Category Archives: News

Father Philip celebrates half-century

Father Philip, who was ordained priest at Chelmsford Cathedral on September 21, 1969, is an honorary chaplain to the Norfolk Churches Trust and chaplain to the Round Tower Churches Society. He is a trustee and chaplain of the Friends of Friendless Churches.

Father Philip cuts a cake marking his 50 years as a priest.

A half-century of ordination to the priesthood was celebrated by Father Philip Gray in September 2019. The vicar of St Mary’s, Mendlesham, for 45 years, he also serves as honorary chaplain to three church heritage charities.

After a special celebration lunch, he was invited to cut a fruit cake, which was decorated with icing images of three Norfolk churches, Beeston St Lawrence, complete with its round tower, St Peter, Great Walsingham and St Mary’s, Anmer.

The cake also featured icing showing a steam locomotive and four carriages of the Mid-Suffolk Light Railway, which runs from Brockford through part of the neighbouring parish of Wetheringsett.

Earlier almost 150 people had filled the Mid-Suffolk church for a sung mass on the feast of St Matthew. Family, friends and parishioners also celebrated another anniversary when on September 22, 1968 he was ordained deacon at St Mary the Virgin, Prittlewell, Essex.

Father Philip’s long career has included six years as curate of St Clement, Leigh-on-Sea until 1968 until moved to Mendlesham in 1974.

His five children, Peter, Catherine, Andrew, Rachel and Tom all took part in the service and Bishop of Richborough, the Rt Rev Norman Banks gave the sermon.

Detail from the cake showing three Norfolk churches - Beeston St Lawrence, Great Walsingham and Anmer. Photographs: Lyn Stilgoe.
Detail from the cake showing three Norfolk churches – Beeston St Lawrence, Great Walsingham and Anmer.
Photographs: Lyn Stilgoe.

In a brief address to the congregation, Father Philip also thanked his wife, Anne, for her great support in his ministry and his work in the parish.

He had specifically requested that no personal donations be made but gifts could be made to the Friends of St Mary’s Church. Adding that in cricketing terms, he was 50 not out, he hoped to continue his innings for as long as possible.

Then the entire company was invited to a hog roast lunch, which had been prepared by members of the parish.

It later emerged that the parish had clubbed together to give “a much loved friend and priest” an engraved glass decanter and also a special steam railway holiday break. And, it was revealed too that as a teenager while staying with his grandmother, he had visited the village in the 1950s in the days before electricity when the streets were cobbled and oil lamps light homes. He had declared that one day he would like to return to serve the parish – and a quarter of a century later, he came to Mendlesham as its priest.

Roof alarm success but plea for more funds

Thefts of lead from Norfolk’s churches have halved in the past two years – thanks to the roof alarm scheme.
A £250,000 fund has enabled 70 of the most vulnerable churches to be protected by the Roof Alarm Scheme. Initially, it was planned to install 50 alarms when the scheme was launched two years ago by the Diocese of Norwich.
According to the Eastern Daily Press (Saturday, 7 September), which has backed the roof alarm initiative, Lorne Green, Norfolk’s police and crime commissioner, pledged £100,000 at a meeting in December 2017 to kick-start the alarm scheme. And the diocese of Norwich, the Norfolk Churches Trust, the Round Tower Churches Society and Allchurches Trust immediately gave their financial support.
The former Bishop of Norwich, the Rt Rev Graham James, supported the roof alarm scheme as a total of about £250,000 was raised.
But funds are needed to continue the work and to protect other churches in the diocese as Norfolk police revealed that the number of incidents of lead theft has halved in the past two years. In the two years before the roof alarm scheme was started, there had been 48 incidents but only 26 in the last two years, according to Norfolk police.
The Ven Steven Betts, Archdeacon of Norfolk, said: “The partnership with the Police and Crime Commissioner and other donors means the vast majority of our vulnerable churches are now protected by alarms.”
Mr Green said: “It is reassuring to hear that since the scheme was launched the police have recorded a near 50pc drop in reports of lead theft, however this does not mean we should rest on our laurels.”
An urgent plea for funds has been made to protect more churches across the county by donating money to the Raise the Alarm scheme.
Donations can be made online to the Norfolk Community Foundation, (Raise the Alarm) or by post to Norfolk Community Foundation, St James Mill, Whitefriars, Norwich NR3 1TN.

Three churches share £15,000 grants

The round tower at Tuttington church, taken by the society’s founder Bill Goode in the 1970s.

Three round tower churches have been awarded a total of almost £15,000 by the Norfolk Churches Trust.

A grant of £10,000 was made at the conservation charity’s latest quarterly meeting towards urgent repairs to the tower of SS Peter and Paul, Tuttington, near Aylsham. The total cost, which includes repairs to the chancel and nave roofs, runs to about £120,000. It will cover repairs including to a buttress, improving drainage and rainwater goods including downpipes and gutters.
The Round Tower Churches Society also made a recent award of £2,000 towards the repairs.

