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

St Andrew, Hingham


Hingham Hingham Hingham

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    St Andrew, Hingham

Hingham is a large, attractive village, almost a small town really, just to the north of Attleborough. Over the years I had often passed through it on the way to somewhere else, but when I came back to the church on one of those typically wet, windy days in May 2021 I realised that it was fully fifteen years since I had last stepped inside. But this is not an easy building to ignore, for in many other counties Hingham's great church would be the biggest, and it still stands out despite there being a dozen or so larger in Norfolk. The vast, blockish tower is a landmark for miles around, and the church itself is more than fifty metres long. In East Anglia, it is not unusual to find a huge church which was all built in one campaign. Perhaps the most famous are Salle, Lavenham and Southwold. This is true here too, but Hingham is different in that it dates from a century earlier than those other great churches. It is possible to date the building quite precisely. We know that the bulk of it was in place before the death of Remigius de Hethersett in 1359, but there are elements of the emerging Perpendicular style among the otherwise Decorated features, telling us that it was probably after the Black Death had dispatched more than half the Norfolk population in the late 1340s. We can reasonably assume that most of what we see here then dates from a single decade, the 1350s.

As with a number of Norfolk's larger villages, Hingham in the past was a market town, and Remigius de Hethersett built a church that befitted a place of some importance. In the 1870s the Victorians restored St Andrew with the same enthusiasm, and this is a thoroughly urban building, both inside and out. Inside, it must be said, the church has rather less character than out, for the 19th Century has left an anonymous atmosphere and the church could be in any large town; but there are several features of great interest.

You step into a wide interior which can feel a bit gloomy on a dark day despite the aisles and clerestories. The eyes are inevitably drawn towards the east, and one of Norfolk's largest windows. It is not only remarkable for its size, for it contains what Birkin Haward thought the very best collection of Continental glass in the whole of Norfolk. It is German, and dates from around 1535 for, as Pevsner points out, one of the cartoons was also used at Scheiden near Cologne and dated so. The glass was the gift of the Wodehouse family of Kimberley, who filled the chancel windows there with more of the same. It was bought in 1813 from the Norwich stained glass merchant JC Hampp who specialised in fragments of medieval glass from English churches and often larger schemes of continental glass from European churches and monasteries closed by war and revolution in Europe. There was a great fashion for this kind of thing in the early years of the 19th Century before the Victorian stained glass industry got going, and it was often installed for purely decorative reasons, although there appears to be something more of an antiquarian and aesthetic motivation here.

The glass is essentially in two registers. The upper register has a central figure identified as St Andrew, holding a bag and a stringed tri-square, and in the register below him is St Anne holding the Blessed Virgin and Christ child. The four major scenes in the window revolve around them. They are, anti-clockwise from top left, The Crucifixion, the Deposition, the Resurrection and the Ascension. There are smaller scenes flanking the major subjects, including an unusual one of the Risen Christ consoling St Peter. Figures in the upper lights include two donors, one of which was identified by the glass expert David King as Willem, Duke of Jülich & Berg, leading him to the conclusion that the glass originally came from Mariawald Abbey. The window tracery was made specially when the glass was installed at Hingham in 1825 by Samuel Yarrington, who often worked with Hampp. Yarrington was responsible for the small amount of decorative glass used to fill in spaces.

East window: St Andrew above St Anne holding the Blessed Virgin and Christchild flanked by (anti-clockwise from top left) Crucifixion, Deposition, Resurrection, Ascension (German, early 16th Century) St Anne holding the Blessed Virgin and Christchild (German, early 16th Century) Christ's Ascension into heaven (German, early 16th Century)

St Andrew flanked by the Crucifixion and the Ascension

St Anne holding the Blessed Virgin and Christchild flanked by the Deposition and the Resurrection (German, early 16th Century)

The risen Christ comforts St Peter (German, early 16th Century) St Thomas touches the wound of the risen Christ (German, early 16th Century) St Andrew St Anne holding the Blessed Virgin and Christchild (German, early 16th Century)

St John and the body of Christ at the Deposition (German, early 16th Century) Roman soldier asleep at the Resurrection (German, early 16th Century) Blessed Virgin and St Mary Magdalene at the Deposition (German, early 16th Century)

The most memorable medieval feature of Hingham church is the large Morley tomb in the north wall of the sanctuary, a great towering edifice that incorporates an Easter sepulchre at the base. It dates from the middle of the 15th Century, a period we know well in East Anglia; and yet the red stone from which it is carved creates an unfamiliarity. Despite its size, it is not an arrogant piece. The Morleys kneel facing outward in relief among the weepers, with the saints above. Pevsner thought it was the finest of its type in England, and went further. He thought it was exactly like a gateway, and suggested that if one thinks away the tomb-chest and back wall the monument is palpably based on Erpingham Gate in Norwich.

Coming back westward, the great nave opens out, your footsteps echoing on the hard ledgers. Hingham's 1870s font seems a poor thing compared with the grandeur and mystery behind you. Perhaps the surviving medieval font was also a poor one. Presumably lost in the same clear-out was the font cover seen here by Richard Hart in 1842. He recorded that it had a palindromic inscription. There is another font cover with a palindromic inscription at Knapton in the far north-east of Norfolk, and the one there reads NIYON ANOMHMA MH MONAN OYIN - 'wash not only my face but my sins as well'. This occurs at several other places and is likely to have been the inscription here. Indeed, it might even be the same font cover.

The most famous person commemorated at Hingham is not from the village at all. In a reconstructed alcove in the north aisle there is a bust of Abraham Lincoln. The Lincolns left Hingham in the middle of the 17th Century, but his origins are remembered here. Also remembered is Sidney Wodehouse Upcher, who in 1917 was a victim of a terrible yet now little-remembered incident during the First World War when his life in this world was lost along with 800 officers and men in HMS Vanguard. The Vanguard was anchored in Scapa Flow after the Battle of Jutland when on the night of 9th July a series of chain explosions set off the entire magazine on board, and 834 of the 836 men on board were killed. Several possible causes were suggested for the explosions, but it was never definitely resolved. Upcher's memorial includes the lines I hope to see my Pilot face to face, when I have crost the bar from one of the most moving of Tennyson's poems, but which was perhaps small comfort for his family.

Simon Knott, May 2021

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looking east sanctuary
Morley memorial (15th Century) font looking west Abraham Lincoln
Feed the Hungry (workshop unknown, c1880) Road to Emmaus/Super at Emmaus (Kempe & Co, c1900) St Jude, St Simon and St Matthew (possibly early Powells? 1880s) Here lieth attending its glorious Resurrection the Body of Caleb Shelley
lost together with 800 officers and men in HMS Vanguard Hingham


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