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On top of the world at church tower repair - North Walsham joy after nearly 300 years

PUBLISHED: 07:30 10 February 2015

Topping out ceremony atop the bell tower of North Walsham church. Rev Paul Cubitt pours Champagne on the top of the church

Photo by Mark Bullimore

Topping out ceremony atop the bell tower of North Walsham church. Rev Paul Cubitt pours Champagne on the top of the church Photo by Mark Bullimore

Archant Norfolk 2015

Last winter North Walsham’s church tower was a dangerous and crumbling ruin.

Grant-givers

Major grant-givers to the tower repair project were: English Heritage, the National Churches Trust, the Geoffrey Watling Charity, the Garfield Weston Foundation, the Wolfson Foundation through Church Care, the Norfolk Churches Trust, and the All Churches Trust

The work was carried out by Universal Stone and the church used Norwich-based Nicholas Warns Architect Ltd.

Just one year and £209,000 later, it is safe again - and about to be revealed in its newly-repaired glory after nearly 300 years.

Church chiefs and contractors cracked a bottle of champagne over the stonework to celebrate at a topping out ceremony on Saturday, more than 25m (82ft) above North Walsham.

And North Walsham’s vicar, Rev Paul Cubitt, has hailed the major project’s swift success, as a message of hope for the town’s future.

Safety fencing which has been in place since August 2011, and scaffolding, will come down this month when townsfolk will be able to see the now squared-off tower.

Topping out ceremony atop the bell tower of North Walsham church.

Photo by Mark Bullimore Topping out ceremony atop the bell tower of North Walsham church. Photo by Mark Bullimore

Fourteenth century St Nicholas, which is grade one listed, was once said, with a spire-topped tower, to be the tallest building in Norfolk, after Norwich Cathedral.

It originally had a 147-ft tower but parts collapsed in 1724, with further falls in 1835 and 1836.

Poor repair work in the last century meant that large chunks of flint and masonry had worked loose, and alarm bells rang a few years ago when several pieces tumbled to the churchyard below.

“It was frightening to see, up in the tower, the size of some of the loose rubble that could have come down - as big as boulders,” said Mr Cubitt. “It was a matter of life and death that this work was done.”

He praised churchwardens Nancy Heywood and Lois Sherman who, had bravely started fund-raising in earnest from January last year, despite much scepticism.

The breakthrough came in March when English Heritage, one of several grant-givers, increased its offer from £22,000 to £82,000.

And the churchwardens, who organised monthly fund-raisers, managed to make up the final £28,000 shortfall, partly through a sponsor-a-stone appeal.

“What they have done is create a sense of ‘can do’ which I think will permeate into other aspects of town life,” said Mr Cubitt. Everything else will seem less daunting now. The renewal of the tower is symbolic of the renewal of the town.”

■ There will be a special thanksgiving service on Sunday February 15 at 10am, open to everyone.

■ Is a major project under way at your church? Contact alex.hurrell@archant.co.uk

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