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St Paul, Thuxton


Thuxton Thuxton (photographed 2005)

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St Paul, Thuxton

Thuxton is one of the small parishes that patchwork the land between Wymondham and Dereham. Its church is in the village, close to the road with a wide churchyard behind it, and presents a curious sight. It seems to have been considerably rebuilt in the late 14th and early 15th Centuries. An arcade for an aisle survives embedded in the south wall, an elegant clerestory above it, and there are large Perpendicular windows both sides of the nave. In 1416, Margaret de Berney left 40s to emendation of the tower, roughly 2000 in today's money. This is a fairly early date, and yet it appears that the tower was not finished. It was topped out at the level of the nave roof crest with an oddly clumsy octagonal bell stage. Was this intended from the start, or was it a make-do to house the bells when the money ran out? It's very odd.

From the blocked south arcade we may assume that the aisle was later demolished, the windows moved back into the arcade, a curious effect when the church is seen from the south. Another blocked arch on the south side of the chancel might have led through to a chapel. But I wonder if there is another explanation. In the 1960s, archaeologists excavated the site of a sizeable village of at least twenty-nine tofts not far from the church. The evidence shows that it was abandoned during the 15th Century, probably as a result of a local change in agriculture from individual subsistence farming to large-scale sheep farming on this poor clay soil. Is it possible that the money ran out because of this depopulation, and that not only was the tower left unfinished, the aisle was never built?

You enter the church through a small north porch and step into a tall, narrow space. If you add on an aisle in your imagination. this would be very like the church at Garvestone a mile or so off, although the tall chancel arch seems disproportionate when we know how low the tower is outside. The interior of the nave is full of light thanks to the large windows and their lack of coloured glass, and there are a number of surprises. Norfolk is not known for its Norman fonts apart from a group up in the north-west of the county, but Thuxton's is a splendid example, a great 12th Century tub supported by four 19th Century pillars, which meet the font at a spur on the bowl carved with foliage tracery and in one case a head. Up in the chancel is an unusual panel of glass depicting St Paul. It's pre-ecclesiological in style, and probably dates from the 1830s although Birkin Haward couldn't identify a local workshop that might have made it. The only other coloured glass in the church is the east window, an early 20th Century Crucifixion very like that at neighbouring Garvestone, and probably also by Heaton, Butler & Bayne.

This is one of those churches which you can't help thinking that Pevsner did not spend a lot of time on, and perhaps he did not even enter it at all, and the same appears to be true of his revising editor of the 1990s. Everything he mentions can be seen through the windows, but there are a number of interesting features that cannot, and one of these is above the north doorway. This is a set of royal arms for Charles I that looks as if it was probably painted locally. Munro Cautley, in his survey of these things in the 1930s, found just seven Charles I arms surviving in Norfolk, a county with more sets of royal arms than any other. 1637 was a difficult year for the ill-fated monarch. The Scottish church rejected the new prayer book, and there was also the controversy in England over the demand for Ship Money. Both of these required a demonstration of loyalty from the Church of England.

Also out of sight from outside is a curious set of brass memorials on the south wall. There is often a post-Reformation simplicity to inscriptions of this time, but the two examples here, to wives of Gregory Pagrave, are somewhat more ambitious. Perhaps Pagrave composed them himself. He seems to have had a predilection for marrying women named after birds. One tells us that

This Bodie buryed in this grave
was third wife of Gregory Pagrave.
Katherine Pigeon was her first name
Rich in faythe and honest fame
Whos vertues & works breifly to declare
Many poore folks did fele what they were
This life she ended the fiftenth of July
the year of grace Fifteen six-and-nyenty
Her sowle rest in Joy by God's fre mercy.

Another, beside it, is to Katherine Pigeon's predecessor:

Mary Seffowle buryed in this place,
Second wife to Gregory Pagrave was.
Of her he have children too sones only
The eldest named Robert, the other Gregory
Hir Sowle Christ toke to his endles mercy
the 15th of June fifteen eight-and-seventy.

There is another inscription, rather simpler, but in the elaborate Gothic lettering of the period, to John Sutter, Gentleman, who departed this present world the 13th daye of January 1572. Curiously, this inscription ends with a near-Catholic prayer clause in exactly the place you would have found it half a century earlier: ...whose soule god for his mercye send a joyfull reserrection amen. This is a puritan sentiment, but you can see how easily the language slipped from one theology to the other.

There's an interesting comparison to be made between this church and that of the neighbouring parish of Garvestone at the time of the 1851 census. The population of Garvestone was four times that of Thuxton, but the attendance at Thuxton's morning service on census day, Sunday 30th March, was larger than that at Garvestone. There may have been a number of reasons for this, but you can't help wondering about a note added by Henry Wright, Rector, to the return for Thuxton. He wrote All the children belong to Thuxton are sent by the Rector at his own expense to the adjoining schools in the Parishes of Reymerstone and Garvestone, and thus would have formed part of the cohort of scholars at the services there, for whom attendance was compulsory. Thuxton, Reymerston and Garvestone churches are all very close together, within walking distance. Is it possible that Thuxton was attracting a congregation from all three parishes, who were there because they knew there would be no children there?

Simon Knott, January 2024

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looking east chancel blocked arcade and clerestory
font St Paul (early 19th Century) crucifixion Charles I royal arms
Mary Seffowle, 1578 John Sutter, 1572 Katherine Pigeon, 1596


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