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Norfolk Churches

'Norfolk would not be Norfolk without a church tower on the horizon or round a corner up a lane. We cannot spare a single Norfolk church. When a church has been pulled down the country seems empty or is like a necklace with a jewel missing.'

John Betjeman

Salle Church

Salle Church

Norfolk has over 650 medieval churches - the highest concentration in the world. Of these, 125 have round towers - more than any other county in the UK. (Suffolk has 42, Essex 7, Sussex 3, Cambridgeshire 2 and Berkshire 2.)

Norfolk's churches vary from the spectacularly grand - such as Walpole St Peter and Salle - to the tiny, remote round-towered versions - such as Bessingham, Hales or Framingham Earl. Along the North Norfolk coast at Blakeney, Cley and Cromer the churches are large - reflecting the wealth of these earlier prosperous ports. Cromer has the tallest tower in the county at 160 feet. Then there are the thatched churches like Thurne and Mautby, the ruined ones like at Shotesham and Great Hautbois, the tower-less ones like Thurgarton and Mundesley, the positively bizarre ones like Burgh St Peter and the 'two-for-the-price-of-one' churches such as Reepham and South Walsham.

John Betjeman's love of churches began, we are told, by seeing the outline of St. Peter's Church at Belaugh from his father's boat on the River Bure. Many years later he returned to the site for one of his popular BBC programmes A Passion for Churches.

Booton Church

Booton Church

Walpole St Peter

Walpole St. Peter

St. Andrew's Church, Framingham Earl

St. Andrew's, Framingham Earl (with round tower)

Most of Norfolk's churches are made from flint and this may explain the high number of round towers - as these do not require stone quoins. Norfolk's only other workable stone is carrstone which is sometimes used as a building material in north and north-west Norfolk. Bessingham church tower, for example, is partly composed of carrstone - or gingerbread stone as it is known locally. The Normans introduced stone which was imported from as far afield as Caen in Normandy. This was used on some of the grander churches in the county such as Wymondham Abbey, St Margaret's at King's Lynn or Cawston tower. The stone for Norwich Cathedral was brought from Normandy and transported by boat up the River Yare and then a further half-mile along a canal from Pulls Ferry to the construction site.

Church crawling in Norfolk is one of the best ways to discover the county's hidden gems - particularly if you do it on foot or by bike.

The Norfolk Churches Trust and the Churches Conservation Trust do their  best to keep as many of the county's redundant churches open as possible.

Norwich Churches

Norwich has 36 medieval parish churches: St Andrew, St Augustine, St Benedict, St Clement, St Edmund Fishergate, St Etheldreda, St George Tombland, St George Colegate, St Giles, St Gregory, St Helen, St James Pockthorpe, St John Maddermarket, St John de Sepulchre, St John Timber Hill, St Julian, St Lawrence, St Margaret, St Martin at Oak, St Martin at Palace Plain, St Mary Coslany, St Mary the Less, St Michael at Plea, St Miles Coslany, St Peter Hungate, St Peter Mancroft, St Peter Parmentergate, St Saviour, St Simon and St Jude, St Stephen, St Swithin and two cathedrals (1 Anglican and 1 Roman Catholic).

St. Giles Church Norwich

St. Giles on the Hill, Norwich

The fact that most of these churches survive today is due, in large part, to the work of Wilhelmine 'Billa' Harrod (see also Letheringsett). In 1970, 32 of these churches were facing demolition but Billa, a devout Anglican and conservationist, decided to take action. With the support of John Betjeman, the poet laureate, she founded the Norfolk Society Committee for Country Churches - which later evolved into the Norfolk Churches Trust.

Thankfully, most of Norwich's churches were preserved. Most are no longer used for services but the buildings are utilised for other community projects including: Norwich Arts Centre (St Swithin), art galleries, puppet theatre (St. James Pockthorpe), martial arts, book stores, antiques (St Michael at Plea) and previously night-shelters (St. Martin's on Oak Street).

These churches are a familiar part of Norwich and should be preserved for posterity.

Top Ten Literary Churches in Norfolk

1) St. Nicholas Dereham - William Cowper is buried here. There is a magnificent stained glass window dedicated to him and also a monument by Flaxman.

2) St Mary's Ditchingham - Henry Rider Haggard is buried in the chancel and there is a commemorative stained glass window. His daughter Lilias Rider Haggard (also a writer) is buried in the churchyard.

3) St. Peter Mancroft, Norwich - Sir Thomas Browne is buried here.

4) St Andrew's, Framingham Earl - W.G. Sebald is buried here.

5) St. Mary's, Itteringham - George Barker the poet is buried here.

6) St. Peter's, Shropham - the novelist and short story writer Mary Mann is buried here.

7) St. Nicholas Chapel, King's Lynn - various Robinson Crusos (without an 'e') are buried here. The name may have influenced Daniel Defoe.

8) St Stephen's, Potter Heigham - the Norfolk humorist Sidney Grapes was a church warden here and there is a commemorative oak-panelled clergy vestry dedicated to him.

9) St. Peter and St. Paul, Mautby - Margaret Paston, who wrote many of the Paston Letters, is buried here.

10) St Peter's, Belaugh - this was the first church that Sir John Betjeman ever fell in love with.


More Norfolk Church Photographs

More Norwich Church Photographs

More Round Tower Church Photographs





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