Society’s latest grant as it marks exactly 50 years since launch

It was 50 years ago to the month that the Round Tower Churches Society was launched with a handful of members.

And to mark the golden jubilee, a £3,000 grant was given to St Mary & St Walstan’s Church, Bawburgh, near Norwich.

It brings the total awarded to help maintain the country’s round tower churches since the formal launch as the Friends of the Round Tower Churches on September 1, 1973 to more than £400,000.

This latest grant will go towards repairs to the tower roof and repair cracks in walls, which will cost a total of about £27,000. The Norfolk Churches Trust has also given a £2,000 grant.

The Society, which now has more than 510 members, gave its first grant of £20 in August 1974 to Cranwich Church, near Thetford, to help defray the cost of re-thatching.

In the past five months, the Society (which dropped the ‘Friends’ title in the early 1990s) has offered grants of £17,500 to help churches, and in the last year, a total of £40,000 has been pledged towards repair and conservation works.

Membership subscriptions, donations and generous legacies over the years have made it possible to help many of the country’s 184 round tower churches. Almost two-thirds or 124 are in Norfolk, with 38 in Suffolk.

At the Society’s final summer guided tour, a near record attendance for this season of almost 60 members visited three churches near Beccles – Stockton, Kirby Cane and Geldeston. The Society also made donations to all three churches.

The RTCS has made recent grants to both Stockton and also at St Michael, Geldeston, which has now repaired seven of its windows. A special service of re-dedication will be held on Sunday, October 1 to mark the completion of this phase of the repair programme.

Stuart Bowell, chairman, said that the Society had grown from those early days when 24 enthusiasts, led by retired television engineer Bill Goode, formed the Friends of Round Tower Churches in February and March 1973. The first “Round Tower” newsletter was published in September 1973 – marking the first membership year.

Membership costs a minimum of £20 a year. Many members donate more than the minimum.