Although it is not a large building, the church is light and spacious, partly because of its height and the large, clear-glazed windows, and partly because of the wide arcade, with only one pillar, linking the aisle and the nave. The church was heavily restored in 1883 at a cost of £600, when the floor was raised, the font moved, the old three-decker pulpit and the box pews replaced, and the nave and aisle filled with new seating. A mid-19th century plan, made prior to this re-ordering, shows the former layout.
At the west end of the south aisle is the font, which is Norman in style, with a deep square bowl resting on five pillars. The blank-arch decoration on the bowl appears to have been re-cut, perhaps in the 14th century, as part of the modernisation scheme of that time, but in view of its preservation, probably more recently. Many hundreds of people have been baptised in this font, and from 1559 the registers exist. The first recorded baptism was of Christopher Toftwood, son of Thomas Toftwood, and great-grandson of Thomas and Beatrice Hotte who, as you will read, were important members of the church and community in their day.
As you walk along the nave towards the chancel you come to the screen. Above the screen in the medieval period was a broad gallery on which stood a large crucifix or rood, usually flanked with the figures of St. Mary and St. John. This gallery or rood loft was sometimes called the ‘candlebeam’, because on it candles would blaze, and from it sermons might be preached or cantors sing. The stairs in the north window opening led to the rood loft, and you could then walk across to the arch in the south pillar which led through to a similar loft over the chapel. In this arch now hangs an old sanctus bell, which apparently was found when the rood stairs were restored in the 19th century, together with an old door ring with a beast’s head which is now on the inside of the south door. The bell was made between 1586 and 1634 by William Brend of Norwich, and its re-hanging was part of the 1883 re-ordering. A letter to the Rector at that time stated that the frame was made of wood from Hoxne (which at that time was thought to have been the site of St. Edmund’s martyrdom), and Wymondham Abbey (a major medieval monastic site).
The upper part of the screen is 20th century, having been given in memory of Leonard John Harrison, eldest son of the Rector, who died in 1915.
The base or dado of the screen survives and is a great treasure of the church, because its painted panels show angels rather than saints.
The six panels now on the north side have been heavily restored, but those on the south side have well preserved paintings of angels and landscapes of hills and trees. Across the panels stretches a scroll. To the north side it reads ‘omnes gentes plaudite’ – clap your hands all ye people – and ‘lauda anima mea’ – praise, my soul – and to the south ‘Thomas Hotte and Betreis ys wyf: Gloria in excels[is] Deo: et in terra pax ho[m]i[nibus] bone voluntatis’ This translates as ‘Thomas Hotte and Beatrice his wife [the donors of the screen]: – Glory to God in the highest: and peace on earth to men of good will. These are the first words of the ‘Gloria’, and as the final word seems to be ‘laudam[us]’, which means ‘we praise’, were there intended to be further panels which continued ‘te, benedicimus te’ – we praise thee, we bless thee?
Thomas and Beatrice not only gave the screen: in Thomas Hotte’s will of 1505 he asked to be buried in the chapel of St. John the Baptist ‘that I founded.’ Now the vestry, this was the chapel at the east end of the south aisle, which was also home to the parish guild, with which he was very involved. Villagers who were members of the guild would contribute to funds to pay a chaplain to say Mass for living and past members and their families, provide help for members in distress and meet together for guild feasts, perhaps in the church itself. Although the building dates from the 14th century, the brick outer doorway referred to earlier shows that work was done on it in Thomas Hotte’s time, and he must therefore have refounded or refurbished it. He may also have contributed to the clerestory.
A gravestone with a brass in memory of Thomas and Beatrice, and Beatrice’s father, which now lies in front of the screen in the nave, was in the chapel until 1883, and was moved when the chapel was turned into a vestry and the floor concreted. Other brass inscriptions at the front of the nave were also originally in the chapel.
Only one of these brasses has an effigy, and this is the 6½ inch high figure of Margaret Aldriche, with her long, flowing hair, who died in 1525 ‘in her floryching youthe.’ She was a member of an important Norwich merchant family. To the north of this tombstone is the upper part of an older coffin-lid,with a foliated cross. Of similar date is the tiny coffin lid at the east end of the south aisle. It is beautifully preserved and is thought to be a heart burial, perhaps of an early rector who died elsewhere. His heart could have been brought back for burial in his home parish.
There are several fine ledger slabs in the floor of the church. At the west end is a group of tombs marking the burials of members of the Wrongrey family, and in the south aisle are three memorials to members of the Rant family. Perhaps the most interesting is that of Anne Rant, which records in detail her bequest of Land to provide funds for ‘ye Minister of this Towne & the poore of both Parishes’. Her concern for the poor is evident: the money should be given to ‘not only Such as take Collection (receive Poor Relief) but all others who are in want’; but she also stipulates to the Minister and Churchwardens, who administer this fund that ‘no Poore person who Shall Receive any part of this Profit Shall hereupon be abated his or her Collection’, in other words, if a poor person received money from the Rant charity, their Poor Relief must not be reduced accordingly, otherwise the bequeathed land is forfeited. A very enlightened viewpoint!
Another member of the family, Humphrey Rant, who died in 1661, is commemorated in a handsome wall monument attributed to Thomas Cartwright I. Other wall monuments record local landowners, like the Playford family, past rectors, and farmers such as Granville Crabtree.
At the west end of the nave is the war memorial for those from the village who died in the First World War. This fine oak memorial was given by … Because their stories are worth telling in more detail than is possible here, a separate booklet, ‘Lest We Forget’, has been produced as a companion to this guide book and is available in the church.
The stained glass window in the north wall of the nave, which depicts Jesus meeting the woman of Samaria, also commemorates those who died in the First World War.