Ten churches to visit in Norfolk and Waveney

Winterton Parish Church

Winterton Parish Church - Credit: Archant © 2010

They have been the centre of worship for their surrounding communities for centuries. As the Diocese of Norwich publishes its annual guide to churches in Norfolk and Waveney, Stacia Briggs highlights 10 to visit this year.

St Margaret's Church at Hardley.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY

St Margaret's Church at Hardley.PHOTO BY SIMON FINLAY - Credit: SIMON FINLAY

1) Bawburgh, St Mary and Walstan, Church Street, NR9 3NA

Open: Weekends, key available at other times, details in porch

St Walstan was a disciple who had given up his worldly possessions and worked on a farm in Norfolk. In 1015, he received news from an angel that he was being claimed by God, would die within three days and would then ascend to heaven. When he approached a priest in Taverham to give him the last rites, the priest had no water but a well magically sprung where they were standing, when Walstan died, his oxen carried his body to Bawburgh and as they rested in Costessey, another spring was created and a third appeared when they came to rest at the church in Bawburgh at which point angels opened the walls and Walstan was placed inside. Bawburgh then became a place of pilgrimage for those seeking miracles and healing. Ss Mary and Walstan's church has a round tower, stepped gables and is set in beautiful countryside just a stone's throw from Norwich. Six priests once lived in the village to greet the pilgrims and the church benefitted from the great wealth of those keen to leave a financial offering in thanks. The shrine was demolished during the Refromation, the church restored by Bishop Wren in 1638 and a century ago Charles Noverre donated the Bible still used at the church and the decorative rood screen. Look for the unusual 17th-century poor box, 15th century fragments of medieval glass, a collection of late medieval brasses, a wall painting of similar date, poppy heads carved into pews and the arms of Charles II. This year marks the 1,000th anniversary of St Walstan's death.

Herringfleet church.

Herringfleet church. - Credit: Archant

2) Flordon, St Michael and All Angels, off Long Lane, NR15 1RP

Open: Saturdays

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Set in a wonderfully serene space on a slight elevation that looks over the village, this church would once have heralded its position with a round tower. Said tower decayed, cracked and finally collapsed in 1774. Built on the site of a small flint church which has served the village of Flordon since Anglo-Saxon times, Flordon was restored in the late 19th century but retains tantilising hints from the past – an original 13th-century door knocker, a 15th-century font and a Jacobean pulpit, an east window filled with beautiful medieval glass and the 16th century arms of Baxter of Rainforth, the lord of the nearby manor. The fallen tower was replaced by the Victorians with the wall and bell-cote seen today and in particular, look out for the east window where you can see stained glass which depicts St Peter, his robe picked out in a particularly beautiful shade of blue.

Part of Knapton Church's hammer beam angels roof.

Part of Knapton Church's hammer beam angels roof. - Credit: Archant

3) Gissing, St Mary, Lower Street, IP22 5UJ

Open: Dawn until dusk

With its distinctive round tower dominating the village of Gissing, this church hides a rare treasure: a stunning double hammer beam roof which dates back to the end of the 15th century. Filled with beautiful carved angels, everyb single one different and holding a shield, the oak roof offers visitors a heavenly opportunity to see a magnificent angel roof (in his definitive book on the subject, The Angel Roofs of East Anglia, Unseen Masterpieces of the Middle Ages, Michael Rimmer picks out a further five superlative examples in Norfolk: St Mary at West Walton, St Nicholas at King's Lynn, St Agnes at Cawston, St Peter Mancroft in Norwich and Wymondham Abbey). Additionally, look out for the north chancel chapel where the Kemp family mausoleum stands with memorials on the wall – Sir Robert Kemp was made into a baronet by Charles I. There is a crypt under the chapel but access was blocked a long time ago and no one has entered for many years – but there are plans in the future to feed a camera into the crypt to explore its secrets.

Welborne Church

Welborne Church - Credit: Ian Burt

4) Hardley, St Margaret, Lower Hardley Road, NR14 6BU

Open: Dawn until dusk

Standing on high ground a mile north of the River Chet, the view from St Margaret's is as atmospheric as the church itself – from the churchyard you can see the river, fields and marshland, an oasis of peace in our relentless world. Inside, there are treasures to be found, from the excellent medieval wall paintings of St Christopher and St Catherine holding her wheel, a beautiful brick floor, boats scratched into the pews by children many years ago, a 16th century piscine and a wonderful painted organ.

5) Herringfleet, St Margaret, St Olave's Road, NR32 5QS

Open: Dawn to dusk

St Margaret is the patron saint of women in labour and this beautiful little church in her name is a fitting tribute to the saint whose faith was so strong that she fought off the devil in a dream. Restored in the 19th century at the behest of the Lord of the Manor, John Francis Leathes, the church also benefits from stained glass given by Henry Leathes on his return from the Napoleonic Wars, a stunning collection of glass which dates from the 14th to the 18th century. The East Window in particular is a kaleidoscope of stained glass patchwork depicting saints, ecclesiastical events and churchmen. The church also boasts a selection of stained glass panes by the Lowestoft artists Robert Allen whose picture glass, produced at the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century, showcased his skill as a painter of porcelain.

