home I index I latest I glossary I introductions I e-mail I about this site

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

All Saints, Sculthorpe

Sculthorpe in the rain

Sculthorpe in the rain All Saints, Sculthorpe, Norfolk

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.


All Saints, Sculthorpe

Sculthorpe is a busy little village not far from the western outskirts of the town of Fakenham, from which it keeps itself successfully separate and rural. The church sits to the north of the village in open land, an impressive sight. The tower stands on the south side of the nave, the situation at about thirty East Anglian churches, mostly upriver from Ipswich and Norwich and so perhaps the work of a single early 14th Century mason. Sculthorpe is something of an outlier in this group, although there is another not far off at Briningham. However almost everything you see today is of the 19th Century, for in the 1840s Robert and James Brandon rebuilt the chancel in a fancy Dec style and then in the early 1860s Thomas Jekyll came along and built the south aisle and the western part of the nave, as well as remodelling the upper part of the tower.

We came back here on a very gloomy day in November 2022. It had rained constantly for the last eighteen hours, and although that had now stopped the light under the heavy clouds was gloomy and grey. But in any case, the church you step into must always seem dark and dim even on a sunny day, for the intention of the 19th Century restorations seems to have been to provide a setting for shadowy, incense-led worship, seven steps climbing from the nave to the sanctuary beyond. The north arcade and aisle are from the original church, but otherwise the impression is wholly of a Victorian High Church temple. However, there are a number of significant early survivals, the best of which is Sculthorpe's 12th Century font. It is one of a group of several detailed Norman fonts in north-west Norfolk, and it is one of the best. Three sides are carved with geometric reliefs, the east side with five figures in arcades representing the Adoration of the Magi.

font (12th Century) font (12th Century)
font (12th Century) font (12th Century)

The Adoration of the Magi also appears on the 12th Century font not far off at Fincham, and its association with baptism was that it represents the revelation of Christ to the Gentiles, that the Christian faith was not intended just for the Jewish people. The legs of the font came as part of Jekyll's restoration, for as Francis Bond reminds us, early fonts were set on the floor so that they could be stepped into for adult baptisms.

The font sits at the west end of the north aisle, and the western bay of the nave beside it has been converted into a meeting area. The end of the south aisle opposite is obviously filled with the tower, but the aisle itself to the east of the tower is is a very pleasing space, intimate and well-ordered beyond the arcade. Jekyll's restoration brought glass from some of the best 19th Century workshops, a pleasing circumstance. Up in the chancel is Ford Madox Brown's depiction for Morris & Co of Christ rescuing St Peter when he tries and fails to walk on the water, and appearing to the disciples on a hill above the harbour, with a castle and a windmill in the distance. At the east end of the south aisle is Edward Burne-Jones's depiction of Faith, Hope and Charity for the same workshop, three large and somewhat alarming allegorical figures, two of which were also used a few miles off at Langham. These date from the mid-1860s, as does the great window in the south-west corner of the nave by Robert Bayne which forms a kind of Jesse Tree interspersed with scenes from the Book of Ruth. Other glass from this time includes some decorative work in the aisle and, at its west end, a an angel trumpeter with the inscription The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised. Fast forward to about 1890, and Henry Holiday's twin windows of St Michael with St Gabriel and Christ the Light of the World with the Good Shepherd were installed by Powell & Sons.

Christ rescues Peter as the disciples look on (Ford Madox Brown, c1865) The Risen Christ looks down on the stormy waters (Ford Madox Brown, c1865)
Christ rescues Peter as he tries to walk on the water (Ford Madox Brown, c1865) The Risen Christ rescues Peter whe he tries to walk on water/Christ calms the stormy waters (Ford Madox Brown, c1865)

Faith (Edward Burne-Jones, c1865) Hope (Edward Burne-Jones, c1865) Charity (Edward Burne-Jones, c1865)
Faith (detail, Edward Burne-Jones, c1865) Hope (detail, Edward Burne-Jones, c1865) Charity (detail, Edward Burne-Jones, c1865)

The Book of Ruth (Robert Bayne, 1863) Orpah leaves Ruth and Naomi / Ruth gleans while Boaz gives orders / Boaz contracts for the sale of the land to benefit Ruth and Naomi (Robert Bayne, 1863) Ruth gleans in the fields while Boaz gives orders (Robert Bayne, 1863)
Obadiah (Robert Bayne, 1863) Solomon (Robert Bayne, 1863) Hezekiah (Robert Bayne, 1863)

St Michael and St Gabriel (Henry Holiday, c1890) The Light of the World/The Good Shepherd (Henry Holiday, c1890) 'The trumpet shall sound and the dead shall be raised (Morris & Co? c1865) the lily and the rose

A large carved royal arms of Queen Victoria looms into the nave from the wall of the tower. By contrast, the elegant pipe organ shoehorned into the east end of the north aisle is noted by Pevsner as coming from York Assembly Rooms. It is by John Snetzler, and dates from 1756. Jekyll brought it here as part of the 1860s restoration, and it is, as Pevsner observes, a prestige piece. On the floor in front of it at the east end of the nave are a number of brass figures and inscriptions. The 1521 figures of John and Elizabeth Humpton stand above the inscription, their seven sons grouped below on one side and their solitary daughter on the other, looking rather lonely. To the south of them and from half a century earlier, Henry Unton kneels in armour. The surnames are so similar we can assume that they are different spellings of the same family name.

seven sons of John and Elizabeth Humpton, 1521 John and Elizabeth Humpton, 1521 the solitary daughter of John and Elizabeth Humpton, 1521

The rebuilding of this church over a period of fifteen years transformed it, and must have delighted its parishioners. Oddly for this corner of Norfolk this seems to have been a busy place even before the Anglican revival of the second half of the 19th Century. When the chancel was brand new, the 1851 Census of Religious Worship recorded an attendance here of more than a hundred people at the morning service and almost two hundred for the afternoon sermon, this latter figure comprising about a third of the population of the parish, a notably large proportion for north-west Norfolk. There was a Baptist chapel too, and an independent congregation meeting in a cottage, although this close to Fakenham you would expect most non-conformists to head to one of the big chapels in the town. All in all they seem to have been an enthusiastic church-going crowd in Sculthorpe, and the rector Edward Marsham, who oversaw the restoration, must have been quietly confident that no one would bother him when he refused to answer the question in the census as to his income.

Simon Knott, November 2022

Follow these journeys as they happen at Last Of England Twitter.

looking east looking west
font organ Sculthorpe M U war memorials
royal arms of Victoria only child



The Churches of East Anglia websites are non-profit-making. But if you enjoy using them and find them useful, a small contribution towards the cost of web space, train fares and the like would be most gratefully received. You can donate via Paypal.


home I index I latest I introductions I e-mail I about this site I glossary
Norwich I ruined churches I desktop backgrounds I round tower churches
links I small print I www.simonknott.co.uk I www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

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