Ruined Churches of Norfolk

Almost 1000 parish churches were built in Norfolk in as many years, and around 100 are now in ruins. At least 150 have disappeared completely. Norfolk has more medieval parish churches than any other county and more ruins. In some cases, a ruined church is all that remains of a village lost to the sands of time. Each ruined church has a story to tell and, as the touchstone of its community for hundreds of years, each has faithfully facilitated the key milestones in the lives of countless people. If only the walls could talk.

St Edmund’s Church, lost village of Egmere

The settlement of Egmere was particularly small when the impressive tower was constructed in the early 14th century. It was built, first and foremost, to honour the glory of God. The church was sold with the lands of Walsingham Abbey in 1538 during the Dissolution. It was then used as a barn, the lower of the two roof lines bears witness to this. The main street of the village of Egmere now appears as a ditch, passing to the north of the church.

St Andrew’s Church, Roudham

The church was founded in the 12th century. A section of a decorative grave slab from this time was later used as a window surround in the nave and is now situated in the information shelter. Most of the 12th century church was demolished in the early 14th century during the rebuilding of the tower and chancel. It is unusual for the tower to be used as an entrance porch and represents a short-lived style of the time. In 1736, during works to the lead on the tower, ashes from someone’s pipe fell onto the thatched roof which caused a fire and left the church in ruins.

St Mary’s Church, Burgh St Mary

St Mary’s Church is situated in the middle of a large field with an indistinct footpath leading up to it. A quiet country lane sweeps along the boundary, providing a lovely view of the tower which looks out through its copse of trees. The vast majority of round tower churches are found in Norfolk. St Mary’s dates from the early Norman period and the octagonal bell stage came later. Flint is abundant in Norfolk and was used extensively for church building. Huge fallen flints are scattered around the ruin. Parts of the north wall remain. Following the Reformation, this church shared its rector with nearby St Margaret’s Church and became surplus to requirements. By 1602 the situation had deteriorated: ‘the Church decaied, profaned and made a Barne.’ A report in 1781 states ‘the Church has been dilapidated many years; and its tower now being grown over with ivy and woodbine, forms a beautiful ruin. The churchyard yields a good crop of turnips.’

St Bartholomew’s Church, Norwich

By the mid 19th century the parish of Heigham featured tightly packed rows of terraced housing near the city’s waterworks. This church fell victim to extensive German bombing on the night of 27th April 1942, the first Baedecker raid on the city in retaliation for the allied destruction of Lubeck. The number of deaths in Norwich this night accounted for half of all those who died as a result of bombings in the city. One mile away St Benedict’s Church was also destroyed. Three other churches would suffer the same fate over the next few months. These ruins now act as memorials to those who died.

All Saints’ Church, Lost Village of Godwick

The village of Godwick is recorded in the Domesday Book as having a church. The village didn’t recover from agricultural depressions and was incorporated into the Coke family lands for sheep grazing. By 1596 the church was abandoned. In the 17th century the ruins were demolished and the tower was rebuilt as a fashionable folly to be admired from Godwick Hall. The eastern wall collapsed in 1981.

All Saints’ Church, Panxworth

This church is set in an isolated position on the edge of the Norfolk Broads. The church was in ruins by 1836. Within a few years, the nave and chancel were completely rebuilt. The Victorian eastern tower arch is evidence of this. In the 1970s the church was declared redundant and largely demolished, with only the 14th century tower left standing. The tower was struck by lightning in 2006 and repairs were subsequently made.

St Mary’s Church, Saxlingham Thorpe

This church comprises an 11th century nave and chancel. In the 15th century the tower was added and the chancel lengthened. By 1684 it had fallen out of use and repairs were no longer being made. Permission was granted in 1687 for building materials to be sourced from it and used in the church in the nearby village of Saxlingham Nethergate, also dedicated to St. Mary. It is apparent that certain windows in the latter church were not made to measure, but were recycled. The great storm of 1987 blew several trees down onto the walls. In the summer the church is completely hidden from the surrounding fields by a dense patch of woodland. The signpost does not give any clue as to its location; it simply marks the bridleway.

St Martin’s Church, Shotesham

St Martin’s is one of four churches in the parish of Shotesham. Edward the Confessor granted the church to the Abbot of St. Benet’s in 1050. The church was partially destroyed during the Reformation, in which St. Benet’s Monastery was dissolved, and was eventually abandoned during the 17th century. During a storm in 1987 a tree fell into the chancel, destroying a section of the wall. The majority of the remaining masonry dates to the 15th and 16th centuries.

St Saviour’s Church, Surlingham

St Saviour’s Church looks down over the Yare Valley marshes, to the south-east of Norwich. It has a Norman foundation and a three cell design. It may have had a central tower. The church was under the control of the Abbess of Carrow Abbey and was bought by King Henry VIII following the Dissolution. The parish of Surlingham comprised St Saviour’s Church, associated with Surlingham Manor, and St Mary’s Church. Eventually the population of the parish dwindled and St Saviour’s was abandoned in 1705. Much of its freestone was taken away and used elsewhere.

St Theobald’s Church, Great Hautbois

St Theobald’s Church stands isolated on high ground at the end of a track and is largely obscured by trees. From the road you wouldn’t know it was there. It dates to the 11th century with later medieval alterations and Roman bricks can be seen in the early Norman walls. The splendid Norman font is now situated in St Swithin’s Church, Frettenham. In 1863 St Theobald’s was described as ‘inconveniently situated with a bad approach to it, and distant from any inhabited houses or dwellings of any kind’ and was already in a dilapidated state. The decision was made to build a new church nearby and so the nave and aisle were deroofed and the lead sold. The walls were capped and the chancel converted into a mortuary chapel.

St George’s Church, Hindolveston

The masonry of St George’s Church is barely visible. The west wall of the tower stands to full height, including the parapet, but is totally smothered by ivy. In 1892, the east wall of the tower suddenly collapsed, demolishing the nave. Luckily no one was injured. The chancel survived and repairs were made. However, it was decided to abandon this church and build a new one closer to the centre of the village, completed in 1932. Unfortunately the chancel was destroyed for building material. The original piscina, door, octagonal piers, statue niches, font and monuments were moved to the new church.


St Mary’s Church, East Somerton

The word which sums up St Mary’s Church is ‘magical’. This atmosphere is enhanced by the draped elder and ivy and, of course, the large oak tree growing out of the centre of the nave. The chancel has been lost and visitors enter the substantial ruin via its arch. The church dates to the 15th century. Its parish was merged with that of Winterton and St Mary’s Church then served as a chapel of ease to the nearby Hall until the mid 17th century. It then suffered a steady decline and ruination.