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A Norfolk son’s tribute to his mother is among England’s finest churches

The ornate carvings in the tiny church of St Martin's, Glandford, are made from local oak and cedar
The elaborately carved woodwork in the tiny church St Martin's, Glandford, is made from local oak and cedar

Walking in North Norfolk’s Glaven Valley near Glandford you may hear church bells ringing out the tune of a well-known hymn. At Christmas, the bells chime out Christmas carols.

The music comes from a carillon of 12 bells which play hymn tunes every three hours when the clock of the village church of St Martin’s in Glandford strikes the hour. A hymn is played each day every three hours starting at six in the morning and every two days the tune is changed.

St Martin's is a small but stunning church. It emerged from almost 150 years of total ruin to be restored and rebuilt between 1899 and 1906 as a personal tribute by a son to his mother.

In every respect it looks like a medieval church - but it was built in Victorian times.

Glandford’s parish church, sitting on a small hill overlooking the River Glaven and next to the picturesque ford across the river, is one of Norfolk’s most remarkable ecclesiastical buildings. Originally dating from the 13th century, it was a ruin by 1730.

But it was not until the end of the 19th century that Sir Alfred Jodrell, who owned nearby Bayfield Hall, rebuilt the church ruin entirely as a memorial to his mother Adela Monckton Jodrell who died in September 1896.

An annual memorial-day service is held on September 23, the day she died, when a requiem is said for Sir Alfred, his mother, members of his family, and everyone who has worshipped in the church.

Sir Alfred also rebuilt the entire village, first named in the Domesday survey of 1086 when it was called Glandforda. It is part of the Bayfield estate, just two miles from Blakeney, and surrounded by rolling hills, thick woodland and undulating farmland.

No expense was spared rebuilding the church. It was a careful restoration in size and shape of earlier buildings from the 13th and 15th century and almost entirely new work.

The flint built church of St Martin's in Glandford glints in the morning sun
The church on this site was in ruins for 150 years

It is the church’s elaborate woodwork, carved from local oak and cedar, and its richly furnished interior which has led it to feature in the book ‘England’s thousand best churches’ by writer and journalist Simon Jenkins.

The church building overlooks the remarkable Glandford Shell Museum in Hurdle Lane.

The museum houses the UK’s largest collection of shells, the personal

collection of Sir Alfred. It is also home to a collection of fossils and birds’ eggs - gifts from this Victorian benefactor.

The grandest part of the church is the chancel and the nave. The elaborately carved woodwork gives a richly furnished interior with hammerbeam roofs, screen, choir stalls with canopies and all crammed into a small space.

The nave roof has carved angels carrying shields on the hammer beams. In the chancel the angels hold musical instruments. The jewel-like effect of the inside of the church is created by stained glass by Herbert Bryans and Ernest Heasman depicting saints including St Martin, St George, St Mary Cleophas, St Mary Magdalene, St Mary Salome, St Barbara and St Christopher.

The stained glass in the east window is by Kempe & Bryans, the best-known artists of the 19th and early 20th centuries. The north aisle chapel is the focus of the church as it forms a memorial to Adela Monckton Jodrell, Sir Alfred's mother.

The pulpit features saints under canopies and along with the carvings on the benches and roof is by Walter Thompson & Frank McGinnity. The faces of these two carvers themselves are carved at either end of the frieze above the pew behind the entrance door to the church. Mr Thompson’s likeness is on the north wall and Mr McGinnity’s on the west wall.

One of the elaborately carved pews depicts Sir Alfred's faithful Labrador-retriever dog
The image of Sir Alfred's faithful dog is carved into a pew

Sir Alfred, who died in 1929 and is buried in nearby Letheringsett, did not want a memorial to himself. He asked for a monument to be put up in the church in memory of those who helped rebuild it.

The plaque, on the wall in the vestry, commemorates the rebuilding, from October 17, 1899, to completion on August 30, 1906. It lists the names of everyone involved.

The architects were Messrs Hicks & Charlewood, among the most prolific church architects of their time, and other tradesmen involved in the restoration include the names of the carvers, carpenters, bricklayers, stonemasons, painters and two ‘helpers’.

But don’t miss the pew in the north aisle once occupied by Sir Alfred and his dog Nimmie where the bench end carving depicts a faithful dog with its head resting on its master's coffin. The church’s silver collection plate is said to be Nimmie's dinner plate.

Read more about the village of Glandford

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