At the sign of the Barking lion...

St Andrew, Norton

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


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The tower was begun a hundred years before the porch - but they were finished at the same time.

Looking east.

One of East Anglia's loveliest fonts.

Angel beneath the bowl.

Two headed eagle, symbol of St John, unicorn.

Symbol of St Luke, pelican in her piety, symbol of St Matthew.

St Matthew.

Priest with a rosary at his prayer desk.

Surviving paintwork of the ceilure to the altar.

The Daniel Bales monument and dole table.

Daniel Bales monument - detail.

This corbel probably supported the rood beam.

Sweet little benches in the south aisle.

Gargoyle - a bear?


St Andrew - a sweet little treasure house.

St Andrew at Norton is the slightly demur sister church of St George, a mile away at Stowlangtoft. A footpath across the fields connects the two churches. Both are treasurehouses of the medieval, and both of them bear the heavy hand of 19th century attempts to make them appear more medieval than they already were. Both are lovely, and perhaps it is the smaller scale of St Andrew that makes me prefer this one.

It sits a good way from the modern village, a fine old Rectory beside it, now a private house. You approach down a narrow lane, and the church unfolds through an avenue of trees in front of you. The graveyard is wide and well-populated with 18th century headstones, although there has been some clearance to the south of the nave and chancel, which is a pity. Unless you are here for a service you will probably enter through the chancel door, and then turn into the open nave, almost square with its wide aisles.

On this day that I was here with Aidan and Jack the building was full of light. This is largely because of the size of the windows in what is actually a small church; the biggest are on the south side of the late 13th century chancel, and were put in by the Victorians to match the 15th century ones in the nave. Some of this light is coloured, because what Norton has in abundance is fascinating stained glass.

One range in the south side of the chancel has five almost complete late 14th century figures. These include a superb St Christopher, and clearly identifiable St Etheldreda and St Andrew. A king with a cross may well be Henry V, and another figure carries a martyr's palm. In the east end of the south aisle there are four more figures, but on closer inspection only the most southerly is anything like complete. This shows St Apollonia with a rather oversized tooth in her pincers. Her head, you will see, is a Victorian invention, as are the other three heads in this range. The second figure from the left may originally have been St Paul, but has now become a young prince straight from Camelot. The other two are such composites that they may not even have been figures at all. Click on the images below to enlarge them.

Figures and tracery at the east end of the south aisle.
19th century face, 15th century glasswork. Probably never a figure. 19th century face, 15th century glasswork. Possibly St Paul originally. 19th century face, 15th century glasswork. May not have been a figure, but note the church in the top light. 19th century face, 15th century glasswork. St Apollonia.
Unknown. Possibly Henry V? St Christopher. St Christopher (detail). Unidentified martyr. St Andrew.

A curiosity is to be found up in the chancel. The east window tracery dates from that time in the 14th century when Decorated is becoming Perpendicular. Mortlock thinks it is original tracery. It has a cluster of cloying late 19th century glass in the upper lights; I assume that there was more below at one time, but that it has been removed. However, in a window above the priests door that was retained during the Victorian refurbishment, there is an angel swinging a censer above his head.

And yet, he isn't. For the shape of this glass appears to match exactly the tracery to the south and north of the upper lights of the east window. He must have come from here originally. The only problem is, to fit the glass in you would need to turn him on his head, so that he is upside down. This presents a rather more dramtic prospect. Perhaps he was an angel of the Holy Blood, a remarkable thought. Below, you can see the angel, the upper tracery of the east window, and an inversion of the angel to show how he might once have been set. Click on them to enlarge them.

Censing angel in the south chancel window... Tracery in the east window... Censing angel as he probably should be.

I introduce you to all this glass because you might easily otherwise overlook it. This is because Norton church has two outstanding treasures of national importance. The first is the 15th century font. It is in superb condition, and I believe there is a good reason for this. The carved reliefs are in heavily rebated niches, so that when the Elizabethans plastered it over there was nothing protruding to be mutilated. Virtually all that has suffered is the tip of St Matthew's nose. Other faces show the other three evangelists, and there are also a pelican in her piety and a unicorn - a most unusual subject on a font, but a symbol in various ways of both Christ and the Virgin Mary.

Beneath the bowl, reliefs bulge; angels and Marian hearts, and beneath them the supporters include a wodewose and a very strange looking goat. Aidan thinks it might be connected with the heraldic symbol of the Bardwell family, who were Lords of the manor here at the time of the rebuilding; their shield is also in the north aisle.

What makes Norton a really special place to visit is the collection of 14th century stalls with misericord seats. They are some of the finest in Suffolk, eclipsed only by those at Stowlangtoft. This is, of course, interesting, if not a little bit suspicious. Why should two neighbouring churches have some of the best stalls in East Anglia? A local carpenter who was good at them? Well, perhaps. But I do not think the stalls originally came from either church. They may have come from a priory church like nearby Thetford, but they might also have come from Bury Abbey, which had a connection with this church. However, I am suspicious enough to wonder if either set were in their current church before the mid-19th century. Not that any of this matters, but it is a reminder to us quite how achingly passionate the Victorians were about restoring a sense of the medieval to their churches. Where did they come from? The woman carding wool seems to me a key East Anglian image of the time, but the woman baring the bottom of the child beneath her is rather more disturbing. At first it appears that she is spanking him, but it is actually his hand on his backside, not hers. A lion savages a wodewose, a pelican feeds her young with her own blood, St Edmund is martyred. They are all superb. Click to see them enlarged.

A woman cards wool. Look at the expression on her face, and the way she taps her foot. A child chastised? Or something stranger?
In her piety, the pelican feeds her children on her own blood. St Edmund martyred. Normally found peacably together on font stems and headstops, the lion and the wild man get down to business.

Back in the nave there are some very fine bench ends that clearly come from the Stowlangtoft/Tostock/Woolpit group although most are very badly mutilated. This is as likely to be wear and tear as any form of iconoclasm, not least because the one survival, and a surprising one, shows a priest telling the rosary at his prayer desk. At the back of the church is a very curious monument. The name has now gone, but Mortlock tells us that it remembers Daniel Bales who died in 1625. He left a dole of bread for the poor, and the arched recess with the skeleton at the back was the place where the bread was placed.

Turning back east, another curiosity is the corbel with a hole in it to the south of the chancel arch. It almost certainly supported the rood beam; it is higher than the rood loft floor would have been. Mortlock wondered if the hole was where the rope that lifted the Lenten veil was threaded, but I don't think that is likely. Aidan pointed out that the bottom of the hole is actually a place where the stonework has broken away; in all probability this was a bolt hole where the beam was fixed.

Well, this is a lovely church, as I hope you can tell. Don't miss the sweet little benches at the east end of the south aisle, a piscina above them. Are they 17th century? I don't know enough to tell. Outside the church, there are some marvellous gargoyles restored to their original purpose. Take a look, and then it is time to set out on that footpath.

St Andrew, Norton, is set in the fields off of the road to Great Ashfield. Turn off the A1088 beside the Dog public house (which is excellent, by the way) and then turn left after about 250 yards. The church is about half a mile along this narrow lane. The keyholders are all back on the main road, and no code is given to their telephone numbers on the keyholder notice, which is rather unfortunate. However, it is 01379.

You can read more about this church at Sylly Suffolk.

Go north, young man...

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