St Andrew, Great Dunham, Norfolk

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Feature Sets (4)


St Andrew's is of considerable significance, both for its architecture and as an institution. The aisleless nave and axial eastern tower, both with long-and-short quoins, are of equal width and are part of the same late 11th-early 12thc. build. The present rectangular chancel is Perpendicular Gothic. The foundations of the former chancel, exposed in the 19thc., revealed this to have been apsidal in plan. There is Romanesque architectural sculpture on both the interior and exterior of the nave, the blocked W doorway and the tower arches. A small group of Romanesque carved fragments is stored in the porch and inside the church.


Great Dunham is situated in the Hundred of Launditch. It was an outlying estate of the important royal manor of Mileham, formerly in the hands of Stigand, Saxon bishop of Elmham (East Anglia) (1043) and Archbishop of Canterbury (1052), but at the time of DS held for the king by the Norman, William de Noyers. DS records that Reynold the priest had holdings in Dunham, with the daughter of the landholder, Payne. St Andrew's church was among the possessions of nearby Castle Acre Priory. A charter of 1138-45 issued by bishop Everard of Norwich refers to the chapel of St Mary belonging to St Andrew's.


Exterior Features


W doorway, W wall of nave.

This now appears as a tall, gable-headed niche but is, presumably, a blocked entrance, although there is no surviving visible evidence of a doorway on the interior face of the W wall. It is entirely framed by a double row of square billet, which rests on worn bases and continues upwards, mimicking shafts, to a pair of stepped 'capitals' or imposts (cf. the imposts of the W tower arch). The billet then follows the line of the gabled arch.

h. from apex of strip to bottom of 'bases' 3.27 m
w. between 'shafts' 1.98 m


E tower, upper stage, all four faces.

There is a belfry opening on each face of the E tower, composed of a pair of undressed arches, supported at the centre by a round colonnette with a bulbous base. Each paired opening has a cushion capital with necking and a chamfered abacus, carrying a deeply projecting impost with a chamfered leading edge. To either side of the colonnette, the arches rest on stone imposts.

Interior Features


Tower/Transept arches

Tower arch

The two plain tower arches rest on imposts which are decorated only on the W face and soffit, i.e. those areas visible from the nave.

w. of E arch opening 2.02 m
w. of W arch opening 2.33 m
E arch

Plain apart from the impost which has two stepped rolls below a thick row of cable (cf. W doorway and S nave arcading). The arch has a roll on the face, rising from the impost.

The half-round label, of the same profile as the face roll of the arch, rests on a pair of corbels (or pseudo-capitals), resembling shaft-rings, with a stepped, square-section profile. Below this, are the remains of half-rolls or pseudo-shafts. The corbels/pseudo capitals are not aligned with the springing of the arch.

W arch

The remains of a chamfered label extends over the upper part of the arch. Slightly above this, at the apex, is a small, quirked or grooved, rectangular stone, which may have been part of a label.

The imposts, completely cut back on the W faces, bear a row of chip-carved saltires, quirked or grooved at top and bottom. (cf. impost of blank arcading, N nave wall).

Interior Decoration

Blind arcades

Nave, N wall, running from E to W

Decorated imposts (from E)

(i) Chip-carved saltires, edged above and below by a quirk or groove. (between second and third bays)

(ii) A row of sawtooth, completely cut away beneath. (between third and fourth bays)

(iii) Incised saltires. (seventh bay, W side)

Nave, S wall, running from E to W

Decorated imposts (from E)

(i) A three-quarter roll, with a stepped lower edge (cf. W tower arch impost and W doorway imposts). (first surviving bay, E side)

(ii) Incised sawtooth. (last surviving bay, E side)

(iii) Incised saltires. (last surviving bay, W side)

Loose Sculpture

Fragment A


Impost, decorated on both long sides with a roll, followed by a row of trefoils in relief, creating circular hollows between them. Presumably this came from some free-standing structure. Its top (or bottom) surface bears a deep groove and a hollowed-out circle. It is made of pinkish (?fire-damaged) limestone.


