Dig helps unearth history of ruined Hopton church dating back to 13th century
13:07 03 September 2014
Archant Norfolk © 2014
An archaeological dig has started piecing together the potted history of a crumbling Norfolk church.
Old St Margaret’s Church in Hopton, on the coast between Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft, dates back to the 13th century but was abandoned in 1865 after it burned down in a fire. In recent years, residents have given up their time to look after the Grade 2-listed structure which now appears on the English Heritage’s buildings at risk register.
Last year Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, working with Hopton Parish Council, was awarded Heritage Lottery Funding to restore the ruins so they can be opened to the public and yesterday, the first archaeological dig on the site came to an end.
More than 30 volunteers helped at the three-day excavation and archaeologist Giles Emery, of Norvic Archaeology, said it had been a huge success. “We’ve done a lot in three days; we’ve managed to get to the footings of the original stone church which means we can understand more about how and when it was extended over the years.
“There was a surprise when we found some masonry in a trench near a blocked doorway and we found a little bit of medieval glass which dates to the 13th or 14th century. It would have been painted glass and tells us a little about what the church would have looked like inside.”
The dig also uncovered “high status” glazed medieval tiles.
“Somebody was sponsoring this church,” said Mr Emery. “It looks like there were major renovations in the 14th and the 15th centuries. Someone was paying for the upkeep and making sure the church was looked after.”
The dig also gave experts the chance to look again at an underground vault used by the Sayers family, local patrons of St Margaret’s.
While the finds will now be interpreted to build a better picture of Hopton’s history, residents who find early pottery or artefacts in their gardens are urged to contact Mr Emery who believes there could be a medieval village hidden under modern homes.
History of Hopton’s medieval ruin
St Margaret’s Church dates back to the 13th century but there has been a church on the site since 1087.
It is believed the flint and stone structure was built between 1189 and 1250 and later extended. The Norfolk Records Office holds baptism, burial and marriage records dating from 1673. In 1865, the church burned down and a new St Margaret’s built on Lowestoft Road.
The church was used as a mortuary chapel before the old churchyard closed in 1966 and the area left to grass over.
Today, the grade two-listed ruin is on the English Heritage’s buildings at risk register and fenced off as it is considered a dangerous structure.
Volunteers have tended to the gardens and are now involved in an ambitious project to reopen the church, which was purchased by Hopton Parish Council for £1 in 2008, as a medieval monument and open green space for local people.
If you want to get involved in restoring the church, call the preservation trust on 01493 846195.