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

St John the Baptist, Morningthorpe

Morningthorpe

Morningthorpe chancel south side Morningthorpe

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St John the Baptist, Morningthorpe

We are barely a mile from the busy Ipswich to Norwich road, and yet we might have stepped back a couple of centuries. Morningthorpe has one of those little churches that south Norfolk does so well: simple and rustic, of no great historical significance or architectural excitement, yet beautiful and memorable, especially if you had first come here as I did on a bleak, cold day in February 2005, all Norfolk monochrome under mist and drizzle, the bare trees dripping over the narrow lane from Long Stratton. And here, on the edge of a farmyard, the church.

The sturdy round tower is a reminder that such things were still going up throughout the medieval period, for it is possible to see three separate stages of construction. The two lower stages were Norman, but the lowest stage was redone with a perpendicular window at the very end of the medieval period, Pevsner thought perhaps that it was identifiable with a will of 1504. More dramatically this also brought about the building (rebuilding?) of the top third with its perpendicular bell windows. The battlements at the top were added in the 19th Century, perhaps in diocesan architect Herbert Green's restoration of the 1880s which also renewed the roofs and porch and rebuilt the east end of the chancel. Perhaps the south windows had been renewed earlier in that century.

You step into a church which inevitably has a strong feeling of the late Victorian period, although the 15th Century font in the East Anglian style is a good example, with angels holding shields alternating with crowned lions. There are standing lions around the stem and presumably there were once woodwoses, but these are now completely erased, the vandalised figures tidied up and replaced in the 19th Century with buttresses. There are two sets of royal arms, both to George III, one painted and the other carved. A sedate 16th Century memorial in the north side of the chancel has no inscription, but Pevsner thought it was probably to the Richard Garneys who erected Boyland Hall in the parish in 1571 and died shortly after.

The east window contains glass from the time of Green's restoration and is of interest because it is by the local workshop of J & J King of Norwich. It depicts the Crucifixion flanked by scenes in the life of Christ. Their work was never as formulaic as the major workshops of the time, the pastel colours are attractive and the panels depicting the Annunciation and the Adoration of the Magi are particularly charming. Birkin Haward thought that the glass in the other chancel windows was by J Dixon in the 1850s, but how curious are those upper lights! The small panels depict naively drawn representations of Mary at the Annunciation, Christ in Majesty, a now-headless kneeling woman who might be St Mary Magdalene and Christ suffering the children to come to him - could they be survivals from the pre-ecclesiological scheme of glass that was recorded as happening here in the 1840s but which was later replaced?

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east sanctuary unnamed memorial, 16th Century (Richard Garneys?)
piscina font dragon
Annunciation agnus dei suffer the children Adoration

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