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

St Bartholomew, Sloley

Sloley: clean lines in a trim graveyard

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
across the fields from the south from the west less extraordinary from the south-west from the east: anatomy of a church

  St Bartholomew, Sloley
north side, the old bit   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. This may well be because it sits so close to the railway. Perhaps the bourgeois spirit of Norwich has made its way down the line from that fine city.

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 west 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. As at Burgh, the stem is set on the symbols of the four evangelists, not lions as Pevsner claims.

  chancel   sanctuary

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 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!

Almost every panel has a figure or two that delights, so full of character they are. I've presented some as details below the panels. Click on the images to see them enlarged.

Sloley font the stem with evangelistic symbols
E: Baptism of Christ SE: Ordination S: Matrimony SW: Baptism
W: Mass NW: Confirmation N: Confession NE: Last Rites
Last Rites: detail Confession: detail Confirmation: detail Matrimony: detail
Baptism: detail

The font is the star of the show, but there is some good early 20th century glass in the west window, and an inlay for a chalice brass in the south aisle. And, like all the churches in the Worstead benefice, Sloley is open every day. Also in common with the others, there is a second-hand bookstall at the back of the church. I don't know why, but Sloley's is by far the best; I spent nearly as much time sorting through the books as I did examining the font, and couldn't resist buying half a dozen, which was a little awkward as I was on my bike. During the course of the day I would be unable to resist buying a few elsewhere as well, returning to Ipswich that evening somewhat laden down.

In the early spring sunshine I sat outside on the bench and ate the sausage rolls I'd bought from the bakers on Norwich station, thinking to myself that there was nowhere on Earth I would rather be, for the moment at least.

Simon Knott, May 2005


looking east through the arcades from north-west to south-east the view west - note that the window is off-set because of the tower
chalice brass inlay fine west window angels in the west window chancel roof, the thatch showing

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