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

St Nicholas, West Lexham

West Lexham

West Lexham West Lexham

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    St Nicholas, West Lexham

You don't have to go far off of the busy Swaffham to Fakenham road to find an East Anglia as quiet as anywhere, and particularly here, where the chalklands become high Norfolk. St Nicholas is barely a mile from that road, but as with its near-neighbour East Lexham it is sunk deep into a peaceful torpor, an ancient tower on an ancient site, only birdsong for company - that, and on my first visit back in 2005 the two mad little dogs in the garden of the cottage by the gate into the churchyard.

The delicious round tower is like a great melting cheese, although I'm told it has been painted white since my last visit. The church against it was almost entirely derelict by the early 19th Century as the crude contemporary drawing at the bottom the page shows. It was rebuilt in the early 1880s, and so to all intents and purposes this is a Victorian church against a tower which is probably late Saxon. The rebuilding reused materials from the old church. In the 1990s the tower was found to be collapsing, and so metal bands and staples were applied to hold it together, and this was when it was rendered.

You step into an unsurprisingly Victorian interior, though one with more gravitas than its rustic neighbour across the fields at East Lexham. Still, it shares with it the conviction that this was a place of the ordinary people, not of big landed families, a feeling enhanced by the lovely locally made alms box with its carved relief of a donkey. Pevsner thought the chancel arch was 14th Century, although it doesn't appear to be there on the early 19th Century drawing. The font is an oddity. It appears to be cobbled together, what seems to be a small square Norman bowl (but was it ever a font?) set on an octagonal stem and base giving something of the effect of a raised sink. Another curiosity is that the stained glass figure of Christ in the east window was commissioned from a French workshop, Louis Lobin of Tours. It is surrounded by scenes in the life of Christ in the 13th Century French cathedral style. Does this suggest there was money to spend here in the 1880s, or a patron with a fancy for French glass? Whatever, there is no other glass by the workshop in the whole of East Anglia.

Simon Knott, October 2020

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looking east chancel looking west
nativity presentation in the temple Risen Christ last supper ascension
angel at the resurrection font the pelican in her piety
donkey alms box five candles

West Lexham, mid-19th Century

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