The Norman church dated from 1146. What was its extent? We can be sure of a Norman nave and chancel because of the arcades. Similarly, the arcades must indicate Norman aisles on each side. Today’s aisles, however, are much later, erasing all evidence of the originals. This was then very substantial Norman church.
At either end of the nave we see fine lofty arches, both later than the nave itself and providing a study in changing architectural styles. The tower arch is tall and narrow in proportion and with simple roll mouldings as the only adornments. It is Early English in style. The chancel arch, on the other hand, is broader in proportions and handsomely decorated with no fewer than five courses of geometrical patterns, the innermost of which is a rather complex design. It is a pointed arch, yet has Norman-style mouldings. We shouldn’t get too hung up on terminology nor imagine that styles died out overnight but this is, for all the world, a Transitional arch.
Turning again to the western tower, it is a fine one indeed. Throughout its height it has rounded protuberances at each corner. Blind arcading of different designs adorn each of the three lowest stages. Narrow lancet windows pierce the third stage.
What intrigues about Walsoken is this mixture of Norman, Transitional and Early English styles. All the church literature seems quite adamant that the church was founded in AD1146. This is unusually specific and we have to take that information on trust. If so then we must assume that the nave arcades are from that date. Yet the chancel arch with its pointed arch seems to be later, yet so in keeping with the arcades themselves that is hard to believe that they are not contemporary. Moreover, the eastenmost capitals on both sides of the chancel arch each have waterleaf design which would be more in keeping with a date of 1200 than of 1146. . The nave arcades are alternating between octagonal and circular profiles. All of this points towards the Transitional style and if Walsoken was built from 1146 then this is a very early example indeed. For what it’s worth, I would like to know the origins of that dating.
The tower continues this theme. That is Early English in style there can be no doubts. Yet its western doorway has is round-arched, pointing to a quite early adoption of the Early English style. Putting all of this together we are seeing late Norman, Transitional and early Early English work (sorry for that confusing expression!). I am pretty certain then that the nave, chancel and tower were a single program of work, possibly over quite a long period, and that the masons adapted to the evolving architectural styles. If I am right (and I don’t see any discussion of this anywhere in “the literature”) then the claim by Simon Jenkins and others that this is a “Norman Church” are somewhat misleading. Rather, it would seem that this is a Transitional style church albeit built during the Norman period. Which only goes to show how misleading the word “Norman” (and also, as I argue elsewhere, the words “Anglo-Saxon”) can be within the context of church architecture
The rest of the exterior is undistinguished, to put it politely. The aisles are c14 and c15. The large clerestory in c15. There is surprisingly little information about the chancel. The Norman arcades extend almost to the east end itself. On the north wall, further to the east, is a small round-headed doorway. It looks as if the bulk of today’s chancel is, therefore, the original Norman fabric. The south side of the chancel has a large c15 chapel with an extension of 1536 that has some of of rather incongruous Tudor-style rectangular windows. An over-sized boiler house disfigures the north east side. Put together the east end presents a somewhat muddled, dare I say ugly, aspect.
The interior of the church has much of interest. The font is one of England’s forty-one “Seven Sacrament” fonts, of which 26 are found in Norfolk and 13 in Suffolk, the other two being in Somerset and Kent. More about these fonts in the footnote below. The c15 nave roof is of hammerbeam construction. The wall posts terminate in niches within which there are painted images of kings and prophets. The ends of the hammerbeams have painted angels. The tower arch has a substantial timber carving of King Solomon superimposed on a very nice wall painting of the Judgement of Solomon with the unfortunate infant being held by its ankle! It’s quite unusual to have wall painting in this position. The chancel arch has a similarly imposing carving of King David, complete with harp. Both of these figures are believed to be c17. In the nave there are some nice c15 bench ends with poppy heads.
Walsoken is blessed with much of interest, both in architecture and furnishings. If you are in the area you really mustn’t miss it.