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

St Peter, Reymerston


Reymerston lime avenue Reymerston

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St Peter, Reymerston

I recall my first visit here many years ago, on one of those glorious cold, bright February days in the first years of the century. It was late afternoon and the light was thinning out, the Norfolk landscape with its copses and fields fading into shadow. I had been out all day, and decided on just one more church before heading homeward, and it was Reymerston. I wondered if it would be open, for in winter I've encountered a few keyholders who lock the place up in mid-afternoon, so I just hoped.

I needn't have worried. Even from the road, through the darkening trees and the gloom of the churchyard, I could see that the church door was wide open behind the bird grill. And oddly, I could see candles burning inside, which seemed strange for a rural Norfolk church at any time of a winter Saturday. There was no one about. I wandered up the path to the church, down an avenue of lime trees. The daylight was now just tipping over into dusk. I pushed open the bird-grill, and stepped inside. The 'candles' turned out to be one of those electric Christmas arrangements that people usually put in their window, and there were still Christmas decorations around, a reminder that the pace of life in Norfolk can be a little slow.

I've revisited several times since, most recently in the summer of 2023. The setting is curious really, for although only just off of the main street, the churchyard is screened by a swathe of bushes and trees, and you might easily miss it if you didn't know it was there. The church is set back within the churchyard, which had recently been cut at the time of my most recent visit, making it incongruously neat within its shroud of overgrowth. The tall blockish tower is fortress-like, a sense impressed by the massive buttress that contains the stairway on the north side. It was probably built as long ago as the 13th Century, although the parapet must be a post-Reformation, pre-Victorian remodelling. At first sight, the exterior of the aisles and clerestory speak of 15th Century Perpendicular, but the chancel is earlier and so here is a building that has been substantially rebuilt over the centuries. The way in is through the north porch which faces the village street.

Given that you enter what is essentially a late medieval space, the arcades incongruously have Early English foliage capitals, showing that this was an aisled church long before the Perpendicular period. Indeed, it was probably originally rebuilt as a single job in the 13th Century, making the arcades contemporary with the tower. As Pevsner observed, it is an archaeological puzzle. The wide brick floors create a feeling of space and openness, enhanced by the box pews in the aisles that face into the interior space with its late medieval benches. The box pews are probably contemporary with the grand 17th Century three-decker pulpit. And if the furnishings in the nave are unusual, those in the chancel must be unique in East Anglia. First of all, extraordinary altar rail screens that are said to have been bought by a collector on the Grand Tour from a Belgian monastery. They are dated to about 1700 and are in wholly un-English Baroque. Two cherubs venerate a chalice and host in the centre, flanked by vines with bunches of plump grapes. Either side is a large roundel, one depicting the Baptism of Christ and the other probably intended to depict the Sermon on the Mount, although I've never before seen it as Christ lecturing the crowd from a platform.

Baptism of Christ cherubs with a chalice and host Sermon on the Mount

The glass in the east window is also Flemish and early 16th Century. It depicts three large figures, St John and St Peter flanking the figure of Christ. I wonder if it reached Norfolk via the Norwich-based glass merchant J C Haamp? After the exotic excitement of the sanctuary you might think that the rest of the chancel would provide some relief, but here is another oddity, for what at first appear to be choirstalls are likely to have been intended as communicant stalls as at Messing in Essex, where they are 17th Century. At the other end of the church the lovely 15th Century font is notable in another way. The deeply cut panels alternate the evangelistic symbols with seated figures who are perhaps the evangelists themselves. What makes them memorable is their curly hair.

When the 1851 Census of Religious Worship took place, the congregation of 125 here was roughly a third of the population of the parish, pretty good going for this part of Norfolk. But the return for Reymerston included the tantalising detail that the income of the incumbent here was just under 500, which is to say about 100,000 in today's money, and thus one of the highest in Norfolk. Not surprisingly, the work was put out to a curate, one RB Scholefield of Hingham, but he loyally noted on his return that allowance must be made for outgoings, which amount to a considerable yearly sum.

Simon Knott, January 2024

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looking east chancel looking west
font font Christ flanked by St John and St Peter (Flemish, 16th Century) triple decker pulpit
John Long, 1677 communion pew Sir Robert Longe


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