This my 20th post…so it has to be a special posting….so a special church is required. This has been a spectacular week-end weather wise and for me and trusted friend (camera) we visited 12 churches and 1 priory. Saturday… no roof angels, today Sunday… roof angels galore, but I have chosen my very first ‘Round Tower Church’ There are, I think, 192 left in Norfolk & Suffolk, my aim is to visit as many as I can, if not all of them, did 4 this week-end so thats a start.
The area I talked my husband into visiting on Saturday was north of Beccles, near Great Yarmouth and we went to see the ‘Raveningham Group of Parishes’. This is a group of churches that are always open, which is great if you have travelled a distance to visit a church.
The first church and the one this post is about is St Mary’s Church at Haddiscoe, Norfolk, identified as Hadd’s Wood from the old Scandinavian ‘skogr = wood’. St Mary’s is situated on a hill top, with its Saxon round tower providing an excellent look out. If you stripped away the medieval porch on the south side and the medieval north aisle, the layout would be typically early Saxon……so ancient….just standing inside that church gave me the tingles. I get that feeling when I stand in front of a church door, turn the ancient door handle and it never fails me, the anticipation of what is behind those great heavy doors….so disappointed when the door stays firmly locked.
The origins of this church lie in ‘The Dark Ages’ this is around 450 when the Roman Legions left and 1066 The Battle of Hastings. With the exception of churches such as St Mary’s few Saxon buildings remain. They were not stonemason, they mainly built out of timber for their farmhouses up to more complex palaces and fortifications. What is known is that they had to import stonemason from the continent to teach them how to work their new chosen material. Just image the scene, the east coast where the church is positioned would have been under constant threat from Norse raiders and the massive construction of the church tower with its original entrance some 16ft above ground level would have provided protection when needed by drawing up the ladder and the door firmly bolted.
The oldest part of the church is the Saxon round tower, from the Norman conquest onwards and throughout the medieval period a series of additions and alterations were made. However rather than detracting from the original they have complimented the building. The chancel arch is a 14th century and the roof, aisle and chancel are 15th century, The previous roofing materials would have been thatch made from local Norfolk reed.
You enter by the porch on the southside which has helped protect the fine Norman doorway and the iron work on the door shows a Scandinavian influence.
St Mary’s in its medieval form would have been a very colourful place and a little of this decoration remains in the high workmanship of what is left of St Christopher and the Christ Child.
The 20th century has been a time of restoration for the church, much has been achieved but more remains to be done, but hopefully it will remain for many years to come, looking out over the marshes, which now have become the Norfolk Broads.
So that is my 20th post and I think that a ‘Saxon Round Tower Church’ was a good choice, simple but very meaningful.
Views of the exterior and churchyard.