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

St Mary, Gunthorpe

Gunthorpe: a great, lonely ship

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    St Mary, Gunthorpe
war memorial   I had often seen this church off in the fields, poking its ancient head above a copse about a half a mile from the Holt to Fakenham road. I knew nothing of Gunthorpe, the name merely a word on a map, to be confused perhaps with Gunton and Thorpe Market, parishes adjacent to each other on the other side of North Walsham. I had no picture in my mind of what might have happened here, or the lives that had begun here. Proust writes in A la recherche du temps perdu of the way in which placenames absorb the images we have of them, and so perhaps I would have expected something rugged, a fortress-like citadel on a hill. Nonsense of course, and coming to the church for the first time I knew it for what it was. At the churchyard gate stands the war memorial, a few cottages beyond, the cross standing in their view as a memory of a recent past, a Gunthorpe still touched by the loss of its sons. The day was early, the sun beginning to burn off the dew, birds singing undisturbed by anything except us.

St Mary was substantially rebuilt in the 1860s by Frederick Preedy. The chancel is all his, and although the tower and transept are old, much of the exterior has been refaced. The view from the north-east is of a hard-faced and anonymous building. And yet, there is something poignant about the remoteness of such a place. The interior is also all Preedy's, and as Preedy's great forte is his glass, the interior is so much better than the exterior, I think. Apart from the east window, which is by William Warrington, all the glass is Preedy's. there is a lot of Preedy glass in north-west Norfolk, and I think this ranks with the best.

And yet, there is still the sense that this is an urban church, inorganic and suited for the triumphant Anglicanism of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Typical of this are the four angel musicians set into the marble reredos, dominating the sanctuary. The four Evangelists might have been expected instead, but as Tom observed, we are in Norfolk.

angel musician angel musician angel musician angel musician

A stone screen in the same style as the reredos separates Preedy's chancel from the nave, and the nave is quite different: a simple, austere space, dominated by the glass in the windows. The font is big and old, 15th century, the four Evangelists seated and alternating with shields.

Opposite the entrance, another memory. John Towne, a Gentleman of Kings Lynn, died in 1777, and by his last will gave to the poor Ten Pounds, also to the churchwardens of this parish Twenty Five Shillings a year upon the 29th day of September in every year for ever, to be by them laid out in blanketing, and distributed to the said poor, where most needful; observing that no person shall have the benefit two years immediately following.

We stepped back outside into the sunshine. This is a remote part of East Anglia, the dogged lanes deliberately narrow and tortuous, and yet we are not far from the orbit of Walsingham, touchstone to a lost England. There we were headed.

  hungry and you gave me food

Simon Knott, September 2007

looking east looking west font sanctuary 
Last Supper Life of Christ life of Christ works of mercy temptation
Baptism of Christ presentation in the temple massacre of the innocents go and do thou likewise 
in prison and you visited me sick and you visited me homeless and you gave me shelter thirsty and you gave me water naked and you clothed me
early 20th century screen John Towne seated figure altar

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