125 rural Norfolk churches celebrated in new book

Rockland St Mary church

Rockland St Mary church - Credit: Andrew Swift

From Anmer to Yelverton, alphabetically, and right across the county geographically, discover the historic and architectural features which make each of 125 Norfolk churches uniquely wonderful. 

Andrew Swift, of Rockland St Mary, near Norwich, has spent years visiting and studying rural churches. A university geologist in Leicestershire for more than three decades, he said “Of course, geology means rocks, and most old churches are built of natural stone. 

“Later, my interest in the history of England and its settlements led me to visit churches, but even before that I always had a liking for the atmosphere in church buildings and the strong echoes and artefacts of the past they contained. 

"I looked around for sources of information about them, but there really was very little out there. I was probably complaining about that to my partner when she said, something like, ‘why don’t you write one yourself them?’. Seven books later I’m still writing. 

 His latest book takes 125 rural Norfolk churches and devotes a double-page spread to each.  

Great Hockham church is featured in Andrew Swift's latest book.

Great Hockham church is featured in Andrew Swift's latest book. He picks out its medieval pew ends and wall paintings for special mention - Credit: Andrew Swift

St Andrew's, Attlebridge features in 125 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside, a final selection, by Andrew Swift

St Andrew's, Attlebridge features in 125 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside, a final selection, by Andrew Swift - Credit: Andrew Swift

Every entry begins with one of his photographs of the outside of the church, and each facing page is packed with pictures of some of key features of the church - wonderful fonts or angel roofs, round towers, stained glass, painted rood screens, memorials, carvings and statues.  

The half-page pen portraits of each historic building are atmospheric and full of fascinating details. 

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This is Andrew’s third and final book featuring Norfolk’s rural churches. Each book focuses on different buildings – in itself a testament to the phenomenal treasury of churches across the county. 

He deliberately steers away from the better-known churches 

“This book is about rural churches that are rarely written about and often overlooked,” he said.  

“Every church is different and they never cease to surprise me. It might be an ornate font, old benches, wall painting or other features and fittings that excite me. I’m perhaps taking more of an interest now in the people associated with the church – the incumbents, the local gentry who are commemorated on the wall tablets, the tombs, etc. I also enjoy working out the evolution of the buildings from clues in the fabric and features.” 

The church at Elsing, near Dereham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches

The church at Elsing, near Dereham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches - Credit: Andrew Swift

125 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside, a final selection, by Andrew Swift

125 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside, a final selection, by Andrew Swift - Credit: Velox Books

The book is introduced by the Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham Usher, who says: “Each of the 125 churches that Andrew takes us to have, generation after generation, brought wholeness, healing and direction to peoples’ lives.  

“People often creep into churches carrying the ‘stuff’ they don’t know what to do with but hoping that stillness and peace will somehow wind around the as they place their burdens down for a while.” 

Andrew said: “I certainly sense the spirituality in churches, their atmosphere is unique and is one of the main things that attracts me.”   

Almost all the churches he visits are still in use – at least occasionally and some on a daily basis. Some date back to Saxon times, most are medieval, all are striking and precious.  

Of his own village church in Rockland St Mary he said: “The church is a lovely example of a small rural medieval church, nothing amazing about it, but just typical of thousands of others around the country. All have an atmosphere that is redolent of the past.” 

He has not yet seen every church in the county  – although he has visited more than 500 of the Norfolk’s 650 Anglican churches. 

The church at Wickmere between Cromer and Aylsham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches.

Wickmere St Andrew's between Cromer and Aylsham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches. He calls it "Close to being the ideal country church. One that has everything." - Credit: Andrew Swift

The church at Irstead, between Stalham and Ludham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches

The church at Irstead, between Stalham and Ludham, is one of Andrew Swift's favourite rural churches - Credit: Andrew Swift

The vicar's stall at Rockland St Mary church

The vicar's stall at Rockland St Mary church - Credit: Andrew Swift

And does he have a favourite? 

“My favourites are something of a moveable feast, they change,” he said. “As a last word in my books I present a list of my favourite churches from each book, so for Norfolk in the three books I have written there are 39 favourites in total.  

“Bearing in mind that the main aim of my books is to focus attention on Norfolk’s little celebrated rural and village churches, my selection of three (today!) is Irstead, Elsing and Wickmere. 

Andrew’s first selection of rural Norfolk churches is 100 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside and was followed by 100 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside: A Further Selection. He has also written books about the churches of Suffolk, Leicestershire and Rutland and is now working on a book about Cambridgeshire Churches.  

125 Norfolk Churches of Village and Countryside, A Final Selection, by Andrew Swift is published by Velox Books.