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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)

Thurlby

Dedication : St Firmin       Simon Jenkins: Excluded                                 Principal Features : c10 Tower Stages; Norman Chancel; Roman Connections

Thurlby is not a church that appears in the “important” church books. At first glance, it appears large (with two transepts and two side chapels) but a little undistinguished. The first time I visited it was locked (see the footnote)  and I knew nothing about it but it provoked me to ask a few questions: “doesn’t that tower look as it might have some Saxon work?”; “aren’t those chancel lancet windows Early English?”

Well, the answer to both question proved to be “yes”. Less obvious were the fine Norman nave arcades within.

Thurlby is dedicated to St Firmin - a unique dedication in England. There were dedications at monasteries in North Crawley in Bucks and Thorney in Cambs, but these establishments have been lost. The Church Guide claims that St Firmin (or “Fermin”) was the first Bishop of Amiens but my understanding is that although he was martyred there - by beheading - he was in fact the first Bishop of Pamplona in (Basque) Spain, being the son of a Spanish Senator of Rome.

Alongside the church is Car Dyke, a transport and drainage canal built by the Romans to connect Peterborough and Lincoln. Given the choice of a dedication to a Roman bishop and the proximity to the Dyke it is not difficult to agree with speculation that there was a Romano-British church here dating as far back as AD 400 - but it is speculation.

The oldest part of the church is the tower, of which the two lowest stages are believed to date from AD 925. The nave was rebuilt by the Normans in around 1100 and has Norman arcades on both sides. They also inset the original Saxon tower arch with smaller Norman one - a rather unusual arrangement - and brought in a new font. Above the tower arch is a filled-in Saxon doorway. Within that is a fine gable cross that is believed to have come from Edenham Church, also in Lincolnshire.

In 1240 the easternmost arcade arches were replaced. The south chantry chapel was added at this time The chancel was replaced in the Early English style. 1320 saw the addition of the clerestory and the replacement of several of the original windows. Within the chancel is a grossly disproportionate sedilia canopy with Norman zigzag moulding, and this is believed to be the re-used top section of the original chancel arch. The north porch dates from 1240.

All in all, Thurlby is a very pleasant surprise, full of interest and posing that intriguing question of whether the church we see today was preceded by one of England’s oldest Romano-British church buildings.

Left: Looking towards the chancel with its east window of about 1440. Right: The western aspect is the more interesting. Note the differences in shape and capitals on the two later aisle bays (nearest the camera) from the Norman ones with their distinctive scalloped capitals.

Left: The outer part of the tower arch is Saxon, but the Normans inset it with an arch of their own. Right: The Norman font is a relatively crude affair. Note the supports which have clearly been re-used from elsewhere - possibly from the original Saxon building.

Left: A “head” that adorns the rim of the font. Above: The Edenham gable cross mounted within a triangular-headed Anglo-Saxon doorway. Such doorways are not uncommon where there are Saxon towers and it almost certainly indicates that was a wooden gallery around the western end of the nave at that time. There are similar doorways on the towers at Brixworth in Northants and Deerhurst in Gloucestershire

Left: Norman cushion capital on the south arcade. Right: Transepts and side chapels result in a profusion of arches around the crossing area. Note that the easternmost bays of the nave, despite dating from 1240 are still round-headed despite the emergence of the Early English style with its pointed gothic arches as early as 1190. Thus the symmetry of the arcades was maintained.

Left: There are transepts on both the north and south sides with uncharacteristically tall and narrow Norman arches. Note the cut-off doorway on the left to the original rood loft.  Centre: The vestry contains this Norman lancet window with a quatrefoil window above. Right: A mediaeval coffin lid preserved in the north porch.

Left: There are squints from both side chapels towards the main altar. Right: The ornate piscina and the two sedilia. The Church Guide suggests that the right hand sedilia is the chancel arch from the Norman church of 1100. Well. it is certainly Norman. As the chancel was extended eastwards by twenty feet in 1240 this arch cannot be in its original position so it seems that they must be right. It does seem a peculiar piece of recycling, however.

Left: The  narrow south chantry chapel. Lower right is a window that has given rise to speculation that there was an anchorite cell attached to the church at this point. Right: The upper storey of the church and the spire date from about 1320. The dormer windows (“lucarnes”) are rather grand as on many churches in this area. Note the course of animal figures and faces below the balustrade

Thurlby does not have a corbel table but it does have a number of corbel-like carvings just  below the roofline of the clerestory and some others beneath the balustrade of the tower. The figures top left and bottom right are from the clerestory and the animal figures are from the tower. These are part of a tradition of sub-cornice carvings found in this part of the East Midlands. I believe that most of these carvings were executed in the late c14 and early c15 by a single guild of masons, probably based in Oakham in Rutland. You can see more examples at Oakham itself and at Ryhall, Rutland on other pages on this site. See also this link: The Demon Carvers of the East Midlands.

Left: The east end of the church. Note the southern chantry chapel. It dates from 1240. Thurlby has two chantry chapels making this an unusually elaborate church for such a small community. Right: The north side.

The Roman Car Dyke - still in water - trickles past the west end of the church.

Footnote

In the rather windswept Thurlby churchyard the ashes of Diana’s father, the splendidly-named Ivor Novello Lloyd, were laid to rest a few years ago. This picture is of Diana and her mother looking at the memorial stone in 2009. At the time of his interment Diana had no idea that the church was of any special architectural interest and so it is with considerable pleasure that we are able to include Thurlby Church in this website on its merits.

Thurlby is a living church within a thriving village community. If you want details of the church’s activities and services please visit their website at :

http://stfirmin.wordpress.com