that they may face the rising sun
St Peter, Corpusty, Norfolk
The morning was clear. There was no wind. There was also a great stillness. When the bells rang out for Mass they had the entire world to themselves.
from That They May Face The Rising Sun by John McGahern, 2002
A bright, early spring day in 2017, and St Peter is dramatic on its hilltop site. Norfolk is nowhere near as flat as Sir Noel Coward liked to make out, but it has few dramatic vistas. One of the grandest is the sight of Corpusty and Saxthorpe as you come over the hill along the Norwich to Holt road. The valley drops away below you, the villages scattered down the opposing slopes. At the highest point is the church of St Peter, Corpusty. This must be an ancient place, and the tower of St Peter is a landmark for miles around. But it was almost lost to us, for this church was abandoned half a century ago, and lay derelict for decades after.
It has not been without its friends. In 1974, local resident Roger Last wrote a letter to the Eastern Daily Press expressing his concern about the state of the church and its descent into vulnerability and vandalism. It so happened that a few miles away at Holt Rectory someone else was girding her loins for the battle to save churches. Lady Billa Harrod, who had seen off the Brooke Report which advocated the demolition of redundant churches, contacted Roger, and their meeting led to the formation of the Committee for Country Churches, which developed into the Norfolk Churches Trust. The BBC came and filmed Roger showing Sir Roy and Lady Harrod around Corpusty.
The Friends of Friendless Churches bought the church when it was in danger of demolition, and have spent £70,000 on repairing the tower. When I first came here in the early years of the 21st Century there was no access at all to the graveyard; it was completely overgrown. Coming back five years later I found that the overgrowth had been cut back, and a path made up to the south porch. This porch was now secure, and the tower has been almost completely restored, with the bell windows secured and the keys of St Peter placed in a prominent position. Best of all, the roof was sound, covered with striking red pantiles.
The nave and chancel, however, had a long way to go. Corrugated iron sheets filled the windows, nettles and bracken to a height of six feet surrounded the church. A tree grew out of the east window. I made a difficult circumnavigation, and was probably the first person that year to do so. In 2005, the church was considered sound enough to be the chosen location for the annual service of the Friends of Friendless Churches.
In 2017, it is striking that St Peter looks like a proper church again. The churchyard is trimmed, the windows are full of glass, there is a sense of love about it. It is still kept locked, and the keyholder is a way off in Norwich, but a peek through the windows showed that there was still much to do inside, the walls still unrepaired from the years of vandalism, neglect and arson.
So, there is still work to do, but people care about this poor little church which was nearly lost to us. And failing a view of the inside of the church, head to the east end of the church and look out over Saxthorpe below. On a sunny day it will take your breath away.