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

St Peter and St Paul, Shernborne


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    St Peter and St Paul, Shernborne
Shernborne font: east   It was a beautiful morning in early August. I had taken my bike on the train to Kings Lynn, and by half past ten I had already visited the churches in Castle Rising, Babingley, West Newton, Sandringham and Dersingham. And yet, as lovely as the morning was, there was still that heaviness which seems to sit over the whole King's Lynn area, a creeping malaise which perhaps drifts in from the marshland, settling over the town and the forests which spread around the Sandringham estate. It weighs you down - or, at least, it does me. And then I cycled up the steep hill out of Dersingham towards sunshine, into the hedged lanes through the rolling ridges and copses, and I knew I was free.

It was the height of the barley harvest. Busy tractors hauled trailers piled high with the golden berries at impossible speeds through the lanes. It was best to stop, and let them pass. At the top of the ridge I could see for miles, and I could see a little village with a towerless church in the valley below, so I freewheeled down towards it.

There's not much to Sherborne beyond the little church and some pretty cottages. Huddled in its valley as it is, you could spend an awful lot of time in Norfolk without realising it existed. The church was one of those rebuilt as part of the grand scheme of the Prince of Wales, later Edward VII, to improve the villages around the Sandringham estate. This area was one of the poorest in England by the late 19th Century, and the extent to which the purchase of the Sandringham estate by the future King changed west Norfolk forever is not always realised. The architect here was Herbert Green, from the Diocese, not one of the late 19th Century's more creative imaginations. Mortlock points out that Sir Reginald Blomfield was 'consulted' - at the time, Blomfield, a favourite architect of the Royals, was working on Sandringham church, and one likes to imagine the Prince going up to the building site and enquiring confidentially of him, 'this Green chap - d'ye think he's up to the job?'

Ironically, church historians have a bit of a downer on Green because of his passion for neo-Norman, which he resisted here at Shernborne, but it is an enthusiasm which may have caused him to treat its most significant feature with the utmost respect. There are a group of about twenty Norman fonts in the north-west corner of Norfolk which are considered among the finest in the kingdom, and Shernborne font is the best of them.

Shernborne font: south-east corner Shernborne font: south Shernborne font: north-west corner

If somebody produced the Sherborne font today we'd think it was pretty amazing. That it was carved almost a thousand years ago, and has been here ever since, is staggering. The key design feature is the use of plaited knotwork which trails around the font almost like foliage. All four sides are different. Faces peer out, figures in roundels strike mystifying attitudes. It is remarkable.

A heartbreaking brass plaque on the nave wall is to Robert and Charles Pitcher, two brothers killed in the First World War. What makes it so sad is that they were both killed on the same day, 19th April 1917, in the Battle of Gaza. How does a parent ever get over something like that happening?

There's no coloured glass in the nave windows, but even so you can't help thinking that this must be rather a gloomy place in winter. Not much light makes it through the low arcade from the south aisle. As if to brighten the place up a bit, an east window by Hardman & Co was installed in the 1920s, and it is rather good. It depicts Christ as the Good Shepherd flanked by St Peter and St Paul, the patrons of the church. Below, we see Peter letting down his nets and Paul rather pleasingly as a tent-maker. Christ asking that the children be suffered to come unto him completes the sequence.

The font is not the only survival from the earlier church, for up in the chancel is a large 15th Century brass to Thomas Shernborne and his wife. It is mounted on the north wall, from which it will run away like so much butter if there is ever a fire here. Brasses should really be mounted on floors, so the heat rises above them. Thomas Shernborne was Chamberlain to Margaret of Anjou, an extraordinary thought in this tiny little backwater, tucked away from the rest of the world.


Simon Knott, August 2016

looking east

For of such is the Kingdom of God (Hardman & Co, 1924) Christ the Good Shepherd flanked by St Peter and St Paul (Hardman & Co, 1924) lift up your nets (Hardman & Co, 1924) For of such is the Kingdom of God (Hardman & Co, 1924) St Paul the tent-maker (Hardman & Co, 1924)
died at sea the merciful preservation of his Royal Highness at Brussels, April 4th 1900 two brothers killed on the same day
died of wounds received in action

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