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

St Mary, Surlingham

Surlingham

Surlingham surlingham (2) Surlingham

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St Mary, Surlingham

I remember first coming here in the late spring of 2008. It was towards the end of the afternoon, and when I saw a woman walking away from the church towards the village street I naturally assumed that she had just locked up. But she smiled, and told me no, the church was always open in daylight hours. "There's always a welcome here", she said.

Surlingham is a lovely place, not far removed from Norwich but hidden away in the bend of the great, wide river. It feels more remote than it is. When Arthur Mee came here in the 1940s he bemoaned the fact that the setting of the church was spoilt by the aunt sallies of the petrol age, by which he meant the village petrol pumps, probably set up outside the old smithy. But they are long gone today, alas.

The rugged Norman round tower rises in a number of stages, as if it had telescoped out of the ground. There is a pretty later bell stage perched on the top. The north aisle makes an assymetric shape of the church behind it, but this is still a small church in an intimate graveyard. And then you come around to the east end of the church and you can see that the chancel appears to have been completely rebuilt in the 18th Century. The east and south walls are in brick, but the north side is stone faced in what appears to be a deliberate attempt to make it look 'old', a kind of antiquarian folly. The north doorway was rebuilt in brick at the same time.

The south doorway opens into a nave which is full of white light, a pretty interior, with a gallery at the west end which looks as if it might have been a layer of a wedding cake. By contrast, the 15th century font is like a melting cheese, with deep set reliefs in the traditional East Anglian manner. The green ceiling of the chancel and the wooden framed east window give it a jolly organic feel. All in all, properly Anglican, with a sense of being well-loved and cared for.

Apart from the font, there are other relics of medieval days. John Alnwick was a priest here in the church's Catholic days (indeed, Mee points out that he was probably the first priest to use the font when it was new) and he has a brass effigy in the chancel from about 1460. One of his successors is remembered by a rare chalice brass to the west.

Outside, the cow parsley to the east and north of the church was alive with flitting and stumbling bees, all busy collecting nectar. I wondered if they were descendants of the ones that John Alnwick would have known.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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Surlingham

 

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