All Saints' Church, Old Buckenham - detailed description


A Guided Tour of All Saints'

The Village

Domesday Book of 1086 mentions Old Buckenham simply as Bucham, a name once said to derive from the bucks in the surrounding woods. A stronghold north of the village was abandoned around 1146 when William d'Albini built a stone castle two miles to the east. He gave the vacated land to a small religious community which became Buckenham Priory, providing priests in the Buckenhams until the priory was dissolved in 1536. The site is now Abbey Farm. As the settlement beside d'Albini's castle was called 'New Buckenham', the original village became 'Old Buckenham'.


The Saxon Building

 Domesday Book often failed to mention the village church in its entries, and this was the case at  Buckenham. It is likely that the basic structure of the present building existed before the Conquest. The earliest reference to the church comes indirectly in a document of 1254 where the village is mentioned as 'Bukeham Omnium Sanctorum', implying that it already had a church dedicated to All Saints.

From All Saints' west wall to the chancel step is some 60 feet. The distance from the south wall to the row of pillars, the original width of the building, is 20 feet, with the south wall three feet thick. These dimensions are typical of Saxon foundations. The exterior of the west wall, moreover, reveals an extensive use of 'puddingstone' or Norfolk ironstone, a rust-coloured conglomerate used by the Saxons, but seldom found in later work.


The Pews and Flooring

Originally naves were unfurnished, but in later centuries seating was introduced for congregations. All Saints' pine pews date from 1858. The plainer ones in the middle were 'free and unappropriated', to quote a Victorian zinc notice on the south wall. The pews with mock medieval finials or 'poppyheads' were reserved for a fee. Incidentally, one of the churchwardens mentioned on this notice was William Colman of the 'Colman's Mustard' family.

Much of the nave floor was carpeted in 1983, a parishioner's bequest. Some minor brasses, now inaccessible, are recorded in T.H.Bryant's Churches of Norfolk:Hundred of Shropham 1913. The decayed 1858 platform for the north aisle pews was removed in 1984 and the present Norfolk pamment flooring came from a Victorian building in the parish.



The North Aisle

An aisle is often an addition to earlier building (Latin 'ala', a wing). All Saints' was extended in the 15th century, judging by the shallow-arched Perpendicular windows and the carved ceiling braces to a lower pitch of roof. The building process was hazardous as the existing north wall had to be removed in stages while the combined weight of the nave and aisle roofs was taken by the new arches. The tilt of the pillars and the repeated leaking of the roof at the junction indicate a basic structural weakness. The nave rafters were repaired at this point in 1897. By 1994 extensive wet rot meant that the wall-plate had to be replaced in concrete while the rafters were repaired with stainless steel.

The 15th century font, with comical faces below the bowl, is now at the aisle's west end, and in ironic contrast the Cromwellian bier is usually kept nearby. This is an unusual piece, oak, with collapsible handles and carved with the date 1655.

The oak north door is dated 1637, with the initials of the then churchwardens. It replaces an earlier door secured by a bar, the socket holes still visible.



The Screen

The overall paintwork and upper joinery of the vestry screen date from 1850, and according to a Victorian account the stars are copied from the original design on the lower 15th century panels. These are all that remain of the rood-screen which in medieval churches separated chancel from nave, the word 'chancel' being derived from the Latin 'cancelli' a latticework partition. The top of the screen stood some fifteen feet above floor level, approached by a staircase within the north chancel wall, where the narrow blocked entrance can still be seen. The screen's upper part was cut away in the 16th or 17th century. In 1850, with further reductions in width because of damaged panels, the screen was moved to the aisle's east end for a vestry. In 1984 this arrangement was transferred to the west end, the aisle reverting to a Lady Chapel. An altar was here originally, and the cavity in the right-hand wall contains a piscina, probably 15th century, for washing the chalice.




War Memorials

The brass memorial on the north wall records the names of thirty-seven men killed in the First World War, from a total village population of about a thousand. Nearby a small plaque commemorates two soldiers from the village who died in 1900 in the Boer War.

The Chancel Arch

The arch, presumably 15th century in origin, was restored in the 19th century and is ornamented by carved heads, known as 'label stops). Above the pulpit is a queen, while the other carving shows a man with side-whiskers but no crown. It has been suggested that these were the priory founders, d'Albini and his wife Queen Adelicia, but on closer inspection they prove to be Victoria and Albert, carved in a misleadingly archaic style around 1850.

