The west tower is of thirteenth-century date, with bell-openings of c.1300 and fifteenth-century flush-work battlements. The chancel, aisles and north doorway are of the early fourteenth century, but the crowned initial ‘W’ of Bishop Walter Lyhart of Norwich (1446–72) on the roof and the latter’s resemblance to that of Norwich St Peter Mancroft (c.1455 – c.1479) suggest a date for the clerestory and roof in the 1460s. Much of the clerestory glazing survives, and can be dated from its style and similarity to that in nearby Taverham.
A dearth of medieval documentation for the church is outweighed by the richness of the antiquarian sources, which include watercolours of lost glass as well as descriptions. Only a few fragments of the fourteenth-century aisle window glazing are extant, including a fine roundel of a centaur and canopy-work of two dates. Some of the latter can be identified with a small drawing of the canopies in the central and side lights of an unidentified window; 1 as the window in the drawing has side lights, it must be either the east chancel window, or one of the windows at each end of the aisles, as these are the only ones that have more than two lights. Crowned Ts in the border of the side light on the drawing point to the east window of the north aisle (nIII), in which Martin described the following in 1743: ‘Upon the East Window of this Isle in ye middle pane God ye Father with a Dove on his breast & our saviour on ye cross below: his knees surrounded with angels having scrolls of the Te Deum & on each side two angels with Incense, underneath ye B. Virgin with our saviour standing on her lap with a globe and a cross in his hand. On ye left side several persons kneeling with this over their heads 'Sca Trinitas unus deus Miserere nobis'. Under them 'Orate pro fratribus et sororibus gilde Sauncte [Tri]nitatis qui fecerunt fieri istam fenestram'.’ 2 He also mentions several crowned Ts. He did not describe any glass in lights a and c.
A large, damaged watercolour by G. A. King matches Martin’s description. 3 It shows a main-light figure of God the Father enthroned and holding Christ on the cross before him, blessing with his right hand, set within an octagonal canopied niche. A nimbed dove flies up from the cross. Angels bearing texts from the Te Deum and carrying censers inhabit the side shafts and other angels look down from the top of the canopy with hands raised in praise. This is a depiction of the Holy Trinity as part of a representation of the Te Deum. The small drawing shows the upper right of the canopy of this central light, and reveals a further figure above the angels at the top of the watercolour. It also depicts rather more than in the watercolour of the left side of the canopy of the side lights, including the top central castellated tower with two windows. Two of these are seen in sVIII, lights b and c. A crocketed finial standing on an arch may be from the top of the central light of nIII. The remains in sVII also include fragments of this canopy type and two of the crowned Ts.
The degree of sophistication in the rendering of spatial depth on these canopies is hard to judge, as the drawing, watercolour and extant fragments, which are in poor condition, give slightly different impressions, but the most likely date for this micro-architecture is c.1360 – c.1380. The centaur roundel has the same background with thick matt wash and relieved circles as the angels on the watercolour, and the face is also very similar, so it may be assigned to the same date range. Two further watercolour depict the heads of lights in a north aisle window. The central one had a shield Gules a chevron between three letters, S and R in chief and [missing] in base, or. Martin draws this shield and gives the third letter as T, saying that it was in two windows of the north aisle. 4 In the King watercolour the shield is set on running oak-leaf grisaille with a border of fleurs-de-lys. Yellow stain is used. The side lights had the same border with running vine-leaf grisaille. The other depicts one of the heads of the side lights of a north aisle window. Within a border of pot-metal glass and decorative motifs is a crocketted finial set on square quarries each with a pattern of a rosette and four diagonally placed spear-shaped leaves. 5 These types of border and quarries are typical of the second half of the fourteenth century and may belong to the same campaign as the glass just discussed. However, other drawings of G. A. King and a few of the extant fragments suggest that glass coeval with the early fourteenth-century building was present in other north aisle windows: two grotesques are simpler in execution and have none of the smear shading seen on the centaur roundel. 6 One is labelled as coming from the west window of the north aisle (nVII), and the other from a north aisle window.
