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

All Saints, Old Buckenham

Old Buckenham

Old Buckenham Old Buckenham

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  All Saints, Old Buckenham

Old Buckenham is a big village, and the biggest thing about it is its village green, covering forty acres and much the largest in Norfolk. In fact, in all East Anglia I believe that only the greens at Wortham and at Ilketshall St Andrew in Suffolk and at Great Bentley in north Essex are larger. A couple of miles off is the village of New Buckenham, William D'Albini's planned new town of the 12th Century, but as busy as the road through Old Buckenham is there is not the slightest sense of the urban here. The church sits pleasingly beside the pub on the eastern side of the green, and the most striking thing about it at first sight is that it has an octagonal tower. There are only six of these in Norfolk, the others being at Toft Monks, Billingford St Peter, Kettlestone, Edgefield old church and Buckenham (no relation), and as at several of those the octagonal shape encases an earlier round tower. It seems to have been a brief 13th Century fashion, but it is curious that these towers are not clustered but are spread out across the county.

The original tower was built against a Norman church, and the chancel was rebuilt at the same time that the tower was reshaped. The transformation of the nave came a century later, including the addition of a north aisle. Pevsner makes the interesting point that externally the north side of the church, now hidden from the road, was originally the more visually important, with sacred monograms and shields on the buttresses. The nave is thatched, and renewal of the thatch was completed immediately before the pandemic struck in 2020. The churchyard is particularly attractive, especially (of course) in late spring.

The south porch leads you into the west end of the nave. A painted inscription on the wall here tells you that the interior of this church... was restored and reseated Anno Domini 1858, and that is the overwhelming impression you get. Mortlock noted a sense of yellow-washed Victorian calm, which is a good way of putting it. The 15th Century font has shields which would once have been painted, and behind it is all that remains of the rood screen, pushed into service to create a vestry at the west end of the aisle. On the south side of the nave is glass of some interest. The most easterly nave window is by Kempe & Co, with fairly typical figures of the Blessed Virgin flanked by St James and St Andrew, but in the lights above have been incorporated three impressive 15th Century angels, one of them almost complete, all holding scrolls.

salve regina mater misericordie beata dei genetrix maria ave regina celorum ave domina

The scrolls are in Latin, and express Marian devotions. The first reads salve regina mater misericordie ('Hail Queen, Mother of Mercy'), the second reads beata dei genetrix maria ('Blessed Mary, mother of God') and the third reads ave regina celorum ave domina ('Hail Queen of Heaven, Hail Lady'). They were probably incorporated into the window by Kempe & Co when it was installed at the start of the 20th Century. The firm did something similar at Sandringham. It would be interesting to know if they came from this church in the first place.

The other glass in the nave is most odd. It is by J & J King of Norwich and was installed in the 1870s. It depicts the story of the Good Samaritan. The Samaritan is shown helping the victim in the central light, his page and donkey to the left hand and the rabbi sneaking off carrying his scrolls on the right. This is all set against a lovely collage of trees and flowers. What make the glass unusual though is that the figure of the victim is depicted in a similar pose to Michaelangelo's Adam, except that this being late-19th Century Norfolk he is wearing a pair of shorts.

When the church was refurnished in the 1850s they reused some old bench ends on the stalls in the long chancel.They appear to be Old Testament prophets although they are not carrying obvious symbols. Where the stalls come together they make a nice group, as if they were deep in conversation. There are also some old bench ends of the evangelistic symbols, with a particularly characterful winged lion of St Mark.

bench ends bench ends
bench end (photographed 2006) bench end (photographed 2006) bench end (photographed 2006) winged lion of St Mark (15th Century)

Old Buckenham seems to have been a lively place in the 19th Century, theologically speaking. As well as the parish church there was a Primitive Methodist Chapel, a Strict Baptist Chapel, a Free Gospel meeting, a tabernacle for the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter Day Saints, better known today as the Mormons, and a Sandemanians Meeting House. This last sect was a breakaway from the Church of Scotland, of worshippers who felt it was wrong for the secular power to have any involvement in a church. Their beliefs were governed by primitive Christianity, their worship focused on shared meals and footwashing, and, as the Encyclopedia Britannica succinctly puts it, they believed that the accumulation of wealth was unscriptural and improper. Of the one thousand four hundred inhabitants of Old Buckenham at the time of the 1851 census, the Strict Baptist Chapel drew a hundred for worship on the morning of the census compared with sixty in the parish church, although there were also sixty Sunday scholars present who had no choice but to be there. The afternoon sermon at All Saints was much more popular, and the other chapels attracted between thirty and ninety for their various morning, afternoon and evening services, although there were just ten worshipping Mormons. It is quite likely that some of those who attended chapel in the morning or evening also attended the afternoon sermon here. Even so, Thomas Fulcher the incumbent was the only one to blame sickness and the weather for the size of the congregation when making his return.

Simon Knott, April 2023

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looking east sanctuary looking west
font Blessed Virgin and child flanked by St James and St Andrew with 15th Century angels above (Kempe & Co, 1897) north aisle charities of the parish of Old Buckenham
Blessed Virgin and Child (Kempe & Co, 1897) Good Samaritan (J & King, 1878) John Welham, 1713
G III R memori mei restored and reseated Anno Domini 1858
Matthew Sturdyvant, 1604 Lionel George Robinson, 1922 crowned AMR (photographed 2006)


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