To some people church visiting might be the last thing they want to do with their free time, but here I have made a list of some of the most interesting churches in East Anglia that you might want to see. I also listed them in a driverable order, heading northwards.
Church of the Holy Trinity, Hildersham, Cambridgeshire CB21 6BZ
Holy Trinity, Hildersham’s earliest parts date from 1050. The church has many fascinating features; a 13th century font, 15th century memorial brasses, including a rather beautiful skeleton brass; the chancel is filled with Clayton and Bell victorian murals and stained glass windows and an alabaster reredos by Rattee & Kette.
Church of St Cyriac and St Julitta & St Mary’s, Swaffham Prior CB25 0LD
I chose Swaffham Prior because there are two churches and because of the beautiful stained glass windows. One is a war memorial depicting planes and signal stations. Both churches have round towers.
Both churches were established by the early 13th century. Initially separate parishes, their benefices were united in 1667. In 1743 the nave and chancel of St Cyriac’s were restored, but by 1783 the church was in a dilapidated state, and services were being held in St Mary’s. By the 1790s the roof of St Cyriac’s was collapsing, and it was overgrown with ivy. However, in 1779 the tower of St Mary’s had been struck by lightning, and in 1802, when builders were working on the tower, part of it collapsed. It was then decided to demolish St Cyriac’s church, other than the tower, and rebuild it. Work began in 1806 to designs by Charles Humfrey of Cambridge and the church was re-consecrated in 1809. Towards the end of the century, work was carried out to restore St Mary’s.
Both churches are run by the Churches Conservation Trust.
St Mary, Huntingfield, Suffolk IP19 0PR
Though rather hard to find and to get to down narrow lanes this church has one of the most joyful painted ceilings in the country.
Huntingfield Church is beautiful outside because of the porch but inside it benefits from a painted ceiling. It was painted by Mildred Holland, the wife of William Holland who was rector for 44 years from 1848 until his death in 1892. The church was closed for eight months from September 1859 to April 1860 while she painted the chancel roof. Tradesmen provided scaffolding and prepared the ceiling for painting but there is no record to show that she had any help with the work, and legend has it that she did much of it lying on her back. We may imagine Victorian ladies wearing tight laced corsets and many petticoats, and wonder how she managed the ladders, scaffolding and hard labour of painting. She had an adviser on her schemes, a Mr. E. L. Blackburne F.S.A., an authority on medieval decoration.
St Mary the Virgin, Burgh St Peter, Norfolk NR34 0DD
The church dates from around 1200 and the tower is late 18th century, apparently inspired by the Ziggurat temples of Mesopotamia which had been seen by William Boycott, the second of the five Boycott rectors at the church. William’s son Charles was the famous Charles Cunningham Boycott, a land agent in Ireland during the troubles and who gave his name to the English language. The tower is strange and almost alien, it looks more like a construction from a film than anything else. Made of red brick the base of the tower is lined with knapped flints. The rest of the church is like thatched making them a curious pair.
Holy Trinity Church, Blythburgh IP19 9LP
Blythburgh church is famous for it’s angeles on the ceiling, similar to ones found in Willingham and March.
A beautiful building with a tower people can climb to see a view of the church interior from above. There is a marshland walk with a view of the church many local artists paint.
Saint Andrew’s, Covehithe, NR34 7JJ
The first of two ruins I have picked out, Covehithe is on the Suffolk coast and thanks to the Cliff errorsian, closer each year. A ruin with a church inside it is a beautiful location and to me feels more like those oil tanker boats one can see on the horizon in the sea from the cliff.
St. Michael the Archangel, Booton, Norfolk NR10 4NZ
The first time I saw this church my instinct was to laugh, it was such a presence on the landscape it looked more like it was made for Lord of the Rings. A beautiful church with a unique design.
This amazingly decorative and extraordinary church was the creation of one man – eccentric clergyman Reverend Whitwell Elwin – a descendant of Pocahontas. A friend of Charles Darwin, Elwin not only raised the funds for the building, he also designed it – without the help of an architect – borrowing details from other churches throughout the country. Some of his models can be identified; the west doorway was inspired by Glastonbury Abbey, for example, but the slender twin towers which soar over the wide East Anglian landscape and the central pinnacle which looks almost like a minaret, seem to have sprung solely from his imagination. The result is a masterpiece.
Inside, he filled his fairytale creation with angels all modelled on the rector’s female friends! The wooden carved angels holding up the roof are the work of James Minns, a well-known master-carver whose carving of a bull’s head is still the emblem on Colman’s Mustard. The delicately coloured stained glass windows also show angels as a series of musicians with flowing hair and pretty faces. Edwin Lutyens, the distinguished architect who married the daughter of one of Elwin’s oldest friends, said the church was “very naughty but built in the right spirit”. You may love the church; you may be outraged by it, but you cannot remain unmoved by such an exuberant oddity.
St Lawrence’s, Castle Rising, Norfolk PE31 6AG
One of the most Norman looking churches it feels out of time. Beautiful in decoration and style it has a beautiful font and the Castle still stands nearby.
St Peter’s, Wiggenhall PE34 3HF
A ruin on the edge of the canal drain that stops the fens from flooding, St Peters is a wonderful location to cycle to from Kings Lynn.