The smaller adjoining label stops facing the chancel do not appear to be portrait heads. They show a child and an old man, implying an allegory of youth and age, while elsewhere in the church the heads on the tower arch seem to be merely ornamental, as are the earlier ones on the exterior chancel windows. With the exception of those on the south porch, none of the label stops is integral with its arch.

The Choirstalls

The oak choirstalls contain 15th century carving of high quality. The little seated men, some with books on their laps, have the loose gaberdines and brimmed hats worn by Jews in the middle ages. They could represent Old Testament prophets, sometimes included with the saints. The two beasts at the east end of the north stall are the winged lion of St Mark and a cloven-hoofed beast, the ox of St Luke.

The angel of St Matthew, lacking most of his wings, is on the southern stall, next to a prophet with a pot, either Jeremiah (1.13) or Ezekiel (24.3). The missing eagle of St John would have completed the evangelists' symbols.

These figures and poppyheads were incorporated into the present choirstalls in 1931 as a memorial to Major William Keppel and his wife Emily, worshippers in this church for sixty years. As indicated by the arms on the dedication plate, Major Keppel was related to the Earls of Albemarle who lived at Quidenham Hall in the next village. Mrs. Alice Keppel, mistress of Edward VII, was a distant relative.

Robinson's Monument

On the chancel's north wall a monument, at first glance 17th century, is dedicated to an Australian businessman, Lionel Robinson, who owned Old Buckenham Hall from 1906 till his death in 1922. Ten thousand watched a cricket match arranged between the 1921 Australian team and an English XI at the hall.

The Robinson arms at the top of the monument suggest a punning allusion to Buckenham, the shield and crest both portraying roebucks. This is mere coincidence, the Robinsons, originally from Durham, having used the roebuck (with its strained pun on Robinson) as an emblem since the 18th century. The actual tomb of Lionel and Mary Robinson is in the churchyard near the north door.

Chancel Tombs

Several marble tombstones are set in the floor of the chancel. They date from the 17th and 18th centuries when it was a mark of wealth to be buried in the church. Three members of the Welham family, father, mother and daughter, are buried near the altar rail, the daughter's coffin-shaped stone being unusual. The mason made a mistake with Mrs Welham's maiden name, also her 'virtious' nature was added as an afterthought.

The Chancel Roof

The wooden ceiling, originally late medieval, bears traces of earlier decorative treatment but it was reconstructed in 1628, as shown by the faintly painted date (north, next to chancel arch, second panel up, right of third board down).

The Stone Bracket

Set in the wall near the priest's door is a pierced stone bracket, apparently 14th century. Munro Cautley (Norfolk Churches 1949) said this was a guiding ring for a cord passing through a roof pulley, as at St Peter Mancroft. It was perhaps used for lowering and raising a veil over the cross on the screen during Lent, and wear on the ring indicates that the cord passed back to the chancel arch. After the 1628 ceiling work no trace of the suggested pulley is visible.

Victorian Glass

The stonework of the east window, together with the east wall itself, is indifferent 19th century building, but the other chancel masonry is 14th century, of high quality.

The glass of the east window inscribed Salvator Mundi, Saviour of the World, is by J.& J.King of Norwich and was given in 1877 by Robert Cocks, a local man who became a successful London music publisher. He founded a nearby school and the village almshouses. His parents are buried in the churchyard.

The glass in the first south chancel window shows the aged Simeon and Anna with the Holy Family in the Temple (Luke 2.25). It commemorates two other aged worshippers: Thomas Fulcher, All Saints' priest for 64 years, and his wife Eliza who died in 1891.

Towards the nave is some Victorian patterned glass using the motif 'ihc', also to be seen in the east window. This well-known device was adapted from the Greek letters beginning the name 'Jesus'. The window was restored in 1991 as a family memorial.

