Heritage experts launch work to save ruined church in Norfolk

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Published:
3:21 PM July 30, 2022



Updated:
10:22 PM July 30, 2022

It will struggle to restore it to its former glory, but a project has been launched to preserve an abandoned church that has become a highly valued asset in the village.

Heritage experts carry out work to protect St Martin’s, in Shotesham near Norwich, from further collapse.

The church has been in ruins for hundreds of years but is still a popular spot for locals as well as hikers as it is close to the Boudicca Way.

To preserve it and keep it safe for future generations, the villagers and the conservation group of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB) have carried out maintenance work on its walls.


Volunteers carry out repair work on the ruins of St Martin’s Church, Shotesham
– Credit: Michael Knights

The project involves using medieval building techniques to strengthen the church by fixing loose flints and preventing further collapse.

SPAB uses the program as an opportunity to teach age-old skills to conservation experts, to help them learn more about caring for ancient structures.


Experts build a medieval oven amidst the ruins of St Martin's Church, Shotesham

Experts build a medieval oven amidst the ruins of St Martin’s Church, Shotesham
– Credit: Michael Knights

Part of this involved creating a traditional lime kiln, using local clay, in the driveway of the ruin, to burn chalk, cockles and oyster shells to create the material used to repair flint.

Another phase, which will begin in the fall, will consist of “capping” the walls with grass, to protect the ruins from the effects of rainwater.


The team prepares the materials needed to reinforce the flint work on the ruined Church of St Martin, Shotesham

The team prepares the materials needed to reinforce the flint work on the ruined Church of St Martin, Shotesham
– Credit: Michael Knights

Michael Knights, a heritage expert who lives in the village and is involved in the project, said: “This work is what we might call ‘managed degradation’ and there is no intention to ‘restore’ the ruin. .

Ruined churches are a particular problem in Norfolk. The county originally had one of the largest populations in England and therefore a considerable number of medieval churches to serve this population.

“Over the centuries many have been abandoned, but they are recognized as important because they often conceal the secrets of early Christian belief and worship.

“Some, like St Marys in Houghton on the Hill, have ancient murals and other treasures which are being lost to decay and neglect. I think we have a duty to care for these iconic structures which dot our beautiful countryside and which were built by our ancestors.”


Heritage experts at the ruins of St Martin's Church, Shotesham

Heritage experts at the ruins of St Martin’s Church, Shotesham
– Credit: Michael Knights

The work is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, as well as the local Parish Church Council, which is responsible for the site.

The church is thought to date back to the 11th century with parts, including the tower, added around 200 years later.

It is not known exactly when it was abandoned and left in ruins.

Several churches in Norfolk were deserted when village populations declined, often as a result of epidemics.

Some churches also suffered from the attentions of Henry VIII, when the monasteries were dissolved, and Oliver Cromwell, during the Civil War.

It is believed that St Martin may have suffered the unfortunate double whammy of being targeted for both periods.


Repair work in progress at the ruined Church of St Martin, Shotesham

Repair work in progress at the ruined Church of St Martin, Shotesham
– Credit: Michael Knights

The ruins were also likely looted by villagers over the centuries, who took the site’s building materials for themselves.

About a decade ago, locals organized a project to clear thick ivy and other fallen vegetation and trees from the structure, so it could be better enjoyed by the community and slow the rate of decay. and collapsing flint walls.

Since then it has hosted a series of village events, including a wedding.

VILLAGE OF THE FOUR CHURCHES

Shotesham has the unusual distinction of being home to four churches.

Two of them – St Mary’s and All Saints – are still open with the same congregational services rotating between the two sites.

Then there are the ruins of St Martin, which are a few meters from St Mary’s.

And finally, St Botolph’s, also located nearby and considered the oldest of the four.

There are very few traces left, except for the base of its tower, which can be visited.

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