Norfolk Churches Trail, Saxon Towers

Great Dunham – East Lexham – Newton

Introduction

These three churches are within a few miles of each other and it is worth visiting all three to compare their fine Saxon towers.

A map of the Norfolk Churches Saxon Towers Heritage Trail.

A map of the Norfolk Churches Saxon Towers Heritage Trail. 

1. St Andrew's Church, Great Dunham - NHER 4178

Directions

Take the A47 from Norwich to Swaffham. In the village of Necton turn right and go through Little Dunham into Great Dunham. St Andrew’s Church is on the right hand side in the centre of the village. 

The west doorway of St Andrew's Church.

The west doorway of St Andrew's Church, Great Dunham. (© NCC)

Great Dunham church consists of a nave, central tower, chancel and former apse. The square Saxon tower, set between the nave and the chancel, is built from rough flint interspersed with Roman bricks or tile. Externally, several features are visible that help to date it; for example the long-and-short work on the corners of the tower, (dressed stones placed alternately upright and horizontal at the angles) the double arched bell-openings with baluster supports, above which, on the west and east side are circular holes. There is also a blocked triangular doorway on the west wall.

Inside the church it is possible to discern both Anglo-Saxon and Norman elements. The south and north sides of the nave have blank arcading with horizontal moulding decorated in Norman zigzag and nailhead patterns and the west arch of the tower has dogtooth moulding which is also thought to be Norman. However, the east arch of the tower has two bands of moulding suggesting that it is more likely to be Saxon. In the 19th century the foundations of the semicircular apse of the Saxon chancel were discovered.

In the chancel is a 15th century piscina (basin for washing mass vessels) with birds carved in the spandrels.

2. St Andrew's Church, East Lexham - NHER 4074

Directions

On leaving Great Dunham church continue through the village and take the first turning on the left. Follow this road into Lexham and at the T-junction turn right. East Lexham church is on the right hand side in a farmyard. 

The Late Saxon round tower showing one of the unique belfry windows.

The Late Saxon round tower of St Andrew's Church, East Lexham. (© NCC)

St Andrew’s is interesting as it stands in a circular graveyard. This may indicate that the land was of significance in pagan times and it has even been suggested that the church was built on the site of pagan temple.

The outstanding feature of this church is its west tower; it is possibly the oldest remaining tower in the county, dating from around AD 850 to 900. It is round but very irregular and roughly built and has three distinct bell-openings (rather than the usual four) set not far above the level of the nave ridge. The north-west opening has two small, narrow arches flanking a central baluster and the south-west opening also has two arches, but a shorter, sturdier column with a capital separates them. On the east the opening resembles a Maltese cross.

The body of the church has been rendered and there is a south porch. The interior of the church was restored in the 19th century. There is a World War One memorial and in the chancel is an extraordinary chair made from three misericord seats that possibly came from the church at Castle Acre Priory.

All Saints' Church, Newton - NHER 4053

Directions

Leave East Lexham church and the farmyard and re-join the road. Go through West Lexham and shortly after passing the church turn right and then turn left onto the A1065. Newton church is on the right hand side.

All Saints' Church has a nave, central tower and chancel. The square, Saxon tower has double bell-openings and a pyramid roof. The tower is the same width as the chancel and it is thought that originally, it may have been a cruciform church. One source suggests that the transepts fell into ruin and were removed in the 18th century.

Inside the church the small, unadorned arch on the east side of the tower is thought to be Saxon. The arch on the west side has mouldings around it but these were probably added at a later date. There is a doorway halfway up the eastern wall of the nave on the north side that may have led into the roodloft, above this is a small window, the purpose of which is unclear.

There are fragments of wall-painting from the 14th and 15th centuries.

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

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