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

St Botolph, Limpenhoe

Limpenhoe: click to view large

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east end Norman doorway Victorian openwork porch

    St Botolph, Limpenhoe
St James   The small churches and tightly packed parishes of south-east Norfolk are a reminder that this was one of the first places in the British Isles settled by the enthusiastic Angles and Saxons. There have been churches here for 1300 years or more, and when the manorial estates were consolidated by the Normans at the end of the eleventh century, the churches were generally rebuilt. And yet, the area has never been terribly wealthy since, certainly not in comparison with the rest of East Anglia, and so there are a fair number of small, substantially Norman churches, some of them very fine. Not far from here are Hales, Heckingham and Hardley, three of the loveliest Norman churches in England.

After the Normans, the next great age of church rebuilding in south-east Norfolk happened in the second half of the nineteenth century, and so it was that St Botolph was almost completely rebuilt in about 1880. The lower part of the tower survives from the 15th century, but there is one reminder of the true glory days of Limpenhoe, a beautiful Norman doorway, now filled in, on the north side. Otherwise, the harshly knapped flints are stark, a reminder of hundreds of non-conformist chapels built at about the same time, but this is ameliorated by a beautiful east window, and an elegant openwork porch.

The architect was AS Hewitt of Norwich. In the 20th Century he would become well known for designing banks, but here in the 1880s we find him often in east Norfolk renovating, restoring and rebuilding.

The interior is, as you would expect, that of a simple, rural 19th Century church, a sacramental space to replace the preaching house which the original building had no doubt become. Despite the clear glass, the serried ranks of pitch pine benches create a rather gloomy feeling, a tunnel-like effect from the single run of nave and chancel together. However, there is some vivid glass in the east window, depicting the Baptism of Christ by St John the Baptist, and the commissioning of St Peter by Christ, with St James and St John looking on. The Baptism scene looks disconcertingly as if John the Baptist is washing Christ's hair under a shower - I wonder who the artist was?

At the time of the rebuilding, there were two churches in the parish, this one and another at Southwood, half a mile or so away. The tapestry on the wall is said to come from Southwood, and I wondered if perhaps the 13th century Purbeck marble font had come from there as well, perhaps to replace a battered Norman tub.

Otherwise, all is modern, simple and seemly. The beautiful banner opposite the south doorway suggests that at one time the character of the worship here was rather higher than it appears to be today. I liked the church too, and I especially liked its setting along the straggly deep-cut lane that becomes the village street.

We came here on the Historic Churches Trust bike ride day, and it was a pleasure to visit this little-known building, and be welcomed by the parishioners on duty. They do a grand job in caring for it. And this is a beautful part of East Anglia, off the beaten track and away from the sound of traffic, a perfect place to walk and to cycle. It seems a pity, then, that so many of the churches in this area are kept locked, this one included.

  St Botolph

Simon Knott, December 2007

St John view east chancel font shampooing of Christ 
sanctuary view west Baptism and Confession Hylton Hayward May

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