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

St Mary, West Winch

West Winch

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West Winch west doors West Winch

    St Mary, West Winch
St John   I'd been wanting to see inside West Winch church for years, and it hadn't been for want of trying. The church sits, a little sulkily perhaps, just back from the A10 which hurtles traffic through on what is the main village street at this point. There's a shop across the road, houses all around, and so there is no reason whatsoever why the church can't be open during the day. But it never was - or, at least, I had never found it so, and nor had anyone else I asked. There wasn't a keyholder notice either, and so although I cast occasional glances at it on the map, I managed to resist the temptation of making the 150-mile round trip on the off-chance.

I was passing this way in the summer of 2016 with my friend John, who visited all the churches of Norfolk in the 1980s and is keen to repeat the feat. Incidentally, he tells me that many more of them are open now than were thirty years ago. We were just passing through West Winch, and thought we'd give the church a try, and of course it was still locked. But John had noticed that a new church warden was listed on the Diocesan website, so we rang her up, just in case she'd be prepared to come and open up.

Well, she couldn't have been more helpful. She was actually about to leave for the Sandringham flower show, but she put off her departure to come and let us in. She was very jolly and welcoming, and West Winch should be proud of her. She did mention that she'd been getting rather a lot of calls just recently to come and let people into the church, but I expect she's probably far too nice to suggest to the PCC that, to stem this tide of interruptions, they should open the church during the day, which of course they should.

St Mary is an imposing church of carstone and ashlar. Its west front faces the street, and a rather grand porch hides a sprawling south aisle. The porch is a curiosity, because it is 14th Century and it is hard to see how the aisle can predate it, but it rises above the roofline of the aisle as if a rebuilding of the aisle was an inevitable consequence of the porch being erected. But it never happened. Probably, the aisle is contemporary with the chancel, there were big plans which began with the porch, and then a hundred years or so passed before the tower went up and the nave was rebuilt. The sundial on the porch is dated 1706, with the initials TB and RC. Above it reads Hora Moner, presumably a misinscription for Hora Moneo, 'I advise the hour'.

The porch has another curiosity in store, because the side windows are filled with extraordinary windows of layered glass, one depicting verses from the Book of Proverbs, the other from St Paul's Letter to the Corinthians. They are the work of the Kings Lynn Glass Workshop. I've never seen anything quite like them before.

St Mary is a big church, but the interior is intimate, a fitting space for rural Anglican worship. The nave is warm and seemly, the chancel rather more exciting, drawing the eye to the east, which is as it should be of course. The east window, depicting the Day of Pentecost, is remarkably good 1880s work by Clayton & Bell, the workshop at its best.

There are more curiosities to come in the chancel. Built into the altar rails are four demi-figures. A bearded man holds a bag of money, a long-haired woman holds a bowl, a long-haired beardless man holds a chalice, and a bearded man holds an elaborate cross. They are probably intended to represent St Matthew, St Mary Magdalene, St John and St Philip. They look as if they were probably part of a larger set. I wonder where they came from, and what they were?

Some more woodwork to intrigue is at the west end of the nave. It is a bench end carved with a relief of St Paul. It is so much like the figures on the bench ends across the river at Wiggenhall St Mary, that it is hard not to think it may have come from the same workshop - or even, perhaps, the same church.

  Hora Moner 1706 TB & RC donabus

Simon Knott, July 2016

looking east chancel glass cross font
Feed my Lambs (1905) Feed my Lambs, Feed my Sheep (1905) Pentecost (Clayton & Bell, 1887) Feed my Lambs (detail, 1905)
St Matthew St Mary Magdalene St Philip All Saints North Runcton St Mary's West Winch M U
died in the Transvaal Corinthians 13 (Kings Lynn Glass Workshop, 2007) Proverbs 8 (Kings Lynn Glass Workshop, 2007)who died "very greatly respected" St Paul (15th Century)

cuckoo pint cuckoo pint usher of the free-schole at Lynn the West Winch dead winged hourglass flanked by cherubs / skull flanked by fronds Grief grasps an urn met his death by accident winged hourglass flanked by cherubs

National School 1837 Enlarged AD 1874 1899

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