Sunday : Three Churches in Norfolk, New Buckenham, Old Buckenham and Banham

Back in Norfolk for the day, Richard thought it would be a marvellous afternoon expedition to see another few churches in the county, as we’re working our way around them slowly but surely. And for this trip, we visited three of the six churches in the Quidenham benefice, with one theme running across these different buildings which was the authenticity of the welcome. The benefice has gone to substantial efforts not just to open the churches, but to provide histories to all of them, ensuring that they are safe places to pray, visit or find solace in. Sometimes it feels that churches expect their congregations to keep them in the lifestyle that they’ve become accustomed to, serving their communities only to benefit themselves. I was pleased to note that this wasn’t the case here, they all felt welcoming churches with their own strong sense of history and relevance.

 

NEW BUCKENHAM CHURCH (ST. MARTINS)

New Buckenham is an interesting village as it’s an early example of town planning, having been laid out in the twelfth century. The church came shortly afterwards, with some extensions in the early fourteenth century and then a large rebuilding exercise in the early sixteenth century.

The decorative font is from the fifteenth century.

However, the font was faffed about with a little in 1619, a date which has been engraved into the stone.

The well-proportioned nave and chancel, the latter of which was reconstructed in the sixteenth century.

There were steps which gave access to the rood loft, but only the access to these is now remaining. I do like these elements of church history, they often today are hidden cupboards or stairways to nowhere, but they always tell a story of their own.

The church’s Easter Sepulchre, a set-up which was generally removed during the Reformation, at the same time as the rood screens. It seems quite a large space to give over to something that is only used for a few days each year, but I suppose rules are rules in churches.

Some of the decorative pew ends.

There was an extensive area where books could either be borrowed, or purchased for a small fee. This little arrangement looks like it is slowly taking up more and more space in the church, but it’s a really good use of an area that’s beneficial for the community and can also raise the church some money.

These two bits of wood are carvings from the windows of the former Crown Inn in the village. A church seems an unusual place to put these random historic artefacts, but I like that they’re here. There’s one on the other side of the church, a slightly quirky reminder of the village’s past. It’s the sort of things that often goes the over way though, as glass from the two Buckenham churches found its way to Hengrave Hall following the Reformation.

This wooden door is at least 400 years old, so has managed to stand here since the late Tudor period. If wood could talk, what stories it could tell….

The grand old tower.

The chancel had to be rebuilt in the nineteenth century as it had become derelict and mostly fallen down in the eighteenth century.

And the plans from that Victorian renovation, which took place between 1869 and 1872. This was all a sizeable job, with the work to repair the nave being completed first, before money was raised to fix the chancel and tower. These were busy times for the church as well, the village’s population had increased to over 700 (it’s under 500 today) and the restoration fund noted that the vast majority of these were working class.

 

OLD BUCKENHAM CHURCH (ALL SAINTS)

We then went to the older village of Old Buckenham and there’s been a church on this site since the Saxon period, although most of what currently stands is part of the fourteenth century rebuild.

There’s only one visible in this photo, but there were actually four children playing hide and seek in the church when we entered. I meandered around the church ignoring the child lying down between the pews, one lying down near the chancel and one doing goodness knows what near to the tower. I suspect they were a little scared of being told off (although I suspect they were more alarmed when they heard Richard’s booming voice), but I was quite amused that they were enjoying their game and there’s something actually quite nice to think that the church is somewhere they feel welcome. They might be playing hide and seek today, but they might well be future custodians and historians of the church, which is a rather lovely thought.

The font is from the fifteenth century, and these always appeal to me, as it doesn’t take a huge leap of imagination to consider standing here 500 years ago when a baby was being baptised. Anyone attending that service wouldn’t have been too surprised at the interior of the church today, which isn’t too much changed, with the same stone font still being used. That no-one in all this time has ever thought “we could get a nice new font” is always a slight surprise to me, especially given that the Victorians liked to modernise and replace so many things.

The lighting conditions made it difficult to show the quality of the carving on this pulpit from the nineteenth century.

A wooden bier, a cart to transport bodies to the grave, which dates from the seventeenth century. Indeed, this is so rare that I wonder whether it would be best taken to a museum for its own protection. But perhaps that sort of policy takes away the heart of a church, so I can see why it has been left here.

A sign from 1854 showing “the property belonging to the parish church of Old Buckenham”. I partly wonder whether this board was to remind the congregation what assets there were, so that they could see they weren’t, well, being stolen from them.

The Saxon building was replaced by a larger stone church in the eleventh century, which was then partly rebuilt in the fourteenth century and then faffed about with in the nineteenth century. Fortunately, it retains its rather pretty thatched roof, which has recently been repaired and restored.

There was something quite peaceful about the churchyard.

The church’s tower, completed in the fourteenth century.

I was quite taken by this early Norman doorway, likely not in its original position.

 

BANHAM CHURCH (ST. MARY’S)

The last of the three churches that we visited, quite an imposing building with its tall spire. It mostly dates to the early part of the fourteenth century, although there were substantial renovations here in 1865.

Another old wooden door, which has witnessed countless baptisms, weddings and funerals.

I didn’t actually notice the Ukrainian flag when taking the photo, which isn’t particularly observant of me…. But looking back, I appreciate their effort.

Looking back down into the nave from the chancel.

I think this is a beautiful nave, it all feels really quite medieval.

Twentieth century stained glass, from the Gaymer family.

Although it looks like stone, this is a wooden effigy of Sir Hugh Bardolph who died in 1203, although this memorial is from around 1340. There are only a handful of these around the country and it is surprising to me that it was left undamaged by the Reformation, by the Civil War and by the Victorians. This could have easily been filled in at any stage, or at least the effigy removed, leaving an odd hole in the wall. And it’s a reminder that odd holes in the walls of churches nearly always have a reason, but time has often meant that when changes are made the original purpose is lost.

I quite like reading the old reports of the Norfolk Archaeological Society, not least because I like such dull things, but they visited this church in 1852 for the main purpose of looking at this effigy. It does feel slightly odd to me that a number of men and women (although the report notes mostly men) stood here 170 years ago, debating just how old this effigy was and its historic importance, as they themselves are now part of the village’s long history. And they weren’t overly excited by the arrangement, not least because an eighteenth century rector had painted it. They declared it probably wasn’t Bardolph and that it had been moved from somewhere else in the church as the recess was from a very different period. I suspect they came to that conclusion because of the gap between 1203 and 1340, which shows some considerable architectural knowledge from someone at the time.

An old chest.

An informative board, again showing the assets of the church.

And the sun started to set on Banham church. This was one of the loveliest sets of churches that we’ve visited, it’s marvellous that they’ve been kept open and the community spirit was evident in all of them, with their fund raising and local activities. As an important aside to all this, the three churches are all Grade I listed, such is the importance of their heritage. For now that will do, when I’ve got my Norfolk Churches web-site done, I have some more to say about these rather lovely buildings.