THE SCHOOLROOM AT SALLE CHURCH
I originally visited Salle Church, Norfolk, as part of my five-part, In Search of Medieval Inspiration, article and much of that visit is to be found there. However, I came across something quite unexpected and exciting, and I thought it would make a little story, with photographs.
Salle has been described by Wilhelmine and Linnell in their, Shell Guide to Norfolk (Faber, 1967, 3rd ed.) as, ‘A very small village with the largest and most glorious church in the county’ (p. 67). It certainly is spectacular and its tower, at one hundred and eleven feet, is visible for miles around.
The church has two porches, north and south, over which is a room apiece, which I learned are termed parvises. Over the north parvise is a Lady Chapel, which was, at one time, a schoolroom. I do not know when it was used as such but, with a series of photographs I took, I would like to take the reader through a little journey, one taken by priests and children alike, attending the school in the centuries passed.
Fig. 1 Fig. 2
I do not know by which door the priest and children normally entered the church, but one imagines through the north or south porch. As I understand it, the west door was used for special occasions. The wooden doors to both porches are original and date to the first quarter of the 1400s. Figures 1 and 2 show the north porch door from outside and inside, respectively. Figure 3 shows the truly enormous outside keyhole – I was able to fit my entire hand into it!
Fig. 4 Fig. 5
Figures 4 and 5 show the south porch door from the outside and inside, respectively. The wood on both north and south porch doors, from the inside, is the most beautiful buff colour which reminded me of the breast of the female bullfinch.
Fig. 6 Fig. 7
Once inside the church, a child had to aim for a much smaller, early 15th century, Perpendicular-style doorway in the nave’s north-west corner that leads to the north parvise (Fig. 6). As I opened the door, I heard the tap of metal on metal and I discovered that one of the middle of the three locks on the door has a flap over the keyhole (Fig. 7).
Fig. 8 Fig. 9
In the south-west corner of the nave is another such door (Fig. 8) with early locks and handle (Fig. 9) leading to the south parvise which is believed to have been used as a treasury and sacristy, as the timbers of the roof have iron bands on them as protection against thieves.
On entering the north-west nave door, one is greeted immediately by a narrow and steep spiral staircase, which winds its way up clockwise. It is dark as one climbs, save for a very small single-splayed window of the early 1400s, to one’s left (Fig. 10).
One passes another, slightly larger window on the way up, and then one comes upon a door on the left which is slightly ajar. This is another fabulous six-hundred-year-old structure with many large bolts protruding (detail, Fig. 11).
The small room one enters is painted white and full of light which beams in through three windows, of which the west window is shown in Figure 12.
Fig. 13 Fig. 14
The bosses on the white groined ceiling appear at the intersections and they radiate colour, having been repainted in 1952 (see Figs. 13 & 14 as examples). In the corners of each room there are carvings (Figs. 15-17, the fourth has been broken off and is not shown here).
Fig. 15 Fig. 16 Fig. 17
There is also a piscina and something I learned was called an ‘aumbry shelf’ (a closed recess in wall of a church). The floor is made of tile. I found it to be an atmospheric setting, as I imagined the children being taught there. How they kept warm in winter I do not know, for there was no sign of a fireplace.
On turning to leave the room, one sees the back of the door which just emanates character and age (Fig. 18). As D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts wrote in their excellent, The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches: No. 1 (Acorn Editions: 1981), ‘the upper door has a massive bar which drops into slots when turned by the centre handle.’ (p. 79).
One has to get one’s eyes adjusted before trying to descend the stairs, for the shift between a sun-filled room and the turret is considerable, despite the presence of the larger of the two turret windows (Fig. 19).
Negotiating the spiral staircase is not for the faint-hearted, for not only are the stairs small, narrow, and steep, any light that does come in through the windows causes deep shadows and so one has to be certain of one’s footing immediately underneath before committing one’s weight (Fig. 20). Having said that, I would not have missed the descent for the world!
This cautious approach on descending is certainly not new, for as soon as one holds on to the axis of the staircase, as it were, for support, one expects to encounter rough stonework, but instead the stone is very smooth and discoloured and, when one can see it, shiny, as six hundred years and countless people have worn away the stone (Fig. 21). I loved finding this.
If, on leaving St. Peter and St. Paul’s, one passes the north porch on the outside, one can see the turret housing the staircase and the western exterior to the parvise (Fig. 22).
I walked down the path to the lych gate and my car. I hadn’t seen a soul until then, but in the distance a man was cutting the lawn on the village cricket pitch and the smell of the new mown grass filled the air. That was a wonderful, timeless hour I had just spent.