Friday, 27 September 2013

Bawdeswell - The Church with Nine Lives

Is this the most unlucky church in Norfolk? 

It is is not what you would normally expect of a Norfolk church - it is not made of knapped flint, it isn't very old and it is in a Georgian rather than a Gothic style.  It is the church of All Saints, in Bawdeswell, built in 1953 and designed by a local architect, J Fletcher Watson. 

There has been a church on this site possibly from around 1100 when some remains were found underneath the present building.  The first rector is recorded as William De Measdone, who was presented in 1313. 

The original building was of flint, typical of the area, with a square tower and four bells.  In 1739, possibly due to lack of maintenance, the tower collapsed.  Flint is a difficult material to use, due to its irregular shape and whilst some grander buildings were constructed of squared flints of great quality, most country churches did not have enough money for anything other than cobbles or round knapped flint.  Unless the mortar is repaired, it deteriorates and crumbles away, allowing large areas of flint to fall out (which can happen very suddenly, without warning).

After selling four of the bells to raise money, the tower was rebuilt in brick, but was either badly constructed or maintained, as it collapsed again in 1828.  By 1843, the building was in such a poor state it was demolished and a new church built.  The architect, John Brown, was well known in the area for his ecclesiastical architecture, and the new church had a bellcote for the single remaining bell, a transept and was in the high Gothic style beloved of the time. 

Unfortunately, the building did not quite reach its 100th birthday.  In November 1944, an RAF Mosquito was on its way back from bombing Germany.  The weather was poor and it is likely that it iced up and the pilot lost control.  After hitting power lines, it crashed straight into the church, which was set on fire and completely destroyed.  Parts of the aircraft hit buildings across the road and the crew were killed.

The War Office awarded the Parish some money for a replacement and this lovely new building was the result.  The interior is light, gracefully proportioned and has the most wonderful three tiered pulpit.  There is a memorial to the dead pilots made of parts of the crashed Mosquito.

Unlucky?  Or a monument to the tenacity of the people of Bawdeswell?

Sunday, 9 June 2013

Scary Monsters

The repairs to the great medieval gatehouse at Pentney are well under way.  Part of the top of the wall was dismantled for rebuilding, as it was in a precarious state.  A long stone which looked plain on the outside face was found to have a marvellous carving on the end, which was completely buried within the structure.

Scary Monster at Pentney
It represents a lion's head, complete with a lapping tongue.  The stone is carved on its end and along the base, indicating it was once set into the wall with the carved part projecting from the surface.  It was supposed to be viewed from underneath, so it was originally quite high up.  On the top there is a channel, which would once have been lined with lead with a water spout projecting over the top of the carving.  It is a gargoyle, a device for throwing rainwater from a roof well clear of the wall to prevent it from becoming wet and stained. 

It is possible this gargoyle came from one of the other buildings at Pentney during alterations to the gatehouse, or it could have come from a site nearby.  It is very common to find re-used stones within buildings as cut and dressed masonry was extremely expensive to obtain, especially in Norfolk which does not have a natural resource of good building stone of its own.  The cost of transporting stone over long distances could only be funded by the very wealthy for major building projects, but even then, reused stone can be found in the grandest of buildings.  After the dissolution of the monasteries, many abbeys were sold to landowners who used them as very lucrative quarries.  The results can be seen at places such as Castle Acre and within the cathedral close at Norwich, where the walls of many houses contain parts of the local monastic buildings.

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Great Gatehouses

There were once several medieval abbeys in Norfolk, situated on sheltered, level sites usually near water.  Some are well known such as Castle Acre or Binham, which have extensive remains showing above ground and are therefore attractive to visitors.  A feature of most priorys or abbeys is the great gatehouse, which formed the main entrance to the site and usually had some form of accommodation on the upper floors. 

One of the largest is the only surviving element left of Pentney Abbey, which stands at the entrance to Abbey Farm just outside the village.  It stands on low lying land and was connected to the River Nar by a canal, which served the needs of the community for fresh water and removal of waste. 

Pentney Priory was founded around 1130 by and was one of the richest monasteries in Norfolk, as the size of the gatehouse, which was built in the late 14th century, shows.

After the Priory was dissolved in 1537 by Henry VIII, the stone was used to build Abbey Farm and some of its outbuildings. Norfolk does not have a source of stone apart from flint, which cannot be cut to form corners, string courses or windows, so it was common for the new owner of a dissolved monastery to profit from selling the materials.  Many of the houses in the area have chunks of the Barnack stone within their walls. 

Ruth Brennan Architects is currently commissioned as architects for the repairs by the owners of Abbey Farm, and the work has just started on site with the building contractors, Universal Stone.  The gatehouse is covered in scaffolding, so it's grandeur can only be guessed at by its size.  English Heritage with the Heritage Lottery Fund are providing a grant and the work should be complete in the Autumn.