Brockdish; a History and Guide


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The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Brockdish; a History and Guide. Elaine Murphy © 2016

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© Elaine Murphy The Parish Church of St Peter and St Paul, Brockdish; a History and Guide Elaine Murphy © 2016 A short illustrated souvenir guide will be available in the church in Spring 2017. Corrections and comments on this long version will be very welcome. Please send them to Elaine Murphy via email to 1


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© Elaine Murphy Contents Thanks, page 3. 1. Introduction, page 4. 2. Early Beginnings, page 6. 3. 14th and 15th centuries, page 13. 4. The Reformation, the 16th and 17th Centuries, page 22. 5. The Eighteenth Century, page 28. 6. The 19th century: George France and the Church Reborn, page 33. 7. Church Restoration 1843-1853, page 45. 8. Church Restoration 1854-1864, page 54. 9. Reredos, Altar and Other Furnishings, page 63. 10. The Windows and the Stained Glass, page 71. 11. Other Furnishings and Memorials, page 89. 12. The Bells, page 98. 13. The Churchyard, page 104. 14. The Rectors and the Patronage of the Church, page 107. Appendix 1 Transcript of Account by George France, page 111. Appendix 2 Frederick Marrable FRIBA 1818-1872, page 118. Appendix 3 A walk around our church, page 122. Bibliography of major secondary sources, page 123. References, page 126. 2


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© Elaine Murphy Thanks I owe thanks to so many people who know the church well, especially the Rector Reverend Canon Nigel Tufnell, Churchwardens Jan Croxson and Ann Cork and other current members of Brockdish Parochial Church Council. Thanks too to Anthea Case who was responsible for assembling much of the unpublished material I used and for being a sounding board on matters of dispute. Jan and Ann also helped with the tedious work of proof reading. I have been fortunate indeed to have fresh material from Charlotte Hadfield, descendant of the man who strides through this history almost on every page, Reverend George France MA, Rector of Brockdish from 1842-1883. He was responsible for the Victorian restoration and transformation from run-down medieval church to a fine realization of gothic revival style. Thanks too to Colin Davies, another relative of the France family. This history is an ‘assembly job’; it couldn’t have been written without the scholarship of several other people who trod this path before, especially J A Lambert RIBA 1993, Edwin J Rose 1986 and the three people who compiled an earlier guide, F H Iliffe, Christine Longe and John Smart. I have added new material and corrected a handful of errors in accounts by those who did not have the great advantage the Internet has given me. As always, the staff of the Norfolk Record Office have been an indispensable help and special thanks go to Penelope Baker, College Archivist at Exeter College, Oxford, for digging out the records of the transfer of the advowson and to Hans Lemmen for his expertise on the tiles. Finally my thanks to John Larkin for his trouble in reading through the draft for clangers. Any that remain are all mine. All through the narrative I have referred to certain key sources, listed in the bibliography. There are full references in endnotes and some extra information in a handful of footnotes. This document is intended as a chronological history to record the development of the church; it is not a guide specifically for visitors, which the shorter version will be but for those who want to walk around and see the main treasures, Appendix 3 provides a one page guide. The photographs are by the author unless otherwise acknowledged. 3


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© Elaine Murphy 1. Introduction Our parish church reflects the history of this ancient village from late Saxon times to the 21st century, through peace, war, plague and plenty for the local agricultural economy. It is not a large church, nor particularly grand. It was renewed and restored in Victorian times and has sometimes been the object of sniffy architectural snobbery by 20th century writers who craved the purity of unadulterated medieval. H Munro Cautley, an authority on Norfolk churches, wrote in 1949, “This church has suffered so much drastic restoration…that it is difficult to say much about it”.1 Poppycock! Or it was ignored completely by authors singing the splendours of a county overflowing with glorious churches. Possibly this is because our church is off the beaten track, standing remote from the main village, down a country lane where nowadays the hedges threaten to engulf the vehicle entrance completely. But it is the oldest building in the village, at least nine hundred years old and has a wealth of interesting details from across the centuries. The medieval church was restored and renovated in Gothic revival style in the mid 19th century by the Rector, Reverend George France, whose ambitious commitment to beautify the building leaves a legacy now much prized by experts in Victorian architecture and decoration. The Parish Church of Saint Peter and St Paul, Brockdish, Norfolk, by Cormick, C A from Bryant, T. Hugh; 1899 Norfolk Churches: Hundred of Earsham. Norwich. 4


