Didlington Hall estate, Norfolk

The church of St. Michael and All Angels is on the private ground of the Didlington Hall estate, west of Swaffham in Norfolk, England. I visited last week with my parents and aunt for the first time, as the graveyard is the final resting place of my grandmother, her sister and other family members. Despite many visits to the area through the years, I’d never been to the church itself.

Having served as a preparation base for the Desert Rats in the 1940s, the hall itself was sold in 1910 and demolished in the 1950s following an auction for the fixtures and fittings, apparently due to the sheer size of the house and the impossibility of (and lack of funds for) keeping it running. My ancestors worked at the hall and both my aunt and my mother have recollections of the hall and stableyards from their youth.

The church itself is very quiet, due to its secluded location, but visitors are welcome on the condition that they keep to the overgrown track and don’t intrude on the remainder of the private estate. The land was purchased some time ago and a much smaller – frankly hideous – house has been built close to the church in recent years, which can be reached (and thankfully passed) by the main driveway through trees and Breckland forest, crossing what remains of small streams by way of ornate little red brick bridges. Once there, the visitor can lament the ploughing-under of what was once an immaculate, mown cricket field and enter the typically East Anglian church, restored in the 19th century from the 13th and 14th century flint original. The stone font, placed at the back of the church, dates from the origins of the church.

As side notes, the herons in the estate’s coat of arms, pictured below, relate to a heronry on the estate’s lake, which were used in falconry until the mid 19th century, whilst the (presumably brass) plaques in the alcove beneath the squat steeple remember the Amherst family, who lived in the Hall from the mid 19th century.

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