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

Holy Innocents, Foulsham

Foulsham: large and austere

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a rather clinical graveyard fine late 15th century tower entrance from the west east window, a Victorian confection

    Holy Innocents, Foulsham

Foulsham is a large, handsome village, a small town really, just to the north of the main Norwich to Fakenham road. The road bypasses it by several miles, and you'd be unlikely to visit Fousham these days unless you actually wanted to come here. The town takes its character from the events of June 15th 1770, when a massive fire destroyed both sides of the market place. Pevsner notes that a store of gunpowder was ignited, and consequently nothing in the middle of the village predates this time. The only exception, of course, is the church, the tower and walls of which were left standing.

Holy Innocents is a large, rather austere structure, made doubly so by the rather clinical graveyard. Obstensibly this is a 15th century perpendicular church, but allowances must be made for repairs after the fire, which were made at time before the ecclesiological movement had decided what was 'proper'. Unusual and striking is the juxtaposition between two windows in the east wall of the chancel, a 19th century confection. The tower is tall and stately, and can be seen for miles across the open countryside.

Unusually, you enter from the west, and so the vast interior unfolds before you. The towering 20th century font cover of the 19th century font opens up, and there is a view through the opening to the great east window with its glass by Charles Gibbs. This is a huge interior, with aisles like mighty wings, and the biggest surprise comes if your eye follows the font cover upwards to the roof. After it was rebuilt in the 1770s, the roof was covered by a simply enormous ceiling, as if this was the dance hall of an 18th century spa. Damp stained and incongruous, it is not very attractive, but is interesting for existing at all. You can see what it is probably like underneath by looking at the chancel roof, where you'll also see interesting corbels with crowned heads.

female Saint, head of Christ agnus dei in hand of St John the Baptist female Saint holding sword(?) and book(?) tonsured monk, female Saint
St Francis St Cristopher nimbed heads donor?

There is a good modern window of St Francis, but the delight of Foulsham is the extensive collection of fragments of medieval glass. The best is a beautiful panel of St Christopher set in a north nave window. The rest is scattered, and not the usual tabernacle work, but heads, some of which can be identified. They are set high in the tracery of the huge windows, and you might miss them if you did not think to look for them. Unmissable, though, is the huge memorial to Sir Thomas Hunt in the chancel, with his three wives, although not all at the same time, of course.

A tender little brass inscription to Richard Fenn, who died in 1565, records that Of all I had, this only now I have, Nyne akers, wch unto ye poore I gave. Back outside, don't miss the tomb chest to the north-west of the tower. It is made out of pre-Reformation panels from the tomb of one Robert Colles, yet another unusual thing to find.

Simon Knott, July 2006


looking west sanctuary that unusual ceiling 
the church unfolds before you chancel arch crowned letter Sir Thomas Hunt and his three wives
brass: you can't take it with you open font cover pre-Reformation panelling on a graveyard tombchest

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