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Hales

Dedication : St Michael and All Saints         Simon Jenkins: *                  Principal Features : Largely intact Thatched Norman Church. Wall Painting.

In a 3 day church crawl taking in many round tower chuches on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk, Hales was the highlight. Simon Jenkins’s single star is a bit of a mystery to us. It is true, however, that this is a church whose delight is in its fabric, not in its furnishings which are sparse to say the least.

Hales has a near-intact Norman nave and apsidal chancel that date to around 1140. It retains the thatched roof that would have been the norm in this area at that time. The splendid north and south doorways are made of Normandy stone and are of the “Broadlands School” that was also responsible for Heckingham and Hellington. Doorways of this school feature discs and stars in their door carvings.

The round tower is believed to be very slightly later than the rest of the church. There is clear evidence that it was added to an existing building, yet its architecture is of the same period.

Few Norman apses survive. This one does despite having Early English windows inserted on each side and a simple c13 one inserted at the east end. This not only replaced the Norman loop window but also caused some of the blind arcading to be filled in, as can be seen in the picture (left). The buttresses are believed to indicate that the roof would have been vaulted at some point.

The nave has only one surviving Norman window. This is in the south side of the nave and has been filled in. The others are all later. The font is c15.

The best of the wall paintings is behind the pulpit and dates from c14. It is a saint carrying a scroll and believed to be St James the Great. St Christopher is much less distinguishable and is in his customary position opposite the main (north) door so that passers-by could be comforted by the Patron Saint of Travellers. There are angels blowing trumpets pointing down at where the rood screen would have stood. There are pairs of consecration crosses in both nave and chancel.

This is a lovely little church, now redundant, but giving us a strong sense of what a Norman church would have felt like.

The north doorway, with its beautiful decorations. The “double cone” or “barrel” moulding is unusual. Note the delicate courses of “chip carving” at the second and fourth courses, and also the hood moulding decorated with petalled roundels.

The south doorway is also fine. Indeed it is unusual to have two such richly-decorated doors in such a small church as this. The second course has discontinuous billet moulding. This is almost triangular in cross section and known as “keel” moulding. In this case the hood moulding is decorated with a delicate diaper pattern.

The capitals on the north doorway are much more decorated than on the south. There is a mass of quite delicate patterns visible here. To the lesft and right can be seen stone panels of chip carving that are part of the walls rather than of the capitals. This picture shows the remarkable state of preservation of much of this church.

Looking east towards the apse. St James can be seen in the wall painting behind the pulpit (right). Other paintings can be seen in the apse itself, above the rood loft space and scattered around the nave walls. particularly impressive is the band of decoration that is almost complete at the point where the apse roof springs.

Looking west.

St James the Great. Note the beautiful abstract leaf design above his head,

Wall painting in a window recess on the north side of the nave.

A rather less well-preserved St Christopher.

The angels in these two pictures are some of the loveliest wall paintings I have seen. Reds, blues and yellows ate all preserved.

A consecration cross.

Decoration in the apse. Note the beautiful course of decoration above the window and barley-sugar one surrounding it.

North exterior of the apse. The blind arcading between the (later) buttresses has semi-circular decoration on the arches, whilst that to the left is plainer. The lancet window replaced a Norman loop window.