The Rood Screen at St Nicholas Salthouse

Above left: C. L. S. Linnell's photograph of the screen in its original position in the 1930-40s published in his Church Guide

Above right: the position of the screen since approximately 1960, where it was never meant to be.

In his Revised Church Guide, which he wrote in 1953, C. L. S. Linnell says: 'Ten years after the fabric of the new church was complete, it was embellished with the rood screen which, as can be seen from the joints of the capitals of the columns on either side, extended right across the body of the church with parcloses screening off the chapels on the north and south. Some of the panels were put back in approximately their original position in 1932.'

Carole Hill

has supplied this most interesting information about the screen:

The rood screen of Salthouse St Nicholas, its great structure fragmented, its panels greatly damaged, can now only hint at its former glory. Here are related a few of the details of its making, with their sources. Simon Cotton ['Medieval Roodscreens in Norfolk-Their Construction and Painting Dates', Norfolk Archaeology, vol.40 (1989)], dates it at 1513 and notes the legacies donated toward its building and painting. In 1510, Henry Wright left 6s 8d 'to the new perke' [NRO, Norwich Archdeaconry Court, Reg. Sparhawk f.26]. In the same year, Margaret Overey left a princely 26s 8d 'to reparation of the new perke' [NRO, NCC, Reg. Spyltymber f.279]. These are the only will references to its construction. 
Many parishioners/donors contributed and oversaw the execution of their commissions during their lifetime, and the few will references to such works as survive often record what may have been the last in a series of payments. Hardly ever do they detail the subject matter of their commissions, presumably because this was already discussed and agreed as a scheme within the parish community.  A screen was usually accomplished piecemeal, over a number of years, as and when the funding was available.
It is very rare to find a single donor paying for a complete scheme, whatever inscriptions painted on the screen may say! The sums bequeathed in wills make it clear that they were only a contribution. A wide variation in painting style and technique is often observed within a single screen, precisely because the painted panels were done over the years. The rood screens of the churches at Aylsham and Worstead demonstrate this very clearly, as the old traditional gothic style is replaced by the Flemish style arriving from the Low Countries. This was a time of transition for those parishes able to afford the 'in thing', and often with trading contacts abroad to inspire new ideas.
At Salthouse, as at other Norfolk churches of the period, the records show a busy time of building and renewal, notably in the late fifteenth century. Paul Cattermole and Simon Cotton ['Medieval Parish Church Building in Norfolk', Norfolk Archaeology,vol.38 (1983)] note that Robert Makke left 12d to the bells in 1481 [Norwich Archdeaconry Court, Reg. Fuller f.26], and William Grene left 4d to the tower in 1483 [Reg. Fuller f.41]. In this same year Margaret Herward also left 6d to the bells [Reg. Fuller f.49]. In 1491, John Zardesale left a handsome 10s to the work [building] of the church [Reg. Fuller f.193], and in 1503 the glazing of the east window of the chancel and south aisle took place, which would have been a very costly project. This was recorded by the rector, Thomas Dawnay, in 1636, in the registers. Finally, another 12d was donated to the bells by Robert Barrett in 1504 [Norfolk Archdeaconry Court, Reg. Bulwer f.57]. That is not to say that these were the only gifts for these parish projects-- far from it--they are the only ones of which records have survived. Money was collected regularly, often in small individual amounts, throughout the parish, until there was enough to do a job. Although these donations seem very small to the modern eye, it probably indicates that everyone was giving comparable amounts over a long period. Bear in mind, too, that  4d represented a labourer's pay for a day, so was not quite the insubstantial gift it might appear, and may be equivalent to a £40-£50 day rate that an unskilled worker might earn today.
The screen is, essentially, an Apostle screen with additional figures. W.W.Williamson, in his survey in 1957, writes as though the screen was still in one piece, and notes twenty figures and some saints' emblems as follows: 

