River Wissey Lovell Fuller


November 2005

Ron gives a pleasing review of Cranwich church

No doubt many readers will be very familiar with the charm of the Parish Church of St Mary the Virgin at Cranwich but there may be a few that are, as I was, completely unaware of its existence. The approach to the church is by way of a leafy grass covered lane and this immediately sets the scene, the absence of hard surface and other evidence of 21st century living makes one conscious of the timelessness of the setting. The church itself, with its round tower and thatched roof, adds to this sense of history. One realises that anyone approaching the church three or four hundred years ago, or more, would have encountered a very similar view.

Cranwich church is one of a large number of round towered churches in Norfolk. These round towers are concentrated in East Anglia and have their origins linked to the Viking invasions. Invaders from Denmark and Northern Germany settled and became absorbed in the local communities, and established an Anglo-Danish culture that set East Anglia apart from the rest of Britain. They brought with them the architectural ideas of their home countries. Similar round towered churches can be found in areas around the Baltic and the North seas. The site of the church at Cranwich is said to be pre-Christian, but it is not clear to me if it was a site for pagan worship. The church itself pre-dates the Norman invasion, the base of the tower is thought to be as early as 700AD, whilst the top may be as late as 1000AD. It is thought that when it was first built the tower would have had a conical roof, possibly of thatch, slates or wooden shingles. It is said that the shape of the base of the tower indicates that it was always intended to be attached to the body of the church. Needless to say there have been many repairs and alterations over the centuries. These have been researched by church and local historians and there is much information available, but the external appearance of the building will have changed very little in the last 900 years.

It is an interesting and humbling experience to be in the presence of such antiquity. This local treasure is well worth a visit.

Ron Watts

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