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All Saints, Toftrees
I wondered if All Saints had already gone the way of a number of churches in this part of Norfolk, and was now disused, earmarked for the headlong rush into abandonment and desolation. But no, the kindly keyholder assured us that the church was still in use. He unlocked the door and we stepped inside, wincing at the heady stench of bat urine. And there was the wonderful font. It is a riot of carving with animal heads, including what appear to be a sheep and a badger, geometric designs and, on one of the original pillars, a representation of a Norman soldier wearing a helmet with a nose-guard. Of course, all churches once had Norman fonts, just as most Norfolk churches once had round towers. It is theology, the passing of the ages and of fashion which has replaced them. A fine survival.
Even in sunshine, the gloomy interior was full of the shadows and ghosts of its Anglo-catholic past, now fading out of sight. Looking to the west, the upper part of the three-light west window had gone completely, and a gusting summer wind was rattling the surviving panes. As if to make a point, a small bird flew in through the vacant pane, circled around and flew out again.
Outside, a number of interesting 19th Century headstones bear witness to the busy life of the past, but in fact Toftrees has always been a tiny parish. At the time of the 1851 census, when many East Anglian rural populations reached their peak, there were fewer than a hundred living souls here, and all the land was in the possession of the Townshends of Rainham Hall.
Simon Knott, January 2018
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