d. 0.8 m
h. 0.36 m
w. 0.19 m

Fragment B

Possibly a voussoir, decorated on two faces with nested, syncopated chevrons. On another face, a rectangular cavity and channel have been created, giving the appearance of a piscina with a drain. It is made of coarse limestone.


d. 0.12 m
h. 0.24 m
w. 0.18 m

Fragment C

Colonnette fragment, with a small roundel on two adjacent faces, each containing a rosette or wheel motif, the petals/spokes of which taper towards the centre. One roundel is slightly damaged at the edge. It is made of coarse limestone.


diam. 0.125 m
diam. of roundels 0.13 m
h. 0.31 m

Fragment D

Fragment with a fat half roll. Made of coarse shelly limestone.


h. 0.24 m
w. 0.21 m

Fragment E

Fragment, with two angle rolls, separated by a fillet.


d. 0.10 m
h. 0.26 m
w. 0.20 m

Fragment F

Voussoir, decorated on each face with a tooth of centrifugal chevron, comprising one thick roll and one fine (outer) roll, with cogwheel edge. The soffit has an eight-petalled rosette with a pierced central ball, flanked by a hollow chamfer and an indented triangular wedge, i.e. the cogwheel edge of the chevron on the faces.


d. at narrowest 0.14 m
d. at widest 0.17 m
h. 0.41 m
w. 0.19 m


The date of St Andrew's is still a matter of debate. Pevsner describes it as an 'Anglo-Saxon' church of the late 11th/early 12thc. overlap. Malcolm Thurlby places it in the early 12thc, comparing the blank arcading in the nave with that in the presbytery tribune gallery of Norwich Cathedral (begun 1096). Consistency in the treatment of architectural sculpture throughout the building, on the tower arch, nave blank arcading and W doorway (e.g. the stepped detailing of the imposts in all three locations), certainly indicates that the surviving Romanesque church is a homogeneous structure. The documented chapel of St Mary, associated with St Andrew's was still standing in 1522. It suggests that St Andrew's should be seen as a mother church of some kind, exemplifying an ancient hierarchical system of pastoral care largely superseded by 12thc. As such, in its late 11th/12thc. incarnation, St Andrew's stands towards the end of a long tradition, in institutional terms. The combination of pre-Conquest features such as long-and short quoins, with Romanesque details like the billet-type ornament on the W wall, suggests that the church can be seen as transitional in an architectural sense as well. Fragment C, the colonnette, is very similar to one recorded at Great Dunham Old Rectory. Several examples of Fragment F, the voussoir with a decorated soffit, can be found, among many other Romanesque carved stones, reused at nearby Rookery Farm, and another example is also preserved at Castle Acre Priory, 3 miles to the W. Decorated at both ends, front and back, these distinctive voussoirs clearly came from a free-standing structure. Assuming that the arcade they formed rested on chamfered imposts, this structure would have been supported on capitals with a top surface that was about 0.30 m square, the likely dimension of, for example, a single cloister capital. It has been suggested that the reused Romanesque masonry at Rookery Farm came from the lost chapel of St Mary, situated 50 yards W of St Andrew's. Alternatively, the elaborately decorated sculpture fragments at all three Great Dunham sites (St Andrew's, The Old Rectory and Rookery Farm) may have come originally from the dismantled priory buildings at Castle Acre.


  • D. Dymond, The Norfolk Landscape, Bury St Edmunds 2nd edn. 1990, 86

  • C. Harper-Bill (ed.), English Episcopal Acta VI. Norwich 1070-1214, Oxford 1990, nos. 29, 184, 195n.

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

  • M. Thurlby, ‘The influence of the Cathedral on Romanesque Architecture,’ in Norwich Cathedral: Church,City & Diocese, 1096-1996, I. Atherton et al (eds), London & Rio Grande, Ohio 1996, , 136-57, 154-155.

  • N. Pevsner and B. Wilson, The Buildings of England: Norfolk, Harmondsworth, 1962, Revised 1999, 2:364-365.


Site Location
Great Dunham
National Grid Reference
TF 874 147 
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 Andrew
medieval: St Andrew
Type of building/monument
Parish church  
Report authors
Jill A Franklin