Norfolk Churches Trail, Round Towers, Fonts and Piscanae

Kirby Cane – Woodton – Bedingham

Introduction

These three important round tower churches are all close to the Suffolk border. It is worth visiting all three and comparing features such as their round towers, fonts and piscinae. 

A map of the Norfolk Churches Round Towers, Fonts and Piscinae Heritage Trail.

A map of the Norfolk Churches Round Towers, Fonts and Piscinae Heritage Trail.

1. All Saints' Church, Woodton - NHER 10211

Directions

Take the B1332 from Norwich to Bungay. On entering Woodton turn right onto the B1527 – Church Road. All Saints church is about half a mile on the right hand side.

This church, set to the northwest of the village of Woodton, has a round west tower with an octagonal belfry, nave, chancel, south porch and aisle and a north vestry. The base of the tower is thought to be mid Saxon and it has an octagonal belfry in two sections that was probably added in the 15th century. The battlements have flushwork panelling. A small window near the top of the round section is thought to be an original Saxon opening.

Inside the nave and chancel date from about 1300; the south aisle was added later.

There is an interesting window in the east wall of the chancel. It is flanked by twin columns with capitals and has a band of dogtooth decoration running over the arch. There is also an unusual 13th century piscina (basin for washing mass vessels) in the chancel. The recessed trefoil has corbels at the bottom and either side and is attached to a plain stone sedilia (seat for priests set into the wall).

The marble font is 13th century. The square bowl, supported by four columns, has blank arches around the outside.

2. St Andrew's Church, Bedingham - NHER 10212

Directions

On leaving Woodton church turn left and then left again towards the village of Woodton. In the village turn right towards Bedingham church. The church is about half a mile set back from the road on the right hand side.

This large, rather isolated church in open countryside was originally one of two churches that shared the same churchyard. St Mary’s church has long since disappeared leaving St Andrew’s to dominate the small hamlet of Bedingham.

St Andrew’s now consists of a round west tower, porches to the south and north, nave, chancel, south and north aisles and transepts. The round section of the tower is described by some historians as Saxon and by others as 12th century Norman. The tower has an octagonal belfry with bell-openings and battlements; these were probably added in the 15th century.  It is possible that St Andrew’s started life as a cruciform church.

The age of the chancel and nave is also disputed; they may have Saxon origins with Norman additions. It is thought that the south and north transepts were probably built at the same time as the nave and chancel but that the aisles were added later. The clerestory windows were a 15th century addition.

There is a priest’s door in the south chancel wall that is thought to be late 12th century. It is flanked by triple colonettes with capitals and dogtooth decoration and moulding in the arch.

The beautiful 15th century roodscreen that separates the nave and the chancel has been restored, but the colouring on the bottom section is original.

On the south wall of the chancel is an unusual Purbeck marble piscina. It consists of twin trefoil arches – the one on the west having no practical function - with a sedilia set between the two.

The Tudor font stands on a double stone plinth. The base is supported by four lions and the bowl is decorated with angels, the symbols of the evangelists and the Tudor rose.

3. All Saints' Church, Kirby Cane - NHER 10658

Directions

Leave Bedingham church and continue along the road until it meets the B1332. Turn right towards Bungay and continue for approximately three miles. Take the left turn at the A143. The village of Kirby Cane is nearly three miles further on the right hand side of this road, but take the left turn from the A143 onto Church Road. Go over one crossroads and the church is on the left hand side behind the Hall.

Kirby Cane church consists of a round west tower, nave, chancel, a south porch, north aisle and vestry. The Anglo Saxon tower has single light bell-openings and a later crenellated parapet. It is built of whole and cut flints and around the base of the tower it is still possible to discern small pilasters – a typical Saxon feature.

There is a fine Norman doorway on the south side. It has columns either side, zigzag, spiral cable and chevron decorations around the arch and a beast’s head in the apex. The bulbous flowers on the hoodmould above the arch are particularly unusual for this part of Norfolk.

High on the south wall of the chancel are two small windows and, like the south doorway, these are thought to be Norman.

The interior of this church remains largely unrestored 13th century, although the domed chancel ceiling with diagonal ribs was probably added in the 18th or 19th century.

There is an interesting font which probably dates from the mid to late 14th century. It stands on eight columns and the bowl is decorated with shields. There are eight heads – both male and female - with very distinctive hairstyles against the underside of the bowl.

Jane Chick (University of East Anglia, Norwich), 10 January 2007.

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