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

St Edmund, Swanton Novers

Swanton Novers: on the edge

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1961 rebuilt tower 19th century  (but looking 20th) west window and niche 1960s restored 

    St Edmund, Swanton Novers

Swanton Novers was an estate village for Melton Constable Hall, and not even the coming of the railways that turned Melton Constable upside down in the 19th century could shake Swanton Novers out of its feudal sleepiness. The hills and woodlands encroach; the only sound is the impatient calling of the sheep in the pastures. The narrow lane from the village twists and dips, and, just before it turns into a sandy track, there is St Edmund. It really feels as if you might fall off the edge of Norfolk if you go any further. The graveyard is long, opening to the east where there is a curious little 19th century red-brick structure with ecclesiological features.

If the exterior of St Edmund is a little characterless, this is because the body of the church was rebuilt in the 19th century, and the tower was rebuilt as recently as 1961 (apparently, locals used to say that one good kick and it would have come down). There was a discussion at the time about abandoning St Edmund, and building a new church up in the village, but this never happened. There are features in the exterior of the church, notably the north doorway, that are also plainly 20th century, so perhaps it was more than the tower that needed replacing. There is, however, a 15th century image niche set in the west wall of the tower - is it in its original place? Or has it been reset there?

three scenes in the life of Mary of Magdala  (c) John Salmon   Despite its remoteness, we found St Edmund open and welcoming, as so many churches are in north Norfolk. Unsurprisingly, the overwhelming feel of the interior is a Victorian one, but this was obviously a moneyed place in the 15th century when the font and the piscina were installed. Both are decorated with a monogram which is probably just an elaborate W, but looks disconcertingly like a Volkswagen badge. Medieval corporate sponsorship, perhaps?

The best feature of the 19th century restoration is the window in the south side of the nave depicting events in the life of Mary of Magdala. First, we see Christ with Mary and Martha, and then the raising of Lazarus. Finally, Mary washes Christ's feet in perfumed oil. It is a sensuous, mature piece, and it would be interesting to know who the artist was. Thank you to John Salmon for his image of it, which you can see on the left, along with a detail that he kindly took for my daughter, who is also called Martha.

Simon Knott, November 2005


sanctuary font obviously a moneyed place in the 15th century Jesus and Martha (c) John Salmon
monogram on the font looking west war memorial

curious structure in the graveyard

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