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

All Saints, Shotesham

Shotesham All Saints

sanctus bell turret Shotesham All Saints the Shotesham All Saints dead

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All Saints, Shotesham

When I first wrote about this church back in 2006 I observed that England is actually a very small country. This had always struck me particularly when returning from France, where I had usually spent a few weeks cycling in remote hills, visiting tiny village churches beyond the back of beyond. But even the autoroutes seem empty in France, so when you come back to England and the first thing you have to deal with is the madness of the M20 it reminds you that England has roughly the same population as France, but with less than a quarter of the land area. In the south-east of England we are packed in so closely together that it is sometimes hard to be alone.

And yet, and yet. The two roads that leave Norwich to the south head towards Ipswich and Bungay, and as they get further apart a hidden valley unfolds between them, a valley of tiny lanes and high hedges and lost little villages. It is one of the loveliest parts of England that I know, and yet, remarkably, it is barely a hundred miles from the centre of London. It is a reminder that England does still have its rural heartland, its lost Elysium, and we must do everything that we can to keep it that way in the face of the savagery of steely-hearted property developers and the philistinic planners of central government.

Shotesham, pronounced shot-s'm, is one of the villages in this lost valley, although it might be more accurate to describe it as a collection of settlements as it sprawls pleasingly along back lanes. In medieval times there were no less than four parish churches here. St Botolph has almost completely disappeared, St Martin is a handsome ruin, but the other two, All Saints and St Mary, are still in use, and they face each other like fortresses on hilltops either side of the valley, a mile or so apart. The four parishes were united as one in 1731. All Saints is closer to civilisation than St Mary, with a village green at hand and some lovely cottages.

The large windows in the nave and the Perpendicular tower make the church look newer than it is, for the nave has the proportions of a much earlier building. Perhaps the most striking feature of the outside is the large sanctus bell turret on the eastern gable of the nave. A giant eagle sits on it, unable to take flight as his wings have been broken, but proud nonetheless. It is obviously a composite, although I have read a story that it was found in the churchyard and 'restored to its original place'. Barmy Arthur Mee, in one of his more wayward fancies, thought it was a vulture. It looks rather like something that might have come off of a pinnacle of a spirelet.

You step into a long, tunnel-like interior, for there are no aisles, and there are few windows in the nave. Some grand memorials line the walls, but later restoration has revealed part of a fascinating sequence of wall paintings now partly concealed beneath them. The best is a mid-14th Century painting of St Lawrence being slowly toasted on a grid iron, and there is also a dynamic early 16th Century St George further along the same wall. Opposite St Lawrence is a jaunty fellow in a plumed cap, although it is possible that he has been restored a bit fancifully.

martyrdom of St Lawrence with donor jaunty fellow hand

The major restoration here was late, right on the turn of the 20th Century, including an almost complete rebuilding of the chancel, which meant it was ecclesiologically correct and historically sympathetic, but perhaps it lacks something of the excitement of what was happening in rural parishes twenty or so years before. But not only the wall paintings survived. The 15th Century font is a good, bulky example of the typical East Anglian style, and is the same design as several others in this part of Norfolk including Morningthorpe, Fritton and Saxlingham Nethergate. Angels holding shields alternate with lions around the bowl, and standing lions around the stem alternate with buttresses cut by the Victorians to replace the vandalised woodwoses that once stood there.

All Saints is a narrow church, which makes the glass more imposing than it might be, but it is of a high quality. Heaton, Butler & Bayne were generally past their best by the 1890s, a victim of their own success after Robert Bayne's brilliant designs of a quarter of a century earlier had made them popular and pushed them into mass production. But the Apocalypse window here, with Christ seated in majesty surrounded by martyrs, saints and angels is finely drawn and coloured. Several of the windows are glazed in a colourful abstract pattern that appears to be Art Nouveau becoming Jazz Modern - Birkin Haward thought it was probably early 20th Century.

William IV royal arms are not common, simply because the poor old man was not on the throne long enough for many churches to get around to replacing the old arms of the Georges. It was easy enough to adapt the arms of Hanover from George I to George II, and then to George III and George IV, but replacing a G with a W was a different matter altogether. While they were still thinking about it he died, and Victoria came along with a completely new set of arms and an excuse to stop adapting the old Hanoverian ones. There are William IV royal arms both here and across the valley at Shotesham St Mary, but the ones here, hanging above the south door, are probably the best of their period in East Anglia, a fine gilded moulding set on a black background in a gilded frame and dated 1833.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east sanctuary works of mercy font cover
south doorway Christ in Majesty ice cream parlour glass William IV royal arms
company of Saints Christ in majesty Company of Saints
plumed cap harpists martyred children

trumpet and flaming torch


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