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

All Saints, Salhouse


Salhouse Salhouse

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    All Saints, Salhouse

I'd been here before, many years ago on a day in the deepest winter, the temperature hovering around zero, the wintry air clouding our breath. It was trying to snow, the sheep across the Salhouse road huddling miserably in the flurries. I found the church locked on that occasion, the police insisting that it be kept so according to the cheery churchwarden that I rang. It was the only locked church for miles, and I couldn't understand why, but he came and opened up for us anyway.

Coming back in the pleasant summer of 2019, I found the church open, with a sign saying it is now kept so every day. This is a busy area for tourists, being just south of Wroxham and on the edge of the Broads, but the church is set remotely away from its village in a narrow sleeve of a churchyard that opens out beyond to the east.

The squat tower was clearly intended to be taller, and so it was either taken down or is 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 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 then it would certainly have been an opulent one. 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.

Even on a sunny day this is a fairly gloomy interior thanks to the extensive range of coloured glass, and the low aisle with its wide arcade creates a sense of a wide, low space. The Victorian restoration was heavy but not overwhelming, and in any case the 19th Century glass is some of the most interesting of its kind in this part of Norfolk. It is a complete scheme installed over the last quarter of the 19th Century by Alex Booker of Bruges, Belgium. This is an unusual workshop to find, but Salhouse has other singularities. Carved capitals to the arcade are unusual in East Anglia, but there are several here, and the most westerly one has a ring of carved heads, mostly vandalised, including a devilish fellow looking west.

heads on the capital oak leaves

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. Back in 2005, the churchwarden confirmed Mortlock's story that the font came from Woodbastwick at the time of the rebuilding there, "but don't tell them, they might want it back!" In 2019 I was pleased to see that no enmity had arisen between the two neighbouring parishes, and the font was still in place.

I have a vivid memory of my visit in the winter of 2005. The churchwarden was very patient and generous with his time. He 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. 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 a mad thing. A small victory over myself.

Simon Knott, November 2019

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looking east sanctuary the Woodbastwick font<
St Agnes (Alex Booker of Bruges) Christ in Majesty (Alex Booker of Bruges) The two Marys and the angel at the empty tomb (Alex Booker of Bruges) St Stephen (Alex Booker of Bruges)
Christ with Martha and Mary (Alex Booker of Bruges) angel at the empty tomb (Alex Booker of Bruges) St Anne and the young Blessed Virgin, St Cecilia (Alex Booker of Bruges) Of such is the Kingdom (Alex Booker of Bruges)
Alex Booker del Bruges


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