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South Lopham

Dedication : St Andrew         Simon Jenkins: **                                         Principal Features : Superb Norman Tower. Attractive poppy heads.

South Lopham church has the finest Norman tower in Norfolk and one of the best anywhere. It rises 70ft and is somewhat austere, even forbidding, compared with, say, Castor Church in Cambridgeshire. It would not take a big jump of the imagination to see it in a Norman castle.

The original church was Saxon, dating from between AD 1000 and 1066. In the left hand picture we can see the Saxon round window opening high in the nave’s north  wall, and most of the wall is from that period.

The Norman work was commissioned by the fearsome William Bigod, Earl of Norfolk. He was to drown in 1120 in the “White Ship” that was taking another William - the son and only legitimate heir of Henry I - from Barfleur in Normandy to England. The Bigods had fought alongside the Conqueror and most of Norfolk and Suffolk was their reward! We might speculate that the no-nonsense austerity of the tower owed something to the no-nonsense mindset of the Bigods!

The church tower might well have been designed to be the centre of a cruciform church, but the transepts never materialised.

South Lopham was given into the care of the monks of Thetford Priory.

After the great plague had left England in 1361 - and not before reducing the population of Europe by an unimaginable 30-60% - a new chancel and south aisle were built. The nave was heightened between 1460-80 and the clerestory added. So too were the hammerbeam roof and the bench poppyheads that we see today.

The view towards the choir and chancel showing what was surely intended to be the crossing with two fine Norman arches. The  “blind” arch to the north that was surely designed to lead to a transept. On the right is the c14 south arcade.

The view to the west.

The parish chest that may date back to the c12. There are three hasps for three locks - one each for the rector and the two churchwardens.

The c14 octagonal font.

The rather plain Norman door on the south side of the tower (left). And the rather more ornate one in the wall of the north wall.

The rather forbidding tower. The blind arcading in the lower course is pretty irregular and one wonders whether the windows were cut later.. The middle course looks as if it has been blocked. The top biforum is more ornate.

This is the Elephant and Castle emblem. It is a fairly common feature of mediaeval iconography. The carver of this piece obviously had little idea of the creature’s anatomy - hence the beak-like trunk and pathetic legs!

The Poppy Heads