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

St Ethelbert, Thurton


north doorway south doorway tower

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St Ethelbert, Thurton

You come through narrow lanes that dogleg and doubleback through the fields. These must be ancient routes, because they cut down up to six feet below the open fields, and in several places zigzag along the ends and up the sides of old strip systems. Thurton is a delight in Spring, the churchyard a riot of wild flowers. I had been here bfore some ten years earlier on one of the coldest, wettest, most windswept days of the winter, the sleet sweeping in from the east. To be here is spring was to see a world transfigured.

Thurton is quite a large place, and just above the busy Norwich to Beccles road, but you wouldn't know it from the setting of the church, which stands below the village top road, the houses hidden in the valley, an incinerator chimney the only incongruous intervention in the landscape. The long church is thatched under one roof, the little tower appearing to grow out of the west end of the nave as at nearby Bramerton. At nave level the tower is probably 13th century, but the top part is more recent. I've seen it described as early 16th Century, and this would fit in with a bequest, but it looks more recent. It is one of those upper stages that looks as if it was specifically designed for bell-ringing, although all the bells are early, so a bit of a puzzle. The church is otherwise a simple Norman structure that was given a good going over in the 14th Century and then that was it until the Victorians came along.

As often in this part of Norfolk this otherwise unassuming church has a fine Norman doorway on the south side. Pevsner described it as sumptuous. There is a simpler Norman doorway on the north side, but it is through the south door you enter. The building is continuous, without a transition between nave and chancel, although you can see a large arch about two thirds of the way along which probably once held a tympanum to divide the two. I would guess that the western part is pretty much the original Norman church, disguised by later windows. The roodcreen cannot have been very big, and its shallow stairway embrasure suggest the stairs were wooden and part of the structure of the screen.

This building has two great delights, and several minor ones. Firstly, a remarkable collection of continental and English glass. Birkin Hayward, surveying it in the early 1980s, described the collection as rare and important... special concern should now be given to the preservation of what is left. The glass was brought here in 1826, supplied and installed by Samuel Yarrington for the Beauchamp-Proctor family of Langley Hall. Three years earlier he had installed a similar collection at Langley, and here he brought together continental glass that was probably bought from the Norwich glass merchant JC Hampp, and work specifically painted for the church by Robert Allen the Lowestoft porcelain painter. The decorative settings are Yarrington's own. It does include some Rouen glass, but there is also a 15th century English Holy Trinity, and a set of Instruments of the Passion. The little roundels depicting one line homilies may well have come from the refectory of Langley Priory. Allen's are the eight Saints in the west window, as well as the royal arms of George IV.

Holy Trinity Holy Trinity eucharista
come let us adore him St Mark and his pet lion the Good Samaritan pays the innkeeper
Christ carries his cross burning a martyr praying nun
Grace, pite and gentylnes pferreth amen to worthines Drede gode and fle hime
St Andrew angel and demons Christ carries his cross
instruments of the passion G IV R royal arms

The wall painting of St Christopher on the north wall was uncovered in the late 1980s, and at first sight appears disappointingly indistinct. On closer inspection though, there are a lot of the details which have now faded from St Christophers which have been exposed for a century or more. In particular, the azure blue of the water, and the multitude of creatures in it, among which you can make out a lobster, a crab, several eels, a flounder, what looks like a pike, and several others. You often see ghosts of such things in other churches, and Cautley records a similar menagerie at Mutford just over the Suffolk border in the 1930s, but they have all faded there now. Up at the top, the Christchild sits behind the Saint, holding his orb in a gesture of reigning in majesty. The style of the child puts this painting very late, perhaps as late as the early 16th century.

Another curiosity is the font. It is elegant and plain, and unusual in that its style dates from the later years of the 17th Century. Probably, it was installed to replace one removed during the Commonwealth. From earlier that century is a sweet little brass plate to Thomas Gouldworth, who died in 1631. It sits on the south wall, vestiges of wall painting behind it.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east the visible reminder of invisible light
Who fell asleep in Jesus on Friday Here Lyeth the body of Thomas Gould who deceased the 20 of Junea Anno DM 1631 sea food at the feet of St Christopher


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