In the nave the 1897 glass next to the pulpit is by the important glazing firm of C.E.Kempe. The Kempe trademark of the 'kempe' or champion wheatsheaf is in the lower left-hand corner of the third panel. Kempe's work is found throughout the English-speaking world, and the Kempe Society enjoys growing international membership. The glass has a local theme. The priory was dedicated to 'St Mary, St James the Apostle and all the saints of God' and so the central panel shows the Virgin and Child. To her right is James the Apostle also known as St James the Greater (Sanctus Iacobus Maior). He is dressed as a pilgrim with a staff and water-bottle, and those returning from his shrine in Spain wore scallop shells on their hats. The other figure is St Andrew, referring to a nearby church, derelict by the 16th century, in the area of the modern St Andrew's Close.

The next glass, dated 1878, illustrates in crude colours the story of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10.25). The traveller stripped by thieves is a copy in reverse of Michelangelo's Adam fresco in the Sistine Chapel, with the addition of a loincloth. The plagiarism is appropriate, as some theologians identified the Samaritan with Christ and the traveller with Adam, that is, Everyman.

Below this composition, together with urns bearing the letters 'ihc', is a small panel of 'the pelican in her piety'. It was once believed that the bird fed the chicks by pecking her breast till the blood flowed, perhaps a misunderstanding of the disgorging process. This was likened to Christ giving his blood for the Church, and the ancient emblem was often used by the Victorians.


The Goslings in The next window also shows young birds. Installed as a memorial 1991, the goslings have no hidden theological significance.

The Medieval Glass

The stone tracery of the two windows containing the Kempe and Samaritan glass is in the style called Perpendicular, as is the set of windows in All Saints' north aisle. There are many variations of the Perpendicular style, but the details of the two southern windows are identical with those in the north aisle of New Buckenham church, dated around 1479. The glass in the Old Buckenham tracery is of the same period, although it is now in a jumbled condition, assembled from many fragments.

The most coherent work is seen in the series of shields. These are associated with the Knyvetts, owners of Buckenham Castle from 1460. Sir William Knyvett had been deprived of his estates in 1483 by Richard III, but with the success of Henry Tudor at Bosworth, Knyvett was reinstated. The glass fragment showing a red rose, at the top of the second chancel window, may come from lost panels of the Tudor period, when the Lancastrian rose was a prominent device.

Most of the shields display the Knyvetts' family connections, with shields 2,4,9.10,11 incorporating the Clifton and Cailly arms. Shield 3 and half of 4, blue with silver crescents, represent Sir Edmund Thorpe, the Agincourt veteran buried at Ashwellthorpe, to whom the Knyvetts were distantly related. Even more remote was their connection with the once powerful Ralph, Lord Cromwell, of Tattershall Castle, shield 8. The Knyvett shield, 5, silver with a black bend and pitted ('engrailed') border, is incorporated in 9 and 11, these latter two being the preferred form of the arms from about 1491. The outer shields of the two windows represent saints and the priory; St George and St Edmund, patrons of England and East Anglia respectively at 1 and 7, with Prior John de Bokenham and the priory itself at 6 and 12. The priory shield shows scallop shells for St James. John de Bokenham was prior from 1480 to 1493, but it is not certain that his shield was originally in this window. The series, evidently by differing craftsmen, was assembled from several sources and given some appearance of unity by the supporting angels. Even here the angels' faces and vestments vary from one window to the other. Several angels are damaged, one being replaced by a St James scallop. Much church glass was destroyed in the Cromwellian period, but these shields may have been spared as secular rather than sacred subjects. They were still mostly in their present position when described by the antiquary Thomas Martin around 1723. When Robert Ladbrooke drew the church about a century later, the tracery was boarded over. Ladbrooke and his son published reliable lithographs of Norfolk churches from 1821.

Three 15th century figures of saintly monks installed in the tracery around 1850 must come from a larger window : St Botolph, his name on a scroll; St Leonard, patron saint of prisoners, with a chain: and St Peter Martyr with the sword of his martyrdom. A copy of the St Leonard figure was featured in an international exhibition at Limoges in 1994.

The shields and fragments in the south windows can be said to originate from this church, but there is no clear link with the medieval shield of the Kerdestons in the north chancel window. It may be from neighbouring Banham, which had Kerdeston associations.

The Pulpit, Predella and Lectern

The oak pulpit was carved by the same Major Keppel to whom the choirstalls are dedicated. Each panel, bearing on the reverse the stamp 'W G KEPPEL 1900', shows a different type of vegetation. Even the central panel of the cross has a twining passion flower. The panel showing cereal crops is unusual in that maize is included with the more traditional wheat, oats and barley.

