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

St Mary, East Walton

East Walton

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    St Mary, East Walton

It was the long summer of 2016. I was out cycling fairly purposelessly in the backwaters of west Norfolk, following the narrowest, quietest lanes and occasionally remembering them from a decade before. I came to East Walton, which is well off the beaten track, a quiet village down a cul-de-sac off of the Gayton to Narborough road. We are miles away from West Walton here, and the names probably result from an early 19th Century attempt by the Post Office to tell the difference between them. St Mary is beautiful, a round tower with a pleasing, comfortable 14th century church attached. Beside it sits the ruin of the chapel of St Andrew, a couple of farmhouses, and the large and lovely former rectory.

How idyllic the life of a minister of the Church of England must have been during the early years of the 20th century! Back in 2006 I came here with that veteran Norfolk churches expert the late Tom Muckley, and we were captivated by an old lady we met in the churchyard who recalled the rector of the time when she was a child here in the 1920s. He had just two churches in his care, this one and the similarly remote and lovely Gayton Thorpe. On a Sunday morning he'd cycle to his other church to celebrate an early communion, and then back to East Walton for Matins. Even in those days the villages weren't huge, but today there are barely a dozen people on the electoral roll , and the minister responsible for it has charge of five other churches.

The great round tower has a visible lean to the west, and has been bolstered and restored in the early years of the current century. The architect's drawings are on display inside. The windows are filled with lovely irregular panes of 18th century glass. And indeed, stepping into St Mary is to step into a different century, and not a medieval one, for here we have an interior which is almost entirely of the early 18th century, a time when the Church of England itself was a bit of a sleepy backwater. The brick floors are a setting for good quality box pews, which lead the eye to a three-decker pulpit in the south-east corner. It must have all looked very fine when it was first installed.

Perhaps less happily, the chancel arch, which must have been a beautiful one judging by the quality of the Decorated foliage in the bits that are visible, was filled in. A wooden archway was put in its place, and low, flat ceilings were installed. It may be that these ceilings were partly practical, to keep the heat in; but the open porch was also given one, and so it seems more likely that someone here didn't like medieval roofs.

As you may imagine, this all gives St Mary a character of its own, and I like it a lot. A sprinkling of medieval survivals - wild, grinning corbel heads, the quatrefoiled font, the flowered tympanum above the priest door in the chancel, a late 15th Century brass which asks us to pray for the souls of William Bacar (Baker, presumably) and Margaret his wife - are adornments to this simple, lovely space. It was good to come back.

Simon Knott, October 2020

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looking east looking west
triple decker pulpit font rose tympanum
ten years Head Master of the Grammar School, Norwich cheerful grotesque Tom Muckley
William and Margaret Bacar

   
               
                 

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