Bawdeswell Booton Heydon

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

St Peter and St Paul, Heydon

St Peter and St Paul on a grey day

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The carved west door Boss in the porch: evangelist Boss in the porch: angel View of the pub from the porch - very civilised

    St Peter and St Paul, Heydon
South porch from the avenue   Heydon is one of the prettiest of Norfolk villages, set in the corner of Heydon Hall park. It is the way the buildings quietly accumulate around the village green that makes it so lovely, and you can see why it is regularly used as a set for films and television programmes. The church sits near the entrance to the park, opposite a fine old pub. The west door faces on to the road, and is elaborately carved. You enter the church through the south porch, which is homelier than those of Heydon's grand neighbours Cawston and Salle, but still has familiar bosses, including angels and evangelists. At first sight, the interior is pleasantly Victorianised, with a curious 18th century font providing an exotic topping for the tiles. Light from the clerestory floods the arcades, and the clear glass of the east window means that even on a dull day like the day I visited this is not a gloomy space.

Heydon is remarkable for its wall paintings. They are relatively late, coming after the Black Death had instilled a new urgency in the late medieval church, but before the increasing rationalism of the 15th century replaced devotional tools with congregational ones. Thus, they probably had a life of less than a century, and by the time the Reformation came along had been forgotten by all but the very oldest parishioners. By the late 15th century they were busy erecting the tower and replacing the roof. They didn't rebuild the aisles, but they did punch them through with vast Perpendicular windows. When the wall paintings came to light in the 1970s, thanks to the energy of Eve Baker who we have already met at Little Witchingham, it was found that, although from barely a century later, the windows had been cut through the wall paintings, so we can assume their redundancy by then. Some possible reasons for this are explored in the introduction to this piece.

The most impressive of the paintings is in the north aisle. This depicts the Three Living and the Three Dead, a meditation on the fleeting nature of mortality. Two of the three Princes survive; one of the corpses pokes his skull eerily above an 18th century memorial. As you are so once were we, the three hunting princes are told. As we are so you shall be. At the east end of the aisle is a sequence of the life of St John the Baptist. This includes two scenes of Salome dancing before Herod from different dates, suggesting that the entire sequence was repainted at some point, giving strong credence to the idea that this was the location of a chapel dedicated to St John the Baptist.

Living: detail Dead: detail Adoration of the Magi

A lovely painting in the south aisle is part of a devotional sequence; it depicts the magi approaching with their gifts; the lovely modern window to the right of it takes up the theme and shows the Annunciation, the Nativity and the Presentation in the Temple. You may be distracted by it from a curious arrangement in the north arcade , where the rood loft connected with the roodstair. There is a second doorway, just to the west of the stairway doorway. Probably, it turned back to the loft of a parclose screen around the St John the Baptist chapel. The parclose and all the lofts are long gone, but the rood screen survives in restored form, and you step through into a simple, airy chancel.

This is a lovely building, still resonant with the echoes of the long generations that had it at the heart of their community.

Simon Knott, June 2004

You can also read: an introduction to the churches of Bawdeswell, Booton and Heydon


Looking east Chancel Two of the Three Living Curious: the top of the former rood apparatus. The former St John the Baptist chapel, now memorialising Bulwers.
The rood screen Beautiful modern window: Annunciation, Nativity, Presentation Rood screen dado Brass to Amy Taverner, 1630, in Laudian Latin

an introduction to the churches of Bawdeswell, Booton and Heydon

Bawdeswell Booton Heydon

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