Another north aisle window had an early fourteenth-century canopy top in the head of one main light. 7 All this would suggest that in the north aisle the east window (nIII) was glazed c.1350 – c.1370, by the Guild of the Holy Trinity, perhaps with the adjacent nIV, both being in a chapel dedicated to the Holy Trinity. The west window of the aisle (nVII) had naturalistic grisaille of c.1315 – c.1335, and the shield with SRT; the same shield was in nVI, with a canopy top of the same date. These two windows also had grotesque ornament, probably in roundels. Whether the shields referred to an individual or a guild is not known. In one north aisle window (probably nV) an inscription was recorded: 'orate p(ro) A(n)i(m)abus Rob(ert)i de Bixton et Katerine', with a shield Argent a cross gules. 8 The shield is that of St George, and nothing is known of Robert and Catherine de Bixton. Bixton, or Beckerston, was a village now subsumed into Barnham Broome, some five miles away. Andrew de Bixton was a bailiff of Norwich in 1338, and Walter de Bixton was bailiff and MP on numerous occasions between 1357 and 1398. 9 Harley 901 and Lansdowne 260 both record a shield in the church Argent a chevron azure within a border engrailed gules, and the former assigns it to Buxton, possibly an error for Bixton. 10 However, the only family for which this coat is given is Tyrell of Suffolk. 11
No illustrations of the original south aisle glazing survive, with the exception of the centaur roundel, which both Martin and King record on the south side; a foliage quatrefoil from sVIII, which is still in situ in B1; and some crowned Ws and Ts in sVIII, some of which survive amongst the fragments in sVII and sVIII. 12 The main-light glazing can, however, be reconstructed to a large extent from antiquarian descriptions. In the east window (sIV), Martin, Norris and the Frere MS between them recorded the arms of Corpus Christi (Gules three chalices each with a host in the mouth argent), together with a Crucifixion flanked by the Virgin Mary and St John. In the lower half of the window were the first three in a series of Apostles carrying Creed scrolls (St Peter, St Andrew and St James). At the bottom was an inscription that can be reconstructed as: 'Orate pro Gilde Sancti Petri & pro fratribus et sororibus qui fieri fecerunt istam fenestram'. The five windows of the south aisle have twelve main lights into which the Apostles series would have fitted. In the same south window as the centaur roundel Martin saw St Thomas with the Creed scroll normally assigned to St Philip. 13 In the west window of the aisle (sVIII) was, together with crowned Ws and Ts, the Creed sentence assigned to St Simon; this is the eleventh in the normal series, so it would have been in light b. 14 In contrast to the north aisle, it would appear that the south aisle was glazed to a common programme in all windows. This was because the Guild of St Peter could depict him as the first Apostle, representative of all, and then continue with the series of all twelve. The regular fenestration on the south side, with three two-light windows to the south and two three-light windows at the ends, is not matched on the north side, where nVI has only one light. The windows with the Apostle series were presumably made at the same; the surviving roundel may thus give a clue to the date of all these windows. It was suggested above that the similarities with the watercolour of the Trinity window suggest a date of c.1350 – c.1370.
Five of the seven windows of the north clerestory contain glass of c.1460 – c.1470 made in Norwich. The iconography of the individual figures is standard, but the rationale for an overall programme is not immediately obvious, although the presence of the Holy Trinity and three representations of the Virgin Mary link the glass to two of the three guilds in the church. Donor inscriptions indicate that individuals rather than guilds paid for the glass, although the names given are difficult to find in the documentary record and are of ordinary parishioners who may have been members of the guilds. A panel of the Virgin and Child now in sVI of Norwich Cathedral (St Luke’s Chapel) belongs to this clerestory scheme and almost certainly came from light a of NIV. 15 It is impossible to say how much if any of the original subject matter of the north clerestory has been lost. The Frere MS is the only antiquarian source to give any details of the glass, and it merely mentions the donor figures and gives the inscription in NIII 1b. 16 However, the present arrangement of main-light figures does give a balanced design, with the two tallest and significant images of the Trinity and the standing Virgin and Child in the central NV, flanked in NVI and NIV by the shorter figures of the Virgin Annunciate and Gabriel on the left and the Virgin and Child and St John the Baptist on the right (now relocated). The final panels of the scheme in NVII and NIII just have a low donor panel, and the outer two windows are blank.
