ChurchCrawling 2003


The 4th Annual General Meeting - and a number of firsts!

Well the day started for me the day before, as I decided to stay overnight NE of Cambridge. Things were a little confusing, as I stayed at Chippenham (village) near Mildenhall (town), whereas round home Mildenhall is the village and Chippenham is the large place (Wiltshire!). Following a time delayed trip covering the last three miles in an hour, I got to my B&B, a wonderfully rejuvinated C15 building between the pub and the church. As the people were not home (they were stuck in the same traffic on the A14 as it turned out) and the pub did not serve any food I went to the next village, Fordham for a take-away Chinese which I ate in the churchyard of the floodlit St Peter's FORDHAM (Cambs), a large an interesting looking building with an upper chapel at the south-west corner. (See below, that is the moon to the right of the tower not a lamppost). This was my first hot meal eaten in a churchyard!


I returned to Chippenham, waited in the pub with a pint and discovered all the locals had worked out what I was doing when several came to tell me the couple at the B&B had returned! For the first time in my life I slept in a four poster bed! Before leaving the next morning it seemed churlish not to visit the church.



From outside a fairly run-of-the-mill building with what appears to be a C19 chancel. Big sadly worn head corbels support the outer entrance to the porch. Inside much of interest, but time was pressing and I had to snap away quickly. The chancel is much older with exposed remains of Norman windows, but the overall feel was one of renewal here. Not so in the nave and aisles where the arcades are probably early C13, although several piers on the south side seem to have been replaced! (How do they do that?). Several remains of wall paintings, including a large St Christopher in the north aisle. DD said he had not been here, but I have some 55 pictures from the early days of his project to prove him wrong ( including each of the seven hatchments.

Fighting of the urge to drive to Fordham, I steeled myself for the journey onwards to Swaffham, after all there was an AGM to go to! This resolve took some testing as my route took me past the east end of one of Suffolk's premier churches at MILDENHALL. The route to Swaffham went past a huge airfield at Lakenheath, and several speed cameras. On reflection this was another first, the first time I have driven in Suffolk! (Previous places visited were always by train).


My arrival at SWAFFHAM coincided with Market Day, and everyone and his mother were out it seemed. I parked in an idyllic churchcrawling spot it sounds, between two churches, Our Lady of Pity (RC) a sort of 1930s dull brown brick church hall style (above left), and a desperately ugly twin-towered Baptist church (above right, yes Neil I took the pic for you!!)



Hugely impressive west tower, ashlar built, the rest of rubble and knapped flint, like most other churches we were to see on our day. The church seemed hugely popular and I was expected a wedding, but no! The west end of the church was doing a brisk trade in coffee and home-made cakes. I was one of the later arrivals (it was 1025) and inside several had dared to be non-British and speak to strangers! John W (Essex) John V (Kent) Seajay (Norfolk), Paul (Early riser from Rochdale), and Adrian had grouped and we were joined by John H and Diane (who had TWO slices of chocolate cake!!) and RJB shortly afterwards. DD (with Mr Suffolk in tow) rang me from his car to find out our next target church as all of us had taken up the last parking spaces! We lingered as long as RJB felt comfortable (he was parked somewhat unofficially I understand) in this large but quite frankly disappointing church (nice roof) in case of other arrivals, but then left for Rosemary's recommendation for our day out. I kept my phone on just in case of others being late but no-one called.



Seajay told us the church would be open. Wrong! Mr Davey the custodian had been there earlier and had just got home, when we rang to enquire of the key. This enabled the group, now augmented by drdigi and Simon, to chat and mingle in the former churchyard, devoid of gravestones but full of amazing flowers and shrubs, lovingly tended among the close cropped lawns. This largely pre-conquest church has been rescued from near ruin, largely to the efforts of this one indefatigable gentleman. His love for the building and his interest was there for all to see, and it seemed rude to leave abruptly, so we stayed much longer than we might have ordinarily have done. Howver his careful explanations and descriptions of the wall paintings made shadows in the gloom become more recognisable. However he did not know his pubs, as he told us that his local in North Pickenham did food which it did not normally and was not today! (MARCH 2004 - Website created)

So we continued to our next goal-village of Necton and the Windmill for lunch. Not sure what happened to Paul, as suddenly he was no longer with us. I left my phone on in case he called to find out where we were later.



