I am a fairly frequent visitor to Bawdeswell, and went Christmas shopping at Bawdeswell Garden Centre last autumn; but I had never been to Bawdeswell church (All Saints) before December of last year, 2016. Molly and I were attending a Carol Service, and of course my wife knew many of the people there. I had seen the church often enough, especially in the 1960s, when the main road from Norwich to Fakenham ran through the middle of the village, right past the church. It has been bypassed this forty years. The church was built in the Neo-Georgian style in the 1950s, the previous church having been destroyed in 1944 when a Mosquito light bomber on its return from a raid into Germany iced up and crashed into it, with the loss of the lives of the two crew members.
The church that had stood until 1944 was not very old; Victorian in fact, and quite dull in comparison to its replacement. The Victorian church itself replaces an eighteen century building of which I know very little.The new church is much better than its predecessor, which is illustrated here; the new church is light and airy. In winter it is pleasantly warm for a church, being built in recent years (recent in ecclesiastical terms at least); it would have had cavity walls, but not the extreme insulation it would have if built today. The architect was James Fletcher Watson. The total cost was less than £20,000, most of it provide by the War Damage Reparation Fund.
Norwich had several churches destroyed or damaged by enemy action in the Second World War; St Michael at Thorn in Ber Street and St Benedict’s for example, but there were so many medieval churches in Norwich that only one, St Julian’s off King Street, was rebuilt. In the surrounding countryside only Bawdeswell was lost during the war. In contrast to Coventry Cathedral, that greatest rebuild after wartime destruction (which I visited when I was a young man and more in tune with the ideals of modernism), it is a quietly elegant and friendly place. By 1950 the classical style was ridiculed by the cognoscenti, almost as much as Victorian Gothick, and a truly modern church in the Brutalist manner would have been their choice. How horribly old-fashioned such a monstrosity would look now, and I am so glad that the congregation of Bawdeswell (who made the final decision) had the good sense to go for a church that fits so well into its environment.
The porch is flanked by two classical columns, but on a scale in keeping with a village church. Inside the pews and pulpit are of light oak, and the flooring is of pale marble. The arched ceiling is pale blue and has star-shaped lights set into it. There is a large organ gallery with a balustrade. The round-headed windows are clear except for a central pane of stained glass. The church stands on a gentle slope above the road through the village centre.
The church may be new, but the village is steeped in history. Opposite the church stands Chaucer’s House, a wooden framed building which is reputed to be where the poet’s uncle lived in the 14th century. It almost looks old enough for this to true; there were certainly family connections with this Norfolk village, which even gets a mention in The Canterbury Tales. Then it was called Baldeswelle, a spelling that was still being used in 1807. This is why I like history so much; the centuries fall away as I stand in the street in Bawdeswell and look across the road to the old dwelling. It give me a comforting sense of belonging to our wonderful past.