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Discovering the forgotten churches of Norfolk

PUBLISHED: 12:07 30 March 2019 | UPDATED: 12:07 30 March 2019

St Mary, Saxlingham Thorpe, sitting in dense woodland. It was recorded as being last used for services in 1640.

St Mary, Saxlingham Thorpe, sitting in dense woodland. It was recorded as being last used for services in 1640.

davecarterphotography.com

This is more than just a book. It is an invitation to go exploring across Norfolk to discover our rich history and it is absolutely brilliant. Wonderful words and magnificent photographs. A tribute to both author Clive Dunn and Norwich publishers Lasse Press.

Half a ruin, half a church still in use. St Mary, Barningham WinterHalf a ruin, half a church still in use. St Mary, Barningham Winter

There is an enormous amount of information, facts, figures and quite stunning photographs, in this book launched on Thursday which can be enjoyed in the field or from an armchair.

Landscape of Towers is the explorer’s guide to the lost or forgotten churches and religious ruins of Norfolk. We have more medieval parish churches and more ruined and demolished churches than anywhere else in Britain.

Tackling the subject and doing it justice is an enormous task which author and award-winning Norwich filmmaker Clive Dunn took to his heart and he has produced a glorious book which is a must for all those interested in the long and fascinating history of our beautiful county.

Clive, who has lived in Norfolk for more than 40 years, spent ten years with Anglia Television before becoming an independent television producer/director. Since returning to his first love of photography he has produced a book Distant Camera and now Landscape of Towers.

One of the least remembered ruined churches of Norwich, situated in a little park near Carrow Bridge. St Peter SouthgateOne of the least remembered ruined churches of Norwich, situated in a little park near Carrow Bridge. St Peter Southgate

He sets out to tell us why Norfolk has more than 250 identifiable sites and why they play such an important role in the history of the county.

But why take on such an daunting task in the first place?

“It was 1977 and I had just moved to Norwich to work for Anglia Television. Before that I had been in London working for the BBC on the Landscapes of England series with the father of landscapes history study, W G Hoskins,” he says.

After arriving in Norfolk he armed himself with an Ordnance Survey map and took the A149 driving east from Hunstanton, making for Cromer. On the map an inscription of faintly gothic lettering caught his eye: CHURCH (rems of).

“Intrigued, I turned off the coast road at Wells-next-the-Sea and headed inland towards Fakenham. Two or three miles later I turned right, and after another mile I was greeted with a view that has remained with me since that magical moment.

“Upon a rising mound of tufted grass rutted by foraging sheep was St Edmunds, Egmere, or at least its ruins. I ventured closer and the perpendicular tower of course flint soared upwards,” adds Clive.

“A glint of light came from a glassless window. Jackdaws scurried in panic from wall to wall in what was once the belfry. Shards of flints littered the ground, having come loose from a decrepit wall, half the height it used to be.

“How had the fabric of this building had survived all this time? I was fascinated, hooked by its forlorn charm. What life it must have witnessed. What language it had heard, what breath it had felt.

“The thought of the intricacies from the past that this ruin represented was exhilarating. The minutiae of our Ancestors’ existence, while not visible, were vividly tangible,” said Clive.

And he adds: “The discovery that day gave me a giddy frisson which has never left me, and I vowed to learn more and discover other ruins, and open my eyes to Norfolk’s forgotten past.”

More than 40 years later the result is Landscape of Towers. A book to cherish. A gazetteer. One to encourage us to go exploring and yes, there’s even a postcode, for SatNav users.

Clive is full of praise for all those who helped him on his travels north, south, east and west across Norfolk. From early works of the brilliant writer Claude Messent to the later work of Neil Barcock. Both authors answered calls to the church.

“We are not detached from history: ruins are constant reminders of a narrative thread. If we lose them our recollections of the past become vague, uncertain and improvident for the future,” says Clive.

“Norfolk’s narrative, its antiquity, romance, legends and vanishing scenes reside in the creeks and muddy gullies of saltmarsh: history lurks in the reed beds, its ghosts ready to envelop the curious.

“Mysterious whispers are heard in church walls and monastic relics; everywhere, pulses of the pasty speak to us in the contemporary living place where landscape and history are in perfect harmony,” he adds.

Landscape of Towers by Clive Dunn is published by Lasse Press and is launched this week. It costs £24.99 and is in the shops or from www.lassepress.com

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