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‘It could have been closed forever’ - How a Norfolk church was saved 34 years ago

PUBLISHED: 07:00 19 July 2020

Churches  -  B  Bexwell church  Dated  8th May 1963  Photograph  C2950   Kemp

Churches - B Bexwell church Dated 8th May 1963 Photograph C2950 Kemp

One of Norfolk’s historic churches was at risk of closure but the local community “rallied” together to keep it open.

St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian BurtSt Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian Burt

It was considered to be unviable by the rector at the time but 34 years on Bexwell Church, near Downham Market, has proven otherwise.

On July 13, 1986 it was saved from closure after around 100 people came together to ensure the church, which was estimated by Round Towers Churches Trust to have started in Saxon times, remained open.

Angela Vigrass, who has been involved in the church since 1986, said she was “horrified” to hear of the plans to shut it and was among those leading the campaign to save it.

Mrs Vigrass said: “A public meeting had been advertised in the press to close Bexwell Church on that day.

St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Matthew UsherSt Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Matthew Usher

“That didn’t suit many of us. The troops were rallied and the church was packed with around 100 people intent on keeping it open and functioning.

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“The then rector had proposed that small village churches like ours weren’t viable and should close and said ‘it will make me ill’, to which we said ‘don’t worry, we’ll do the work’ and we did, from re-roofing the whole church, installing new electrics and a lightening conductor, mending the windows, dealing with the damp, holding many fund raising events from jumble sales to flower festival weekends, concerts, coffee mornings and sponsored walks.”

The community also held special services for VE and VJ for ex-RAF personnel and their families who came from all over the country.

Angela Vigrass and Tony Wynn inside St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian BurtAngela Vigrass and Tony Wynn inside St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian Burt

Mrs Vigrass said the funds raised from this and through grants generated a “tremendous amount of cooperation and goodwill” which carried on the life of the church.

She added: “During those 1,000 years Britain has witnessed invasions from Vikings, two World Wars, the destruction of many church buildings under Cromwell’s Army, the rift with Rome under Henry VIII, and many more difficult times from the Black Death, the Plague, disease and pestilence, as well as births, marriages and deaths and happy occasions.

“And all that time Bexwell Church, along with other little church communities throughout the land, has stood by the people for prayers and support.

“It could have been closed forever at any one of those times and certainly in 1986, but it is still open and welcoming visitors and congregations 34 years later.

Angela Vigrass inside St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian BurtAngela Vigrass inside St Mary's Church, Bexwell. Picture: Ian Burt

“Thank you to every one of you lovely people who has given us support and encouragement and help in so many ways so that the life of the church still goes on.”


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