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

St Andrew, Frenze


Frenze porch window (16th Century) Frenze

  St Andrew, Frenze

We are a stone's throw from the Suffolk border, and Frenze church sits barely any distance at all from Diss railway station, but it is remote, across the fields hidden in a copse of trees. To reach it, you need to head out of Diss and journey almost a mile from the nearest road. From a country lane signposted somewhat unpromisingly to Diss Business Centre, you soon reach clear rolling country, and at a bend in the road a concrete track heads off to Frenze Hall. This heads down through the woods and then upwards until eventually it comes out into an empty farmyard, apparently abandoned, although the farm house is still occupied. In one corner of the yard, on a rise behind an old wooden fence, sits the church of St Andrew, Frenze.

It is a curious looking structure. Effectively, it is just the small nave of a formerly longer 14th Century church, propped up but still leaning all over the place. The chancel was demolished in the early 19th Century. The red brick porch was probably under construction in the early 16th Century, for in 1521 one Margaret James gave a cow to the reparation of the porch. You step through it into a soft grey light falling on bare wood and old stone. Although the font and a few other features survive from medieval times, the overwhelming flavour of the inside is of the 17th Century, a silvery white family pew facing across to its partner pulpit, clearly by the same hand. The church is redundant and in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and perhaps because of this is charged more intensely with the past of this tiny parish than its present. And this would just be a beautiful, unspoiled hidden corner of Norfolk if it were not for one curious thing, for this church has no fewer than seven figure brasses, more than just about any other church in East Anglia, as well as other memorial inscriptions. An extraordinary find in such a place.

John Blenehayset, 1510 Jane Blenehaysett, 1521 Ralph Blenerhaysett, 1475 Anne Duke (her figure on her husband's brass 1551, she died 1577 and is buried elsewhere)
Thomas Hobson, c1520 Thomas Hobson c1520 Joan Braham, 1519 Joan Braham, 1519
John Blenehayset, 1510 Jane Blenehaysett, 1521 Ralph Blenerhaysett, 1475 Thomas Playters c1600
Mary, daughter and sole heir of George Blenerhaiset, 1587 Johanna Braham 1519

They are between eighteen and twenty-four inches tall. Mostly, they are to the Blenerhaysett, or Blennerhassett, family and their relatives, a most un-East Anglian name. In the Paston letters, Sir John scoffs that Ralph Blenerhaysett is a name to start a hare. The family came from Cumbria, and they were the Lords of the Manor here in the 15th and 16th Centuries. Six of the figures are still in situ on the floor. The vowess Joan Braham, who died 1519, stands in her cloak and girdle. Jane Blenerhaysett, who died in 1521, wears a kennel headdress, while her husband John Blenerhaysett, who died in 1510, stands in armour with his sword. John's father and Paston's correspondent Ralph Blenerhaysett, who died in 1475, wears full mail. Then there is a lovely shroud brass to Thomas Hobson. It is undated but is in the style of a Norwich workshop of about 1520. Pray for ye sowle of your charite of Thomas Hobson to ye trynyte reads his inscription. A mid-16th Century brass of Anne Duke is also in a kennel headress, and the contemporary brass figure of Thomas Playters has been reset on the wall. Other inscriptions also survive

But even if there were no brasses, you would want to come here. Everything is simple, but touched down the long years. The plain altar, bears a medieval mensa. Surviving boards from a Stuart royal arms have been collected together and hang above the south door. There are two piscinas set into windowsills, one each side of the nave. Two smug little creatures looking a little like monkeys stare out at all of this from their bench ends. What a special place.

Simon Knott, November 2022


looking east

looking east up at the holy end font
pulpit (17th Century) and stall (15th Century) Stuart royal arms (partial) family pew (17th Century) pulpit (17th Century) and stall (15th Century)
harmonium crucified


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