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

St Peter, Rockland St Peter

Rockland St Peter: you'll never forget it

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
a beacon over Rockland rebuilt porch fine 13th century tower crude 17th century inscription from the north-east
from the south-east crude 17th century inscription oops a peacock at Rockland St Peter

    St Peter, Rockland St Peter
a peacock at Rockland St Peter   There are some churches you visit that you'll never forget, and you'll always want to come back to. Rockland St Peter is one of them, I think. Not because of any grand architecture, or major historical survivals, or even for being particularly beautiful.

But there is something about the setting, on the edge of the village surrounded by woodland and meadows, a narrow graveyard inhabited by, of all things, half a dozen peacocks, and that pretty round tower with the diagonal top. The large porch and vestry create more of a cruciform feel than the truncated transepts on the body of the church. On the eastern gable of the little chancel the cross leans disarmingly.

The tower reminds me of the one nearby at Breckles. Round towers of this kind are often assumed to be Saxon or Norman, with a bell stage added in the 14th century, but in fact it was probably all built in one go, and none of this is earlier than about 1300. The south porch was rebuilt in the 17th century, with the crude inscriptions typical of the time. The chancel was presumably ruinous, and was rebuilt on a smaller scale in the 19th century.

What makes St Peter really special is the inside. This is one of those interiors that lifts the heart, it is so full of light and air and space. A neat scissor-brace roof tops the white of the walls. In the body of the nave are ranks of modern wooden chairs, which I think always looks good in a medieval church.

If the interior looks as if it has undergone a recent restoration, then that is correct, because the roof of this church was destroyed in a fire in the late 1940s. There are some dramatic pictures of this event at the back of the church - you can see one of them at the bottom of the page - and afterwards there was a full-scale restoration at a time when, happily, there was a great deal of sympathy for buildings like this. It is beautifully mantained, but not clinical or over-neat. It feels loved.

  scissor-braced roof

The most striking feature of the interior is the screen which is, curiously, two thirds of the way along the nave. The reason for this is that it didn't originally come from this church at all, but was brought here in the 1950s from nearby Tottington church, now in the Battle Training Area, to which access is forbidden. I had been to Tottington the previous year, and had seen the fixings in the chancel arch there where it had been removed. Now I was seeing the screen itself.

It has six lights, three either side of the entrance, and there are the remains of buttressing, more commonly found in the north-east of the county. You can the screen, and its original location, here.

Tottington screen in its new home the chancel arch at Tottington, now in the forbidden zone
dado formerly at Tottington spandrel angel there once were buttresses

At the west end of the nave is one of the biggest fonts I've seen in Norfolk, a massive, tracery carved affair in front of the tower screen, hich I take to be part of the original Rockland rood screen that Bloomfield saw here 'with four figures'. There are none now.

James Fielding   Stepping through the screen, the slight transepts create an opening up before the narrowness of the chancel. In the south transept is part of the gravestone of one James Fielding, for fifty years local Preacher and Superintendent of the Sabbath School in this Parish. He died, aged 90, in 1865, one of the last vestiges of the old Church of England that the Ecclesiological movement was wiping away.

In the chancel itself is some beautiful, restrained Edwardian glass, rich in blues and greens. It shows Christ as the Good Shepherd, with two other figures tending sheep. I take them to be the dedicatees of the glass. The result could have been awful, but it is lovely. Pevsner says it is by Jones & WIllis.

Coming back into the nave, I remembered that the medieval benches from Tottington had also been brought to this church in the 1950s, and are still mentioned as being here in the most recent edition of Pevsner. So where are they now?

Well, I'll tell you. They were returned to Tottington church in the 1990s, after the roof and windows there were made sound, as part of a project to 'normalise' the four churches in the zone. Not that there is ever any chance of public access ever being granted to the churches in the Battle Training Area; or, at least, not to Tottington and Stanford, which are both in the live firing zone at the heart of it. However, when they were returned they found that they had been shortened by the churchwardens of Rockland St Peter in the 1950s to fit them into the church. They are now too short for Tottington nave, and sadly lie stacked up in the church there along with the original tiles from the roof. But you can see them here.

medieval benches, now back in Tottington church medieval benches, now back in Tottington church medieval benches, now back in Tottington church

A gorgeous church then,such a contrast with the village's other church at All Saints; this feels like a living, organic building, not least because it is both beautiful and welcoming. I shall come back soon.

Simon Knott, January 2006

you can also read about my visit to Tottington


the view east huge font south transept Christ the Good Shepherd detail 

church on fire

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