Catfield: All Saints, Catfield
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All Saints, Catfield, is one of a group of four churches, the others being Ludham, Hickling and Potter Heigham, comprising the Waterside benefice, all under the ministry of one priest. Unfortunately, we don't have a priest at the moment; the post is vacant. Until one is appointed, we do still each have a service every Sunday morning, either Morning Service, or Holy Communion. We each manage Communion at least once a month, sometimes twice, depending on some very nifty footwork by the church wardens in calling in favours from retired/holidaying/friend-visiting clergy. Morning Service is led by a lay reader. Whatever the service is, it always starts at 9.30 and ends when it's finished, with coffee and biscuits, and a mardle about the first frosts, the last harvest, the price of baking flour, and 'Have you seen Peggy Ford's youngest? He got Jud Fletcher's Nose!' Find out what the service is, and when, by ringing 01692 678756.
Now for the History of All Saints' and a Rundown on the Interesting Bits.
First mentioned in the Domesday Book, but the oldest surviving portion we have, now, is the early 14th Century tower. A priest lived part way up; witness a cupboard and a fireplace, way beyond reach. He had views through a lancet window in each of the four walls, the one looking down the nave now blocked up.Another priest lived in the parvise, (I think that's posh for upstairs) above the porch- another fireplace. The nave and aisles date from 30-odd years either side of 1400, give or take a small prophet margin. The porch dates from about this time, too, but only the ground floor. The parvise (posh word like that, you have to work it in when you can; never know when the chance will come again) was probably built around 1741, when the chancel was completed. The huge east window was soon proving to be too big a hole in too small a wall, and needed regular coats of looking at. Eventually it was replaced by a smaller one which was still bothersome enough to have its stone tracery replaced by the current wooden counterfeit in the 19th C.
In the nave, above the arches, are remnants of wall painting, but not worth cricking your neck, or straining your eyes for; hardly more than a rumour. The font is quite jolly, on its stepped base, looking like a launch pad. The rood screen looks quite affable in that medieval, geriatric way common to most spindly, cusped and crocketted, medieval constructions- not at all rood, Madam. It was probably quite adept at holding its own, in mixed company, until Cromwell's Tinshirts gave it a laborious, albeit pious, kicking around the saints, kings and martyrs, then shrieved them around the chops for good measure. After which some kindly, well-meaning vandal gave them a soothing larrupping with the universal refurbishers' panacea and cure-all. Toffee varnish. The apparent, ongoing conservation presents itself very much as 'work-in-progress'
The south-east and north-east windows have fragments of stone steps protruding from their reveals, like the stumps of broken teeth, which probably lead to lofts over parclose (there's another toff word, but I've nailed this one; just hold you hard) parclose screens enclosing family pews, side chapels or the like, and these lofts possibly linked to a similar loft over the rood screen. 'But what for?' I hear you cry. Well, musicians, mayhap, or a duty-free firkin or two, a few silken, lacy bales? Or just storing apples, mm, maybe the odd brace of pheasants. Now, about this parclose. Let's have the little beggar out where we can see it. It means 'part-closed'. Now if you oik that parclose out from where it's lurking, three lines back, what have you lost? Nothing.
The screen to the base of the tower looks as if it were made from the sweepings up of an antique shop floor. Close by, to the right, is an East Anglian peculiarity- the banner stave locker. In the golden glorious days of Whitsuntide processions, when every Sunday school and Mothers Union,every troop of Scouts, guides, cubs, brownies, Church Lads, young farmers and Heaven knows who else had an embroidered or painted banner to parade, this locker was in full and constant use. Now it houses mops, brushes, dustpans and such. Now cross the tower again, back to the open stair to the parvise (pardon me, your Worship) and just look at the worn steps, patched up with brickwork and worn again. See how the tangled years tumble, carouse and grieve down those steps. And the answer to your next question is 'No you can't. It's locked'. When you look at the oil painting high above, you can fully understand how Lady Koffpotts could come to give it to the church.
The pulpit, pews, lectern, the roofs and their timbers, their bosses, some medieval, are all worthy of inspection, but hardly of itemising here. The monuments and memorials make pithy and informative reading for the student of social history. It saddens and angers me to see a woman's life defined (and so obliterated) by the glory and pomp of the magnificent and heroic beings and doings of her husband and father.
Now there are three possible thrills remaining for the visitor to our church. First you must come to a service (where you can be sure of a very warm welcome, with neither suffocating 'sales' talk, nor aloof indifference; we'll just be pleased to see you) and you must come early- to hear the bells. All Saints started with four, but in 1630, or thereabouts, they were recycled into a ring of 'five sweet and tuneable, well-tuned bells', according to the Rev. Anthony Harrison, vicar, who celebrated with poetry, a taste of which, thus- ' fower olde Catfield bells which changed are from fower to five, but for whose soule they first shall knell that God alone cann only tell...In 1806 one bell was found to be cracked, wes re-cast in 1821,and this peal survived until 1984, when a 31/2 cwt treble, dated 1707, from a redundant church, was donated by Jocelyn Gardiner, passionate ringer, and long church warden, to make the current ring of six.
Practice night is Friday, 7.30 p.m.- 9.00., and all ringers, aspirant or accomplished, are welcome to join, under the leadership (baton?) of Tower Captain, Greg Edwards. The ringers have no particular fame or noteworthiness, unless you are impressed by folk who will persist in leaving a warm bed of a cold, wet morning, to stand about in a dank, stone cell, to swing on the tails of sleeping, bronze dragons to rouse them, and coerce them to roar majestic music to the glory of God, and to lift up the hearts of their fellow men. But a thrill to hear none the less, for they are bells- church bells.
For the second thrill, you must come inside, again to a service, to hear the organ. Now it has to be said that George Hawkes will never play the Albert Hall, possibly because he never cultivated the 'right connections' (though he can put more notes into a chord than Dooley Wilson ever dreamt of aspiring to in Rick's Bar)- but he has played the All Saints' organ for 60-odd years, and he plays it still. A church organ; another thrilling, unique voice raised in glory of God and in encouragement of man.
For the final thrill, you must step outside again. Walk out- 'where each in his narrow cell, for ever laid, the rude forefathers of our hamlet sleep...' and wrap yourself in the glorious, verdant, leafy peace- timeless- buttoned with bees, and be-ribboned in birdsong. Amen.
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