If this works from a purely visual point of view, closer examination shows that there may also be an overall iconographic conception. The central window brings together the figures of the Trinity and the Virgin Mary, repeating the combination seen in the earlier and now lost east window of the north aisle. 17 It is known from recorded inscriptions that the Guild of the Holy Trinity used the north aisle for its masses; the presence of the Virgin in both windows depicting the Trinity would suggest that the Guild of the Virgin Mary also met in the north aisle, and that the altar there was dedicated to both the Holy Trinity and St Mary. The Virgin was often depicted with the Trinity at her Coronation, but in the clerestory here the emphasis is on Mary as mother of Christ at the Incarnation. In each of the three panels with the Virgin the Christ Child is also present and St John the Baptist points to the (now missing) Lamb of God, who symbolises Jesus. Gabriel and John were both messengers who announced the coming of Christ.
Above the figures are a series of roundels, which may well be in situ, although as they are set on modern quarry glazing it is impossible to be certain, and the lower register of tracery lights in the central nV has further subject matter in situ. 18 The roundels in nVI and NIII are a set of Evangelist symbols, that in NIII light b being missing and replaced by an 'MR' monogram. 19 In the tracery lights mentioned is a second series of Evangelist emblems. This iconography is commonly associated with images of the Trinity. The roundels in NVII and NIII are 'MR' and 'IHC' roundels, very common, but here iconographically suited to the combined Marian and Christological theme. Like the Evangelist emblems, they can be seen as a form of reduced iconography, as repeating the subject matter of the other panels on a much diminished scale. It may be that the design of the clerestory glazing, where the painted sections have a pyramidal outline, with the amount of iconography, and consequently, the expense of each window increasing as the centre is approached, was conceived to allow donors a choice of how much they were prepared to spend. Although certainty is not possible, it seems that it is likely that the present scheme does closely match the original.
The donor panels in the outer windows of the clerestory lend support to the idea that the glass is in situ. The husband and wife in NIII kneel facing each other ,and the inscription, although slightly defective, can be reconstructed as having read 'Orate pro animabus Roberti Gylys et Matilde uxoris eius' across both lights. In NVIII at the other end of the scheme there are two husbands and one wife, explained by the following inscription again across both lights: 'Orate pro animabus Johannis guntun et Roberti bende et Alicie uxoris eorum'.
MS Harley 901 and MS Lansdowne 260 both record a shield in the church, Azure a fesse between three leopards’ faces or (Delapole) quartering argent a chief gules over all a lion rampant or (Burghersh). The Frere MS has an incomplete sketch of a quarterly shield that appears to be the same and which is drawn next to the notes of inscriptions ‘in the upper windows of the middle ile’. The writer also notes here: ‘north side severall pictures of men and [women] kneeling’; this may imply that the shield was on the south side of the clerestory. This shield was born by John Delapole, 2nd Duke of Suffolk, 1442–1491. He held lands in the neighbouring parishes of Costessey and Hellesdon and presented to Drayton Church in 1480. A damaged shield in Bawburgh Church has the same quarterly arms.
The surviving fourteenth-century glass may be compared with the detailed G. A. King drawing of the lost Trinity from nIII. The centaur has the same Cupid’s-bow shaped mouth as some of the angels on the drawing, and some of the canopy survives in sVII and sVIII. The same style occurs in two figures of prophets holding texts at Bale, where the faces and canopy detail are very similar. The Bale figures may give some indication of the appearance of the lost series of Apostles with Creed scrolls originally in the windows of the south aisle.
The style of the clerestory glazing is characterized by a precision and delicacy of painting combined with a certain gaucheness of design. The faces of St John the Baptist and Gabriel, for example, are carefully drawn with a refined use of stippling and relieving for highlights, but while the figure of St John is well proportioned, the realism of the painting is counteracted by the lack of perspective on the chequered pedestal, and on the figure of Gabriel the limbs are too small for the size of the head and body. Although some of the decorative motifs used by the Wighton workshop appear here (the ears-of-barley pattern, the rod-and-leaf border, and the rosette pattern on the drapery, for example), and the design of the male donors is somewhat similar to that of the figure of Robert Toppes in window I 1g at St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, the style is very different. The painter may have been an independent artist trained or influenced by the Wighton workshop. The Ringland donors are also similar in style to those at neighbouring Taverham, dated to c.1460 – c.1470.
The existence of many drawings and watercolours and drawings of the glass thought to be by G. A. King of the glaziers J. & J. King of Norwich suggests strongly that they were responsible for the restoration of the glass. George A. King was born in about 1851 and died in 1926. Most of his drawings were done around the turn of the century.