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

St Margaret, Ormesby St Margaret

Ormesby St Margaret: dominating and glorious

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from the north from the street two-storey south porch reordering of west end of north aisle into meeting and quiet rooms

    St Margaret, Ormesby St Margaret
ghost of the past: the Norman south doorway   This massive church dominates the main road into the village from Caister. The west tower is glorious, as proud as any of the late 15th century towers of Norfolk. The two-storey south porch is contemporary with it, and the windows on the south side suggest that they are late 15th century as well.

But there was an earlier church here, and the main evidence of it is the south doorway. This is a substantial Norman affair, rather cruder than similar doorways to the south-west, and so therefore probably very early, late 11th century. If you look, it appears as if the top ranges have been added to the two sides - you can see a join, so it may have been moved outwards in the 15th century when the church was expanded. It is certainly very different in character to the grand tower and strong tracery of the windows on the south and east. All in all, a triumphant building, full of confidence.

But if you approach the church from the north, it will seem quite different, because St Margaret was substantially restored and rebuilt by Diocesan architect Richard Phipson in the late 1860s. He added a north aisle, and this has been recently extended northwards at the western end to accomodate kitchens and toilets, a really good extension and an example of how well these things can be done.

Lacon memorial window detail: Ascending Christ   If the outside of St Margaret speaks to us of the late medieval, the interior is almost entirely the work of the late 19th and early 20th centuries. This is a typical Phipson restoration, not overpowering or triumphant, but full of attention to detail, feeling rather urban but not anonymous. The font, piscina and Easter sepulchre are at best recut; there is another 19th century sepulchre set into the east end of the north aisle.

And Phipson's work has been adorned with one of the best collections of 19th and 20th century glass in Norfolk - there's acres of it, and almost all of it is good.

The east window is filled with a memorial to the Lacons, one of Norfolk's great brewing families. Their mausloeum is outside, but this great window remembers them in the 1939 work of Hardman and Co. The main subject is the Ascension, a reasonably successful rendition of it, and the flanking figures are St Francis, St Christopher, St Nicholas and St Edmund. I particularly like the angels hidden in the firmament behind Christ's head, and real ale enthusiasts will recognise the Lacon symbol, a perched falcon, in the bottom right hand corner.

Other windows feature St Margaret of 1990, Christ walking on the water in the east window of the north aisle, and two separate windows of Hope and Faith flanking a magnificent Blessed Virgin and child, representing Charity. In the first window, the middle subject is ambiguous, but by the second she has become the Mother of God, and he is crowned and carrying an orb. This tradition of good glass at Ormesby St Margaret continues, for in 2002 the parish installed Meg Lawrence's outstanding Three Parables in the most westerly window on the south side. The central subject is the Parable of the Sower, and flanking it are the Good Shepherd and the Repentant Sinner.

Meg Lawrence's outstanding 'Three Parables' Three Parables detail: the Repentant Sinner Three Parables detail: signature
Lacon memorial window Lacon memorial window detail: St Nicholas Lacon memorial window detail: St Francis Lacon memorial window detail: St Christopher
Lacon memorial window detail: Lacon Brewery symbol Christ walking on the water Faith, Hope and Charity I Faith, Hope and Charity II

In the late 1980s, the parish converted the west end of the north aisle into a meeting room raised above a quiet area. This is another excellent conversion, although it does mean that the west window of the aisle is now lost to view. The lower room includes replicas of the two brasses to Robert Clere and his wife under the carpet in the chancel, although that of the woman is still possible to view if you lift the carpet on the south side carefully.

I liked this church a lot. It is welcoming and full of life, mindful of its past but determinedly set in the present.

Simon Knott, April 2006


looking east looking west north-east corner of sanctuary Lacon memorial eagle and war memorial
Lady Clere Robert Clere (replica) east end of north aisle Lacon mausoleum

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