Copyright held by Saint Andrews PCC
The history of a church is usually the history of a village and West Dereham is no different in this respect. West Dereham's name is a Saxon one giving reference to the Deer hunted in its surrounding area. The First record of the village is in Middle Saxon times when its monastery and another at Cnobheresburgh near modern Great Yarmouth were listed. This shows a continuous Christian heritage from the 7th century (Before the Danish invasion) to modem times.
The Existing church was first recorded in the Tax roll of 1246 but between this and the earlier monastery there was the much smaller Saxon Minster church of Saint Peter's which has completely vanished The remains are in the graveyard west of the Tower of St Andrew's.
How old is St. Andrew's? Well we know it was complete as a church in 1246 and that the village has been established since at least the 7th century. However some say the Tower pre dates the Church by virtue of it being a Saxon Watch Tower. This could be true but in Norfolk around the llth and 12th centuries a huge number of round towers were built simply because it was the fashion of this area! This is also pointed to by the fact that it is built of Ironstone conglomerate a stone that lends it self to square dressed towers and buildings.
Other clues are the Romanesque (Norman) slits in the Tower itself and the fact that West Dereham was granted a charter market in 1199. The small St. Peter's would not have suited the richer residents and they would have wished to show their wealth by building a grander Church. Forty or so years (if it was not started before the market) is not an unreasonable time for a church of its size to be completed. The best clue however is the plain pointed arches at each end of the nave these would not have appeared before 1150 and later than say 1200 they would have been decorated with scrolls or leaf work.
THE CHURCH BUILDING
The whole structure is in the massive, heavy Romanesque (Norman) style. The windows in the Church are later, being late Gothic or Perpendicular in style, probably rebuilt after the 1530 dissolution of the Premonstrenation monastery of St Mary's in the village. The stained glass fragments set in the east window originate from the Abbey Church.
The West Tower is of solid three stage construction about 43' high and 23' diameter at the base. It still has the Norman style Windows. (Note: the large one at the bottom was added in the 1860s) and fulfils its function in that it still has five bells even though we cannot ring them due to rot in the framing and a crack in the large bell. We have last year renovated the tower roof and can now chime one bell. The octagonal brick belfry top added in the 16th century is a common device in churches to remind us of the people mentioned in the Sermon on the Mount!
The Church apart from its windows is very much as original. There are no major alterations except for the addition of a barrel vaulted Porch in the 15th century and a chapel off the north side of the chancel. The porch had its Dutch gable added in the 17th century and the early 14th century door has a holy water stoup set into the left hand wall. Unlike other Romanesque churches the windows give a superb light quality and an airy feel to the church.
This is also helped by it’s almost hall like plan, the chancel being only 2' narrower
than the 24' wide nave. There are no dark corners or alcoves. No pillars or arcades to cut down the space. No enclosed vault to restrict its height, in all it is a space truly suitable for the glory of God needing no decoration to draw the eye. Its acoustics are such that all can hear the quietest reader and music soars effortlessly, a fine church indeed.
The History of the church's major structural development stops around 1600 as does the history of the village. The Manor House (one of the largest in the country at this time) was demolished and not replaced. The north part of the village around the church was abandoned around this time due to changing farm practices (i.e. Draining of the fen) and outbreaks of plague and pestilence. The latest addition to the church is the fine scissor beam roof completed in 1902 after the thatched roof collapsed at the turn of the century. A plaque in the nave and one in the porch list the contributors to the new roof.
ITEMS OF NOTE
As you walk around the church you will notice opposite the doors two plaques. One is for Lovell’s Dole. This charity still exists to this day helping the villagers in several ways. (Note Lovell’s Dole building can still be seen off Church road next to White Horse farm. It consists of a Clunch Store and a ruinous brick Extension).
The other is a list of the Parish priests who have served the Abbey and this church since Norman times. In the Nave the Jacobean pulpit and simple 14th century font are worth a look as well as the reading desk in front of the Rood stairs, which seems to have been made from the backboard of the pulpit.
Around the Chancel there is some superb memorials to local lords giving details of their derring-do. However some are in Latin (a translation is available from the West Dereham Heritage group). The fine statue of Colonel the Hon. Edmund Soame in armour next to the organ was sculpted by Robert Singleton and is probably one of the best standing monuments in Norfolk. His sister who also provided the communion rails commissioned this.
To the left of the Altar is an Archway leading to a small chapel with a small round window with lovely stained glass. Well worth a look.
Finally the Tower room contains a fine 17lh century bier with the churchwarden’s names and dates carved on it. Some prints of the church and some pictures of its priests hang in here. By the Door as you leave is a turned wooden poor box with a quotation from the book of Tobit over it.