1) St Matthew or Matthias--carpenter's square
2) and 3) Prophets, probably
4) St Thomas--spear
5) Prophet, probably.
6) St John the Evangelist--cup and serpent
7) Prophet, probably
8) St Bartholemew--knife for flaying
9) St Andrew--cross saltire
10) Layman in early Tudor dress [could be a donor figure, but unlikely]
11) St James the Great--staff [but usually has a cockle shell]
12) Layman as before
13) St James the Less--fuller's club
14) Prophet, probably [he says]
15) St Jude--boat
16) Layman
17) St Matthias- halbert
18) Possibly a king, says Williamson. [I say probably Henry VI who was venerated as a saint at this time.]
19) St Simon--fish
20) Layman

Above: a part of the parclose screen today in the Lady Chapel, south aisle, in its original position. The four figures are the last four of those listed on the left.

Williamson notes the sad state of mutilation. It would seem that in the forty-six subsequent years a few of these panels have also been lost. I think the four 'laymen' are highly improbable as subjects, and that these may be unidentified saints or holy men. MasterJohn Schorne is a candidate for one. He was an uncanonised but venerated rector of Marston in Buckinghamshire in the fourteenth century, who was much supplicated for gout! He is depicted conjuring a demon out of a boot on the screens at Cawston, Gately and Suffield, and is not usually shown in priestly garb. The fact that a chapel was dedicated to him at St George's chapel, Windsor, may have made him an aspirational or even fashionable figure to choose. Certainly, many suffered from gout!
The damage to the panels makes accuracy of identification very tenuous as the emblems of martyrdom that identify the saints are not always intact. Some speech ribbons are visible on some panels, if defaced, asking for intercessory prayer. Part of the function of the screen was to remind worshippers attending Mass to pray for their departed friends who had commissioned the works, and whose names may then have been visibly inscribed on it. By choosing a particular saint for a panel a patron was not only honouring that saint, but, in a sense, 'commissioning' the saint to intercede for him/her in heaven, an important investment when the flames of purgatory at best, and hell at worst, were believed to await all, especially those dying without confession and absolution. These were days of sudden death when endemic and famine-related diseases could and did strike the population with devastating results.
Most of all the screen is a demonstration of the corporate activity of the the medieval parishioners, who together discussed, no doubt argued, and, under the guidance of their parish priest and churchwardens, decided what they wanted to be represented on their screen. The iconography of the figures chosen conveyed a language of religious symbolism and significance to those for whom the written word was not yet freely available, a language we have largely lost. The saints, after all, stood at the base of the great rood itself, the life-sized cross where Christ crucified displayed to all the wounds by which they were redeemed. The powerful message of the entire design and construction (a tribute to the carpenters  and carvers of the time) and the impact of its fine polychrome splendour can now only be imagined.

 Carole Hill
Sheringham 2005

I was interested to receive the letter reproduced below concerning the last two Nos 19 and 20 on the above list:

From: Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs
Sent: Saturday, May 28, 2011 7:05 PM
To: valfiddian@salthousehistory.co.uk
Subject: identification of a couple of the Salthouse screen figures 

 Dear Val Fiddian,

I see you are the editor of the interesting website about Salthouse. A friend of mine visited St. Nicholas' Church at Salthouse and brought back a postcard published by the Friends of Salthouse Church. As I cannot find an address for them, I'm writing to you, in hopes you can pass on my comment.

The photograph on the card shows part of the former choir screen, with two of the painted figures. The text on the back of the note card is this:

"The figure holding the fish is either St. Simon or St. Thaddeus, the other figure is a layman in Tudor dress, probably a patron of the church. ..."

Looking at the photographs, I see that the figure on the left is depicted above an inscription that is:  Sa. thadeus  [Sanctus Thadeus].
The figure on the right is depicted above an inscription that is: dANIEL  PPHA  [Daniel Propheta].

As Daniel the prophet was not a saint, there is no halo. And while it is possible that this is simultaneously a depiction of a local layman, that would be unusual.

With best wishes,
Jeremy Bangs

Dr. Jeremy Dupertuis Bangs, Director
Leiden American Pilgrim Museum
p/a Mandenmakerssteeg 11






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