When travelling through Norfolk, I have often found myself tripping over little churches, so great is their frequency. It would be easy to think that most would be disused and abandoned after all these years; stripped of treasures and lacking in charm. However, in my experience, I have found so many of these tiny parish churches filled to the rafters with historical artefacts, sculptures, artwork and more fascinating headstones than you can shake a sensible walking shoe at.
St Andrew’s Church at Blicking is somewhat overshadowed by grand buildings of Blickling Estate beside it. Blickling Hall is arguably one of the UKs grandest country houses and a wonderful example of Jacobean architecture. Initially built in the 15thcentury, the land and property passed through the hands of Sir John Fastolf of Caistor and the infamous Boleyn Family (in which Henry VIII’s second wife, Ann Boleyn, was included). Its décor and grounds are stunning to behold, and well worth a visit. However, while I’m not averse to rinsing my National Trust membership for all its worth, I really would recommend visiting the church before running across to the tea rooms.
A little up the road from the grand entrance to the Hall, sits St Andrew’s Parish Church. Sitting atop a grassy knoll, it has a beautiful panoramic view of some fields of angry-looking cows, farmhouses and a steady stream of traffic, queueing for the car park.
While the church is regarded as 15thcentury, much of it was remodelled in the 19thcentury, meaning that much of the medieval architecture and art is lost to time. Despite this, a particularly impressive collection of medieval brasses has survived. Several of these depict members of the Boleyn family, including Anne herself. These have all been replicated and placed within a different area of the church as to appease the lovers of the now-defunct pastime of brass-rubbing (although paper and crayons are still available if you want to give it a go!)
Simon Knott, writing for Norfolk Churches in 2005 offers greater insight into the brasses and their exact depictions. ‘The Felthorpe family is depicted in its entirety, with eleven sons and five daughters. Most moving is Anne Wode, who carries her two dead babies in her arms. The best are, perhaps, the smaller figures, although the life-size Sir Nicholas Dagworth is rather fine.’
Dominating the space is the memorial to the eighth Marquis of Lothian by Victorian painter and sculptor, George Frederick Watts. A symbolist artist who claimed to paint ‘ideas, not things’, his substantial memorial to the Marquis is one of the more striking I’ve seen. Flanked by two man-size angels, a likeness of the Marquis lies atop his tomb, looking peaceful and distinguished with his curly hair and enormous beard.
Similarly impressive is the memorial to the widow of the eighth Marquess, by sculptor Arthur George Walker. The marble relief, installed in 1904, depicts three angels grieving and revering the deceased Constance Kerr.
In the Chancel, beside carved choir stalls and several wall-mounted memorials, sits the large marble memorial to Elizabeth Gurdon. Her memorial is slightly weathered, and the text difficult to read, although the kneeling figure with impressive ruff has mostly survived the centuries (hands notwithstanding). Gurdon passed away in 1582 after catching a cold on a trip to Blickling Hall and her body was not returned to her home town.
Memorials aside, the font and Victorian stained glass are both very attractive but the presence of bats (evidenced via a vast amount of scattered droppings) is yet another reminder of the importance of churches and churchyards in the wider world.
Outside, the churchyard is mostly well-tended, with the grass and headstones nearest the church clear and neat. The surrounding graves have become somewhat of a nature garden; an ideal environment in which creatures large and small can thrive.
As with many small churches in Norfolk, there is an impressive number of 18thcentury headstones still intact. Many of these are considerably smaller than their domineering Victorian counterparts, being squat and topped with rudimentary ‘memento mori’ symbols; namely skulls, winged hourglasses etc.
While these names and stories are not as decadent or well-documented as their wealthy counterparts inside the church, their presence is wonderful and exciting. So many headstones of historical and artistic importance have been lost over the years to churchyard and cemetery clearances, so to see centuries of villagers rest beside one another is a real treat.
While St Andrew’s may not have a café or giftshop, it is as relevant and fascinating as any country house the county can offer.
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