CofE Norwich Diocese The Briningham Benefice

St Edmund's Church, Swanton Novers

The above picture is a Google Maps virtual tour. You can move around the church, using the mouse, and also go through the door into the churchyard. Click here to see a larger version of this virtual tour, together with some photographs.

St Edmund Swanton Novers St Edmund Swanton Novers St Edmund Swanton Novers

St Edmund's Church, Swanton Novers, is to be found alone on an ancient site, whilst the village of some 270 inhabitants has developed on a new site, leaving the church isolated in the fields. Blomefield's History of Norfolk mentions the family of de Nuiers here, variously spelt as de Nowers, de Noers or de Nodarijs, who had Norman origins.

The church was certainly here in Norman times and probably earlier than that. The south wall contains a Norman archway and much conglomerate stone. The church here gradually deteriorated in the 18th century and then underwent some dramatic rebuilding in the 19th century as you will see as you go round.

Swanton Novers Church pre 1821

In 1821 there was a major restoration of the chancel and the tower. There is a grand marble memorial in the chancel to John Dew, who died in 1832, and no doubt he was connected with this work. The drawing shows how J.R. Ladbrooke saw this church before the rebuilding of the chancel.

The next major restoration was in 1881, when the N aisle was added and the arcading inside to go with it. At the same time the S porch was built to take the place of the old N porch which was removed. The architect then was Edwin Dolby of Abingdon. This work was largely at the expense of Charles Atkinson, whose altar tomb will be seen near the S porch. He died in 1895.

Further tomb stones of the Atkinson and Daw families will be found against the outside wall of the porch. In building the porch an attempt was made to copy the previous N porch.

The tower has been nicely restored and its unbuttressed construction with Y tracery W window is a typical 13th century design of the Early English period. The belfry windows are 14th century (Decorated period) and the parapet is a later addition. It contains one bell and has no turret stairs.

Below the W window is a pretty niche with ogee shaped top and was no doubt made for a little statue of St. Edmund, King of East Anglia, who was martyred by the Danes in A.D. 889. He refused to share his Christian kingdom with the heathen invaders, whereupon he was tied to a tree and shot with arrows till his body was 'like a thistle covered with prickles'; then his head was struck off.

The Western Corners of the nave are constructed of large lumps of conglomerate stone. This is normally indicative of Saxon work as in the cathedral at North Elmham. Cut stone was always used for comers by the Normans and later builders. The S wall contains more conglomerate stones. There is a 2 light window with Y tracery of c1300, and just E of it will be found a blocked opening which is believed to be the top of a Norman doorway which had a semi-circular arch. Then there is a Perp window heavily restored which has a hood mould with headstops.

The chancel walls contain much old material reused in the rebuild of 1821. This includes a previous date stone inscribed 1796. On the N side you notice how the aisle has been built in 1881 with many white knapped flints, and above the windows there are pretty relieving arches and a parapet. There is a handy stable and tool shed under the Scots Pine trees.

Inside the Church

The font and piscina are both 14th century and bear the same distinctive monogram, presumably of the donor. It is described elsewhere as a "W", but according to local tradition it is "N" for the de Noers family, after whom the village is named.

On the font this distinctive "N" is seen on shields alternating with the signs of the evangelists:

  • East - Man with scroll = Matthew
  • North - Ox with scroll = Luke
  • West - Eagle with scroll = John
  • South - Lion with scroll = Mark

It will be seen that the 'N's on the piscina are surrounded by circles with very tiny flowers carved in stone - 5 on one side and 4 on the other. This was found embedded in the wall and was set up again during the Victorian restoration, which accounts for the renewed parts, including the drain.

The Organ was originally built by Bishop & Son in 1904 and was a fairly typical small organ for that time. But in 1961 it was thoroughly rebuilt by Williamson & Hyatt, who greatly extended its potential, so that it can now be used to play a full range of organ music with delight.

The N Arcade was constructed in 1881 to the perp style, and it will be found that the piers are quite attractive with their deeply cut fluting.


The nave S window was glazed in 1888 to show 3 scenes from the life of Christ:

  1. Mary listening to Jesus whilst Martha holds a plate.
  2. Lazarus rising from the grave.
  3. The woman wiping Jesus' feet with her hair.

A brass tablet near the door tells of a sailor in the Royal Navy who was drowned at Malta in 1909 aged 21. In the chancel another tells of a Rector's son, Capt Rolfe, who died in France in 1918.

This parish contains Swanton Great Wood, which is native woodland that has never been cleared for farming in the whole history of our civilisation. For this reason, it is of great interest to botanists who have found very rare plants there. It is also a favourite habitat for woodcock. It is private woodland and has been designated an area of special scientific interest.

For more information about St Edmund's Church, Swanton Novers see

Briningham St Maurice Hunworth St Lawrence Swanton Novers St Edmund
Brinton St Andrew Stody St Mary Thornage All Saints

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