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© Elaine Murphy Adherence to the formal worship of Christianity has waxed and waned over the centuries. In medieval times religion provided the matrix for every part of life. Even cooking instructions called for boiling an egg “during the length of time you can say a Miserere”.2 But from the time of the Reformation in the mid 16th century, the people of Norfolk have been divided in their attachment to the established church and what we have today is a building that reflects the waxing and waning of both religious observance and faith but is still a fundamental part of our village identity, even when there aren’t often many people in it! The parish church belongs to all of us, including those who stop by out of curiosity. Visiting churches to admire the architecture became common in the early 20th century and remains an agreeable pastime for walkers, cyclists and the simply inquisitive. The poet Philip Larkin in his 1954 poem ‘Church Going’ catches the feeling: - “Once I am sure there's nothing going on I step inside, letting the door thud shut. Another church: matting, seats, and stone, And little books; sprawlings of flowers, cut For Sunday, brownish now; some brass and stuff Up at the holy end; the small neat organ; And a tense, musty, unignorable silence, Brewed God knows how long. Hatless, I take off My cycle-clips in awkward reverence”3 In Brockdish, awkward reverence gives way quickly to curiosity about how a medieval church became a Victorian one. But the history of a church is not simply that of its architecture but also of its function as a social institution and I have tried to reflect that here. 5


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© Elaine Murphy 2. Early Beginnings The earliest part of the church was built in late Saxon times and late Saxon style, probably just before or just after the Norman Conquest in the late 11th Century. Brockdish is called BRODISE in the Norman survey reported in the Little Domesday survey in 1086 under the Hundred of Earsham. The Domesday excerpt refers both to the church and the rector. “And in Brockdish the Rector had a house and 30 acres of land valued at 15 marks.” “[there are] 2 sokemen belonging to the same manor at 1 carucate and 2 villans[villeins] and 2 bordars. Then it was worth £4 now 100s. It is 7 furlongs in length and 6 in breadth. And of the geld [it renders] 4d. [There are] 12 acres belonging to a church: it is worth 2s.”4 The village probably takes its name from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘brād’ for broad and dic for ditch, softened by the Norman pronunciation of Middle English to ‘diche’. Francis Blomefield, 18th century antiquarian and one time rector of Brockdish,5 wrote that the village was called Brokedis by Richard ll’s time (1377-1400) and variants with a ‘k’ have appeared ever since, perhaps because understandably, local people began to think the name was derived from the ‘brook ditch’ that runs through the heart of the village. The English parish system dates back to Saxon times. In East Anglia the ecclesiastical parishes now largely reflect what was there a thousand years ago, apart from the tidying up and rationalisation that have occurred from time to time. Brockdish has been here since at least Roman times and probably before, a farming community where political, economic and technological changes have been superimposed on a timeless if ever-shifting agricultural landscape created by the geology of the boulder clay terrain. Whereas the great majority of parishes contain a single large built settlement within their boundaries that shares the parish name, Brockdish village grew up at some distance from the centre of the parish. The village settlement is located where the River Waveney was joined by the brook which flows through the ancient ‘Ducks’ Puddle’ but was later sustained by being right on the Kings Highway between the crossroads at Scole and the port of Yarmouth, carrying travellers from Cambridge and Bury St Edmunds in the east, and London to the south. But a medieval church is a parish church, not a village church and while it happens that most churches are in the main 6


