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

St Peter, Yaxham

Yaxham

Yaxham Yaxham Yaxham

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St Peter, Yaxham

Close to Dereham, Yaxham holds its church in the centre of the village while so many around here are scattered parishes, their churches alone in the fields. You approach St Peter up the alarmingly named Cut Throat Lane, a narrow way of Victorian cottages, and it is a difficult church to photograph in summer when the trees are in full leaf. When I first came here in January 2006 they were barely thinking of budding yet, and so we could see straight away Yaxham round tower's bandings of carstone threading through the more familiar flint. Coming back some eight years later in summer was to find a churchyard alive with colour and birdsong.

Broadly speaking this is a later Perpendicular church. The early 15th Century brought a rebuilding of the church and the top of the tower, although the Victorian restoration tries to confuse us with Decorated windows in chancel that are in the style of a century earlier. As often with churches that only have an aisle on the south side, you enter into a space which feels as if it is unfolding before you. The organ gallery is set ahead of you against the north wall and climbs into roof of the nave, hidden by the south arcade. The lack of a clerestory on the north side enhances the sense of height.

At some time this has been, in a diffferent way, a very High Church indeed. The screen in the aisle was installed to remember a local lad lost in the First World War, but the rood screen is 15th Century at heart and you step beneath Lawrence King's impressive rood group towards an altar with a built in tabernacle and sporting six candlesticks. And yet, we noticed that the hymn book shelves at the back of the church were filled with copies of Mission Praise, and so perhaps the liturgical tradition here now is more mixed.

But Yaxham church is singular in other ways. Even on a dull day the church is illuminated by Powell & Sons' decorative glass, and the panels of the 14th Century font, like the glass, are not figuarive, decorated only with fleurons and patterns. But they are set in vaulted niches, with high canopies rising on all eight sides. The bench ends, though modern, appear to be based on the medieval sequence at Stowlangtoft in Suffolk, including an owl, a winged lion with a human face and an elephant and castle. At some time, two bench ends and a cross-step have been built into the west side of the font pedestal to make it easier to get up and down, and not fall off while you are up there. It would be nice to think that it was made locally. Behind it, the tower arch with its simple capitals rises high, looking so Saxon that it is easy to think this may be the age of the tower outside. Above it is another doorway, perhaps the original access to the tower.

A memory of my first visit: while we were wandering around the nave an old lady came to lock the church up. She popped her head around the door and I said hello, but 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!"

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. The house she lived in had once been an inn, and one night two men had an argument there. The landlord had pushed them out into the lane, and one had cut the other's throat. She paused, thinking, as if checking the story over for its veracity. "Well, I can't think why it's called Cut Throat Lane if it isn't true", she concluded.

Simon Knott, November 2020

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looking east rood (by Laurence King) looking west from the seven stepped chancel
Crucifix (Laurence King?) high altar with tabernacle font
nativity devoted organist, lover of this church, respected teacher the safe return of Charles William Trevelyan from the Great War
the beloved kinsman and tried friend of the poet Cowper St Peter's Yaxham M U

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