top of page
  • Writer's pictureGranny Bonnet

John Betjeman: "Norfolk"

Updated: Sep 14, 2023

May 2020

This article is given over to John Betjeman's poem about Norfolk, a county he grew to love from childhood holidays spent on the Broads. He really does manage to capture nostalgia very well. I feel a melancholic air about it and that perhaps 'the Devil' he speaks of is really a metaphor for having to be steeped in adulthood and the trials and tribulations that come with it.


How did the Devil come? When first attack? 

These Norfolk lanes recall lost innocence, 

The years fall off and find me walking back 

Dragging a stick along the wooden fence 

Down this same path, where, forty years ago, 

My father strolled behind me, calm and slow. 

I used to fill my hands with sorrel seeds 

And shower him with them from the tops of the stiles, 

I used to butt my head into his tweeds 

To make him hurry down those languorous miles 

Of ash and alder-shaded lanes, till here 

Our moorings and the masthead would appear. 

There after supper lit by lantern light 

Warm in the cabin I could lie secure 

And hear against the polished sides at night 

The lap lap lapping of the weedy Bure, 

A whispering and watery Norfolk sound 

Telling of all the moonlit reeds around. 

How did the Devil come? When first attack? 

The church is just the same, though now I know 

Fowler of Louth restored it. Time, bring back 

The rapturous ignorance of long ago, 

The peace, before the dreadful daylight starts, 

Of unkept promises and broken hearts.

It is probable that Belaugh St. Peter's is the church of Betjeman's poem since it seems to have made a great impression on him when he was young: 'I was eight or nine years old when I used to come here to the Norfolk Broads on the River Bure, sailing and rowing with my father. And I think it was the outline of that church tower of Belaugh against the sky that gave me a passion for churches so that every church I've passed since I've wanted to stop and look in.'

I too share something of that passion as my children can attest. I have frequently been reminded by their adult, mock child-like voices—'Oh, look, there's a church over there...'

​Belaugh Church by Stanley How
​Belaugh Church by Stanley How

James Fowler, mentioned in the poem, was a Victorian Architect and mayor of Louth. He was Diocesan Surveyor for Lincolnshire from 1871 to 1886. Best known for his work restoring and building Anglican churches, he also designed houses (mainly rectories and vicarages), schools, almshouses and other buildings.


bottom of page