Church Tour - Plan Item Descriptions

1 - The Font

Over the font hangs a Gothic wooden cover (circa. 1450) which rises in a succession of arches, balusters and pinnacles to a finial of a pelican feeding her nestlings with blood from her breast.  It is suspended from its original oak beam which shows signs of its medieval colouring.  The font cover has been recoloured with the missing lower section restored.  Inside the third stage can still be seen the original candle sconces.  The lower section is raised by means of pulleys and counterbalance weights to reveal the font for baptisms.  Around the font itself can be seen the indentations (since infilled) for the clasps which secured the cover to protect the holy water.


2 - The Royal Arms

The placing of Royal Arms in churches followed the Reformation by order of King Henry VIII.  This board is unique in that it was re-used at least three times.  On one side are the Arms of Cromwell's Commonwealth, painted over the Arms of King Charles I.  On the other side are the Arms of King Charles II, under whom the Church of England was restored as "Catholic and Reformed" in 1660.









3 - The Tower Arch

The Royal Arms are mounted on the lofty tower arch which is exceptionally fine.  Much of its elegant moulding has been masked by the wall which was hastily inserted after the collapse of the tower.  Two enormous, wonderful gargoyles from the fallen tower stand at the foot of the arch.


4 - View Looking East

Notice the grand proportions of the building; the lofty arcades with their slim quatrefoil columns supporting the oak roof.  The roofs over the aisles still retain many of their mediaeval timbers, carved with stencil spandrels in geometric patterns.  The tie beams which pass through the arcade walls are necessary to strengthen the arcades, build to such a daring height.  The great east window was installed in 1894 and glazed with stained glass after the 1914 - 1918 War.  Beneath this window is the High Altar with chapels on either side; on the left the Memorial Chapel (dedicated to Saint John) and on the right the Lady Chapel (dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary).


5 - Priest Chamber

In the north west corner, some fifteen feet up the wall, can be seen the blocked door leading into the priest chamber in the Saxon tower.  It may have led out onto a gallery.  It is of Early English design and probably forms part of the alterations of the Saxon church which were made circa 1275.


6 - The Iron Bound Chest

This chest or 'hutch' is unusual in that it has seven locks, therefore seven people would need to be present for it to be opened, each responsible for one key.  It was for the safety of the contents that seven witnesses were provided as the chest contained the church valuables and the papers relating to the various guilds of the parish.  Before the time of banks and strong rooms it served as the parish treasury.


7 - The Organ

The organ was originally built as a two-manual instrument by Hill & Sons in 1873 at a cost of £520 and was sited in the north chapel.  New ranks of pipes were added in 1881, but some thirty years later it was felt to be in the wrong position.  In 1912 Messrs Norman & Beard drew up specifications for a new three manual instrument with choir organ.  The dedication service took place on Wednesday August 20th 1913, the organ played by Mr R T Morgan of St Mary Redcliffe Parish Church in Bristol.  It was then blown by means of a gas powered steam-engine housed in the priests chamber of the saxon tower.  The pipework has never had its carved oak case installed, giving it an almost 'modern' appearance.  Further alterations and additions were made in 1964 by Hill, Norman & Beard, when electro-pneumatic action was installed with a new console sited on the south side of the chancel.  During 2009/2010 the organ was restored and further enlarged.  A new solid state action was installed.  The work was carried out by Bower & Comany of Weston Longville.  There are currently forty speaking stops.

8 - The North Chapel

This chapel is dedicated to St John although it is often called the Memorial Chapel.  It contains the names of all those who fell in the 1914 - 1918 War on an oak panel and a later panel of the Second World War.  Above the Chapel's Altar, carved depicting a chalice and grapes, is an impressive triptych depiting the Holy Rood; Christ Crucified, the Blessed Virgin and St. John.  Notice also the piscina sink, now displaced from its original position, and the old medieval 'poppyhead' bench ends.



