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

St Mary, Wroxham

Wroxham

Trafford mausoleum

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    St Mary, Wroxham

Despite the spectacular river, Wroxham is perhaps an unfortunate place, with heavy traffic on the dirty A1151 which cleaves it in two. Unfairly, the Roy's of Wroxham shopping empire and the tourist shops which dominate the riverside area are actually on the Hoveton side of the river. The two seem to form a coherent whole, but even today Wroxham and Hoveton are in different local government areas, and it is a mark of Wroxham's remarkable growth in the second half of the 19th Century that at the time of the 1851 census there were fewer than 400 people living here.

But St Mary's is away from all this madness, down a quiet road to the south over the railway. The large structure beside it that you might mistake for an ambitious 19th Century rector's garage is actually Anthony Salvin's 1820s mausoleum for the Trafford family of Wroxham Hall. That it looks the work of half a century later is testament to Salvin's influence on the gothicists, I suppose. The church also looks very much the work of its Victorian restorers, but the great feature of the exterior is a magnificent Norman south doorway. Pevsner describes it as 'barbaric and glorious', which is about right. Primitive figures include angels, what might be mermaids and what are either acrobats or sheela na gigs.

south doorway south doorway (detail) south doorway (detail) south doorway (detail): sheela na gig?

The west end of the nave was reordered in the early 1960s, and a large, rather dominating screen placed as an entrance to the main part of the church. Everything beyond is 19th Century, pretty much. The south aisle lady chapel is neatly done, and William Wailes's east window doesn't overwhelm the wide, light chancel. Fortunately, you would need to step into the sanctuary to suffer Thomas Curtis's execrable window of Mary Magdalene meeting the risen Christ in the garden. It was designed for Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co in 1882, the year before he took over as chief designer for Ward & Hughes, and surely should have been sufficient warning for them.

The war memorial just inside the door echoes the Norman doorway rather neatly. A couple of other memorials remember in graphic detail injuries and death suffered by parishioners in earlier foreign wars. Captain George Collyer who at the siege of St Sebastian after having, with courage and judgement, led on a column to the attack, was killed in the breach was just 25 when he died in 1813. Robert Blake Humfrey also served in the Peninsular War under Wellington, and although he survived it he lost his left leg at the Passage of the Nive. Despite this calamity he returned to Wroxham, married, had seven children and died at a good old age of 91 in 1886.

All in all a pleasant enough if perhaps unexciting space. The ledger stone of 1674 set in the floor of the south aisle telling us hodie mihi, cras tibi ('today this is mine, tomorrow yours') around a grinning skull seems a little out of place, a throwback to an earlier, less-civilised age, not so much a jarring note as perhaps an impolite cough in an otherwise harmonious silence.

Simon Knott, August 2019

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looking east lady chapel looking west
war memorial Mary Magdalene meets the risen Christ in the garden (Thomas Curtis for Cox, Sons, Buckley & Co, 1882) Humfrey & Blake, Humfrey & Harvey he served in the Peninsular War under Wellington and lost his left leg at the Passage of the Nive who at the siege of St Sebastian after having, with courage and judgement, led on a column to the attack, was killed in the breach
hodie mihi cras tibi

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