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

St Peter, Yaxham

Yaxham: the church in winter

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carstone banding west end rood loft stair set in the angle between aisle and chancel trees barely thinking of budding yet chancel 

    St Peter, Yaxham

Close to Dereham, but far enough away to retain its identity as a village, Yaxham holds its church in its centre while so many around here are scattered parishes, the church alone in the fields. You approach St Peter up the alarmingly named Cut Throat Lane, a narrow way of Victorian cottages, and it must be a difficult church to photograph in summer when the trees are in full leaf. In early February, they were barely thinking of budding yet, and so we could see straight away Yaxham round tower's famous banding of carstone among the flint. Most Norfolk round towers are probably Norman, after the Conquest, and some are even later; but banding with stone like this is generally taken to be a sign that the tower is Saxon. It is certainly a very noble one.

Don't be fooled by the Decorated windows in the chancel; they are all Victorian. Otherwise, this is a later Perpendicular church, including the top of the tower.

looking east   St Peter has a south aisle, but not one on the north side, so when you enter it feels as if this beautiful space is unfolding before you. Ahead of you, the organ gallery is set against the north wall, and climbs into roof of the nave, hidden from you by the south arcade. There is no clerestory on the north side, and this enhances the sense of height.

At some time this has been, in a diffferent way, a very high church indeed; the altar has a built in tabernacle, and there is a massive, dripping early 20th century rood group on top of the screen. There are still six candlesticks on the altar, so is this a sign of the current liturgical enthusiasm; Or is the use of Mission Praise a better guide?

The afternoon was creeping on, but the beauty of St Peter is enhanced by it being a light church, and obviously well-looked after and loved. We wandered around exploring. The warmth of the building is partly due to the excellent sequence of decorative glass, which Pevsner says is by Powell & Son. It made a change to see so little figurative glass, and it accentuated the Holiness To The Lord inscription glass in the window high up on the east wall of the nave which had once lit the medieval rood. Although this particular glass is modern, and very high up, it appears to contain fragments of medieval glass.

In the south aisle are Victorian bench ends which bear a second glance. They appear to be based on the medieval sequence at Stowlangtoft in Suffolk, and include an owl, a winged lion with a human face (St Mark?) and an elephant and castle.

Turning west, the font is stunningly beautiful. Like the glass, it has no figures, only fleurons and patterns. But everything is set in vaulted niches, with high canopies rising on all eight sides. At some time, two bench ends have been built into the sides of the Priest step on the west side of the font, presumably to make it easier to get up and down, and not fall off while you are up there. Behind it, the tower arch with its simple capitals rises high, but above it is another doorway, probably the original access to the tower; you could draw up the ladder behind you in times of trouble, a reminder of quite how old this tower is.

While we were finishing off, an old lady came to lock the church up. I said hello, and she didn't reply, and so with my usual urban paranoia I thought she was suspicious of us. But I needn't have worried. She sat down in the porch, and so I went and asked her if she needed us to leave. She give me a big, beatific grin. "Sorry dear!" she shouted. "I'm deaf, I can't hear a word you say!"

  Holiness To The Lord

I raised my voice to a level with hers, and we just about managed. She was very happy to wait, because the groom was currently bathing her dog. We'd left the door open to let some warmer air into the freezing church, and she'd seen us, but normally she just shouts into the church to say she's about to lock up. If no one answers (how does she hear them?), they're locked in for the night. She agreed with me that the church was beautiful, and explained to me about the road beside the church being called Cut Throat Lane. Apparently, the house she lives in had once been an inn, and one night two men had an argument. The landlord pushed them out into the lane, and one had cut the other's throat. She paused, thinking, as if checking the story for its veracity. "Well, I can't think why it's called Cut Throat Lane if it isn't true", she concluded.

Simon Knott, February 2006


looking west from the altar from the gallery font and tower arch sanctuary looking west
font organ gallery Our Lady piscina Gladys Taylor
south arcade from the rood loft stair font from above elephant and castle St Mark
altar top with the lights on high drama

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