The carved predella on the north altar, showing grapes and vine leaves, is signed by Keppel and bears the date 1906. The lectern, bearing the same motif, is also by this talented amateur.

The Kneelers

Designed specifically for this church, they comprise the 1979 village sign; a buck; the church; Lancastrian roses; a dove; the true vine. They were stitched chiefly by parishioners, the whole project (100 kneelers) being completed by about 1984.

The West Wall

The small organ was installed in 1946. Above the tower arch is a painting of the royal arms as used from 1714 to 1801. 'G III R' appears near the top, implying George III's accession in 1760, but the painting could well date from forty-six years earlier. The 'III' is cramped and in a slightly different colour, suggesting that originally the arms were for plain 'G R', George I. Most churches displayed the royal arms above the chancel arch, but as there is not enough room at All Saints', the painting may have been suspended from the arch. The plastered ceiling is also likely to be Georgian.

Behind the arms there is a sizeable blocked arch. This was an upper doorway to the tower originally reached by a wooden staircase from the nave, and is arguably a Saxon feature. Inside the tower at this level the windows were once glazed, which indicates that the space was used as a room at some stage. The present windows are 14th century, but may replace earlier openings. The ledge below the doorway, now a convenient prop for the royal arms, is also ancient, a thinning of the tower wall, found in Saxo-Norman churches with round towers, as at neighbouring Eccles. The doorway arch and infilling are of much later brick, possibly 18th century.

To the left of the organ is a face carved from an unusual stone, perhaps intended as a bracket to support a statue. On the tower arch itself are score marks caused by bell-ropes. Also behind the organ, among the cleaning materials, is a small cavity in the wall. This was an oven, perhaps 14th century, for baking the sacred wafers. A narrow horizontal flue penetrated the wall, with the later blocking masonry still visible outside.


The Porch

The only door in everyday use is the south door, the ring handle likely to be at least 15th century. The porch is of about the same date. The first four sets of oak rafters are original, each apex formed by an angled piece cut from wood grown for the purpose.

Mortice holes on these rafters indicate that the wood has been adapted from some other source. During repairs in 1992 a stone on the porch gable was found to have a grotesque face carved on its hidden side. The stone, technically known as avoussoir, had been part of a Norman arch, and was reused by a later mason to frame the porch roof. The present contractor has set the face looking outwards.

On the gable is a stone cross with an engrailed edge like that of the Knyvett arms. Its base does not tally with the shallow gable of the porch, but conforms with the sharper angle of the eastern chancel gable. Although Ladbrooke's lithograph shows the cross in its present position, this was after the rebuilding of the east end. The cross was probably first installed on the eastern gable in the late 15th century.

The porch has medieval oak seats. Traditionally for the infirm, they recall the proverb 'the weakest go to the wall'.


The Tower

The tower, as inmost Norfolk churches, is built mainly of the local stone available, flint. Other materials, including a broken quern and rust-coloured puddingstone, together with early bricks, are worked into the structure. The mixture was to be rendered over.

Many East Anglian towers have round bases later surmounted by octagonal tops, as at Quidenham, but All Saints' is one of six Norfolktowerswhich are octagonal from the ground up. Of these, only two others are round internally. The base and the eight corners are marked by the use of the more expensive limestone brought from distant quarries such as those of Northamptonshire. Like the similarly well-carved mouldings of the interior chancel windows, these delicately crafted shafts and ornaments date from about 1300.

The neatly incised broad arrow on the south-western base is not medieval but an Ordnance Survey benchmark, set on a permanent point of reference, dating perhaps from the first survey in 1836.

Occasional small squares of brick or stone on the face of the tower are later infillings of holes for putlogs, the horizontal timbers of medieval scaffolding.

The mock upper windows of stone Y tracery are similar to those of the chancel. The knapped flint infilling was an intended decorative feature, the black flint making a contrast with the rendered, possibly whitewashed, walls. A similar scheme can be seen on Quidenham tower, and in neither case could the building have taken eight openings.

Old Buckenham now has six bells, mostly 18th century. Because of structural problems a chiming apparatus was installed in 1961. There were likely to have been four bells in medieval times.