9 - The Sanctuary

Of the pre-reformation communion plate nothing remains, although from descriptions in church records the plate and vestments must have been magnificent.  The earliest chalice is dated 1650, embossed with angels and fruit.  To the left of the High Altar is Sir William Paston's Tomb, ornamented with his effigy.  It is also adorned with a large shield depicting the Paston family coat of arms with smaller shields showing their marriage connections.  Sir William Paston founded the local grammer school, now a Sixth Form College which still bears his name.  This school has educated several notable scholars including Archbishop Tenison (Archbishop of Canterbury 1695 - 1716) and Admiral Lord Nelson.  To the right of the High Altar can be seen a triple sedilia.  This is of the fourteenth century decorated style and forms the seats on which the three principal clergy sit during Holy Eucharist.  Next to this a matching piscina completes the group.  Here the sacred vessels were ritually washed after Mass.  A large arch above floods the Sanctuary with light, a similar arch in the opposite wall is now blocked by the Paston Tomb.


10 - The South Chapel

This chapel, now dedicated to Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin Mary, was formerly the Chapel and Shrine of Saint Thomas à Becket the Martyr of Canterbury.  This chapel was maintained by a local guild and its income almost matched that of the church itself.  The shrine was destroyed in 1538 by order of Henry VIII, and the guild chapel itself was dismantled by order of his son Edward in 1547.  Records remain of some of its splendid furnishings.  In the chapel can be seen a very interesting wooden Altar dating from 1550 when an order was issued for the removal of stone altars from churches.  In 1552 during the reign of Edward VI, the Prayer Book of 1549 was revised and the receiving of the chalice was restored to the laity.  This necessitated the addition of the two words 'and blood' to the inscription along its front.  It has been restored to its original colours.

 To the left of the chapel is a large widely splayed arch opening into the Sanctuary. This may have once served as an 'Easter Sepulchre'.  The chapel has a few brasses in the floor, one of which being of the chalice and wafer style.  Two others are now set into the arch.


11 - The Screen

Only the dado remains but is of exceptional fifteenth century design and the work of the same artist as the famous Ranworth church screen.  There are twenty panels, eighteen of which have painted saints.  From left to right, starting behind the pulpit they depict: St. Catherine, the Blessed Virgin Mary, the Archangel Gabriel, the Twelve Apostles; Jude, Matthew, Philip, Thomas, James the Great, Peter, Paul, Andrew, John, Simon, Bartholomew, James the Less, St. Barbara, St. Mary Magdalene and St. Margaret.

In the North Chapel are two other segments of screen.  These are parclose screens and would have separated the two main chapels from the rest of the church.  One segment has figure niches and foliage carving; the other section has figures, each with an emblem and an inscription which indicates that it screened the shrine chapel of Saint Thomas of Canterbury.

On each side of the church can still be seen the stairways and openings which once led onto the loft, giving access to the rood; a large crucifix with the Holy Mother on the left and Saint John on the right.


12 - Windows in South Wall

1. 'The Good Shepherd'. Inserted at the commemoration of the Diamond Jubilee of Queen Victoria in 1897.

2. 'Old Testament Scenes'. In memory of Henry and Sarah Chamberlin.

3. 'Saint John'.  The saint to whom the north chapel is dedicated.  Beneath the window are the remains of a reliquary for a holy relic.

4. 'Saint Nicholas, Saint Edmund King and Martyr, Saint Benedict'.  St. Nicholas is the present patron saint of the church, St. Edmund was the holy King of East Anglia and St. Benedict was the patron of 'Saint Benet's Abbey at Hulme' near Horning.  The Abbot of Saint Benet's was Lord of the Manor at North Walsham.  This window was inserted in commemoration of the reign of Edward VII 1901 - 10.

5. 'Saint Peter, Saint Matthew, Saint Paul'.  Known as the Missionary Window, it was given by R. T. Booty in 1947.


