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

Holy Trinity, Ingham


three-storey porch Ingham Ingham vaulted porch

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    Holy Trinity, Ingham

This is a big church, rising high above these flatlands that sprawl between the Broads and the sea. The chancel was rebuilt in the middle of the 14th Century just before the Black Death swept across England. The work was carried out at the expense of Sir Oliver de Ingham, who we will meet inside. Unusually for this part of Norfolk this means that the chancel is the oldest part of the church, for in the decades which followed the church was attached to a priory, the mother house of the Friars of the Holy Trinity, who rebuilt the nave with clerestories and aisles. That was about it for nearly a hundred years, and then came the rebuilding of that great tower and porch in the 1460s. And so this is a church with a pleasing mix of the two later medieval styles, and although it still has plenty of Decorated details it already has a strong flavour of that powerful and serious Perpendicular austerity which would inform so much architecture over the course of the late 15th Century. Most serious of all is the great vaulted three-storey porch, rising high as a house, although its bulk is softened slightly by the rosemary bushes planted outside. Inside, the porch is vaulted extravagantly in stone and ceiled in plaster between the ribs. Despite all this grandeur though, the Priory never really prospered, and by the Reformation a century and a half later it had already ceased to function.

You step into a building which is pretty much all of its architecture, a great stone palace which rather puts its fixtures and fittings in the shade. There is no coloured glass, and the clerestories with their quatrefoil windows are perhaps unnecessary, for the aisle windows below them are so large, and the whole building is shot through with light and awe from two of the tallest east and west windows in Norfolk, that to the east with Decorated tracery and that to the west Perpendicular.

There are two important memorials here. That in the chancel is Sir Oliver de Ingham himself. He lies on a bed of pebbles, sword in hand, two angels holding his helmet. Figures of mourners are set in relief along the base. The whole thing is very similar in form to the one of Sir William de Kerdiston a few miles off at Reepham, although not in as good condition. Interestingly, it was analysed in 1993 using polychromatic techniques, and evidence of a rich colour scheme was unearthed. A painting of what it might have been like is on display, and is startling to say the least.

The other memorial in the nave, in its way more striking, is to the south of the chancel arch. It is roughly contemporary, although it remembers two people of several generations earlier, Sir Roger and Lady Margaret de Bois. Most curiously, Sir Roger rests his head on a disembodied helmeted knight. On the western panel of the tomb below their heads sits Christ in Judgement beneath coloured coving, two angels flanking him holding figures of what might perhaps be donors.

Sir Oliver de Ingham, c1350 Sir Oliver de Ingham, c1350
Lady Margaret and Sir Roger de Bois, c1320 Christ in Judgement Sir Roger de Bois, c1320 (2005)

For such a grand church there is a surprisingly bog-standard 13th Century Purbeck font, typical of a number of the churches around here, although the Victorians had a go at making it grander by placing it high on a coloured marble collonade. It seems odd that the 14th and 15th Century rebuilding didn't bring a new font, or perhaps it did and it later suffered damage and had to be replaced from elsewhere. More unusual is the surviving lower part of the stone screen, the only one in Norfolk I think, although there are several further south in Suffolk and Essex.

On Sunday the 30th of March 1851 a census was taken across England and Wales of attendances in churches and chapels of all denominations that day. The National Census of Religious Worship would turn out to be the only one of its kind, but it provides a fascinating snapshot of churches in general and of the Church of England in particular, poised as it was at the start of the 19th Century revival at a time when many rural populations were reaching a peak before haemorrhaging to the towns. However, Edward Wymer, the incumbent at Ingham, was having no such truck. Not being legally obliged to answer the above, I decline so doing, he wrote across the part of the form requiring him to give a count of his congregation. If the Reverend Wymer seemed a little defensive, he might well have had good reason for being so. Elsewhere in the parish, the Ingham Particular Baptist Chapel had a total attendance that day of almost six hundred over its two services, and although some of these people must have come in from other parishes, it was an impressive performance given that the total population of Ingham was fewer than five hundred. The attractions of the Ingham Baptist Chapel may not entirely have been those of muscular evangelical protestantism however, for the curate of the parish church in neighbouring Catfield, while agreeing to fill in his own totals, noted wistfully that the wives and daughters of his mainly male congregation prefered to attend a small conventicle of ranters nearby.

Simon Knott, September 2021

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looking east sanctuary
font looking west
looking east east window east window tracery
stone screen and chancel


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