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

St Mary, Pulham St Mary

Pulham St Mary

    St Mary, Pulham St Mary
south porch (15th Century)   The Pulhams are large, comfortable villages to the north of Diss, just to the east of the Ipswich to Norwich road, and about halfway between them, and so must have been a regular stopping point in years gone by. As at neighbouring Pulham Market, Pulham St Mary is dominated by its grand, mostly Perpendicular church, this one set on a rise above the village street in a wide graveyard. There are similarities between the two churches, but differences too. St Mary's tower is earlier and is rather more feminine, with its pretty pinnacles and large bell openings.

And, of course, there is the most famous feature of either church, St Mary's gorgeous late 15th century porch, perhaps the best in Norfolk and the equal of many of Suffolk's finest. Tower and porch work together to create a sense of grandeur, but in fact this is not a huge church, and there is no aisle on the north side.

The porch is magnificent. Actually not as large as it appears, its two storeys are flanked by ranges of flushwork panelling, which become, from the top on the front, ranks of stone niches, angels holding shields, angels with musical instruments and then more niches. The angels on the west side play wind instruments, those to the east play stringed instruments. Pride of place, in the spandrels of the doorway, is the Annunciation, of the highest artistic quality and in lovely condition.

St Gabriel at the Annunciation (15th Century) Blessed Virgin at the Annunciation (15th Century)
four angels with wind instruments (15th Century) angels holding shields of the Instruments of Passion and the Holy Trinity (15th Century) four angels with string instruments (15th Century)

You step into an interior which at first sight disappoints a little, because the north side of the nave is stark, climbing as it does to the heights of the clerestory opposite.

Pevsner records that Bodley's restoration cost an astonishing 5,000, around a cool million in today's money, and it is rather hard to see what they got for their cash. The painting and gilding of the 15th century font is an example; it is rich and opulent now, and you aren't half glad this didn't happen more often, but it seems to have been coloured to match Bodley's font cover, as if he was looking for jobs to do.

However, we can't know what state such a large church might have been in by the late 19th century, and turning east, the picture is more pleasing, for Pulham St Mary still has ranks of low key 15th century benches, which it must have been tempting to replace. They face a magnificent rood screen, partly medieval and partly the work of Mr Bodley. Thanks be to God that he didn't repaint the panels, for they are large and filled with 15th century images of the Apostles. St John is particularly striking, the little dragon in his chalice seemingly about to take flight. St James is fine too.

rood screen: St Simon (15th Century) rood screen: St Jude (15th Century) rood screen: St James (15th Century) rood screen: St James the Less (15th Century) rood screen: St John (15th Century) rood screen: St Andrew (15th Century)

There is some fragmentary 15th century glass, including two almost complete figures of St Barbara and St Catherine. There is a 16th Century roundel of St Lawrence high in the east window. The Victorian glass is probably the largest scheme in East Anglia by Burlison & Grylls, all in their painterly style. A lot of the money probably went on it. You can see a selection lower down this page.

Bodley had the chancel roof repainted in reds and greens, with sacred monograms. Some of these monograms are more elaborate than others, and I wondered for a moment if the simpler ones were actually 15th century originals. A cute skull and crossed bones is incised on a ledger stone in the aisle, its occupant reminding us that Hodie Mihi, Cras Tibi - 'today this is mine, tomorrow it's yours'.

Turning west, the most striking sight is the extraordinary stairway up to the ringers' floor of the tower. It starts in the most south-easterly corner of the aisle, and rises with just a single rail to reach a precipitous platform, dangled nightmarishly at the top of the tower arch. There is something similar under the crossing at Ketton in Rutland. It must have replaced a ladder. I, who have no head for heights, would not have dared walk up it for all Mr Bodley's thousands.

  St Lawrence (Continental, 16th Century)

Simon Knott, August 2018


looking east looking west font (colouring and cover by Bodley, 1870s)
riddle screen and altar surgeon, 1792 Richard Chenevix Trench, Archbishop of Dublin, 1887 Christ the Good Shepherd
St Catherine (15th Century) St Cecilia (15th Century) St Barbara (15th Century) St Mary Magdalene (15th Century)

All Thy works praise Thee (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) Coronation of the Blessed Virgin (Burlison & Grylls, 1901) O Lord and Thy Saints (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s)
St Margaret (Burlison & Grylls, 1901) St Anne (Burlison & Grylls, 1901) St Felix (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) St Edmund (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) St Columba (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s)
Miracle at the Marriage Feast at Cana (Burlison & Grylls, 1900) The Marriage Feast at Cana (detail, Burlison & Grylls, 1900) The Marriage Feast at Cana (detail, Burlison & Grylls, 1900) The Marriage Feast at Cana (detail, Burlison & Grylls, 1900)
Miriam and the dancing girls (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) Pharaoh's daughter with Miriam and the infant Moses (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) Mary and Joseph find the young Christ teaching in the temple (Burlison & Grylls, 1884) Blessed Virgin and disciples on the Day of Pentecost (Burlison & Grylls, 1884)
Flight into Egypt (Burlison & Grylls, 1884) Presentation in the Temple (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) adoration of the angels (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) Blessed Virgin and St Elizabeth at the Visitation (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s)
Annunciation (Burlison & Grylls, 1880s) Esther obtained favour in his sight (Burlison &Grylls, 1880s) Abasuerus crowns Esther (Burlison &Grylls, 1880s) Esther before Abasuerus (Burlison &Grylls, 1880s)

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