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© Elaine Murphy settlement of the parish, in Norfolk and Suffolk more than in most places, a significant number, including Brockdish, are outside the village of their parish name. The Church of St Peter and St Paul was probably constructed because it lay at a mid-point between the main settlements of the two ancient manors of the village, sited more or less where Brockdish Hall and Thorpe Abbotts Place are now and convenient for the other medieval settlements at the Grange and the Grove but safely above the river flood plain, in days when the Waveney was a far wider river than it is now. The dedication to Saints Peter and Paul points to the church’s ancient roots; the dedication is common in the earliest churches.6 In Saxon and Norman times, a parish church was often built by the local manorial lord, who was the patron of the church, that is the possessor of the advowson, the right to present (i.e. nominate) the rector. An advowson could be bought and sold like any other property and thus appears in deeds, charters or legal wrangles over its ownership. The manorial lord might subsequently rebuild, enlarge or embellish the church. It is likely that this is what happened in Brockdish. Late Saxon/ early Norman parts of the Church The architect JA Lambert RIBA made a series of sketches of the likely development of the church in 1993. 7 His suggested plan for the ‘Saxon/Norman’ church is below. Probable Saxon/Norman Plan. Lambert, J 1993. The first church from which parts survive was probably a long narrow church of rubble faced with flint, which may or may not have had a square tower at the west end. It would have been thatched, almost all buildings were.8 The fact that such an early church had a square tower, even if only a 7


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© Elaine Murphy squat sort, is worth comment. Many early churches in Norfolk have round towers, it is widely believed because of the lack of local quarried stone suitable for the usual square configuration. Round towers built with rubble faced with flint, which is abundant in this area, had a better stability than square towers where there was no stone for square corners. The coincidence of round towers with the lack of quarries is hard to argue with. Most of the churches in surrounding villages do indeed have flint and rubble round towers – All Saints Thorpe Abbotts, St Peter Needham, St Mary Rushall, St Margaret Syleham and St Andrew Weybread all have late Saxon or Norman round towers. Only the little church of St Leonard Billingford to the west has a square base for its low tower. It is however quite possible that there never was a tower at Brockdish before the Norman period. Towers were big undertakings for church builders in any period. Flint is the building material used in most churches throughout Norfolk. Early flint churches are generally built of the unprepared cobbles mortared together. Flint walls were sometimes built with the stones laid in neat courses, or in a herringbone pattern but at Brockdish, the flints are mortared on to rubble, on whatever material the builders could get their hands on, a rather crude but enduring construction. Brick or stone details for corners or door and window dressings were introduced later. Flint was not knapped until the 14th century. Knapping involves chipping the flint to reveal the interior black surface. Squared knapping involved squaring the block of flint as well as preparing the face of the block. This was costly and consequently was used for the more expensive churches. Galetting, the use of small flakes of flint or other material pushed into the mortar between the larger blocks, was introduced in the early 15th century, the small stone chips preventing wide mortar joints from being scoured by rainwater. Brockdish Church shows all periods of flint work, a good pointer to the age of the various walls. A small round-headed window in the north wall of the chancel is late Saxon or early Norman, probably mid to late 11th century, fashioned about the same time as Little Domesday survey. Some observers have thought this window looked newly made in Victorian times but we have George France’s own record of finding it and making it good with lime plaster.9 Taylor, the great authority on Saxon ecclesiastical work, thought it probably Norman.10 The lead and glass are indeed 19th century. 8


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© Elaine Murphy France writes: “In 1851 … The inside walls of the Church were this year likewise picked down and done with three coats new, 1st coat rough, 2nd floated, third blue line lime – In picking off old mortar there was found the opening of a little window East of the North door, Which had been blocked up when buttress was built.–This stone work was put in and arch vault plastered.– A white fine lime plaster was upon the inside vault of this little window when found.” An early window in the North wall thought to be late Saxon or Norman, discovered in the renovations of mid 19th century. The north wall of the church and chancel are probably survivors of this 11th century period. There is another early ‘bifora’, or two light window in the north wall of the chancel, possibly 13th century, transitional in style between Norman and Early English, that also emerged during the Victorian restorations, probably also covered up when the north wall buttresses were put in a couple of centuries later. Simple ‘bifora’ window in north wall of the chancel 9


