S Martin’s Beckland, Norfolk
The major roads of the Norfolk Breckland (such as they are) tend to avoid the villages, so that places like Thompson are very much off the beaten track and bypassed by both visitors and the 21st century. Apart from a shallow 15th century transept, two centuries gave S Martin’s its character; the exterior largely dates from the mid-14th century (1). The tower has a lovely W window with delicate subreticulation, also found in the towers of the nearby parishes of Caston and Ashill, the work of the same architect. The interior furnishings in contrast are mainly early 17th century (2). There’s a family pew and three-decker pulpit from then, whilst the 15th c. pews have been given later dates (1625 and 1632). They survive because the church escaped the attention of the Victorians; by the time restoration happened in 1910-1913, “conservative” was the watchword.
The details add to the attraction of the church; it retains a mid-14th century screen from the time of its construction. Although the loft above the screen has gone, the steep and narrow roodstairs (ND February 2016) remain, starting in the sill of a window; hard to access, they could scarcely have had a liturgical function – just the sexton going to his business with the candles in the roodloft. The carver of the sedilia had his playful moments with the Green Man (3).
To be ignored by both Alec Clifton-Taylor and Simon Jenkins, that is a badge of honour. Thompson is one of the unknown marvels of Norfolk.
Map reference: TL930969