6) Knapton, St Peter and Paul, The Street, NR28 0SF

Open: Dawn until dusk

There are a host of reasons to visit Knapton's beautiful church, but it's the heavenly host that brings most visitors through the door.

While the church itself boasts several quirks which in themselves make it worth a visit – a fantastic font cover, a ledger stone with a winged egg timer and skull, a lovely rood screen, a priest door with its own porch – it is the stunning double hammer-beam roof decorated with 138 carved and painted angels which draws most gasps. The roof and its angels were listed among 100 Church Treasures, precious national artworks identified as being at risk by ChurchCare, and Knapton recently received a large lottery grant to safeguard the roof's future.

7) Litcham, All Saints, Church Street, PE32 2NS

Open: Dawn until dusk

There are many reasons to visit this magnificent church in mid-Norfolk, one being the wonderful rood screen with its 22 panels that depict saints including local saints such as St Edmund, St Walstan and St William of Norwich. Another is an intriguing medieval mystery which has defied the best efforts of both archaeologists and historians desperate to unlock a secret – Litcham has an inscription etched into one of the pillars which is yet to be deciphered.

Discovered by the Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey, the inscription - which has two tiers of letters - was initially thought to be the work of a pilgrim travelling to Walsingham. While the top tier is thought to read 'save (my soul, Jesus), Mary and Joseph' the bottom is believed to say MM (memento mori) Wyke Bamburgh.

But academics believe there are more letters involved and the inscription is not what it appears to be, defying translation. One thing is certain: the deep inscription is significant, was designed to be read by others. Might you be the one to reveal the message?

8) Sandringham, St Mary Magadalene, PE35 6EH

Open: Daily from March 26 to October 30 from 11am to 5pm (4pm in October) and Sundays f1pm to 5pm (4pm in October)

What better time to visit this wonderful example of a carrstone building than in the year the Queen celebrates her 90th birthday? Well-loved by many members and relations of the Royal Family from Victoria's reign onwards, it dates back in its present form to the 16th century, the church boasts a sumptuously decorated chancel with carved angels framing the silver altar and reredos presented to Queen Alexandra as a tribute to King Edward VII. Also look for a Florentine marble font, a Greek 9th-century font, 16th-century stained glass and a silver 17th-century Spanish cross.

9) Welborne, All Saints, Church Lane, NR20 3LN

Open: Every day from April 1 to September 30 from 10am to 4pm

A church which has watched over its community since the 11th century, Welborne is one of Norfolk's round tower churches and boasts some exceptional features such as the stunning lych gate, made by John Parley in 1880 in the arts and crafts style, an ornate rood screen painted and gilded in 1912, fabulous reredos which show scenes including a Pelican in her Piety and wonderfully-carved choir stalls. There is also a chance to see some incredible medieval stained glass fragments in the porch which comes from a collection bought by Robert Barry, rector of nearby North Tuddenham, who found a huge amount of glass in a Dereham builder's yard. While Tuddenham boasts the bulk of the 15th-century glass, what was left over was gifted to Welborne. The glass shows scenes from the martyrdom of St Margaret, possibly commissioned by Bishop Wakeryng of Norwich in the 1420s for the now-ruined church of Wiggenhall St Peter.

10) Winterton, Holy Trinity and All Saints, Black Street, NR29 4DB

Open: Dawn until dusk

The imposing spire is a necessity along this historically treacherous coastline, serving as a beacon to sailors but also the final resting place of many who perished at sea. Local tradition used to claim that the spire was 'a herring-and-a-half' taller than the spire at Cromer, but in fact the 14th century seven-stage tower is 35ft shorter at 132ft, making it the third highest church tower in Norfolk. The bell tower was added in 1387 along with a parapet and 12 pinnacles, and the bells are from a 1444 bequest. With an equally historic vestry doorway and easternmost north nave window, the rest of the church is largely 15th century with the exception of the south porch which was restored in 1877 (although you can still – just – make out the arms of Caister Castle's Sir John Fastolf). The north side of the church is dedicated to the sailor's saint, St Nicholas, and there is a memorial which commemorates Clarence Albert Pratt Porter, the 47-year-old church rector who sacrificed his life to rescue a choirboy from Winterton beach on July 7 1932. Poignantly, it was Porter who started Fisherman's Corner in the church which is watched over by a crucifix carved from ship's timber with a trawler net as a canopy and records the valiant deeds of village lifeboatmen. In the graveyard, a simple stone marks the tragic loss of two brothers aged 14 and 15 at sea.

Pick up a copy of the brochure at Tourist Information Centres or many churches. Exploring Norfolk Churches can also be viewed online or requested by post at www.dioceseofnorwich.org/visiting/guides/ or by calling 01603 882351.

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