A Breckland church, of St Margaret, Breckles, near Attleborough, has been awarded £4,000 towards the £41,000 repair costs. It needs to improve drainage and replace guttering and downpipes as well as carry out repairs to roofs and stonework

The Norfolk Churches Trust also gave £500 to St Edmund’s, Taverham, towards the total £27,000 cost of repairing the chancel and nave windows and the south aisle roof.

The trust, which also gave a further £18,000 to six other churches, takes into account the funds available before making specific repair grants.

Norfolk church misses out on top award for conservation

A major project to restore West Lexham’s round tower was one of four finalists in the 2019 Sir John Betjeman Award – of one of the country’s top conservation awards.

The award judges for the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings announced the result at the charity’s annual meeting in Kent on Saturday, July 13. The winner was a church at Grasmere, Cumbria, in the Lake District.

The judges had visited St Nicholas, West Lexham, near Swaffham, to see the £250,000 restoration project, which was completed in January 2019.

The Sir John Betjeman Award, which was first made in 1990, aims to recognise excellence in conservation of heritage buildings and is open to all places of worship and denominations. It encourages the highest standards of repair and conservation and attracted a total of 23 entries this year.

Niels Olesen, treasurer of West Lexham parochial church council, said that it was a tremendous achievement to be a finalist. “We’ve certainly seen a marked increase in the number of visitors to the church since it was short-listed for the award.”

He was grateful for help from the Norfolk Churches Trust, which awarded £7,000 in 2017, and £1,000 from the Round Tower Churches Society in 2018, towards the total cost.

The restoration was overseen by Dominico D’Alessandro, of Norwich-based architects, Nicholas Warns.

Church service celebrates restoration project

Repairs to St Margaret’s Church, Herringfleet, have been completed and a service of re-dedication taken by Bishop Alan of Thetford has been held in the church.

The structures of the nave and porch of St Margaret’s Church, near Lowestoft, have both been quite extensively repaired and both roofs re-thatched.

The society made a grant of £4,000 towards the total cost of the repairs. A new drainage system has been installed and the chancel re-rendered. When the rendering on the nave was removed, it was decided not to replace it but have the flint wall re-pointed.

Since this did not come under the scope of the Heritage Lottery Fund grant, it was funded with the help of the RTCS grant.

Inside the church has been rewired, with smart new ceiling spotlights and some “old style” wall lamps, and blissful under pew heating fitted. One of the panels of stained glass on the east window has been repaired and re-installed within the grant funding, and another panel will be refurbished with their own funds.

The inside plaster has been re-done and the walls gleaming white making the church so much brighter and enhancing the colours of the windows.

Grants’ officer Nick Wiggin and the membership secretary Teresa Wiggin attended the service, which was held on Wednesday, June 12, and the celebrations afterwards.
Herringfleet, St Margaret

Lead thieves strike Breckland church twice in 24 hours

Thieves have taken lead from the aisle roof of an 11th century church in west Norfolk.

St Mary’s Church, Beechamwell, near Swaffham, was the target of thieves twice in 24 hours, it appears. The theft of large areas of lead was discovered on Wednesday, May 29 – and it is likely that they may have removed lead the previous night as well.

St Mary’s Church, Beechamwell.

St Mary’s Church, Beechamwell, has been described as Anglo-Saxon partly because of the evidence of the early belfry openings near the top of the circular part.

However, the leading specialist architect, the late Stephen Hart, suggests that despite the formidable weight of this virtually unanimous opinion, there are convincing grounds for dating the church and tower as post-Conquest.

It may be of the same period as the round Saxo-Norman church towers at Herringfleet and Haddiscoe. The term “Saxo-Norman” is used here as meaning architecture of Anglo-Saxon workmanship or style executed after the Conquest.

Anyone with any information, which may help detectives find the thieves, is asked to contact Norfolk police.

Two more grants to fund restoration work

Two grants worth a total of £6,500 have been made by the Round Tower Churches Society for immediate restoration projects.

It brings the total awarded to churches to £22,500 for current and future restoration work  – and follows the £14,500 distributed last year.

Within a fortnight of receipt of the latest two applications, the committee agreed on the latest grants. Stuart Bowell, chairman, said that as the society has received several very generous legacies in recent months, it was determined to use its funds to help as many churches as
possible.

A major restoration project costing almost £250,000 has started at All Saints, Stuston, on the Suffolk and Norfolk border.

Restoration work has started at All Saints, Stuston.

The society awarded £5,000 – with half from the Stan Barnes legacy – for repairs to the tower and also improving access to the church, which is near Diss. The work, which started on April 14, will also include re-tiling the chancel and north transept roof, improvements to drainage and repairs to the internal render.

A grant of £188,147 from the Heritage Lottery Fund has covered the lion’s share of the £238,053 cost but it still leaves a shortfall of more than £47,000.

A £1,500 grant was also made to All Saints, Keswick, near Norwich, which will enable accumulations of bird dung to be removed from the tower and appropriate mesh guards to be replaced. Apparently, the visiting pigeons and doves have started to cause some damage to the tower’s fabric.

