Editor’s surprise to find 11th century Norman ‘chevron’ carving in 1970s stone fireplace

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An 11th century piece of Norman stone carving was a hidden surprise in a modern fireplace in a Mid-Norfolk house.

Award-winning builder Kevin Baker had just started to take down a 1970s stone-built fire surround in a detached house at Mileham, between Dereham and Fakenham, in January 2021.

As he picked up the second piece of stone, he noticed some unusual carving on the back.

He handed it to the society’s vice-chairman and magazine editor, Michael Pollitt, who was intrigued. On the back of the block of stone, which measured 6ins (150mm) by 4ins (100m), there was a distinct chevron carving. It looked like the design commonly attributed to Norman stonemasons and often used to decorate church doorways.

As the fire surround was removed, two other pieces of stone, both with typical rebates found in church windows were identified. There were another three pieces, all shaped, which may have come from part of a column. They did not actually fit together but were of a similar nature.

Mr Baker, of Hellesdon, who had undertaken the refurbishment of the three-bedroomed detached house for Michael and CJ Pollitt, was puzzled. Where had the stone for the surround come from?

The house, with its seven-foot fireplace surround was almost certainly built around 1973 because it was registered with the National House Building Council by Colin Read, of Hevingham, on September 1, 1974. He paid £20, including inflation cover premium, for registration.

The society’s secretary, ‘Lyn Stilgoe, who has seen the photograph of the inverted-V carving, thought it could be 11th century and dating from Norman times. Had it possibly come from Castle Acre priory/ castle?

A groove in the other stone looks like the space cut to hold glass, she added.

So, now, Michael and CJ have got a bit of mysterious church heritage to cherish.

Photograph: The Norman ‘inverted chevron’ carving and two other pieces of stone.