The church was undeniably impressive, and although I felt uncomfortable about the tower, I said nothing. In fact I was right to feel uncomfortable as it is not as old as I had assumed it was, being a largely C19 structure. It was also locked when it should have been open, but a friendly lady (the rector's wife?) came over to let us all in because the grass at home needed cutting as a priority! The famous roof was there for us all to admire, with statues and angels (of course) all with some vestiges of medieval colour, and the clerestory windows themselves were embellished by carved rosettes in the jambs. There were other early Victorian embellishments (gallery, altarpiece), and the north chapel had been screened off to form a parish room.



This was our next target, and probably my favourite on the day. This very large church seems to stand in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by fields of ripening crops. The churchyard itself is returning to the wild, and in some ways so is the church. An air of genteel neglect and past glory was how it affected me. It seemed as if some determined people were trying to keep the building alive (fresh flowers on the altar) for future generations, but it was all a bit too much. Seating has been reduces, the uneven damp aisle floors and several walls had greenish mould, and much of the formerly impressive woodwork had that impression of decay. Clear glass in all the windows, save for glass of a strange lilac hue in the window over the chancel arch. It seems headed for the Churches Conservation Trust in time, and I hope if they do get it, that they can preserve this church "as is". I know not everyone shared my views, Adrian found the church made him very sad for instance.



As the stragglers from Beeston pulled up outside, a lady arrived home and began to berate people from her car for parking on her verge, holding up some other non-church-visiting members of the public using the road too. ChurchCrawlers being a kindly crew (those still in their cars were anyway) moved away. However she was not satisfied as when most of the group were already inside the church she came out from her garden again and shouted at Adrian to "MOVE THAT CAR"! He ignored her, she shouted again louder, and he replied loudly and to the point "It is NOT my car", and those of us nearer were able to catch some other words which were best out of the way in the churchyard before going inside this remarkable Late Saxon building. The church was badly treated by modern large windows being inserted into the nave for better light destoying the interior design of a thousand years ago, well modern for 500 years ago that is!



Failed miserably spotting this church, so I pulled in for those OS Map drivers to lead me to the church. John H turns around (Diane map reading?) and I follow him and Seajay follows me. The church is at the end of a gravelled track - unfortunately we went down the wrong one! Belated arrival here to this odd church, more of a twin naved church originally, but the north aisle's eastern half has been pulled down and the arcade blocked. Some amusing carvings, and what appears to be the stone head of the devil, but more likely St Luke? (RJB's suggestion). Close inspection of this capital reveals traces of medieval colour. I thought this corbel on the right bore a passing resemblance to our very own Diane!

The group then took pity on me and we went to give me another "first" , my first round-tower church.



And this is surely one of the most ancient round towers of Norfolk, looking Anglo-Saxon to me. Disappointingly I was unable to go inside the tower. The church itself is nothing special, small and humble but did contain an astonishingly ornate piscina and a chair which incorporates three (not two which the latest Pevsner states) medieval misericords. But where did they come from? This church is too small to have had stalls like these surely, and if it did then misericords would survive in even greater numbers than they do today. So did they come from Castle Acre Priory ?

Before we left here the group took me completely by surprise and made a kind presentation of appreciation from the ChurchCrawling members to mark the fourth birthday of the Email community. I warbled on for what was probably ages, but I remain very touched by this gesture. John H, Adrian and Diane left at this point to drive home / onwards.



I had planned to leave at this point too but there was still time for one more church for me, and time to be led astray once more by following Seajay!! This was another small and ever so humble church but with an incomplete medieval screen having astonishing painted panels.

So, refusing a drink at the local pub, I said my goodbyes, drove back to Swaffham and retraced my route home. I stopped at Kettering en route for something to eat, not a terribly good idea as the meal I chose was still frozen in the middle. So I had some Salad, chips and fish, with a pot of tea completely free in the end. I finally got home at 2310, made another mug of tea and fell asleep on the bed fully clothed, light on and the half-drunk tea by my side.


page created 15th June 2003