Bexwell St Mary
St Mary’s church is located in Bexwell, a village to the east of Dereham.
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Visiting Bexwell St Mary
St Mary’s in Bexwell is another church that is usually locked, and in the past, no information about a keyholder were displayed. I had learned this on my first visit in 2005. The exterior photos with the blue sky are some of the oldest photographs on the website, by the way, because during our second visit years later, the sky was overcast. I had arranged for someone to open the church for us, and the lady who let us into it turned out to be, well, a little bit eccentric. With a rather deprecating gesture, she told us time and again: “What you see here is all new”, and if there was an older part, she said with a rather mysterious voice “Oooh, this is oooold!!!” Today, according to the information I found on the internet, it is still locked, but a key is available locally. Anyway, it is not a very special church, but it still has some interesting features.
The building is probably more interesting than the interior. The brown stone largely used in this church is carstone, (also known as gingerbread stone from its colour), which comes from a local deposit running north/south along the west side of Norfolk. The tower is circular to about 39 feet, and the lower half of this was built in 11th century Saxon times. The next section, although still carstone, is of a different build using squared pieces of carstone rather than random bits. This part contains 10 round-headed early belfry openings, now blocked with bricks, though the west one was altered to a doorway. There is also an east facing upper doorway to be seen at this level inside the tower. The belfry above was added in the 15th century, again made of carstone, but here small even pieces, but using dressed grey stone for the quoins. The walls of this church also contain many pieces of carstone, and close by the north doorway is a small double-splayed window surviving from the original 11th century building.
The nave has a screen across to the east of its doorways, and in this section, near the simple tower arch, stands the plain octagonal font. In the early window next to the north door is late 14th century glass showing Christ’s head with a forked beard. There is also a 13th century stone coffin lid on the floor and an old large wood chest, which has traces of a painting inside its lid. Perhaps the chest had been used as a portable altar?
There are fine 17th century memorials on the nave walls, the south one having heraldry and symbols of death, a gravedigger’s spade, a scythe, an hour glass (time running out!).
The chancel is under the same roof as the nave, and has a 19th century stone reredos, and the stone pulpit is of the same era. In the south-east chancel corner is a squint, a hole right through the wall. Maybe this was for late-comers to see the progress of the Mass. Sometimes low openings are called leper’s windows, but it seems unlikely anyone suffering from such a disease would be allowed so near the building.