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

St Peter, Hedenham


Hedenham (December 2004)

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St Peter, Hedenham

The busy road from Diss to Lowestoft and Great Yarmouth threads through the Waveney Valley without paying too much attention. Around it in the hilly landscape to the north of Bungay spreads a lattice of narrow lanes leading to churches disconnected from their villages and set in the lonelier parts of their parishes. One such is Hedenham, a short distance from the Bungay to Norwich road but set on a rise which suggests an early site with the Park of Hedenham Hall and a few houses and cottages for company.

The medieval church would have benefited from the patronage of the Bedingfield family of the Hall, and yet externally this is a fairly simple rural church without aisles or clerestories. The chancel dates from the 14th Century, the tower and nave were rebuilt in an undemonstrative manner in the 15th Century. The crow-stepped gable at the east end of the nave suggests some work of the 16th Century. In any case, as Pevsner observed, they are in their details mostly Victorian.

This is not a big church, and it is rather narrow, so it is something of a surprise to step inside and find that the chancel underwent an opulent restoration in the High Victorian manner in the 1860s, the work of Edward Tarver who seems to have been something of a prodigy. He was only in his mid-twenties when he restored Hedenham church, having been set up in private practice at the age of just twenty-two. By his early thirties he was the President of the Architectural Association, but his light burned fast because by the age of fifty he was dead. His only other work in Norfolk appears to have been the restoration of Runhall church, although outside East Anglia he was responsible for a number of country houses and public buildings. Tarver's restoration is singular in several respects, but most of all because he did not move the Bedingfield and other memorials out of the chancel as was the common practice as architects restored chancels to liturgical use. This may well be because the Bedingfields paid for the restoration, and so they remain crammed on to the north wall, contributing to a somewhat claustrophobic effect.

Sir Philip Bedingfield, 1621 laureled skull and cameo cherubs
Clere Garneys, London merchant, 1767 Henry Bedingfield 'Sepultus 2o die Februarii Ao 1594' Clere Garneys, 1730

The biggest of the memorials is to Francis Bacon of 1663. The manic laurelled skull beneath the tablet is particularly memorable. The earliest is to Henry Bedingfield of 1594, his brass plate set within a stone surround with columns and a pediment. To the east kneels Sir Philip Bedingfield on his memorial of 1621, a curious doll-like figure out of proportion with the other parts of the memorial. Back in the nave are two memorials to a Clere Garneys, one of 1730 and the other of 1767, presumably his son, which tells us that he was a London Merchant. The Bedingfields retained ownership of much of the land in the parish, although by the 19th Century they were no longer living at the Hall.

Fortunately, Hedenham's chalice brass of 1502 survived the enthusiasm of the young Edward Tarver's restoration and remains set in the chancel floor. There are a couple of dozen surviving chalice brasses in East Anglia, and this one remembers Richard Grene who was, as the inscription reminds us, quondam Rector illi Ecclesia, one time Rector of this Church.

The gloom of the chancel would have been perfect for the solemn, incense-led liturgies of High Victorian Anglo-Catholicism. Such things are unfashionable now, but in any case the nave provides light relief. Set in the clear glass of the Perpendicular windows are a number of roundels and lozenges which look to have had different origins. Christ the Man of Sorrows appears to be early 19th Century, perhaps the work of Samuel Yarrington. A Tudor Rose is surrounded by a border containing four primroses, while a more recent scene depicts the Last Sleep of St Cecilia. Best of all is a glass royal arms for Queen Victoria, set in a border entwined with rose hips. This is interesting, because White's 1845 Guide to Norfolk tells us that at the Mermaid Inn there is a beautiful rosary of three acres highly celebrated for supplying the most valuable varieties. The Mermaid Inn survives down on the road to Bungay, but it is more prosaically today a Thai restaurant.

Simon Knott, October 2021

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looking east looking east chancel St Michael and St Raphael (EJ Tarver, 1865)
Christ the Man of Sorrows royal arms of Victoria Last Sleep of St Cecilia Tudor Rose
the people of Hedenham dedicate this tablet chalice brass for Richard Grene, 1505


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