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

St Bartholomew, Sloley


Sloley Sloley Sloley
grinning headstop thoughtful headstop

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  St Bartholomew, Sloley

In this wild area of remote villages with churches in wild graveyards, where narrow lanes wind through fields and woodlands, St Bartholomew is a clean-lined church in a neat, trim, bowling green of a graveyard. I couldn't help wondering if this was because it sits so close to the railway, and perhaps the bourgeois spirit of Norwich has made its way down the line from that fine city. That said, the south side of the churchyard has been left as a nature conservation area, so here we have the best of both worlds.

The anatomy of this church is a complex one, and the building is best seen first from the east, as you do from the train. Here, we see that the tower is at the west end of a long, low north aisle. The high, broad nave stands to the south-east of the tower, and beyond it there is a short south aisle. The development is slightly clouded, because the 19th century restoration here was so rigorous, but the dripcourse of a higher structure survives on the east face of the tower, and the part of the building that shows its age the most is the south aisle, and so it is possible to make a judgement about what has happened here.

The north aisle is on the site of the original Norman church. The tower was built at its west end in the early part of the 14th century, and then the Black Death intervened. A century later, a vast clerestoried new church was built to the south of the old one, which was then demolished, and replaced with a new north aisle beyond an arcade. Finally, on the eve of the Reformation, a south aisle was added.

In the early part of the 19th century, St Bartholomew was refurnished, probably before the major restoration. The furnishings were considered good enough by the Victorians to remain, and so we are left with a good example of a pre-Tractarian plain and simple evangelical interior. It is a good reminder that the 19th century revival in the Church of England did not begin with the Oxford Movement in the 1830s, but a good thirty years or so earlier with the so-called Clapham sect - indeed, John Henry Newman, one of the architects of the Anglo-catholic movement, had grown up and learned his faith in an evangelical revivalist family.

Such a homely, neat setting then, for one of the great treasures of medieval Norfolk. This is Sloley's seven sacrament font, an example of the first rank. Although it bears a resemblance to those at Burgh-next-Aylsham and Brooke, it is finer than either of these. The font at Seething was probably recut by the Victorians using this one as a model. This font has also been recut, but enough old survives to thrill. The stem has been entirely recut, and is probably based on that at Burgh-next-Aylsham, with the column set on the symbols of the four evangelists.

seven sacrament font: confirmation (15th Century) seven sacrament font: mass (15th Century) seven sacrament font: baptism (15th Century)
seven sacrament font: matrimony (15th Century) seven sacrament font: last rites (15th Century) seven sacrament font: ordination (15th Century)
seven sacrament font: Baptism of Christ (15th Century) seven sacrament font: confession (15th Century)
Last Rites: detail Confession: detail Confirmation: detail
Matrimony: detail Baptism: detail

One of the remarkable things about Sloley font is its condition. It has been carefully repaired, but not much recut. No font I know has such characterful figures, such apparent movement. Simply, the people on the Sloley font look alive.The extra panel, facing east, is the Baptism of Christ. Look at the expression on the bearded Christ's face as the water is poured over him! Heading clockwise from the east, the panels represent ordination, matrimony (a deacon performing the ceremony), baptism (the font recut, the infant about to be totally immersed), Mass (an odd one - the most repaired. Did the Priest originally face towards the altar?), confirmation (of a group of children, including infants), confession (in a shriving pew) and last rites, with quite a crowd around the bed!

The font is the star of the show, but there is some good early 20th century glass by Powell & Sons in the west window depicting Justice, Charity and Fortitude, the figure of Charity apparently made from Henry Holiday's earlier cartoon for the workshop. A roughly contemporary heraldic shield has been squeezed uncomfortably into the east window, and there is an inlay for what would have been a priest's chalice brass in the south aisle. The second hand bookstall is one of the best in the area, and, after a browse, outside is a pleasant place to sit for a while in the sunshine, the birds singing, the occasional train passing not far off.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east chancel
seven sacrament font (15th Century) Justice, Charity, Fortitude (Powell & Sons, 1910) heraldic glass (early 20th Century)
John Mack, gentleman 1788 heraldic brass, 1913

Hope with an anchor weeps on an urn flanked by foliage (18th Century)


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