The Assumption of the BVM, West Barsham

The Domesday Survey (1087) mentions three churches for the Barshams and this one, which stands among the sheltered lawns and fine trees, has the earliest features.

It had a central tower between the nave and chancel, and a quoin in the south wall suggests that the chancel was later lengthened. Now that the bottom stage of the tower forms part of the chancel we find that the chancel has grown to be longer than the nave. Towers in this position are not so strong, and so it is not surprising that such an early one collapsed and was never replaced. Towers are not the strong point of the Barshams, because the population is now so small that bell ringing assumes little importance. In fact the present bell is a small one, inscribed 'Anno Domini 1774', which stands inside the church. There is no longer any bell-cote for it.

The book by H.M. & J. Taylor on Anglo-Saxon Churches describes this church as Saxon on the evidence of the triangular headed doorway above the chancel arch and the double splayed windows in the nave. However, recent critics point out that similar windows can be seen in Norwich Cathedral which are definitely Norman. Certainly there was a Saxon church here and it has been altered and partially rebuilt many times over the centuries.

The south porch was rebuilt by John Bolding Ellis in 1897 to mark Queen Victoria's Jubilee. Above the porch roof on the east side is a small Norman window, which speaks of a time when glass was too rare and valuable to use in a small country church.

The main South window is 14th century, decorated with flowing tracery and a hood mould over it. The chancel has one modern window by Margaret Tarrent and one about 1300 with Y tracery. The east window is also c.1300 with intersected tracery and Victorian glass.

On the north side there is another modem window and then another beautiful  decorated  period  window  with flowing tracery.

The north doorway, now blocked up, has a plain Norman arch and above it are two circular windows, splayed on both sides and sited high up in the walls. These could be Saxon windows or 11th century. The west window has Y tracery with a hood mould over it and good headstops.


The roof was renewed in the l 930's and further extensive restoration work done about 1954.

Inside the Church

One enters through a late Norman doorway with a pointed arch. It has one order of shafts with foilage capitals. The arch has an outer order of chevrons. Inside this is a recess and then a rollmould.

The nave roof is an excellent modern tie beam construction and the chancel has braced trusses of unusual design, which are very sturdy and well made.

The chancel arch has been reconstructed. You can see a blocked triangular doorway above it which belonged to the old tower.


The font is 18th century with a circular bowl on a baluster stem.

The oak benches have poppy heads and are beautifully carved on the armrests with domestic or wild animals and birds. They were designed by Margaret Tarrant and made by Mr. Royal about 1954. The arm rests are as follows:

The chancel seats have more of these carvings. There are various designs for the back of the pews. The Lectern is by the same maker and has a delightful little mouse on its base with growing corn on the stem.

A niche in the northeast window contains a statue of S. Francis of Assisi in wood with delightful animals and birds. There is a little medieval glass surviving in this window.

The south nave window contains shields, which were once in the east window and were moved after suffering gale damage. They include Warren (chequered), Clare (chevrons), and de Wancye (gauntlets).

The sedilia is plain and is used to exhibit some relics of the Old Hall. The fragment of pottery found embedded in the roots of a fallen tree in 1978. Before the Black Death there was a substantial village here centred on the church. The present Hall was built in the early 20th century and many of the trees planted at that time.

The east window was glazed in 1893 in memory of Alice Bolders (d.1891) and shows Jesus carrying his cross in the centre light, with angels on either side and also in tracery. David and Jonathon feature in the chancel southeast window which is also Victorian glass. On the north side there is attractive modem glass in memory of Jean Elizabeth Keith (d.1953).

Memorials: The oldest memorial is a tomb slab against the south wall of the chancel with indents for an elaborate brass shield and surround. An inscription brass with a shield is to Edward Gournay, died1641 aged 33, and also Martha, his wife. There are also ledger slabs to the same family.

Another Latin inscription on a brass tells us of a Barbara Potseus (d.1615). The ledger slabs feature such well-known Norfolk families as Morley, L'Estrange, Calthorpe and Swallow. The war memorial is in the porch.

Hanging on the north wall are illuminated lists of the Lords of the Manor from c. 1035 and incumbents from 1090, which gives us a very comprehensive view of the long tradition of faithful worship. Names on the memorials can be linked with those of the patrons listed here.

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