Please sign my Guestbook and leave feedback

Recent Additions

Norfolk Round Tower Churches Info

Norfolk Round Tower Churches I

Norfolk Round Tower Churches II

Sherborne Abbey (Dorset)

Steetly (Derbyshire)

Adel (Yorkshire)

Barton Seagrave (Northants)

Northants Fonts and Plato’s Cosmos

Ellerburn (Yorkshire)

A Cumbrian Miscellany

Tebay (Cumbria)

Ninekirks, Brougham (Cumbria)

Dearham (Cumbria)

Bridekirk (Cumbria)

Burnham Deepdale

Dedication : St Mary         Simon Jenkins: *                                                Principal Features : Norman Labours of the Month Font; Mediaeval Glass; Round Tower.

Right up on the North Norfolk Coast between Hunstanton and Blakeney, where property prices have been driven to astronomical levels by “second homers”, there are four villages bearing the name “Burnham”: Burnham Deepdale, Burnham Norton, Burnham Overy and Burnham Market. Remarkably the first three of these, all within a church bell’s chime of each other, each find a place in Simon Jenkins’s Top 1000 English churches.

Burnham Deepdale is on the main coast road and must be driven past by gazillions of tourists every year. If 1% of them called in and donated £1 this would be the richest church in christendom. Only its round tower, however, catches the eye. It is Anglo-Saxon of indeterminate date: as I say elsewhere on this site, the expression “Anglo-Saxon” is singularly unhelpful spanning, as it does, a period of about 400 years!

There is a certain amount of “revisionist” opinion about round towers nowadays with many that appear Saxon now being recast as Norman. I think Simon Jenkins hits the nail on the head when he says “We do not know how many of Norfolk’s round towers were begun by Saxons, but even those founded by the incoming Normans would have been built with Saxon hands and Saxon voices”. Certainly that of Deepdale is Saxon in so many ways that the argument is simply an academic one.

It is the “Labours of the Month” Norman font for which this church is famous, however. This is a rare variation of Norman font that is especially fascinating

because it gives an insight into the lives of our c11 agricultural forebears. In the medieaval mind each month was associated with a particular agricultural task. Naturally, these varied slightly between locations because so did the agriculture itself. Do visit my page for Brookland in Kent which has a rare lead font from France also showing the labours of the month but with some months that are different from Deepdale’s. The stone for this font came from the quarry Barnack in Cambridgeshire which also provided the stone for many churches in the East Midlands and also both Peterborough and Ely Cathedrals.

Like most Norfolk churches, Deepdale is faced in flint which is as prolific locally as stone quarries are rare. This too is one of that traditional explanations for the proliferation of round-towered churches in Norfolk and Suffolk: the difficulty in procuring the  massive stone blocks to provide the necessary stength at the corners of a tower of the traditional square plan.

There were three major restoration programs here in 1797, at which point the north aisle and the south porch were lost, and in 1855 and 1898. The present south porch was placed here in the 1898 phase. Also the present north aisle. Hence, there has been a lot of chopping and changing here but a lot of the fabric of the south and west walls are probably Saxon.

Apart from the font, the real treasure here is a lovely collection of mediaeval glass, much of it, as usual, comprising fragments relocated within more modern window structures. Jury-rig as this may sound, the glass here is lovely and those who find beauty in the garish and mass-produced Victorian glass that pervades many of our churches might like to compare it to the delightful delicacy and art of some of the glass here.

The chancel with its Perpendicular chancel arch. The modern “rood screen” is an interesting and far from ugly piece of innovation. Personally, however, I find the statues to left and right pretty tasteless and strangely alien in an Anglican church. Each to is own, I suppose!

The view to the east is much more interesting. We can see the small plain rounded tower arch and the triangular-headed doorway above it. Both of these, and the window in particular, look like nailed-on certainties for Anglo-Saxon work - but are they? See the footnote below.

From the outside the tower could be Saxon or Norman. The Church Guide notes that the base of the tower - below the tiled course - is 6” thicker than the rest and this may be Norman work.

The space within the tower is delightful in its simplicity. The window is modern but is set within much larger space. This is explained by the 1797 restoration which put the Norman north doorway here so that the tower was used as a porch for some 50 years or so until it was put back....

There are two superb sets of glass in the porch, known as the “sun” and the “moon” because of the figures in the top lights that would have been either side of a crucifixcion scene. This window is the sun.

Detail from the “sun” window. On the left is a what I take to be either a vicious chariot wheel with a sword blade protruding from the hub - as traditionally usued by Boudicca against the Romans. Or perhaps it was a diabolical device for the destruction of martyrs? At the top of the window (right) is a quite cherubic chap with blonde curly hair representing the sun. How his mother must have adored him!

The west window of the north aisle.

In the centre of the north west window we see an emblem of the Trinity.

This is the “moon” window in the porch.

Detail of the west window showing the gorgeous colourful work. Note the three stars in the centre called “rose-en-soleil” - literally roses within the sun. Below these roses (right) is an image of St Ursula, a British saint who was murdered with 1100 other virgins by the Huns on her pilgrimage to Rome via Cologne. They didn’t do things by halves in those days.

The moon image is quite exquisite. Just look at the eyes and mouth. Instead of the usual idealised imagery this is a face that could have been modelled by a woman in the village, such is its humanity.

Another fragment of glass from Deepdale’s “collection”. It doesn’t have the imagery of some of the other examples, but it shows the vibrancy and delicacy of colour of mediaveal glass.

The Labours of the Month Font

The rim is decorated on three sided with wonderfully sinuous lions. Unusually for the time this artist shows some signs of knowing what a lion looks like! In the top left hand picture we have, from right to left: May - a woman carrying a banner at Rogation tide; June - weeding; July - a man mowing; August - a man tying a sheaf. In the top right hand picture we have: January - a man carousing with a horn drinking vessel; February - a man warming himself; March - a man digging; April - a man pruning a plant.

The West side of Burnham Deepdale font (above left) has just plant carvings. I wondered if they might represent the four seasons but there is no obvious Winter scene so I guess not. The South side of Burnham font has from right to left (from the corner): September - a man threshing; October - a man barrelling wine; November - pigsticking; December - Four people seated for a meal at Christmas.

Please also see the lead Labours of the Month font at Brookland in Kent.

Above: The church from the south west corner with apologies for a rain-spattered lens on a lousy day! The north door is another reminder of the church’s Norman origins.

Right: The tower. The west window at ground level is within the space originally occupied by a west door installed here in 1797 and subsequently removed.