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

St Peter and St Paul, West Newton

West Newton

West Newton church from Sandringham church West Newton
draped urn flanked by cherubs view from the south porch (and my bike) For God King and Country

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    St Peter and St Paul, West Newton
Captain Frank Beck as St George (Karl Parsons, 1920)   West Newton is a pretty little village at the heart of the Sandringham estate. When I first visited in 2006 I decided that it was the very model of what an estate village should be. The workers houses are fine, and constructed to a high standard. There are workshops that serve the estate, and one of those friendly-looking social clubs that you get in villages around here - it is said that Queen Alexandra disapproved of pubs, and so Edward VII gave the villages social clubs instead.

All of this is in the Arts and Crafts vernacular style of the day, and arranged pleasingly around the church of St Peter and St Paul on its mound at the heart of the village. On that day of high summer the sky was blue, the heat of the day hazy. From the social club, a wedding reception spilled out onto the slopes around the church. Children ran around playing, while red-faced men in suits laughed and clung tightly to their pints. On such a sunny day it felt a privilege to be here.

And coming back ten years later felt like a privilege too. Nothing much had changed, the church still on the crest of its cushion of a churchyard, still open. The lychgate is a memorial to the dead of the First World War, many of them killed on the same day. The name of Captain Frank Beck stands out.

Beck was the land agent on the Sandringham estate, the trusted right hand man of King George V and a favourite of his mother Queen Alexandra. Despite the King's protestations, the patriotic Beck formed a 'pals company' of men from the estate who were attached to the 5th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment. They sailed for Gallipolli, and they were wiped out during the attack on Anafarta in Suvla Bay on the 12th of August 1915.

Because they had fallen behind enemy lines, they were listed as missing, and a local legend grew up that they had vanished into a mysterious cloud and were taken up out of this world. This sounds bizarre, but it was of a piece with legends like the Angel of Mons leading the British troops to escape death in Flanders, and with the great rise in spiritualism in this country in the years immediately after the War. Perhaps it was the dust and heat of that day which gave rise to the legend. When the bodies were eventually found and identified, this knowledge was kept from Queen Alexandra because it was felt it would be too upsetting for her, and thus she died believing in the legend. In 1999, the story of Beck and his company was dramatised by the BBC as All The King's Men, a horribly appropriate title. Beck was played by David Jason.

Captain Frank Beck as St George (Karl Parsons, 1920) The Norfolk Regiment (Frank Beck memorial, Karl Parsons, 1920) Suvla (Frank Beck memorial, Karl Parsons, 1920)
in proud and loving memory of Captain Frank Beck MVO and his men (Karl Parsons, 1920) They gave their lives for King and Country on August the twelfth nineteen hundred & fifteen (Frank Beck memorial, Karl Parsons, 1920)

Through the lychgate, you come onto the wide mound of the churchyard. The 14th century tower of the church is grand and stately, and its solid carstone with freestone corners looks as if it might be made of gingerbread and icing. A beautiful contemporary image niche sits beside the west window. The body of the church is also carstone, built of blocks on the south side and in slipped layers on the north, as if this was a vast dry stone wall.

You step into a small, simple, restored church. The churches of north-west Norfolk were in a pretty dreadful state by the middle of the 19th century. There are more ruined churches around here than anywhere else in England. The purchase of the Sandringham estate by the Prince of Wales revitalised the local economy, and his patronage led to some pretty substantial restorations, most of which were to a very high standard in terms of both design and construction.

Few of the estate restorations were more substantial than that of West Newton. Apart from the tower, the church was almost completely rebuilt in 1880. The architect was, perhaps surprisingly, Arthur Blomfield, who we rarely see on such an intricate scale in East Anglia. He was working at Sandringham church at the same time.

Here, he is at his highest, putting into practice the future King's Anglo-catholic sympathies and producing a very Arts and Crafts feel to the interior, particularly with the cottage-style windows in the aisles, with none of the razzmatazz inflicted on Sandringham. The glass was commissioned from Heaton, Butler and Bayne, and although perhaps the workshop was past its very best by the 1880s, there is a pleasing harmony to their windows, contributing to a quiet, intimate interior.

The intimacy of this setting is a perfect foil to the poignant WWI memorial window of 1920 by Karl Parsons. This depicts Frank Beck as a magnificent St George, and remembers the men of his company. They gave their lives for King and Country on August the twelfth nineteen hundred and fifteen, reads the inscription. Interestingly, Queen Alexandra may never have seen this window, for she became blind in 1920 and suffered severe ill-health until her death at Sandringham in 1925. Either side of Beck are the crest of the Norfolk Regiment and the fiery hell of Suvla Bay. This is sad enough, but immediately beside it is another memorial to the men killed further up the coast at Inkerman during the Crimean War sixty years earlier. And the men of Norfolk still had Singapore to come.

  Christ Crucified on St George's shield (Karl Parsons, 1920)

Simon Knott, November 2017

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looking east font view from the south aisle
St Felix (Heaton, Butler and Bayne) St Cecilia and St Gregory (Heaton, Butler and Bayne) St Luke and St John (Heaton, Butler and Bayne) St Peter and St Paul (Heaton, Butler and Bayne) St Etheldreda (Heaton, Butler and Bayne)
fell nobly fighting for his country at the glorious Battle of Inkermann Baptism of Christ/Passover in Egypt (Heaton, Butler and Bayne) this organ-chamber was built, and the organ re-constructed by Their Majesties King Edward VII and Queen Alexandra, AD 1908 this church was restored and the north aisle rebuilt by Albert Edward Prince of Wales, Lord of the Manor and Patron of the Living AD MDCCCLXXXI<
let her own works praise her


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