Church gutted by 'catastrophic fire' set to become home

The remains of Bixley Church (St Wandregesilius) - Rev Robert Parsonage inside the church.Pictur

The remains of Bixley Church St Wandregesilius - Rev Robert Parsonage inside the church, pictured in 2004. - Credit: James Bass

An 800-year-old church gutted by fire more than a decade ago is set to be turned into a house.

The Church of Wandregesilius in Bixley, south of Norwich, was almost destroyed in a suspected arson attack in 2004, leaving nothing but the shell of the building.

Since then, the building has been largely empty, with the Church of England (CoE) holding a public consultation on turning the building into a house.

Picture shows
Bixley St Wandregesilius church from SW [6316] 1984-08-16
George Plunkett's photogra

Picture shows Bixley St Wandregesilius church 1984-08-16 - Credit: George Plunkett

“Over the years since the catastrophic fire, a number of options have been explored for Bixley Church," said the Venerable Steven Betts, Archdeacon of Norfolk.

“This present proposal will retain much of the ruin which is left and allow for visitors to the churchyard for those commemorated there.  

“We support this process which has been assisted by the local authority granting planning permission for the changes.” 

A spokesperson for the Diocese of Norwich said rebuilding the church would have been impossible due to the loss of roof, windows and furniture, and any building would have been a "21st-century pastiche of an old church".

Bixley Church (St. Wandregesilius) off the Bungay Road B1332 - Firefighters keeping the fire under c

FLASHBACK: Firefighters battling to keep the fire under control. - Credit: Eastern Daily Press ©2004

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At the time of the fire, the population of Bixley was 27, with just one person on the church's electoral roll.

The Rev Robert Parsonage who has been in charge of the church since before the fire said this was the best option.

"It's very sad, we have taken many years to get to this point because we wanted to do the right thing," he said.

"It's not the original purpose but it will retain what's there from the ruin."

Rev Parsonage described the fire as a scary experience but that he was glad no one was hurt in the blaze, praising the firefighters for their work. 

A consultation for the plans closed on June 24, and church commissioners will now decide on its future and selling the building for home conversion. 

Permission to turn the building into a house has already been granted by South Norfolk Council.

The church will be deconsecrated - a legal process rather than a religious one.

However, the churchyard, where recent graves are located, will remain consecrated and publicly accessible. 

What is the history of the building and who is Wandregilius?

St Wandregesilius, or St Wandrille, was a seventh-century French abbot from near Verdun, France.

The Bixley church is believed to be the only church in the country dedicated to the saint, according to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer website.

The site has a long history, with a building believed to have been on the site since Saxon times.

The church was rebuilt in 1272 from which a foundation stone surviving from this period.

The existing tower is from the 14th-century with later modifications and repairs in the 17th and 19th-centuries. 

In May 2004, the building was devastated by fire.

It was reported at the time the fire could have been caused by vandals in the church using one of the gas cylinders used for heating.