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

All Saints, Scottow


Scottow porch green man

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    All Saints, Scottow

Scottow is a village on the busy Norwich to Cromer road, but its parish church is far off, and there is no straight line between the two. All Saints is a remarkably interesting and apparently little-known church, and not at all typical of what you might expect for Norfolk. But this is not at all apparent from the outside, for All Saints is very much a large example of the grand perpendicular rebuildings you get in East Anglia at the end of the medieval period. The church sits in a pleasing old estate village of largely 19th century housing, shoehorned into the edge of the former RAF Coltishall airbase. To get from the village to the church, you need to go around the old perimeter. A farm track heads off into woods, and then you are on the estate, with its gorgeous old hall, its stable block surmounted by a clock turret, and cottages scattered about farm spaces. The church is tightly hemmed in by its graveyard, and difficult to photograph.

The great two-storey 15th century porch is slapped hard on to the nave, a green man grinning down from the vaulting. The south aisle stretches eastwards from the porch, a rood stair turret showing that the screen stretched right across the church. You step inside to an immensity of space, for there is no chancel arch, just an arch-braced rood beam and a clerestory that runs to within one bay of the length of the church. Typical of these late rebuildings right on the eve of the Reformation, there is more of the effect of a vast long hall than the usual two-cell forms of the earlier large Norfolk churches. The implied division between the nave and the chancel is marked by the late 15th Century rood beam, which survives.

The interior is full of character, and yet curiously gloomy given how large the windows are and that they are full of clear glass. But some of this feeling must be put down to the overwhelmingly late 17th Century/early 18th Century nature of the internal furnishings, from the delightful dolphins twisting on the font cover to quite the most baroque organ case. In fact, it would not surprise me to discover that it is not an organ case at all, but wall panelling from another building brought here and bolted on. I can think of no other large East Anglian church which has so much a feel of this time, and as you look around you can't escape the impression that that much of the Jacobean character of the church might have been installed later than that period by a collector. The box pews, surprisingly, date from 1858, and even more surprisingly they are the product of William Butterfield's restoration the year he completed his Anglo-Catholic masterpiece All Saints Margaret Street, so we may assume that his intention here was to accentuate the Jacobean feel of the interior.

Coming here on a sunny Saturday afternoon in late June 2019 I was surprised to discover the church full of incense, the sunlight shafting down through it from the south clerestory. I had never known the church filled with so much light before, as if the haze of smoke absorbed and illuminated the brightness from the day outside. It was a perfect moment.

There are no less than ten hatchments lining the walls high above the east end, frowning down on the sea of dark woodwork below. Part of a St Christopher still bestrides the north arcade, the fish circling the Saints feet rather glumly, and no wonder, for a sea monster is gobbling them up on the right hand side. A post-reformation 'goodly text' can be seen further west along the same wall. In the south aisle there is a chalice brass for a priest during this church's Catholic days. And most precious of all, a perfect medieval altar mensa preserved in a case in the chancel as a memorial.

CofE ministers and congregations get uppity, and sometimes with good cause, when their churches are treated as museums. But, in addition to their everyday uses, that is exactly what most of them are. Scottow is more museum-like than most, but I tend to think of all churches as folk museums, giving us a touchstone back down the generations. Scottow does that too, but it is rather more than that, for it is a building of interesting artefacts, of curiosa, a place to look and touch, and to feel the presence of the past resonating.

One final curiosity. The church has two sets of royal arms. This is not in itself that unusual, but they are both unusual forms. One, in the south aisle, is a vast set for William and Mary. The other, above the south doorway is to Elizabeth II, dated 1953 but in the style you might have expected a century earlier, looking all of its extraordinary sixty-five years.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east looking west, sunlight slanting through incense
font lectern chancel screen and organ case south aisle
organ case angel icon on a sarum screen angel icon on a sarum screen font cover dolphins
William III and Mary II royal arms 1696 lady altar Elizabeth II royal arms 1953
chalice brass Thomas Blake and two wives 1781, 1801, 1813


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