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

All Saints, Salhouse

Curiosity - Salhouse tower

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
from the south-eastNever finishedThe peeping tower archfortress SalhouseElegant sound hole

    All Saints, Salhouse
green man   The frigid February day laid a heavy hand on my heart, a touch not lightened by a succession of locked churches. Quite frankly, we'd had enough, and so we headed north into the broads, where the landscape softened and I felt more at home, knowing this to be a land of open churches. We arrived in Salhouse, the village strung on the ridge that separates the marshes from the broads, and beyond it in the fields was Salhouse church.

Locked. I almost cried in despair. It seemed as if Norfolk had closed down for the winter, the churches little better than a film set waiting for the tourists to arrive.

There was a sign telling us that everything on the premises was security coded, and that there were no valuables; but the notice was superfluous of course, because there wasn't even a keyholder. I wondered if the parish were heeding Churchwatch's advice that a locked church is more likely to have something stolen from it than an open one, and were hoping that any burglar might read the sign before breaking and entering.

Up to now, a part of me had put up with being locked out. As Bill Bryson once famously observed of bad service in a restaurant, I never really mind if a church is locked - it makes me feel better when I come to moan about it. But here at Salhouse I was keen to see inside, because I had read so much about this place. And it didn't seem right, a Broadland church locked.

I don't want you to think I am moaning about this church. Alright, I moan a lot. But as things turned out, the visit here was one of the happiest of the day. Mind you, this was the same day that we went to Lingwood - but that's another story.

I rattled the door optimistically, and then stepped back out into the wintry air. It was trying to snow, the sheep across the Salhouse road huddling miserably in the flurries. I stood outside the porch with its grinning green man above the entrance, and rang the churchwarden. He listened carefully, and was very polite. Apparently, the police demanded that at present the church was kept locked. He'd be happy to come and open up, but not for three quarters of an hour. We arranged a time, and headed off to do neighbouring Woodbastwick, which was open, and had a proud sign saying so.

Heading back, we shot envious glances at the people going into the pub beside the Woodbastwick brewery. We'd planned to do Salhouse and then settle in front of the open fire there, but here we were heading back up to the ridge again.

The churchwarden who greeted us outside the church was a very affable old gentleman with an old-fashioned moustache. We quickly realised we had fallen on our feet; unusually, he knew a lot about his building, and was keen for us to see all that there was to see. And he soon set on an explanation of what is a central puzzle about Salhouse church.

The tower here, as you can see, is very squat. It was clearly intended to be taller, and so is either taken down or unfinished. Will evidence shows that the latter is the case, and it was the Reformation, with its removal of the need for bequests, that interrupted the funding for the work. However, there is another puzzle. If you look from the east, as in the main photograph above, you can see that the tower is offset, and a large tower arch peeps above the roofline of the nave. Clearly, the intention was to rebuild the nave after the tower.

This is a curious way of going about things, and is presumably a sign that the rebuilding of the tower was considered the higher priority. The north aisle of the church is very early, the arcade dating from the 13th century. We may assume that it would have been swept aside by the rebuilding work. At the extreme west of the aisle, hidden in the vestry, is a very curious massive archway, which may well have opened into the tower of the original building, perhaps a Saxon church on the site of the north aisle.

If they had finished the early 16th century tower, it would have been very opulent. As it is, it tops out directly above the belfry, and the low brick parapet is a later addition. There are magnificent sound holes with animals as the headstops to the arches.

On this dull day it was never going to be bright inside, and the low aisle hardly helps; but this contributes to a sense of the ancient. The 19th century restoration was heavy, but not overwhelming, and in any case the Victorian glass is some of the best in this part of Norfolk.One of the delights of All Saints is that its interior is as eccentric and curious as the outside; this is a real churchcrawlers' church. Fascinating details include the capitals to the arcade - the most westerly is a ring of heads, mostly vandalised, but including the devil, who is not.

capital headscapital headscapital headscapital flowers

The pulpit has an unusual hourglass holder, which for many years was converted into a lamp, but now contains a (modern) glass again. The font is a little odd, because the shaft is carved and decorated, but the octagonal bowl is plain. Perhaps they were not always together. The churchwarden confirmed Mortlock's story that the font came from Woodbastwick at the time of the rebuilding there, "but don't tell them, because they might want it back!"

High on the south side of the rood screen is a stirrup with a bell in it. If this is medieval, it is a sanctus bell stirrup, and very unusual; there are two in Suffolk, but I believe this to be the only one in Norfolk. If it is original, that is; we need to be aware that the Anglo-catholic movement was strong in this part of Norfolk, and 19th century Rectors were not always above falsifying medieval details. I rather wish my photograph of it had come out, but it didn't. In the chancel itself there is a good misericord head, and that wonderful glass I mentioned.

The churchwarden was very patient and generous with his time. He showed us the early medieval stone coffin lid in the vestry; locked away, but my photograph of that did come out. He also suggested I go up the tower and take a look at the bells - "but don't go out on the roof, I don't think we are insured for that!"

I have a fear of heights, but a fascination with church towers. It is a battle of wills in which both wills are mine. I suppose that many of us are fascinated by our fears. I took him up on his offer, and climbed the ancient stairwell, passing occasional slits opening out into the grey light.

Eventually, I came to the neatly-kept bell stage. It seemed curious to see the sound holes from the inside. The frame contains two bells, the pre-Reformation inscription on the nearest pleasingly clear, the date 1441. The other dates from the 17th century.

15th century bell15th century bell15th century bell17th century bell

I carried on up the stairway, but after another thirty steps or so it came to a stop, the steps topped out in stone. Here was where the money ran out. A small window gave out onto the roof of the tower.

The low parapet was terrifying, the air freezing, the wheeling sleet enhancing the sense of vertigo. I nervously took a photograph northwards from the top, and then hurried back down again, grinning like the green man. A small victory over myself.


Simon Knott, March 2005

  View from the top

misericordsound hole from inside
the font, from Woodbastwicklooking easthatchmentEast windowSouth side of chancelhourglass stand on pulpitearly medieval stone coffin lid

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