At the sign of the Barking lion...

All Saints, Santon (Norfolk)

At the sign of the Barking lion... - a journey through the churches of Suffolk


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From the north east. Pugin's chancel?

Looking east.

Quatrefoil window and medieval corbel heads from West Tofts.

Pugin's roof?

Evangelists in the south window.

Looking west.


Daddy, I want a toy church in the back garden...

This is one of England's smallest churches, and it sits on the edge of its largest forest. You cross the river out of Suffolk, and before you reach the Cambridge to Norwich railway line 50 yards on you turn off to the picnic site. Beyond the tables and benches, the track leads down to three houses, all that remains of the village of Santon. All Saints huddles among them.

Today, the village is part of the civil parish of Weeting, but its ecclesiastical parish is Santon Downham, which is mostly in Suffolk, and that is why it is on this site. That is the only reason. I am NOT doing all of Norfolk. Santon Downham was once the hamlet to this, the larger village, but the centuries turn, the world changes, and now there is only a name on the map.

All Saints managed to continue services up into the 1970s, but its redundancy was a sensible one, particularly since it remains in the care of such a conscientious parish. They look after it, and they keep it open. They deserve praise, and when funding for medieval churches becomes regulated by parliament, as it surely must, they deserve money.

Having said that, this is almost entirely a 19th century rebuild, as though some spoilt Victorian child had demanded a toy church, and Daddy had one built in the back garden. Mortlock says that it had, in any case, been rebuilt in the early 17th century, presumably by Laudians, after being abandoned at the Reformation.

Apart from an outrageously grand memorial to a former Rector to the east (my goodness, what an easy life that must have been here!) there are very few gravestones; perhaps the most interesting is one to the Lockwood family, which you can see at the bottom of the page.

The pretty little octagonal tower actually tops the vestry, which is shoehorned into the south-west corner. There are simple little pews with doors, and a clever arrangement towards the east allows access through a baby roodscreen into quite the tiniest little chancel - you could almost touch all three walls at once. The altar rail can accomodate just two people at a time.

The roof is of the highest quality, and here is where it gets rather interesting, because the chancel was almost certainly built with medieval materials rescued during the 19th century restoration of the church at West Tofts, now abandoned in the battle zone. We don't know who was responsible for Santon, but West Tofts was restored by none other than Augustus Welby Pugin, and we know that the Pugins were friends of the family at the rectory here at Santon. Now, if Pugin had a pile of medieval materials, and a friend with a church that needed restoring... well, it makes you think.

The parish of Santon Downham is just to the north of Brandon; follow the signs to Thetford, and then turn left for Santon Downham at the edge of town. All Saints, Santon, is found easily; take the road to the north of Santon Downham church over the river into Norfolk. Turn immediately right before the railway crossing towards the picnic site. Park at the picnic site, and the church is about 200m further along the lane. It is kept open.

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