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© Elaine Murphy There is a small blocked-up priest’s door in the north side of the chancel from this period. A new larger 13th century priest’s door was put in the south side of the chancel instead. George France found the foundations of the old vestry, a single square building by the north priest’s door. He remarked that the door surround indicated an arched vestry passage, which was constructed at this time and left hollow. “In case at any future time a vestry should be built the two walls inside and outside would be readily cut through”. The original chancel roof had unusual timber framing, described by Francis Blomefield in the 18th century, “remarkable for principals which are whole trees without any joint from side to side and bent in a rising manner as to be agreeable to the roof”.11 Lambert pointed out that this sounds like cruck construction.12 The Norman church would have been very dark; the small windows without glass probably, because it was very expensive. Everyone would stand. The priest would speak the service in Latin, so few if anyone would understand the words. He would stand behind a screen separating the lay people’s space or nave and the chancel or sanctuary that was reserved for the priest. It was usual for Norman churches to be vividly coloured inside with wall paintings depicting figures and patterns. None of these survive in Brockdish but George France saw fragments of wall colour during his recreation of the windows. France also found the ‘square headed capital of a small Norman pillar’ in the vault underneath the old floor when the bellringers’ floor was lowered in 1849 but this remains hidden under the new floors. The Piscina at east end of the south aisle c 1230-50 Brockdish Church is very lucky to have two beautiful piscinas. One is mentioned by all chroniclers of the church since it is a very fine early one but the second is also a gem and not often described in spite of its beauty. A piscina (from the middle English word piscine, from the Latin for pond or pool) is a stone basin used for washing holy vessels used during Mass or Communion services.13 Before the Reformation in the 16th century, the priest’s hands and the vessels used in the mass would have been washed here, with water poured from a jug over the vessels, with the drain taking the water away to consecrated ground in the churchyard. Mass was celebrated 10


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© Elaine Murphy several times a day in pre-reformation times, at altars in the chancel and nave. Most altars had a piscina beside them. The idea was that any remaining drop of consecrated wine or bread would end up in holy ground. The Norman Piscina at east end of the south aisle c 1230-50 After the Reformation, piscinas fell out of use as the Protestant church no longer adhered to the notion that the communion wine and bread were changed physically into the blood and body of Christ but many survive and indeed many were reinstated or rebuilt with the Victorian revival of the old liturgy by the Oxford Movement. Since the altar would always be at the east end, a surviving piscina indicates the length of the medieval chancel, which may differ from the length of the chancel today. In the 13th century, priests were instructed to wash their hands before mass using a separate piscina, hence some churches had a double basin piscina but they fell out of favour after the 14th century. It is not too difficult to date piscinas, as they tended to be rather beautifully made in the fashionable style of the time. The piscinas in Brockdish however have not always been where they are now; they have been moved to their current locations as the church was developed and that poses something of a puzzle. We have to make some intelligent guesses as to how they arrived in their location. In 1847, the Ecclesiological Society declared this Brockdish piscina ‘one of the most curious examples in England, but it hardly admits of description’.14 11


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© Elaine Murphy Pevsner however made a perfectly good description in the early 20th century. ‘In the S aisle, probably reset, a fine piscina with a cinquefoiled arch, stiff leaved cusps and some dogtooth decoration, 1230-50.’15 The piscina is set into the south wall, “probably reset during the 19th century alterations or perhaps unearthed by France from some other church and inserted here.” It is always a little satisfying to ‘catch out’ that erudite authority, Pevsner. He is right of course about the age and it is true that the late Norman design of the piscina, from the mid 13th century means that it could not have been in this position originally because it is built into the side of the south aisle, which was not constructed until the late 14th century. The piscina was not however put in by George France - it was already in this position when described in his Norfolk tour by John Chambers in 1829.16 This lovely piscina is however directly at the side of the Purbeck marble tomb of John Tendring, who died in the mid 15th century, which serves as an altar in what was originally the Tendring chapel made by Sir Ralph Tendring of Brockdish Hall in the late 14th century. This would once have been a sumptuously decorated tomb, with brass plates of arms and inscriptions on it but these have been lost, leaving only an odd stone cupola over it, with a pedestal lacking the image intended for it. This was the piece de resistance of the newly enlarged church and this author agrees with Lambert that it seems quite likely that the fine piscina was moved to this spot at the time of the construction of the south aisle, probably from the south wall of the chancel altar, where a new one was put in as substitute.17 Putting a piscina in a new chapel in the south aisle was characteristic of Gothic architecture, according to Bloxam.18 George France did give the old piscina a good tidy-up though. He writes “The piscina in Aisle, before stuffed up, cleared of mortar and whitewash 1846.”19 The second piscina, on the south wall of the chancel by the main altar is described in the section on the 19th century. While it looks 14th century, it is probably 19th century. 12


