St Mary's Church, North Creake
St Mary's Church, North Creake

St Mary's church is a large medieval building, seemingly much too large for the village it serves. The church dates to the 14th century, a time when Norfolk 's economy was booming thanks to the wool trade, and the wealthy merchants poured money into their local parish churches.

Like the neighbouring church at South Creake, St Mary's boasts a superb angel roof, built in the first half of the 15th century. The roof is a curious mix of hammer-beam and arch-braced design, with carved wooden bosses decorating the junction of timer beams, and large figures of angels projecting along the undersides of the hammer beams.

It seems quite likely that the North Creake roof was several decades later than the South Creake one. Perhaps the North Creake villagers wanted to make sure they kept up with their southern neighbours?

The angel figures carry musical instruments, papal and secular crowns, and a variety of other objects, including the Instruments of the Passion, such as a cup, crown of thorns, lance, and nails. One angel holds a small human figure representing a soul.

The 15th century angel roof
The 15th century angel roof

The hammer-beam angels are wingless, but they are set against a box shape that shows discolouration, as if they originally had wings that were later removed. Angels like this were very often carved off-site and then fitted into the available space by the on-site carpenters.

Behind the hammer-beam angels is a frieze running along the wall plate, with more carvings of winged demi-angels in shallow relief. These demi-angels are framed by decorative strips, with a trefoil pattern of triangles above the angels' heads.

There is much more to St Mary's than the angel roof. Most of the interior furnishings come from a Victorian restoration in Anglo-Catholic style, in keeping with the Tractarian vision of Christianity that flourished in the late 19th century. The delicate chancel screen comes from the Victorian restoration, with exquisitely fine tracery like intricate patterns of lace.

Another late-Victorian feature is the font cover, built in 1897 and topped by a painted wooden cover in Gothic style. The cover opens to form a triptych of colourful panels showing Christ surrounded by children. The cover almost overwhelms the circular 12th-century font bowl beneath it.

A 15th century carved angel
A 15th century carved angel

The chancel is practically a hymn to the High Church tradition, with colourful glass in the east window shedding a kaleidoscope of colours onto the interior. The reredos and altar are stunningly intricate and richly painted and gilded; they are the work of William Searle Hicks, a great-nephew of Sir Charles Barry. According to historical documents the east window glass originally had a Latin inscription reading 'construxit hunc cancellum Anno Domini MCCCI', which very loosely translates as 'Built in 1301'.

Two medieval feature that do survive are a beautifully carved 14th-century Easter Sepulchre on the north chancel wall, dated to c. 1300, and a memorial brass to Sir William Calthorpe, who died in 1495. Set on the Sepulchre top is a worn medieval carving of a human head.

Another medieval survivor is a faded wall painting depicting the Day of Judgement, or Doom, over the chancel arch. Unfortunately, the pigments are so worn with age as to be very difficult to make out.

A medieval parclose screen separates the north aisle from its chapel. Its base is divided into four panels, painted with figures of the Virtues (Faith, Justice, Mercy, and Temperance). These appear to have been repainted, probably during the late Victorian restoration, and may be painted over older figures of saints.

Other historic features include a wonderfully carved and painted royal coat of arms to Charles I, dated 1635. Set into the floor are several 18th-century ledger slabs, including one to Prisilla Powdich. Near the pulpit is a plainly carved tomb recess set into the wall with a curious double hood mould above it.

North Creake church is fascinating to visit and to compare with St Mary's church in South Creake, less than a mile away.

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About North Creake, St Mary's Church
Address: Church Street, North Creake, Norfolk, England, NR21 9JJ
Attraction Type: Historic Church
Location: On the B1355 at the southern edge of the village. Parking in a layby opposite the church
Website: North Creake, St Mary's Church
Location map
OS: TF853377
Photo Credit: David Ross and Britain Express


Heritage Rated from 1- 5 (low to exceptional) on historic interest

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