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

St Mary, East Walton

East Walton: beautiful

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idyllic walls of glass leaning westwards

    St Mary, East Walton
corbel head   East Walton is well off the beaten track, a quiet village down a cul-de-sac off of the Gayton to Narborough road. 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 massive 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! I met an old lady in the graveyard, who recalled the Rector here when she was a child 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 here, and the Minister responsible for it has charge of five other churches.

East Walton has no connection with West Walton over on the Cambridgeshire border. Indeed, it doesn't feel as if it probably has much of a connection with anywhere at all, really. There is something delightfully self-contained about this quiet little village.

The great round tower has a visible lean to the west, and has been bolstered and restored in the last year - the architect's drawings are on display inside. The windows are filled with lovely irregular panes of 18th century glass.

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 liked it a lot. A sprinkling of medeival survivals - wild, grinning corbel heads, the quatrefoiled font, the flowered tympanum above the priest door in the chancel, a brass which asks us to pray for the souls of William Bacar and Margaret his wife - are adornments to this simple, lovely space.

  "Here beginneth..." Tom in the driving seat. (c) Peter Stephens

Simon Knott, October 2006

font looking east looking west: the church hunter tympanum to priest door Hanoverian arms
orate pro animae chancel arch

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