Mary's Church, Bylaugh - by Noel Spencer.
St Mary's Church, Bylaugh,
owes its present appearance, and perhaps its present existance, to a Norfolk
squire, Sir John Lombe, who practically rebuilt this little church between
1809 and 1810.
This gentleman, born John
hase, had changed his name to Lombe on inheriting the estates of his uncle,
Edward Lombe, of great Melton. In 1783 he was made a baronet, and
in 1796 he acquired the 600 acre estate of Bylaugh - from Richard Lloyd,
in settlement of a gambling debt. The Lombe
family were descended from John and Thomas Lombe the silk manufacturers
of Derby who, in 1772, erected the first factory of any size to be built
in this country - a building, driven by water wheels, and described in
Defoe's "Tour" of 1742 as "a curiosity of a very extraordinary nature."
Bylaugh church stands among
yew trees very close to the river Wensum and, on
rising ground to its north, are the ruins of the hall that Sir John hoped
to build but never did. He died in 1817 and the hall designed by
the younger Charles Barry and Robert Richardson Banks, was not begun until
1849, was completed in 1852, and reduced to a ruin in 1950. "The
Builder" of August 1852 described and illustrated Bylaugh Hall. It
was done in the Elizabethan style - a pale reflection of Wollaton Hall,
near Nottingham, the great house Sir France Willoughby built in 1850.
"The Builder" article described it as the "Anglo-Italian" style, that it
was constructed of magnesium limestone, and decorated within by "Mr Sang
and his band of German artists"; the house was then completed but the grounds
were not yet laid out(by W A Nesfield, a landscape architect), nor were
the lodges built. Bylaugh was never a building of distinction, indeed,
Pevsner dismisses it as "happily a ruin", but it is most certainly a romantic
northern side of the church faces you at the end of an avenue of ancient
yews. It is an aisleless church - with very shallow transepts, whose
gables rise as high as the ridge of the main roof - built against a Norman,
perhaps part Saxon, round tower with a 14C octagonal top. Before
studying it more closely it might be well to find out, from a tablet within
the church, what was done here in 1810, "at the sole expense of Sir John
Lombe". The church must have been in a sad state before Sir John
gave it his attention for, summing up what the tablet says, it appears
that the tower and the nave were substantially repaired, the chancel rebuilt,
the whole fabric re-roofed, and transepts added where there were none before.
A further look at the exterior shows that, despite the decorated style
of the chancel and transept windows, Sir John and his architect were not
working in the Gothic mood. Pugin and the Gothic Revival had not
yet appeared on the scene, and this work of 1810 is classical in spirit.
The polygonal turrets on the chancel and transepts have a flavour of Gothic
but that is all; the projecting eaves and their supporting modillions (or
brackets) are purely classical.
interior is a remarkable survival - an interior furnished by a squire for
his family, his friends and his servants - apparently exactly as when,
to quote the tablet, it was "handsomely fitted out" in the early 19C.
Rows of tall box pews on either side, becoming larger as they go, stretch
towards the transepts, where under a domed ceiling of plaster are the family
pews, presided over by a fine three-decker pulpit, and warmed by fireplaces
in the transept walls.
are more box pews in the chancel (each with their brass candle sconces)
indeed they stretch to within a few feet of the cast iron "Gothick" altar
rail. A board behind the altar carries The Lord's Prayer, the
Creed and Commandments; music is provided by a harmonium that could well
have graced a Victorian drawing-room.
The three-decker pulpit is not very tall, nor is its sounding board, but
is unusual in that the preaching deck can be reached by two flights of
stairs, one from the nave and the other from what appears to be a churching
the west end there is a small 14C font, set upon a later support, and there
is a Georgian arms board.
John made provision for a family vault. A faculty he obtained in
1809 gave details of a vault 21ft long, 7ft wide and 6ft deep, occupying
the whole of the north transept - a burial place for Sir John Lombe, Bart.
of Great Melton, and his heirs.
are memorials in the church and churchyard to those who have owned the
Bylaugh estates - a beautiful brass to Sir John Curson, who died in 1471,
and his wife Joan, and a handsome cartouche tablet to John Bendish (1707).
Then come those of the Lloyds, the Lombes, and the Evans-lombes; Sir John
Lombe himself is commemorated by a rather dull memorial by John Bacon,
the younger, signed "Bacon, London".
in his "Norfolk Diary", throws some light on the tablet to the Rev Edward
Lombe, who died in 1862. He tells how he visited Bylaugh Hall to
enquire about this gentleman who, while out driving his fiancee, "had been
much hurt by his horses dashing through a shop-front in Dereham and completely
destroying it" and irreparably damaging themselves. He mentions the
"magnificent state reception room" at the hall where Edward Lombe died
lover of church architecture should see this little one at Bylaugh - a
perfect specimen of what we now call "Gothick" of the early 19C - which,
fortunately, has escaped attention of Victorian restorers. Perhaps
this is due to the fact that, as Arthur Mee records: "From 1836, the year
he was ordained, till 1908, when he died at 96, the Rev Louis Norgate was
vicar here" - (72 years).
More from the Reeve's Tale
about Bylaugh Hall , the 1917
100 Bomber Group HQ during WWII