The society’s last grant to the church was £200 in 2007.

The society’s members will be visiting the church on Saturday, September 7 on the season;’s final guided tour, starting at Intwood (2.30pm), then Keswick and finally Swainsthorpe.

Norfolk church in national award

A round tower Norfolk church is a finalist in a national conservation award.

The judges of the 2019 John Betjeman Award for excellence in conservation have just visited St Nicholas, West Lexham, which completed a £250,000 restoration project on January 29 this year.

St Nicholas was one of 23 entries for the annual award by the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings. It was selected by the judges with three other churches at Grasmere, Cumbria; Tiverton, Devon and Dodington, Somerset.

The John Betjeman Award, which is open to all places of worship and all denominations in England and Wales, seeks to recognise the highest standards of repair and conservation.

Mr Niels Olesen, treasurer of West Lexham parochial church council, was delighted that St Nicholas is a finalist in this prestigious award. “We’ve had tremendous help from so many organisations and groups. We were fortunate to obtain a maximum grant from the Heritage Lottery Fund,” he added.

A grant of £1,000 from the Round Tower Churches Society and also an award from the Norfolk Churches Trust were also greatly appreciated.

Major restoration was necessary because water damage to the chalk and flint walls threatened the church and also the tower, he explained. As part of the project, some work carried out in the early 1990s had to be replaced because in the tower, cement render was found to be causing more water damage and trapping moisture in the walls. “If it had not been removed, the tower itself may eventually have crumbled,” said Mr Olesen.
And the builders, S & L Restoration also used a traditional material, hot lime mortar, for much of the repair work.

Also the steel bands, which had been tied around the tower in the earlier restoration work, have now been removed. In 1993, the tower was at risk of collapse from extensive cracks.

Mr Olesen said that the architects, Norwich-based Nicholas Warns, helped to transform the church into a gleaming success especially since the tower has been whitewashed. Architect Dominico D’Alessarndo, who took on responsibility for the project three years ago on his second day with the practice, was thrilled that the project has been recognised in this national award.

The winner will be announced, and the award presented, at the SPAB members’ meeting at Boxley Abbey, Maidstone, Kent, on July 13.

Photograph: Dominico D’Alessandro, Nicholas Warns Architects.

Lottery award for south Norfolk church

A round tower church in south Norfolk with five bells dating from the early 1600s has been awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund grant.
St Michael’s Church, Aslacton, near Long Stratton, has received £73,200 to carry out further repairs to the tower.

Line drawing of St Michael’s, Aslacton, which dates from 1957.

In 2012, the bells were silenced when a large crack appeared in the tower, which may date from Saxon times.
In response, the Aslacton Tower Repair Fund campaigners raised £15,000 to carry out initial repairs. The Round Tower Churches Society awarded £500 in 2012 for initial survey work when it was asked to help.
The ringing peal of bells were all cast by William Brend, of Norwich, and include some dated 604, two in 1607 and one in 1614. It is thought that there are only two full sets in Norfolk cast by Brend, which have survived. The other is relatively nearby at Thurton.
Although Aslacton was recorded in Domesday Book’s Great Survey of 1086, there is no specific reference to the church, which has a 53ft-high round tower.
However, it includes many typical Saxon features including belfry openings with flint jambs and double triangular headed openings, and a blocked flint framed west door.
When further structural damage was identified, the parochial church council led efforts to secure further funding to complete repairs and to make the church and tower weather-proof.
Norfolk Churches Tours, which marks its golden jubilee season in 2019, visited St Michael’s in 2009. Some of these details have been taken from the church leaflet written by Lyn Stilgoe, who is one of the guides.

Lottery grant won by Breckland church

A round tower church in the heart of Breckland has been awarded £100,000 by the National Lottery Heritage Fund.

St Peter’s Church, Merton, near Watton, will also repair its nave roof with zinc – having twice been the victim of lead thieves in the past eight years.

The latest grant will enable the church to be used as a local meeting place and for seminars, workshops and concerts to be held. A number of initiatives to promote the church’s heritage and history will also be undertaken.

St Peter’s Church, Merton
St Peter’s Church, Merton

The grant has been welcomed by the Round Tower Churches Society, which offered financial help for urgent repairs immediately after an estimated £2,000 of lead was stolen in August 2015. The chairman, Stuart Bowell, wrote to the Eastern Daily Press after that 2015 theft, explaining that the total repair cost was likely to be around £25,000.

St Peter’s stands on raised ground overlooking the lake and Merton Hall. It has been closely associated with the de Grey family and their ancestors, who have been lord of the manor from the Norman Conquest.

The society gave £500 to the church in 2015 and members were given a guided tour of St Peter’s two years ago.

Since the society’s formation in 1973, it has now given almost £200,000 in grants to round tower churches. The overwhelming majority of more than 180 round churches include 124 in Norfolk, 38 in Suffolk and half a dozen in Cambridgeshire.