King’s message of support for restoration work at St Mary’s, Beachamwell

A royal message of appreciation from The King for the restoration work on the fire-ravaged church at Beachamwell was applauded at a village celebration.

St Mary’s Church, which was virtually destroyed by fire in February 2022, has been re-thatched and made weather-proof, said churchwarden Peter Berendt.

The 1,000-year-old Saxon tower, which sustained fire damage as the blaze spread from the nave, has also been re-roofed and re-pointed. Further, the heat cracked the two bells which had to be repaired and the bell-frame replaced.

Builders, restorers, heritage and conservation groups and parishioners were invited to inspect the major restoration progress at the round tower church – one of just 124 in Norfolk – completed in just over two years.  Mr Berendt said that quite remarkable progress had been achieved thanks to the enthusiasm support of so many and especially the insurers, ecclesiastical.

Gen the Lord Dannatt, president of the Norfolk Churches Trust, thanked all those who have worked on the restoration of the church and given grants. He was delighted to convey a message of appreciation from The King for the work which has been carried out on behalf of his wife, the Lord Lieutenant of Norfolk. Lady Dannatt, who had hoped to attend the ceremony, was attending another enagement.

Lord Dannatt said that conservation charities including the Norfolk Churches Trust and the Round Tower Churches Society had contributed funds to complete additional repair works, which were above and beyond the insured liabilities.

It is hoped that the restoration programme will be completed by the middle of next year as the interior will have to be re-plastered. A new level access to the church will also be installed, which will enable other events to be held at the church.

In addition, a number of monuments and memorials were currently under-going specialist restoration and it was hoped they would be returned or replaced inside the church again.

Lord Dannatt thanked the builders and contractors including S & L Restoration, the Whittlesey-based roofing specialists DJS Lead & Metal, the architect Ruth Blackman, and Jamie Lloyd, of Anglia Thatching. The project management team, bellfounders Taylors of Loughborough, timber specialists English Brothers, of Walton Highway, which made the 32 half-tonne roof trusses, and other contractors, were all praised.

As the church has arisen from the ashes, Lord Dannatt said that this centre of worship would be able to remain at the heart of the villane and serve the wider community for another 1,000 years.

The rector, the Rev Ian Mack, who has yet to officiate at St Mary’s since his appointment to the parish, led a brief prayer. The diocese of Ely was represented by the Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech, the Ven Richard Harlow.

Then Mr Berendt invited the assembled crowd of around 100 to raise a glass to the restoration of the church. He will be giving a guided tour on Sunday, June 2, 2024 – see below for details.

The Round Tower Church Society, which has awarded £5,000 in grants towards the restoration, was represented by the chairman, Stuart Bowell, grants’ officer Nick Wiggin, the secretary ‘Lyn Stilgoe and vice-chairman Michael Pollitt.

Beachamwell Open Gardens – Sunday, June 2 (noon to 5pm). Entry £5, under 16 free. Refreshments – Light lunch noon to 2pm, tea and cakes from 2pm. Plant sale, raffle and tombola.

Experts on hand include thatcher, entomologist and composters. St Mary’s Church – Church warden Peter Berendt’s guided tours, 1.30pm and 3.30pm.

Photograph caption – From left, churchwarden Peter Berendt, the Rev Ian Mack, of Beachamwell, the Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech, the Ven Richard Harlow, Gen the Lord Dannatt, and Breckland district councillor, Peter Wilkinson, for the Nar Valley.

Picture: Michael Pollitt