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

All Saints, Narborough

Narborough

sun dial niches

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    All Saints, Narborough

Narborough is a big, busy village in the west of the county, although not as busy as it used to be now that the A47 bypasses it. It's parish church of All Saints was largely rebuilt in the 15th Century, and then extensively restored in the 19th Century. Thus far, then, a similar story to hundreds of other churches, but All Saints is more interesting, indeed more quirky, than many of its contemporaries. For a start, there is that singular view from the east. Two aisles that are wilfully different; that on the north side is high, that on the south is low, running the full length of the building. On a south facing buttress are the numbers of a sundial. The elegant tower sits oddly at the west end of the south aisle, but has no connection with the nave, the west wall of which is level with the eastern face of the tower. A dumpy vestry was fitted into the space here in the early part of the 20th Century.This creates a curious effect as you enter the church by the south doorway, since you are coming in at a corner. Once past the font, the church opens up before you.

All Saints inside is clean, neat, and obviously well cared for. The church was closed for several months in 2016 for refurbishment and redecoration, and there is a sense of stepping into light and space. The crisp nave is flanked by decent early 20th Century glass which I think is mostly by Clayton & Bell. One good earlier survival is the sequence of five figures in 15th Century glass illustrating the Orders of Angels, now reset in the upper lights on the north side of the chancel. They depict Thrones, a small angel in white, Powers, a blond angel vigorously birching a devil, his scroll reading Potestates presut demones ('powers put down demons'), Virtues, an angel in purple, Angels, an angel in gold, and Cherubim, an angel in white protecting earthly citizens.

Thrones Powers Virtues Angels Cherubim sheltered by the cherubim (15th Century)

Below this window is a small niche with a demi-effigy of a woman wearing a wimple and holding a heart. This is claimed to be one Dame Agatha of Narborough, as the later faux-Latin inscription above it suggests. But as far as memorials go this church is dominated by the Spelman family. Several Norfolk landed families seem to have made a good living from the law over the centuries, but perhaps none more than the Spelmans, who kept their hand in for at least four hundred years. They are here in the form of their brasses, the pre-Reformation ones on the floor, the post-Reformation ones reset on the wall, including the only brasses in Norfolk that depict a figure in judge's robes. But most dramatic of all are the memorials in the chancel.

On the north side are Sir Clement Spelman and his wife, leaning awkwardly on their elbows like their contemporaries at Hethel. Above them kneels their daughter in a devoted attitude, but it is the figure on the other side, a baby in a cot, that catches the eye and the imagination. What happened to him when he grew up? To answer that question, it is only necessary to turn around; for there, standing life size on a pedestal, is the grown-up Clement fils, a wholly secular effigy of him in his robes as Recorder of Nottingham. What makes this particular statue interesting is that the pedestal that it stands on was reduced in the 19th Century from one that was no less than eight feet high, which had stood exactly in the centre of the chancel. The height of the pedestal was because it contained his coffin, standing upright. Pevsner observes that the pompous Spelman insisted on this before his death so that he should not be trodden on. Not unreasonably, the energetic and pious Victorians were having no truck with this, and they chopped the pedestal down, chucked the coffin out, and moved Spelman to one side. How they resisted relegating him to outside the church altogether is not recorded.

Simon Knott, May 2021

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St Michael flanked by St Martin and St Elizabeth of Hungary looking east Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by St John and the Blessed Virgin
the young Clement Spelman Spelman memorial Sir Clement Spelman the younger
Lady Spelman Sir Clement Spelman the elder
John Spelman Spelmans
Domina Agatha a Narborough ('Dame Agatha of Narborough') quand dieu voldra G II R 1759
Pentecost font War Memorial (station of the cross: deposition)
St Michael resurrection laus deo St Elizabeth of Hungary Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation

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