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

All Saints, Tilney All Saints

Tilney All Saints

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Tilney All Saints west doorway Tilney All Saints

    All Saints, Tilney All Saints
Killed in Action in France   West Norfolk is flat, but without the haunting bleakness of neighbouring Lincolnshire and Cambridgeshire. To be honest, it is all a bit too suburban to be mysterious, and where there aren't bungalows there is an agri-industrial busy feeling. Tilney All Saints is unusual because it is actually rather a pretty village.

All Saints is another very big church with an absolutely massive tower, with as much in common with Lincolnshire churches as it has with anywhere else in East Anglia. The building is delightfully sleepy; ramshackle, and looking as if it would rather not be bothered too much. It reminded me a bit of a cat I used to have. The spire is like the one at nearby Walsoken, but this is a move into Decorated, and is full of confidence. Oddly, Pevsner refers to this as one of the C12-C13 Fenland churches with very long naves,built when the land was reclaimed from the sea. While it is certainly true that evidence survives of Roman sea defences to the north of here, and there is also evidence of late Saxon attempts to prevent tidal incursions locally on a small scale, it is extremely unlikely that the technology existed in early medieval England to reclaim land from the sea on such a large scale.

Pevsner is probably confusing the Norfolk marshland with the Cambridgeshire fens, which were successfully drained by the Dutch half a millennium later. Certainly, this area was once under water; but it is the rivers themselves that have turned it to land, by bringing silt down out of Bedfordshire, Northamptonshire and Cambridgeshire, and building it up into banks at the river mouths. The estuary has slowly moved northwards, but this happened long before the 12th century. We may assume that this land was more vulnerable then to inundation than it is today, but that's all.

The clerestoried and aisled nave speak of a familiar East Anglian Perpendicular. The ivy on the north side is covering windows and working its way through the north door. You enter through the vestry, which is at the west end of the south aisle and originally had two stories, not dissimilar to Terrington St John. I wondered if it had been a Priest's residence, although later I was told that it is not medieval at all, and was a school room.

You step into a glorious wide open interior, full of light. It is similarly ramshackle to the outside, laid out under a fine angel hammer-beam roof. Gorgeous Norman arcades reveal the true age of this place (again, as at Walsoken) and stretch away to the east. The capitals increase in elaboration towards the chancel, and then, just before they disappear, they jump a century and become Early English pointed arches. Turning back, you see that they are matched by the breathtaking tower arch - this is very much a church where the presiding minister gets a good view.

There is a very curious font. At first sight it appears early 17th Century, and this is the date assigned it in Pevsner and elsewhere. Its panels include two scriptural quotations in Latin, and two in English from the Geneva Bible (one reads see, here is water: what doeth let me to be baptised). One of the other panels features a Tudor rose, Unless the font was commissioned in the eight years between James I coming to the throne in 1603 and the Authorised Version of the Bible being published in 1611, it may well actually be a late 16th Century font, an unusual thing.

font: 'baptizantes eos in nomine patris et filii et spritus sancti - Mat 28:13' font: 'qui crediderit et baptizatus fuerit saluus erit - Mar 16:16' font: 'I am thy God and the God of thy seede after thee - Gen 17' font: 'see, here is water, what doeth let me to be baptised - Acts 8:36'

Slightly later is the screen, dated 1618 and turned and balustered as if for a staircase in a country house. The chancel itself is full of the sobriety of the early 17th century, quite at odds with the glorious arcades behind. A war memorial window features St George and St Martin, and there is a good Queen Anne royal arms. An old font sits on the floor in the north aisle, along with some early medieval grave slabs.

Tilney All Saints is probably less well-known than its near neighbours at Walpole, Walsoken and Terrington; but I thought it was lovely, a subtle and gently beautiful place at peace with its parish.

Simon Knott, September 2016

Tilney All Saints looking east looking west
Laudian screen (1618) looking west north aisle font and tower arch sedilia
1618 pierced angel holding a shield WWI: St Gabriel flanked by St George and St Martin lady altar
'Semper Eadem': Queen Anne royal arms Mary Mercy Tilney capital vestry door in the east wall of the south aisle
stiffleaf capital



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