Norfolk Broads – Ranworth Church (St. Helen’s)

St. Helen’s is sometimes known as the ‘Cathedral of the Broads’, so it seemed apt to visit it whilst we were on the Hike Norfolk annual boating day trip on the water. The earliest part of the current building dates to the late thirteenth century, with substantial parts being added in the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries.

The pulpit is a little understated compared to other parts of the church. At the end of the nineteenth century, the entire church was in desperate need of repair and it also needed a new roof. It was closed for four years and finally re-opened in 1903 with a new nave roof and the addition of some new windows.

The EDP noted at the time that “a difficulty often encountered in remote and sparsely populated parishes is the possession of a spacious and costly church of which Ranworth is such an instance. The most casual observer must at once perceive that the condition into which this beautiful church has fallen is more the result of neglect than wilful spoilation”. Incidentally, I rather like the word ‘spoilation’, it was a word commonly used in the Victorian period and is rarely used today.

The church has a rather beautiful rood screen still in place, and although some is missing, it’s one of the best in Norfolk.

The font is made of Purbeck marble and is relatively plain in its design.

The churchyard is well kept and the church has constructed a rather delightful and unobtrusive cafe in the corner. Unfortunately, the cafe was unexpectedly shut during our visit, but the menu looked very reasonably priced.

The Queen and Prince Philip, the Duke of Edinburgh, visited the church on 25 November 1976. A date rather near to the day that I was born….

The church organ, which dates from the late nineteenth century.

The Ranworth Antiphoner, which is perhaps one of the most exceptional liturgical books on display in any English church. Indeed, it’s so amazing that it’s surprising that it remains in the church, although rather wonderful that it does. The case in which it is now displayed was constructed by the inmates of Norwich Prison, and it is apparently very secure.

It dates from the fifteenth century and was commissioned for the church, although it went missing after the Reformation. Fortunately, it came up for auction in 1912 and was acquired once again for the church. The church opens the case on a regular basis to change the page which is displayed.

I’m surprised that the church allows unsupervised visits to the top of the tower. But, it’s a great thing for a church to do, and it offers excellent views over the local area. There are around 90 steps and you just have to hope that not too many people are coming down as you go up (or the other way round) as there isn’t exactly much space. On the way up to the top, which involves two ladders right near the top (I was very brave) it’s possible to see the church bells.

And the underside of the bells….

Views from the church tower, definitely worth the climb.

The weather-vane on top of the church.