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

St Andrew, Eaton, Norwich

Eaton: something of a surprise

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extension extension extension from the car park

    St Andrew, Eaton, Norwich
apparently a typical rural church from this angle   Here we are in the pleasant south-western suburbs of the city of Norwich, and Eaton is within the city boundaries. As such, this means that St Andrew is the last surviving thatched church in the city. Today, it is surrounded by development, but twenty years ago it was backed by open countryside. To see it from the north, or from Morrisons car park next door, you might be struck by how the long nave and chancel, all in one, are so very much older than the elegant late Perpendicular tower against which they stand. Closer to, the windows reveal a late 12th century building.

If you think that St Andrew is little more than a subsumed medieval village church, however, you are in for something of a surprise. This unfolds as you make your way around to the south side, for there, hidden from the road, is one of the most dramatic extensions on any Norfolk medieval church. Three pointed prows point away from each other, and finish in dropped, angled glass curtains. The relationship between church and extension is fine, although the join itself is not a wholly comfortable one, as we will see inside.

Despite being an urban church, St Andrew is welcoming to strangers and pilgrims, and is open every day, for which the parish is to be thoroughly congratulated. Facing ahead of you as you step in is the church's one great medieval survival, a late 14th century depiction of the warning against idle gossip. This subject is found several times in East Anglia, and conventionally depicts, as here, two women neglecting their rosaries, which dangle down from their hands as they kneel. Instead, they are having a chat, and what they are saying is being written down on scrolls by two enormous devils, presumably to be later used in evidence against them. This is the only surviving part of a wider scheme, originally uncovered and recorded in the 19th century, which was exposed again when the extension was built.

the warning against gossip gossip devil

The extension is a good one, full of light. You step into it through the former south doorway, and so it effectively creates a second, separate church, a contrast with the contemporary extension at the medieval parish church of Kesgrave in the suburbs of Ipswich, where the entire south wall was removed and a similarly dramatic, boat-like extension added. The lights of the lower part of the south window are successively blocked, creating a dramatic backdrop to the simple altar. If this was a Catholic church, there would probably have been an attempt to make the altar more central, but here, the clean, fresh lines are thoroughly traditional. As if to set the Anglican seal, the royal arms formerly in the old church have been reset on the gallery above the south door.

looking altarwards in the new bit looking towards the old church

Coming back from the light of the new church, the old nave and chancel seem excessively dark, and not only because of the pretty dreadful 1950s roodscreen. Some of the windows on the south side are obscured by the extension. This can't be helped, but on this early morning in late winter it certainly made the interior feel pretty gloomy.

The 19th century restoration was by Thomas Jekyll, and that century has left some decent glass and a most curious memorial. In the gloom, I found it rather had to decipher, but the illumination of my flash revealed a cross, an anchor and a heart, entwined by a tree growing from a rock. This is a conventional representation of Faith, Hope and Charity. In the wall plate of Jekyll's scissor-braced roof above, a later hand has lettered in the words of psalm 148: He hath made them fast for ever and ever : he hath given them a law which shall not be broken. Praise the Lord upon earth : ye dragons, and all deeps; Fire and hail, snow and vapours : wind and storm, fulfilling his word; Mountains and all hills : fruitful trees and all cedars; Beasts and all cattle: worms and feathered fowls; Kings of the earth and all people : princes and all judges of the world.   modern west gallery

Simon Knott, April 2007

path to the church avenue sanctuary looking west in the old church Faith, Hope, Charity
looking east in the old church St Andrew, brother of Peter John and Peter watch the Ascension of Christ royal arms reset in the extension
extension Eaton 


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