13 - Miserere Seats and St. Nicholas' Statue

The two miserere seats once formed part of the elaborate seating for the clergy in the chancel.  It is probable that the complete end seat was that of the parish priest. They are so named from the latin 'miserecordia' ('pity').  The seat when placed upward reveals a smaller seat which gave some relief by supporting the occupant during longer services.  Notice the excellent carvings of a king's head and a 'woodwose' (a variation of the 'green man' legend).





On the wall opposite is a modern statue of St. Nicholas.  Carved locally, it is in memory of a former churchwarden.  More brasses may be seen here.  One to Robert Raunt 1625, with the Arms of the Grocers' Company.  Another is restored and mounted on the wall: This is to John Page, 1627, and is one of only six brasses in existance from the reign of Charles I; by this time memorial brasses were out of fashion.


14 - The Porch

The porch, one of the finest in the district, dates from the fifteenth century and was the last major part of the church to be built.  There is space for an upper room although one was never built.

The medieval arch brace roof of the porch still retains its original colouring and has a fine display of carved wooden bosses.  On the east wall of the porch are the Arms of Saint Benet's Abbey, which once held the principal lordship of the church and parish.

On the opposite side are the Arms of John of Gaunt, Duke of Lancaster (North Walsham once formed part of that duchy).  On either side of the door can be seen corbel heads which, together with the arch were formerly coloured.  On the right of the door are the remains of the holy water stoup.  Here people would dip a finger before making the sign of the cross when entering the church.

The exterior of the porch is sumptuously decorated with flushwork panels.  The niches now contain replacement figures of the Blessed Virgin Mary and Child, Saint Nicholas and Saint Benedict.  The Arms are of Edward III of John of Gaunt.


15 - The East Front

The peculiar style of building at North Walsham left the church without the usual projecting chancel, but instead a wide facade of three great windows.  The aisle windows with their flowing tracery were the only windows completed before the ravages of the black death.

The great east window was not completed before the plague and was also filled with intersected tracery until 1809 when it was blown into the church during a gale.  This window contained the last fragments of ancient glass which depicted the arms of the see of Norwich with those of Edmund Freke, Bishop of Norwich between 1575 and 1584.  The present tracery was inserted in 1874 and is of the French 'flamboyant' style.


16- The Saxon Tower

The short tower seen here dates from the tenth century.  It is built of flint with ironstone and tiles for the external angle stones.  It has two storeys but a further one storey has now mostly vanished. Its upper storey (the priest chamber) is now a library.


17 - The Tower Ruin

North Walsham's famous landmark!  The gaunt ruin is all that is left of a tower and spire which once rose to nearly twice its existing height.  The tower was 147 feet tall to the parapet with a spire which took its total height to about 180 feet.  It contained a heavy peel of six bells and a clock with chimes too.  The rooftop had a square battlemented parapet with statues of the four evangelists on each corner plinth.  The roof was drained by four gargoyles, two of which remain inside the church.

On Friday 15th May 1724 the town had its Ascension Day fayre and the bells were rung for many hours.  The following morning at nine o'clock the tower swiftly and suddenly collapsed.  The vicar, the Reverend Thomas Jeffery entered the catastrophe in the parish register:

"Memorandum May 16.  Between nine and ten o'clock in the forenoon on the Sat. fell down the north and south sides of the steeple and no person man woman nor child 'yt we hear of yet getting any mischief thereby.  Thanks to be to God for his goodness therein."

A tower rebuilding fund was started but other than one entry in a churchwardens book there is no record of any attempt at rebuilding.  For a hundred years the tower stood like this until 1835 when a few small falls proved the weakness of the upper stonework.  The following year saw the last major fall when on Wednesday 17th February 1836 at six o'clock in the evening heavy wintry gales brought down the north side of the steeple; the immediate area of the town experiencing the sensation of an earthquake.  This left the east wall of the tower threatening to collapse onto the church.  Fifty feet was soon removed as a safety precaution.  This left the tower with the familiar shape today.



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