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

St Mary, Hickling

Hickling: big and tough

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from the south from the south-east

    St Mary, Hickling
SMF 1635   This great big church sits above its Broadland village, a mighty tower to taunt the lesser churches to the north and east. Here, a lot of money was spent in the 14th and 15th centuries. The aisles came first, and then the tower, the English church triumphant in the years after the Black Death. The breaking up of the old estates had brought to power a new, fabulously wealthy land-owning class, and they poured their money into churches like this one, creating a Brave New England in their own image.

There is no clerestory, and the box-like chancel seems quite out of sorts with the magnificence of the nave and tower. It is the first suggestion that there was an overwhelming restoration here in the 1870s.

You step into a building which is vast and urban, quite anonymous and retaining nothing of the rural, rustic feel of its neighbours. We could as easily be in west London, or Buenos Aires, or Calcutta. It is a Victorian gothic temple interior, and although some architectural details survive there is little of interest.

However, Hickling does retain one absolutely facinating testament to the mindset of the 17th century. An otherwise anonymous tombchest at the east end of the north aisle is covered with graffiti, almost all of it from the years of the Civil War and Commonwealth. There are a couple of carved matrices for Nine Mens Morris, a popular board game of the time, and a multitude of hands drawn around, initialled, and dated. It seems that 17th century East Anglians had smaller hands than those of today, or at least than mine.

Perhaps most striking of all is the bold scrawl ROUNDHEADE 1645. This was the year of John Wilson's 'pious call for a new purity and single-heartedness', A New Anatomie or Character of a Christian, or a Roundheade. Could it be that the scrawler had read this pamphlet and wanted to declare his support for it here? It was the year of the great Parliamentarian triumph, victory over the forces of the Crown at the Battle of Naseby. From this moment, Charles I was doomed, and the world began to turn upside down.

ROUNDHEAD 1645 nine mens morris hands a tangle - what is it?

You could spend a lot of time examining this graffiti, probably longer than you'll need for the rest of this church. For example, what is that curious tangle of lines? Is it a game? A map? A sketch? Intriguing, and, if you have a sense of history and a feel for the English Civil War, this corner of Hickling church will send shivers up your spine. And then, down into the village, which has two fine pubs, and the beautiful Broad beyond.


Simon Knott, August 2006

looking east 
chancel looking west sanctuary font memorial

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