Deopham is a Norfolk village with just over 500 people and it’s fair to say that it has a church which speaks more to past wealth and prosperity.
St. Andrew’s is a Grade I listed church, but it’s not in the best of condition following thefts and attacks on the building over recent decades. It was constructed between the late fourteenth century and the early sixteenth century, with the four stage tower literally towering over the area. There was though a church here before that date, of which nothing visibly remains.
This explained why some of the churchyard was taped off like it was a crime scene, bits of the masonry are falling off.
It’s a grand building, but it felt damp everywhere. The chancel used to be thatched until the Victorian modernisation, although the main nave had long since been roofed with lead.
Unfortunately there have been some relatively recent lead thefts from the roof and it is some need of general repair.
The boarding-up clerestory windows, clearly not ideal.
However, going back to a book written in 1858, the church has been in this position before, although it’s not entirely evident from the illustration in the publication. The author Raphael Brandon noted:
“The noble tower of this church is perhaps not excelled by any in Norfolk. Both within and without, this church is in a sad state of decay: most of the windows in the tower are blocked up, also those in the porch, and the east window of the Chancel, a fine piece of Perpendicular tracery”.
The chancel window issue is fixed now, although it’s been visibly altered. There was a major restoration by the Victorians about twenty-five years after the book was written which restored the church to its former glory. That was a hard fought battle though, it took until 1882 and by then “a sadly dilapidated church” before finance was found to fix the issues. The Ecclesiastical Commissioners had fixed the chancel and opened the window in the 1860s, but they weren’t responsible for fixing the nave. Some of the windows are still filled in, but the church was given a comprehensive makeover and a new hammerhead roof during these changes. One slight disgrace to the process was that they discovered numerous murals and medieval wall paintings during the renovation, but they decided that they wouldn’t bother keeping them.
The porch, which was open, although the church itself wasn’t. There was though keyholder information for those who wanted to access the building.
The once grand porch which now just feels damp.
Oh well, what’s classy, let’s go and scratch some initials into the church’s stone….. Grrrr.
It’s not a perfect repair on the porch.
The churchyard is sizeable and it’s still generally well maintained and cared for.
And rather an attractive grave, with the church in the background.
This was clearly once a magnificent church and it still is something special, but it’s in desperate need of funding to fix the problems. Having windows boarded up in the clerestory is hopefully a relatively short-term issue, a church of this stature deserves the decadence of at least being intact. But, at least the windows weren’t mostly bricked up as they had been in the eighteenth century, the current situation is relatively easy to reverse.
Protecting the church from crime is also clearly going to be a challenge as it’s relatively remote and it has been targeted before. The last twenty years might not have been favourable for the church, but with some good fortune and positive input from the authorities, maybe I’ll return here in a few years to a very different building. There remains the challenge though, which was evident in the mid-nineteenth century as well as today, that the church is a very substantial building for such a small congregation and village.