Beachamwell church fire makes headlines around the country

Exactly one month ago, St Mary’s Church, Beachamwell, was ablaze. As widely reported, the fire on Wednesday, February 2 destroyed the core of the church but left the smoke-stained round tower standing.

The satirical fortnightly Private Eye’s influential architectural and heritage column, Nooks & Corners, chronicles the fate of St Mary’s in the latest edition. “The potentially horrific consequences of lead theft from historical buildings were demonstrated once again last month when the beautiful 11th century grade 1-listed church in Beachamwell, Norfolk, suffered a hugely destructive fire.”

It added that the window glass was lost as well as the building’s entire interior including an organ, the noteworthy (Jacobean) pulpit and lectern.

As the column also detailed, the lead theft happened in (May) 2019. It quotes figures from the Office of National Statistics revealing a sharp rise in “infrastructure metal thefts” in 2019-2020 with more than 8,300 incidents.

Also one criminal gang stole lead from at least 36 churches, including several listed buildings, causing an estimated £2.1m damage. They were caught and jailed in 2021.

“But as the fire at Beachamwell (and indeed Notre Dame de Paris and the Glasgow School of Art) reminds us, buildings are at much greater peril from fire during repairs.”

Extracted from Private Eye, number 1567.

If Nooks and Corner returns to this subject, maybe it could add that there are only 184 round tower churches in England, so this loss of St Mary’s to fire is even a more significant loss to our national heritage.

Photograph after the fire in early February. Credit, Archant, Eastern Daily Press.

Michael Pollitt