Share the history of unique West Norfolk church
The dramatic transformation of the historic St Mary’s Church in Houghton-on-the-Hill has been a labour of love for Bob Davey. Now the 83 year old is appealing for volunteers to help share the church's history with visitors from across the world.
Bob Davey MBE has dedicated the past 20 years of his life to successfully restoring the once dilapidated St Mary’s Church in the abandoned medieval village of Houghton-on-the-Hill, near Swaffham. Eager to pass on the unique history of this now picturesque church, Bob is seeking more people to help welcome visitors and show off the special features.
Bob’s late wife Gloria found the neglected church while leading a ramble for the W.I. in 1992. The sad state of the building - covered in ivy, windows smashed and with no roof or floor –so affected Bob that he sold his antique business and ploughed his time and resources into its restoration.
With Bob’s enthusiasm and initial funding, the project, which is now managed by ‘The Friends of St Mary’s’ of which he is the secretary, has attracted over £500,000 funding from agencies such as the Norfolk Churches Trust, the Heritage Lottery Fund and private donations.
During the restoration of the now Grade I listed building there have been some remarkable discoveries, most notably large areas of rare Romaneque wall paintings dating from the 11th century. The paintings, dating from a time where access to the Bible was extremely limited, tell stories from the Old and New Testaments and use other allegorical images to proclaim the Christian message.
The transformation of St Mary’s has resulted in a unique, useable space to hold multi-denominational services, weddings and funerals. A Midsummer Celebration and Fathers Day Service
with the Rt Reverend Graham James, The Bishop of Norwich, Jill Dobbs
and the Close Harmony Singers
will be held there on Sunday 19th June, 3.00pm
Keen to pass on their passion and historical discoveries, Bob and a small team of volunteers open the church up every afternoon from 2pm – 4pm, and at other times on request.
Now they are seeking more volunteers to join them as they welcome visitors from across the world and provide guided tours of the rare paintings, the now beautiful churchyard, and the journey the church has been on throughout the centuries.
Kevin Simpson, one of the team who welcomes visitors, said: “A lot of people think that the church is a special place for meditation etc. It is very quiet and peaceful up there. It is out in the middle of nowhere really. The village has disappeared and there is just the church there stuck on top of the hill.
“We can have up to 30 visitors a day with 4 or 5 parties arriving at once. We are all interested in churches, enjoy meeting visitors and chatting with them. We have a lot of people visit from other churches – they find it quite interesting what is going on. Some are tracing their family history. We have people who come from Australia, New Zealand, all over the world really. It keeps me occupied!”
If you are interested in volunteering and can spare an afternoon once a fortnight or so please contact Kevin Simpson on 01953 882790.
This article is based on an article from the EDP24
Photos show St Mary's, Houghton-on-the-Hill before (below) and after (above) the restoration process.
Photos courtesy of St Mary's, Houghton-on-the-Hill websites www.saintmaryschurch.org.uk