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

St Fabian and St Sebastian, Woodbastwick

Woodbastwick

Woodbastwick

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    St Fabian and St Sebastian, Woodbastwick

Woodbastwick sits on the edge of one of the loveliest parts of Norfolk and if you reach it through the flat fields and workaday villages to the east of Norwich it is doubly a surprise to arrive suddenly at the pretty village green with its thatched wellhouse, and Sir George Gilbert Scott's tower of St Fabian and St Sebastian beyond. I came back here in 2019, my first visit for at least ten years, but it was all familiar. All around are pleasing 19th century estate cottages, some with biblical texts on their frontages. And, this being the Broads the church is open, as they all seem to be around here. St Fabian and Sebastian is one of Norfolk's three nationally unique dedications (the others are at Bixley and Little Plumstead) and seems to be a 19th century Anglo-catholic affectation, the two Saints have nothing in common other than a shared feast day, Fabian being an early Pope, and Sebastian the martyr whose life was memorably portrayed by the late Derek Jarman. Woodbastwick was the home of the Cator family, the Anglo-catholic enthusiasts suggested above, and in the 1870s they paid for a massive rebuilding here. There had been a stump of a tower, and the nave had attractive stepped gables, which have been retained, as has much of the window tracery. The budget was 5,000, about a million in today's money. By contrast, the 1890s rebuilding of nearby Great Plumstead cost a mere 1,500, and that was after the rampant inflation of the 1880s.

The interior is intentionally dark and mysterious of course, a foil for the glimmer and sparkle of the Anglo-catholic movement's enthusiasms. Pretty much everything is renewed. The font went to Salhouse (although the churchwarden at Salhouse said I shouldn't mention this, in case they want it back) and virtually all the woodwork was replaced, although the lower part of the screen is the medieval one, and on my first visit in 2005 we found a couple of old benches stacked up in the vestry.

Given the budget, the glass is not exciting considering that that in the chancel is by Clayton and Bell, and that in the nave by Lavers, Barraud and Westlake. It may just be that we are not so easy with these attempts to replicate small scale 14th century glass as we are with more familiar unashamed and unpretending Victorian work. More comfortable period pieces are the reredos in the chancel and the pleasing art nouveau war memorial in the nave. Also in the nave are some very good 20th century memorials to the Cator family, contributing to the sense of a well-kept, cherished building that is usually open and welcoming.

The church is perhaps not the best known building in the village, for Woodbastwick is also home to the Woodforde Brewery. For a couple of decades the county of Norfolk was bereft of breweries as a result of the rapacious takings over and closings down of the major companies, but Woodfordes has arisen like a phoenix, and is now nationally recognised as a beer of quality.

Simon Knott, November 2019

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looking east sanctuary font (19th Century)
war memorial Gethsemane (Clayton & Bell, 1880s) Christ before Pilate (Clayton & Bell, 1880s) apostles and miracles (Clayton & Bell, 1880s)
Elizabeth Margaret Bowes Lyon (1959) for many years Squire of Ranworth and Woodbastwick served in South African War and Great War For 40 years the caring and devoted Squire of Woodbastwick & Salhouse
reredos

   
   
               
                 

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