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

St Peter and St Paul, Tuttington


  St Peter and St Paul, Tuttington

Around here, pretty villages huddle in the dips, and roads obey the old medieval strip field plan system, cutting back at dog legs for no apparent reason. Coming into Tuttington, you find a compact, pretty village, with flint cottages and houses with Flemish gables. The round-towered church is tucked fairly tightly behind a large house with Flemish gables. I have been a regular visitor to Tuttington over the years. It is a church I like a lot, one which easily draws me into its orbit if I am passing close by, and I found my name six times in the visitors book.

The big perpendicular windows and two storey porch outshine the simple round tower a bit, and a homogeneity in the flint of the whole piece suggests a late medieval rebuilding, and then a considerable restoration. You step into a wide open space, free of clutter and full of light. There is a big 15th Century font with blank shields, which were likely as not painted originally.On it is a cover which is probably of the 17th century. The pulpit is also of that period, dated 1635, so perhaps they were part of the same carpenter's job. There is no step into the chancel, which is cleared completely apart from the sanctuary. Big windows, white walls, sunlight falling on tiled floors. The acoustic is notable - I stood under the chancel arch and sang the opening of the Gloria in Excelsis Deo, and it took a full five seconds for the note to die away.

Just another church? Well, not quite, because Tuttington has an exceptionally interesting collection of 15th Century bench ends. Strikingly, they appear to form a set - there are about a dozen of them, and they have been placed as the front half of the benches in the nave. Either there were once more, or this church was only benched for half the nave, or, I am afraid, they are from somewhere else originally. Never mind, and in any case we can never know.

On the north side, the bench end that was obviously designed for the most westerly bench features an alert guard dog wearing a collar. On the bench end in front of him, a grinning wild man with a club creeps up on a dragon. Also on this side, a woman churns butter, her hands and the stick now lost, a man beats on a tambour, and, curiously, a woman allows her basket to be rifled by wild animals, one of them a fox. On the south side there is an elephant and castle, a grinning face peeping out of the castle. The elephant is lifelike, and you can't help wondering if the artist had actually seen one. There are two dogs, one with a duck or goose in its mouth. There's another musician playing a lute, and another curiosity, a man appears to be feeding a gryphon - or is it eating him?

woman's basket raided by a fox and other animals (15th Century) wild man and dragon (15th Century) elephant and castle (15th Century)
man beating a tambour (15th Century) collared dog (15th Century) gryphon eating a man (15th Century)
man playing a lute (15th Century) dog with a duck in its mouth (15th Century) chained dog lion (15th Century) woman churning butter (15th Century)

They are a bit battered about, but the damage is as likely to be the rough and tumble of the centuries as much as any form of iconoclasm. But for me on this journey the most striking thing about them is that they appear to be by the same hand as the bench ends at Thurgarton, some seven miles to the north-west. The subjects have some similarities, the most memorable being the man creeping up on a dragon and the elephant and castle. Here too, the man with the gryphon may be part of a sequence in which this one is followed by the gryphon holding the man's head at Thurgarton. Intriguingly, this suggests the possibility that they might all have been in the same church originally. Or are they not by the same hand at all, but simply one 15th Century parish carpenter's clever copies of those of a nearby church?

An unusual survival sits high up in the south-east corner of the nave. This is a corbel in the shape of a dragon. It has no counterparts elsewhere in the nave, and the two holes in it suggest that once a cord might have been threaded through it, providing a pulley for the lenten veil on the rood.

Simon Knott, May 2018


looking east chancel looking west
Gave their lives in the Great War this side up please dragon corbel (with lenten veil pulley holes) font

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