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

St Michael, Sidestrand

Sidestrand: Poppyland

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    St Michael, Sidestrand
clever copy of the tower   I don't suppose that the writer Clement Scott has too many followers nowadays, but if he did they might come here on pilgrimage. In the late 19th century, he described this area of Norfolk in an article in the Daily Telegraph as Poppyland, and it was as Poppyland that the area then promoted itself to holidaymakers, most famously on a Great Eastern Railway poster - the company had paid for Scott's visit. Mortlock recalls that Scott, a Catholic convert, first dreamed up the name Poppyland while lying in poppy-filled Sidestrand churchyard, which he described as a garden of sleep.

However, if Scott enthusiasts came to St Michael to repeat their hero's experience, they would be making a mistake, for, remarkably, this pretty little rural spot is actually a later Victorian replacement further inland than the churchyard that Scott knew. The current St Michael was built in 1881 by Samuel Hoare; the old one was right on the cliff edge, and finally fell into the sea in 1916.

Scott's church must already have been ruinous, because much of the old fabric was brought here to be built into the new church. It is, apparently, to exactly the same design, with a round tower topped by a tall octagonal stage, a wide aisle-less nave, and a tall chancel. It is done remarkably well. You would not guess, if you did not already know, that this is a 19th century church.

Scott might have been surprised by the traffic rushing past this church. It is a busy road, and there is nowhere to park - we had to go off elsewhere and then walk back. However, the tiny graveyard still feels like an oasis beside it.

This church is part of the welcoming Trunch Team Ministry group, and is therefore open to strangers and pilgrims every day. In a niche in the porch is what appears to be a medieval angel holding a chalice, probably once a pinnacle on a tower or wall. You step into a delightful space beyond, crisp and fresh and yet homely and rustic. The font is set in a baptistry beneath the tower, the floor an elaborate greeny-blue mosaic, presumably intended to represent water. Above, a brass candelabra dripping in poppies bears a quote from Romeo and Juliet: My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep...

This church must have been very high in the Anglo-catholic firmament in its day, and there are still echoes of this. Pevsner says that the war memorial is by Seely and Paget, re-using a Renaissance image niche. The reredos is equally grand, with a gilt, carved representation of the Last Supper under what may be reused late medieval cusping. The window above is by the great Henry Holiday, as are all the windows here, designs he did for Powell & Sons. Pevsner points out how appropriate it is that the east window depicts a very manly Christ walking on the water.

The Hanoverian royal arms were brought from the old church, and depict one of the most comic lions I think I have ever seen, like a contemporary political caricature. I am sure that things like this must have been more common once, but no doubt the serious-minded Victorians would not have approved. Here, it contributes to a delightful place, one to savour and come back to.

  St Michael in the war memorial

Simon Knott, August 2006

looking east looking west sanctuary
baptistry beneath the tower angel in the porch war memorial by Seely & Paget  Annunciation, by Henry Holiday Adoration of the Shepherds by Henry Holiday
last supper royal arms Christ walking on the water, by Henry Holiday My bounty is as boundless as the sea, My love as deep...

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