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

St Peter, 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. We had been out all day and decided on just one more church before heading homeward, and it was Reymerston. Peter thought it would probably be open, but in winter I've encountered a few keyholders who lock the place up in mid-afternoon, so I just hoped.

We needn't have worried. Even from the road, through the gloom of the graveyard, we could see that the church door was wide open behind the bird grill. Oddly, I could see candles burning inside - this seemed strange, because I didn't think that Reymerston had a reputation for being High Church. There was no one about. We wandered up the path to the church, down an avenue of lime trees. The daylight wasnow just tipping over into dusk, and I thought how fortunate it was that we had been granted this one last church of the day.

The tall blockish tower was 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.

We pushed open the bird-grill, and stepped inside. It became quickly clear to me that this was one of those churches that I love to visit: idiosyncratic, a number of unusual details, a character all of its own. 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. Incongruously, in what is effectively a late medieval space, the arcades have gloriously ancient Early English foliage-covered capitals, showing that this was an aisled church long before the Perpendicular period. Indeed, it was probably built 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, with a large roundel on each side, one of the Baptism of Christ and the other which is probably intended to depict the Sermon on the Mount, although I hadn't imagined it as Christ hectoring the crowd from behind a railing.

Baptism of Christ altar rail screen 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, and it must also have come been given by a collector. 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. These are likely to be later gothick versions, I think, and the picture emerges of an attempt at that time to recreate a Laudian liturgical space with continental and locally made furnishings.

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 prophets. What makes them memorable is their curly hair, which wouldn't be out place in Art Deco sculpture.

When the 1851 Census of Religious Worship took place, the congregation of 125 was roughly a third of the population of the parish, so about average for this part of Norfolk. But the entry for Reymerston included the tantalising detail that the income of the inclubent 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, RB Scholefield of Hingham, but he loyally noted on his return that from the gross of section V, allowance must be made for outgoings, which amount to a considerable yearly sum.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east sanctuary looking west
Sir Robert Longe triple decker pulpit font font
curly-haired angel (15th Century) grumpy cleric (15th Century) St John's eagle
communion pew curly-haired cleric S Peter's Reymerston


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