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Urgent bid to repair crumbling iconic tower of St Nicholas’ Church, North Walsham

PUBLISHED: 06:30 30 August 2012

Rev Canon Derek Earis, vicar of North Walsham, pictured with the crumbling tower of St Nicholas' Church.
PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Rev Canon Derek Earis, vicar of North Walsham, pictured with the crumbling tower of St Nicholas' Church. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

© ARCHANT NORFOLK 2012

An urgent bid is under way for funding to fix North Walsham’s ruined church tower, fenced off to protect the public from falling stones.

The vicar of St Nicholas Parish Church says repairs to the tower - once second only in height to Norwich Cathedral - must be tackled after nearly 300 years of neglect to stop it crumbling even further, risking injury to passers by.

Until the work is carried out, Rev Canon Derek Earis warned that the unsightly fencing and danger notices would have to remain around the Grade 1-listed building, plum in the heart of North Walsham’s Conservation Area.

“Some have complained that this is unsightly but we have no option at present to guard public safety while we seek the necessary funds,” said Canon Earis. “The time has come when we must take action.”

Experts estimate that it will cost about £230,000 to repair the tower and church chiefs are crossing their fingers that they will hear good news in the spring about a grant application to English Heritage, which works with the Heritage Lottery Fund.

“We understand that we have passed the first round of applications and that means they will conduct a detailed assessment themselves to see how much they can contribute.

“We are hoping that this may be as much as £200,000 but the final figure may be less and we are unable to predict what this will be at this stage,” said Canon Earis.

The church has already begun fund-raising towards the deficit, including proceeds from a Queen’s jubilee flower display. Some cash from Saturday’s church fete will also go towards the cause.

But Canon Earis said they had almost emptied the church fabric fund coffers in order to pay bills of almost £6,000 for tower surveys and safety measures.

Fourteenth century St Nicholas originally had a 147-ft tower but parts fell down in 1724, with further falls in 1835 and 1836.

Exposure to the weather caused more flints to loosen last autumn and the area was fenced.

“Many parish churches have had their towers fall down over the centuries but we are one of the few never to have been able to rebuild despite a project in the early 20th century,” said Canon Earis.

Although loved as a picturesque ruin by many, the tower was a liability because it was at risk from the elements and so needed constant monitoring.

Churchwarden Nancy Heywood stressed that the “forlorn appearance” of the tower in no way reflected the vibrant heart of the church which had a congregation of 200.

“In addition, large numbers come daily to admire and enjoy a well- maintained historic building which hosts many community events and has been central to North Walsham life for many centuries,” she added.

Both church chiefs urged everyone to drop in to Saturday’s fete, from 9am-12.30pm. Canon Earis said: “Our parish church is an amazing building enjoyed by the whole community and we need, and are grateful for, everyone’s help to keep it so.

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