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© Elaine Murphy 3. 14th and 15th centuries. The basic shape of the church probably remained very little changed until the late 14th Century, when major rebuilding and expansion took place and the church shape emerged broadly as we know it today, created largely in the ‘decorated’ style of gothic architecture, (1275-1380) but also with some elements of the later perpendicular style (1380-1520). Rural masons clung affectionately to what they knew, catching up rather later with the newly adopted styles emerging in cathedral cities.20 So pointed arches and ‘Early English’ styles continue to be used in Norfolk after they had disappeared elsewhere. The date of the church expansion is difficult to pinpoint but must have been before the death of Sir Ralph Tendring of Brockdish Hall, whose altar monument stands at the east end of the new south aisle, who was born about 1360 and died about 1400. It is generally accepted that the 13th and early 14th century were periods of rising population but increasing rural poverty because too many people had to be sustained on too little food. There were severe famines as a result of ‘the little ice age’ of adverse weather in the early 14th century, so the local community had little left over to invest in beautifying their church. The catastrophic Black Death plague in the mid 14th century, that so rapidly killed between a third and a half of the entire population, had the ‘positive’ effect, after the depression and despair of the tragedy, of reducing the population pressure on land and ushering in a great late 14th century period of church building and expansion.21 Brockdish is just one of numerous churches in Norfolk that were expanded and developed at this time. The south wall of the nave was taken down and replaced with a four bay arcade in the ‘decorated’ or ‘middle pointed’ style of arches and the south aisle was built. Presumably funds did not stretch to a second aisle on the north side. Nevertheless the construction of the aisle necessitated major construction work to raise the roof of the nave, which in turn required the construction of supporting buttresses of rubble, flint and stone along the north nave wall and the new south aisle wall. The decision to make the buttresses more or less match on both sides of the church meant several windows were covered up or cut in half…pragmatic, these 15th century masons. These buttresses remain but were decorated later in the 19th century with cruciform stone flushwork entirely in keeping with the style. Probably it was at this point that the clerestory windows were inserted, to bring much needed light into the nave. It is possible to detect the better quality flint work 13


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© Elaine Murphy of the extension at the top of the outside north wall where a line separates it from the random flint work below. The aisle looking from the east end of the nave The piers (pillars) of the nave arches are quatrefoil, that is, with a fourshaped lobe design, set diagonally, with flat fillet projections between the foils. (A fillet is the characteristically rectangular or square ribbon-like bands that separate moldings on a capital). Pevsner regarded this as ‘odd’ but this arrangement is very common in Norfolk. The Handbook of Ecclesiology agrees that the style is ‘common’ and ‘usual’ in middle pointed country churches.22 The chancel arch is of the same style and so are the door surrounds to the north church door and the south door, suggesting they were all modeled at the same period. The north door surround, now rarely used, is in fact rather more ornamental than that of the south door, suggesting that this was used as the main entrance in late medieval times. Both north and south doors had porches added in perpendicular style, it is thought in the early 15th century but the north one disappeared in the 18th century, most probably it fell down 14


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© Elaine Murphy from neglect. 19th century stone flushwork on a 15th century buttress The insertion of a higher roof provided an opportunity to put in larger windows in the nave and aisle. We know what they looked like because the heads of two were found and refashioned later by France into the south porch. They are a simple, rather elegant perpendicular style. Porch window that illustrates the style of the 15th century nave and aisle windows. 15



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