When travelling through the Norfolk countryside, if you were to stop at every church you passed, you’d be forced to invest in property and inform your family of your permeant change of residence. In short, it would take an age.
Nonetheless, I believe it to be a cause worth defending and pursuing… in the summer months at least.
Despite sounding like a children’s amusement park, Poppyland Benefice is actually the umbrella name for a group of parishes around the North Norfolk coast. These include Antingham, Northrepps, Overstrand, Sidestrand, Southrepps, Thorpe Market and Trimingham.
In this short post, I hope to introduce you to just two of these parish churches, both of which hold their own share of delightful deathly treasures.
While Northrepps is home to one of Norfolk’s infamous haunted ‘Screaming Pits’, it also boasts a charming parish church with some great examples of 18thand 19thcentury headstone symbolism.
Northrepps is regarded as one of the greatest examples of East Anglian perpendicular churches. During the 15thand 16thcenturies, a lot of money was ploughed into the church, which was followed by substantial restoration and alteration in the 19thcentury – making it a certain mis-match of centuries and styles.
Inside, the church is rather plain, with whitewashed walls and simplistic stained glass. However, the east window is framed by a surviving 15thcentury wooden rood screen, which was not original to the building, but discovered and rescued from a local barn. As Norfolk Churches explains, ‘Much of the carving on it is Victorian, but the dedicatory inscription appears to be genuinely medieval. It has had its prayer clause erased, but you can still make out the name John Playford.’
Personally, I found the headstones within the churchyard walls to be of most interest.
From the curled fonts and winged hourglasses of the 18thcentury, to the coffins and floral symbolism of the 19thcentury, tastes and sentiments are chronicled across the monuments. Arguably, the most modern and imposing addition is the memorial to John Innel, whose large and elaborate headstone is a true delight to behold.
St Martin’s Church at Overstrand is a mere few miles from Northrepps, but is centuries ahead with its history and accessibility. At the time of writing, the church even has a virtual google maps tour available for those who cannot visit personally!
The church at Overstrand has an interesting history; the original church was washed away by a flood in 1399. The medieval church that replaced it was in ruins by the 18thcentury and was gradually restored and rebuilt between 1911-14 (despite strong objections from the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings.) The church is an interesting shape; mostly because of these later restoration attempts. The roof, arcade and aisle are all 20thcentury and sit awkwardly beside older doorways and walls.
Inside, St Martin’s boasts a large collection of pleasant and simplistic 19thcentury wall memorials, many of which mimic mourning stationery in their appearance (the memorial to Anna Gurney is a fine example of this style.)
Outside, the well-tended churchyard contains predominantly 19thand 20thcentury memorials, however, between the still-visited family plots, lie some interesting and unusual memorials. I found the most interesting and obscure of these to be a 19thcentury tomb, of which the name and inscription was decorated in bright glass mosaic.
While these churches and churchyards don’t hold the bones of saints or royalty, it is often in these little parish churches that the most beautiful, bizarre and sentimental memorials lie.
All photos my own.
Google Maps Tour of St Martin’s –