All Saints Churchyard,, Hethel, Norfolk, England

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Latitude: 52.5559181, Longitude: 1.21367812

Notes: Hethel is less than ten miles from Norwich, and the name is associated with the Lotus car factory, so you might think you will find yourself in industrialised suburbia; but this is an area of narrow lanes and woodlands, bypassed by the traffic on the London and Ipswich roads. Indeed, the church is remote from houses, set at the end of a rough road which peters out into a track. In the distance, you can see the famous Hethel thorn; a thousand year old tree, apparently.

Almost certainly as ancient is the tower of All Saints, or at least its lower half, which may be a rare example in Norfolk of a Saxon square tower. The top stage is 14th century I should think, although the pinnacles may even be an 18th century confection.

If the tower is striking, then the east end of the chancel is even more so. The Branthwaite family chapel, built on to the north side of the chancel in the early 18th century (the 1819 date on the end presumably refers to the doorway) was built big and square from red brick, and the chancel was squared off, also in brick, to match it. It is as if two outhouses had been built on to the end of the church.

Despite its remoteness, All Saints welcomes visitors, and the interior is particularly well-kept and obviously well-used. There was a very simple 19th century restoration, without trimmings or excesses, and the benches are now arranged at angles facing into the chancel.

It is all so restrained that the otherwise simple 19th century east window appears elegant and beautiful in the setting; and that might be it, if it were not for one detail - the extraordinary Miles Branthwaite memorial of about 1620. This is one of the grandest memorials of its period in the whole of Norfolk, and is doubly striking for being here at homely Hethel. He lies on his side in legal dress in the recess, looking a mite fed up, his head resting in his right hand. Below and in front of him is his wife Mary, in pious attitude on her back. She lifts her hands in prayer, and Mortlock notes that she is a good exemplar of early 17th century fashion. The three children kneel in profile below. The work is of polished alabaster, so crisp and clean that it might have been carved yesterday, and will presumably look the same a thousand years from now. Even Arthur Mee, who usually salivates over monuments to rich people, especially puritans like Branthwaite, was moved to describe it as pompous.

Across the chancel, more Branthwaite memorials make a fascinating catalogue of several centuries of epitaphs.

Simon Knott, January 2006