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

St Margaret, Hapton

Hapton

Hapton

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  St Margaret, Hapton

Hapton is a small village above the infant River Tas, between Long Stratton and Norwich. The Forncett to Wymondham branch railway line ran through the parish, but there was never a station here, and even in 1851 when rural Norfolk parish populations were reaching a peak, Hapton only had a population of two hundred, which is to say this has always been a small place. And the branch line, of course, has now gone. The church sits at the top of the village at its highest point, in a lovely sloping churchyard. On this day in April 2023 it was full of the sights, sounds and smells of spring, the waxy petals of a magnolia tree by the south porch now falling and giving way to a vivid green.

There was an early restoration here in 1848, under the eye of the splendidly named incumbent the Reverend Ezekiel Sparke, the perpetual curate of Hapton. Sparke received just 40 a year for his work, roughly 8000 in today's money, so we must assume he had another source of income. He was clearly good at his job because at the time of the 19th Century Census of Religious Worship in 1851 he was attracting more than a third of the parish population to his Sunday afternoon sermons, a high proportion indeed for enthusiastically non-conformist south Norfolk. His only competition was that rare thing, a Unitarian Chapel, but the minister there, one William Selby, recorded in his return that the average congregation was rarely more than twenty, and in any case these were probably gathered from a wide area.

The 1848 restoration built the tower, and since what passes for a tower arch inside was clearly once a doorway then perhaps we can assume that there wasn't a tower here before. The same restoration brought what Pevsner generously calls a general overhaul, and it is this that gives the church you step into the character it has today. A mortar has been pressed into service as a holy water stoup in the porch, and you walk past it into a small church without aisles or clerestories. The font is to scale, an octagonal piece of the 15th Century with shields on the sides as nearby at Old Buckenham and Bunwell. The shields would once have been painted. There seems to have been a previous general overhaul at the time the font was installed, and a couple of benches survive from this at the back of the nave, but in any case the nave and chancel must have been substantially rebuilt a hundred years before that, if the chancel arch is anything to go by. Cautley recorded seeing a consecration cross on the north wall when he visited in the 1930s, and this would have come from that 14th Century rebuilding, but I couldn't find a trace of it.

Yes, it is a plain and simple church, but there is one surprise to come. The capitals of the early 14th Century chancel arch are carved in what I believe is known as a seaweed pattern. However, if you look up into the design on the north side you will see a face grinning back at you, for this is Hapton's Green Man, or more properly a foliate head. He's been here all along, through the 16th Century Reformation, the 17th Century Puritan years, the sleepy 18th Century, the 19th Century revival of the Church of England, and of course the modern age with all its dramas and traumas. And he's here still, a silent witness, the saving remnant.

Simon Knott, May 2023

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looking east chancel font and tower arch
font green man mortar as holy water stoup
died of wounds in France

 
   
               
                 

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