St Ethelbert, Larling, Norfolk

Feature Sets (3)


St Ethelbert’s comprises a square W tower, chancel, nave and S aisle. The N nave wall of the Norman church survives, although restored. The chancel and S aisle date from about 1300 and the W tower is of the late 15thc. The church, including the porch sheltering the elaborately decorated Romanesque S door, underwent restoration in the 19thc. Within the building there is a Romanesque font and also a colonnette, reused as a support for the Gothic piscina in the chancel.


Larling was in the hundred of Shropham, territory of William of Warenne, at the time of DS. DS records that Hugh held land there. The jurisdiction of Larling was in the royal manor of Buckenham which was thus entitled to financial dues. Before 1066, Ulfketel held land in Larling. The dedication to St Ethelbert, an East Anglian king marytyred in 794, suggests that the church marks the site of an Anglo-Saxon settlement. A decorated 9thc. bone panel was discovered beside it in 1970.


Exterior Features


S Doorway

Round headed, of three orders. Of creamy limestone.

h. of opening 2.18 m
max. h. 2.58 m
max. w. (between outer edges of label) 2.12 m
w. of opening 1.05 m
First order

The jambs are chamfered with a groove or quirk on the reveal, this profile continues through the impost to the arch.

The chamfered impost has a groove or quirk along the upright.

Along the outer edge of each voussoir at either side is an inward curling drilled leaf.

Second order

Attic bases on square plinths support colonnettes which have a shaft-ring halfway up. Below the shaft-ring, each colonnette is cylindrical and undecorated. Above the shaft-ring, each colonnette is polygonal and decorated with rows of chevron (of the profile roll-roll-hollow-roll-roll) each row mirroring its neighbour and forming lozenges between. Both the decorated and plain portion of each colonnette is a monolith. The shaft ring on the L is decorated on its inner face with a cat mask, lying sideways, with baggy, bulging, lidded eyes. The cat's extended tongue weaves beneath a broad, notched strap, its tip touching the rosette encircled by veined leaves, carved on the shaft-ring's outer face. The ornament on the R shaft-ring is not legible. Between the colonnettes is a vertical row of triangular billet. (compare Norwich Cathedral fragments: voussoir type 3)

L capital: two symmetrical, tall stems on each face form volutes on the angles, a small curled stem lies below the volute on the outer side of each face, while on the angle below the volute are two symmetrical, confronted serpents with open mouths and drilled eyes. Between the volutes on each face are two small leaves growing from a stem, forming a lobed T-shape. The necking is carved with a row of cable.

R capital: as L capital but without the smaller leaves on each face, and with a horizontal row of cable below the volute across the angle. The necking is carved with a row of cable.

The arch has a fat, nook roll followed by a chamfer. The chamfer is carved with a series of motifs which comprise variations on dogtooth as well as animal and human masks. (compare Chedgrave, All Saints, decorated billet of doorway arch)

Third order

Similar to second order. Attic bases on square plinths support colonnettes divided by shaft rings. Here, however, the decorated section above the shaft-ring on L and R consists of a two-strand cable. One strand is rounded while the other is flat and carved with a double row of pierced triangles, the pairs adjoined to form parallelograms. Each parellogram is separated by a vertical roll of cable. The strand as a whole is edged with a fine roll.

The shaft-ring on the L is carved with interlace. The outer face is damaged but the inner is legible. Here, the interlace forms a pattern resembling a lobed quincunx. The weathered shaft-ring on the R is decorated with stems forming echoing curves. following the colonnette is a vertical row of triangular billet, as lies between the first and second order colonnettes.

L capital: this has two crossed, grooved stems on each face, the outer stems form volutes on each face of the capital, the inner stems meet at the angle to form a volute which is enclosed by a roundel with a grooved clasp at either side. The volute itself is damaged but might originally have borne a mask. The necking has single cable ornament.

R capital: similar to first order, R capital. The stems which form the volute on the angle are feathered, the others are grooved. A grooved strap runs horizontally around the body of the capital, linking the two faces.

The arch has a fat, nook roll.

The label is carved with drilled radial billet (compare Norwich, St Etheldreda) which alternates with a variety of other motifs, including cable and beaded projections.




The limewashed font stands in the westernmost bay of the S arcade, adjacent to the 14thc. pier. It consists of a square basin with chamfered rim and angles. The sides of the basin taper towards the base. The basin rests on a square support which has deeply chamfered corners with simple stop-chamfers at top and bottom. The basin and support appear to have been carved from two separate blocks. The basin has a repair to its rim at the SW corner. The font appears to have been recut.

Piscinae/Pillar Piscinae


The Gothic double piscina in the chancel incorporates a Romanesque colonnette. This has an octagonal shaft on a tall, irregular octagonal base. The cushion capital has incised shields and the angles beneath the shields are chamfered.The impost is hollow chamfered, with a pulvinated upper edge. The base and impost could be later in date than the shaft and capital.

diam. of shaft 0.29m
h. 0.57m (from bottom of base to top of impost)
h. of shaft 0.28m
w. 0.11m (upper edge of capital)


Several of the distinctive motifs decorating the arches and the jambs, combined with the prominent use of the drill, occur on a localised group of portals in the SE of the county. The S doorway is another instance of a Romanesque doorway retained and relocated in a later medieval structure (compare Old Buckenham). The doorway originally stood in the S wall of the Romanesque aisleless nave and must have been dismantled when the old wall was removed on the completion of the Gothic S aisle. The doorway must then have been reassembled several metres to the S in the new aisle wall where an elegant 14th-century stringcourse was designed to accommodate it on the exterior. Was the Romanesque doorway reused for reasons of economy, or taste, or simply out of a sense of respect for antiquity? Perhaps the same tendency lies behind the reuse of the Romanesque colonnette in the 14thc piscina, whose base and abacus could be Gothic versions of Romanesque mouldings. The repertory of sculptural motifs, combined with the decorative use of the drill, place the doorway within a distinctive regional group of carved portals in churches situated mainly in the area between the rivers Yare and Waveney, in the SE of the county. Other sites in this group include Thwaite St. Mary and Chedgrave.

The font is described in Pevsner as 'early 13th-century'. Chamfered angles with simple stop-chamfers can be found elsewhere in the county in a 12thc.context, for example on the internal jambs of the W portal of Norwich Cathedral.


  • H. J. Dukinfield Astley, Memorials of Old Norfolk, London 1908, 189, 200, pl. 7.

  • D Dymond, The Norfolk Landscape, Bury St Edmunds, 1990 (2nd edn.), 85-6.

  • J. A. Franklin, The Romanesque Cloister Sculpture of Norwich Cathedral, MA thesis, Univ. of East Anglia, 1980, 38.

  • P Brown, (ed.), Domesday Book: Norfolk, 2 vols, London and Chichester 1984.

  • N. Pevsner and B. Wilson, The Buildings of England: Norfolk: North-West and South, Harmondsworth, 1962, revised 1999, 2:515.


Site Location
National Grid Reference
TL 982 897 
pre-1974 traditional (England and Wales): Norfolk
now: Norfolk
medieval: North Elmham (c.950-1071), Thetford (1071-94), Norwich (from 1094)
now: Norwich
now: St Ethelbert
medieval: not confirmed
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Jill A Franklin