Barton Turf Catfield Irstead Ludham Ranworth Upton

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

St Margaret, Upton

Upton: big and little known.

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    St Margaret, Upton

This large church is easily seen, but easily passed, just to the north of the road between Ranworth and South Walsham. It is tempting to miss it if you are shuttling between its grander neighbours, but a couple of features make it well worth a visit, and we were glad we stopped. The parish obviously was, too; there was a large sign proclaiming it open, and the place was generally welcoming.

The exterior looks very Victorianised; in fact, the tower is even later, being a 20th century rebuilding of one that, like neighbouring South Walsham St Lawrence, tumbled in the 18th century. The nave has felt the smack of firm restoration, and is now a bit gloomy, but the chancel is full of light and simplicity. Dividing the two is the dado of what must once have been a fine screen, although the Saints have been restored in a very rough, local manner, which I quite liked, and rather hoped was indicative of what was there before. There are just eight of them in the narrow chancel arch; to the north are St Augustine, St Jerome, St Gregory and St Ambrose, the four Latin Doctors, a popular Norfolk subject, while on the south side are St Helena with her true cross, St Etheldreda with her crozier, St Lucy with her saucer, and a rather anonymous figure that Mortlock claims is St Joan de Valois. If so, it is one of the few English representations.

I liked the screen a lot, although obviously it is not a patch on some of its neighbours. But the font here can stand proud as one of the best of its kind in the whole county. Obstensibly of a familiar East Anglian style, with evangelistic symbols and angels on the panels, it has morphed these into gorgeous, ripe clumpy shapes, as if moulded out of playdough. The angels are full of life and character, some of them playing instruments like their smaller cherub companions around the bowl, one with a book of music. The pillar of the font depicts not lions and woodwoses but angels and humans illustrative of the sacraments of Baptism and the Mass. Again, they are full of character, as if pausing for photographs before setting about their business. It is a splendid, joyful piece, a super testament to 14th century humour and optimism.

In the south aisle, beside a consecration cross, an elaborately traceried piscina sugests that this whole building was once perfectly splendid, and for that experience alone Upton deserves a visit.

Simon Knott, September 2004

You can also read: an introduction to amazing screens


Looking east Looking west Soaring chancel arch The chancel Upton's splendid and characterful font Figures on pedestal: Mass
Figures on pedestal: Baptism (godparent) Font: Lion of St Mark Font: angel musician Sanctuary
Screen: north range (I-IV) Screen: south range (V-VIII)
I: St Augustine, II: St Jerome III: St Gregory IV: St Ambrose V: St Helena, VI: St Etheldreda VII: St Agatha, VIII: St Joan de Valois Consecration cross and piscina, south aisle
Upton church from Fishley churchyard

an introduction to amazing screens

Barton Turf Catfield Irstead Ludham Ranworth Upton

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