In the Wilds of East Anglia

Christina is currently in Luxembourg hunting Elephants, so today’s post is by Sheldon, recounting a change in pace of life after a few days in Norfolk.  

Once a year, I get the opportunity to operate my ‘reset’ button. Usually every second week in August, me and a few friends retire to a chalet on the North Norfolk coast to unwind, watch ‘Are You Being Served?’ and drink a lot of alcohol.

Fortunately my friend Daniel Beach‘s family own said chalet, which they share out every summer.  Beach kindly invited me four years ago as an alternative (cheaper) way of holidaying.  I’d never holidayed in this country before – the default was to go to Spain, but seeing as I was a little cash-strapped at the time, I took advantage of his invitation and have been every year, and on this occasion I was joined by Steve Roberts (who wrote an article about the Skateboard Graveyard on the Southbank a few weeks ago.)

Norfolk is a place in which I would love to live at some point. The ethos differs so much from London – I’m often taken askew by the manners and geniality of local people up there – whenever you enter a pub, whoever is sitting outside always says hello or gives a nod of the head, which is in complete contrast to London where you do your best to ignore whoever’s around you: the idea of saying hello to a stranger paints you as some kind of lunatic.

Pilgrims together

Firstly, close to where we were staying, was a very small churchyard belonging to the Beacon Community Centre – the Churchyard itself was small and dated from the latter part of Victoria’s reign. What made me curious was that a few newer burials had been added to those who resided there – someone who died in 1898 was in the same area as someone who died in 2002.  What made those special few worthy of internment there?

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Steve and Beach by the Grimes headstone

The website for Beacon offered no clues as to a history of the site, which is a pity as it would be a good point of interest considering there are so many holidaymakers in the locality. The building the centre occupies is old, I presume a church in some form has existed here.  With the Norfolk standard of using pebbles and brickwork (in contrast to London and its London Brick made of clay and sand,) it’s hard to date the buildings unless they have inscriptions embedded in them.

We later took a stroll through Norwich – like any typical medieval city, the number of Churches is staggering. Many have now been refitted for a modern purpose, ranging from uses such as the Arts Centre to Puppet Theatres.  I like the feel of Norwich as the old sits comfortably with the new – perhaps the legacy of the old couldn’t be ignored by town planners. Typically, many still have their churchyards which have been modified into open spaces, with headstones relegated to the outskirts of the boundary or turned into paving. St. Gregory’s is a good example of this – a medieval church tarted up by the Victorians.

Wall mounted memorial on St. Gregory's

St. Gregory's: it lost its Spire in the 1840's.

Close to ‘Intu Chapelfields’ is the Church of St. Stephen, whose churchyard lies in the way of the shopping centre and the end of the main High Street. Where many developers would have swept away with a portion of the Churchyard, here a very sympathetic pathway has been carved through it. The traffic that passes by the Church must reflect in the size of its congregation, however I didn’t have time to see if this was the case as by this stage in the visit we were keen to explore local boozers!

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Christina has already mentioned in a Twitter post her visit to Norwich Cathedral which I’ve seen countless times. Aside from this complete example of a Cathedral which can be found in the City Centre in all its glory (and after having a considerable stroll around central Norwich) I saw that the Churches had either been built upon beyond recognition or literally bisected by urbanisation – it was clear that I was seeing mere fragments of Churches in their former glory and not in the setting in which they were first constructed.

Armed with this realisation, I was determined to discover the rural Parish churches of which Norfolk has hundreds – not only in Norwich where there was said to be a Church for every week of the year, and a pub for every day. For my post on Monday, I travel to the ancient Parish churches of Paston (of Paston Letter fame and its spectacular memorials to the Paston family) and Mundesley, to see how Churches in the wilds of Norfolk would’ve looked and how they are used by people today.

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About SheldonKGoodman

I'm Sheldon, a City of Westminster guide with a passion for exploring the environment around us. I have an extensive and deep interest in cemeteries and the people buried within them: it's a fascinating story and mix of characters who have all contributed to the world of today. Writing for www.cemeteryclub.co.uk, I hope to bring some of these people and places back to life and reveal their achievements, interests and lives.
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2 Responses to In the Wilds of East Anglia

  1. ianbrentnall says:

    I am told by some native Norfolk friends that Grimes is a very old and populous Norfolk name (like Buck, Larter, and Harmer for example), which crops up time and again on memorials and in churches throughout Norfolk. As the typical pattern of movement in the rural poulation was someat limited, people frequently didn’t stray far from their place of birth, hence the appearance of several generations bearing the same name in one churchyard.

  2. Pingback: The Greatest Cemetery of All | Cemetery Club

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