A development of Y tracery, somewhat like a net and therefore called 'reticulated' , can be seen in the window inserted around 1350 at the tower's western base. The glass is Victorian. The upper west and north-west faces are repaired in brick, possibly in 1604 when new bells were installed. The brick battlements, similar to those at Attleborough dated 1631, are lower than shown in Ladbrooke's drawing. According to a local source, the small spire in the lithograph was blown down in 1898. Perhaps the battlements' brickwork was re-laid then, as suggested by differing mortar.

Internally the lower part of the tower, up to about thirty feet, is round, and the thickness of the lower wall, about five feet at the angles, makes it possible that the octagonal exterior is based upon an earlier round tower of the Saxon or early Norman period.


The Norman Doorway

The 12th century Norman doorway on the north wall cannot be in its original position as the aisle is much later in date. The round arch, its voussoirs forming a continuous cable and bead moulding, was dismantled and brought from some other point in the church, or even from a different building. The present wall was then built around the reassembled doorway. The square stone panel with a blank shield, perhaps originally painted, is 15th century. To the right the Perpendicular style window, different from the others in the aisle, is a Victorian replacement.


The Buttresses

Along the north wall there are three stone buttresses with panels of late 15th century flint flushwork. This was an East Anglian decorative technique where the white limestone was hollowed out and the resulting space filled with knapped flint. At All Saints' most of the black flint has been lost, but the designs can still be made out. From the west they are: l. an intertwined S and lower case i, perhaps for Sancti (Saints); 2. the emblem of Mary, an M incorporating an A,R and I, so that by reading A twice, it spells out MARIA. It could also be understood as Maria Regina, Mary Queen of Heaven; 3. the 'ihc' emblem, already encountered in the windows. The horizontal shape in 1 and 3 is decorative, but also denotes an abbreviation.

Pevsner (The Buildings of England:North-West and South Norfolk 1962) stated that the north side with its series of Perpendicular windows and embellished buttresses was intended as the facade, rather than the south. The timbered house to the north of All Saints', now known as Sunnyside Farm, was erected around 1480, and faces the church rather than the Green. Until an intervening building was put up in the later 17th century, the owners of the house would have had an uninterrupted vista of the church and were probably influential in the construction of its northern aspect.


The East End

The brick east end could be of about 1800 as the brick buttress, added later, is shown by Ladbrooke in about 1821.


The Chancel Windows and Priest's Door

The outer arches or drip-moulds with their odd faces appear to be additions, perhaps 16th century, to the Y traceried windows. All the southern windows were most likely inserted into earlier walling which originally had much smaller openings.

The bricks above the priest's door mark later repairs, but the floor level appears to be original. Near the door is a stone to Robert Watts dated 1652, the earliest dated grave in the churchyard and mentioned in Blomefield (A History of the County of Norfolk 1739). Permanent memorials were usually reserved for the wealthy buried inside the church.


The Thatched Roof

One of All Saints' unusual features is the thatched roof. Most early Norfolk churches were thatched, but with increasing prosperity in the 15th century many were roofed in lead, as was All Saints' north aisle. In the following centuries most church roofs were tiled or slated. Old Buckenham was by this time relatively poor and obscure, so the thatch remained, being renewed at regular intervals.

Unfortunately thatch is no longer the cheapest roofing material. The 1982 re-thatching of the south side in Norfolk reed cost approximately £27,000. The ridge was replaced in 1999 at a cost of £10,000.



A work of this nature draws some material from previous writings such as Blomefield's History, but a great deal arises from direct observation. Some details in T.H.Bryant's Churches of Norfolk 1913,H.Munro Cautley's Norfolk Churches 1949 and Nikolaus Pevsner's 1562 entry in The Buildings of England series, can be questioned. Valued observations have been made by Bunje Alexander, Clifford Amos, Joe Andrews Richard Butler-Stoney, John Dent, John Frost, Shirley Knight, Thora Lindenmayer, Andrew Martindale, John Norton, Horry Panks, Paul & Thomas Rutledge, Olive Shickle, Lyn Stilgoe, Virginia Sullivan, Michael Swash, Roger Virgoe, David Wright together with many other helpful people whose names are unrecorded.

Guide compiled by Brian Turner, 1994. In Memoriam Shirley Knight.

Edited by Mike Scrutton, 1999.

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