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Driving along the narrow country lane from Reepham, you suddenly encounter the church of St. Michael the Archangel - surely one of the most bizarre and incongruous buildings in the whole of Norfolk. It has ornate slender towers and a central minaret making it look out-of-place in such a rural Norfolk setting. Dubbed the 'Cathedral of the Fields', it was the brain-child of the Rev Whitwell Elwin who was rector in the village from 1850-1900.

Booton Church

St. Michael the Archangel at Booton

Elwin, a self-taught architect, began to rebuild Booton church in 1876 and he devoted great energy to the task until his death 24 years later. The hammerbeam roof inside - depicting angels - is famous and was modelled on the church at Trunch which Elwin knew as a child. The architect Edwin Lutyens described the building as ' very naughty but built in the right spirit'.

Across the fields you can see the spectacular (and more conventional) church of St. Agnes at Cawston - which was one of Sir John Betjeman's favourites.

Elwin, who was descended from the native American princess Pacahontas, was the editor of the Quarterly Review from 1853-1860. His literary friends included Dickens, Thackery, Sir Walter Scott and John Murray. In fact, Thackery and Scott visited him at Booton. Elwin was also the editor of the standard edition of Alexander Pope's poetry.

Kate Charles' mystery novel Evil Angels Among Them (1995) is set in this part of Norfolk and features the fictional church of 'St. Michael and All Angels' - which may have been based on Booton church.

Booton also has another literary link - in the form of Stephen Fry. It was here that the actor, director, comedian, script writer, TV presenter, novelist, poet and national treasure grew up.

Stephen Fry's House

Stephen Fry's childhood home at Booton

His family moved to the village in 1965 and in his autobiography Moab is My Washpot - he describes the sense of isolation that he originally felt at the move:

'Had we lived in Central London I dare say it might have been different. As it was we were hidden in the mysterious interior of rural East Anglia, where the nearest shop was a twenty-minute bicycle ride away and the nearest friends many miles farther. There was no door-bell ringing and can-Stephen-come-out-to play-ing in Booton, Norfolk: no cool friends called Zak and Barnaby and Luke, no parks, no Saturday morning cinema clubs, no milk-shake parlours, no buses, no visiting ice-cream vans, no roller-skating rinks'.

As a teenager in 1970,  Fry cycled over to Melton Constable to try and get a role as an extra in Joseph Losey's The Go-Between - but was unsuccessful.
Booton was also the place where he sought refuge after walking out of Simon Gray's play Cell Mates in 1995.
More photographs of Booton




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