, filled with light from the five-light east window. On the south side beside the piscina, where you'd expect the sedilia to be, there is a low blocked archway which Pevsner thought had been the entrance to a chapel. Even if the chancel has been raised, it seems much too low to have been the entrance to anything, although I suppose it might have been reset during the rebuilding, in which case it might come from anywhere I suppose.

The font is a survival from the earlier church, but only just so, because it is dated 1852 at the bottom. A memorial to Edward Manby dates from the same year, and tells us that he practised with much zeal and success the arts of medicine and surgery in this parish more than 44 years. Behind the font, a brass plaque of 1897 celebrates the 60th Year of the Reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria, in commemoration of which event the Parish Clock was placed in the tower of this church.

  mater mea

Simon Knott, August 2016

looking east chancel font, 1852
lady altar south transept Sancta Maria ora pro nobis
in commemoration of the 60th year of the reign of Her Most Gracious Majesty Queen Victoria practised with much zeal and success the arts of medicine and surgery Crowned Blessed Virgin and Child


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