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

St Margaret, Hardley

Hardley

Hardley Hardley Hardley

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St Margaret, Hardley

Norfolk has its giants, the churches at Cley, Salle and Cawston for example, and the Marshland churches, and that's not to mention the big town and city churches, but I love the little lost out-of-the-way places best. There's something about the atmosphere you get in slightly shabby, relatively untouched and unvisited churches like Hardley. The long, narrow lane from Chedgrave to nowhere eventually peters out here, on the edge of the marshes. Beyond, for miles, are the flat grasslands with their scatterings of sheep and the long, lazy Yare winding through, vaguely going eastwards but in nothing of a hurry. And the silence too, nothing to be heard apart from the occasional burst of birdsong and the wind in the reeds far off, like something that happened long ago. A row of council houses opposite the church seems incongruous, but of course it isn't inappropriate for this working landscape.

Unusually for these little Norman churches in the marshes, St Margaret had an extensive makeover in the late 15th century. The tower was substantially rebuilt as a result of bequests in the early 16th Century. Fifty years earlier the chancel was added, and the whole piece was then well-kept by more protestant-minded parishioners in the 17th and 18th Centuries, the first of which brought the Jacobean pulpit. The Victorians were kind to Hardley, and as a result the church is full of white light, even on a winter's day. The one major addition of the 19th Century was a quirky little red-brick vestry with an oversized chimney to the north of the chancel. The body of the nave is slightly off-centre from the fat round tower, and Pevsner wondered if an arcade had been knocked through into the aisle to increase the size of the nave.

Inside, the first impression is of the brick floors and the silvery ghost-like woodwork. When church was repewed towards the end of the 18th Century the carpenters merely encased the late medieval benches in boxes of panelling. The result is curious, as though the dark oak grows out of the light pine. Such things were probably far more common, and it is unusual to see them unrestored. The typical East Anglian 15th Century font sits on a high double pedestal, the pretty painted pipe organ behind. On the south wall, facing the door as usual, is a wall painting of St Christopher, but it is not as big as in some churches in this part of Norfolk, and the background pattern is like ermine. Beside him, a marshland heron looks up, and between his feet fish squirm in the river. An older wall painting immediately to the east depicts St Catherine holding her wheel, and was possibly connected with the site of an altar here.

The 15th Century screen that must have gone up at the same time as the chancel was rebuilt has a largely renewed dado, and beyond it the sanctuary is plain and simple, its piscina of course also contemporary with the rebuilding. The perpendicular east window is high in the manner of churches in the early 6th Century, perhaps suggesting an improvement in the modern fashion at that time.

A reminder that naming babies after heroes of the past isn't a new idea is the 1632 brass to Drake WIlliam Playters. The Playters were from Sotterley Hall in Suffolk, and the brass inscription notes that Drake William married into the Tollemaches of Helmingham Hall, so we can safely assume that he wasn't short of a few bob. At the other end of the church a finely lettered roundel remembers Ronald Hutton, and tells us that electric power was brought to this church in memory of him as recently as September 1985.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east looking east sanctuary
rood screen detail foliage canopied piscina rood screen detail
pulpit St Christopher St Catherine winged lion of St Mark
the men of Hardley and Langley electric power was brought to this church Drake WIlliam Playters, 1632

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