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All Saints, Thurgarton
It was a bright, warm Saturday at the start of May 2018, the first beautiful weekend for months and months, and I did one of my occasional cycle rides down from the north Norfolk coast into the centre of Norwich. Two of the churches I visited that day don't have much in common except for one notable feature, as we shall see.
The first of them was All Saints, Thurgarton, a sad, lost little church to the north of Aldborough. There is barely a village at all, and a towerless church can disappear into the lattice of lanes on an ordnance survey map of Norfolk. All Saints' lonely spot by a remote crossroads does not easily catch the eye. In fact, this church was nearly lost to us. Abandoned in the 1970s, when Mortlock came this way in 1980 he found the thatch in a dreadful state and the inside of the church propped up with scaffolding. The churchyard was completely overgrown.
When I first (and last) visited Thurgarton church almost fifteen years ago, I found that it had been restored to a fine state of health thanks to the tender mercies of the Churches Conservation Trust. The thatched roofs were renewed, the walls made sound, and the treasures of the church cared for once again. The tower fell in the 1880s, and as at nearby Ingworth the stub of it was made into a vestry, its roof ridged and thatched in an echo of the nave. The chancel appears to have been truncated (Pevsner hazards altered), judging by the proximity of the south-east window, and a funny little flying buttress used as a prop in that corner. The south porch is big and plain, and one of the headstops to the arch appears to be a cat.
I remembered the sadness of the interior on my previous visit. Back then, I'd had to get a key, but today the church is open every day. You step in to dust falling through the air and the smell of age. There is no coloured glass, and this is an interior of wood and plaster. The great survivals are the bench ends, which have done remarkably well considering that they spent a few years exposed to the elements. Ironically, anywhere else you would complain about the dark, tarry Victorian varnish with which they are covered, but here, it probably saved them.
The best are two figures who creep up on the scene on the other side of the bench end. One appears to be wearing armour and carrying a shield and staff, the other may by a shepherd, because what he carries appears to be a crook. One approaches a dragon, the other two dogs fighting. Even more interestingly, a winged figure, possibly a gryphon, holds a man's head in its paws - there's something similar on the other side of the Broads at Neatishead. A man plays the bagpipes (though the bag itself has been lost) while another plays the lute, and there is an elephant and castle, the elephant with a twisted trunk.
survivals of the years of neglect include a haunting
framed decalogue board, probably of the 17th Century, and
fragments of Elizabethan texts on the wall, one punched
through with two earlier medieval image niches which must
have been plastered over before the text was painted. The
medieval font has an 18th century cover, although there's
no telling if it came from here originally. The wooden
war memorial, which may have been locally made, has six
names. Pevsner mentions a 15th century alabaster panel,
presumably from an altar, which was found in the church
in the 19th century. It seems no longer to be here, and
when I mentioned it to the keyholder back in 2005 she
hadn't heard of it. Still, so much has survived to be
Simon Knott, May 2018
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