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Celebrating 50 years of church tours

PUBLISHED: 20:30 25 July 2019 | UPDATED: 20:31 25 July 2019

Left to right: - Richard Barham, Tom Butler-Stoney (son of a founder of Norfolk Church Tours), 'Lyn Stilgoe and Michael Pollitt with the 50th anniversary specially-decorated cake,. Picture: Thomas Simpson.

Left to right: - Richard Barham, Tom Butler-Stoney (son of a founder of Norfolk Church Tours), 'Lyn Stilgoe and Michael Pollitt with the 50th anniversary specially-decorated cake,. Picture: Thomas Simpson.

Tom Butler Stoney

A special cake was cut to mark the golden jubilee of Norfolk Church Tours.

Over the past half century, churches across the county have been visited by thousands of visitors since the first official tour in June 1970.

The oldest son of a founder of Norfolk Church Tours, Tom Butler-Stoney, cut the cake at St Mary Magdalene, Beetley, near Dereham.

And slices of the decorated fruit cake were given to about 50 members to mark the final tour of the season in the 50th anniversary year.

It had started in 1969 when Mid-Norfolk farmer Richard Butler-Stoney, of Mileham, and a small group of like-minded enthusiasts, decided to visit churches in the immediate neighbourhood. This trial was such a success that the first summer tour started in June 1970 when Beetley church was also visited.

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Then the other 37 or so churches in the then Brisley and Elmham rural deanery were visited over the years before spreading further afield.

Mr Butler-Stoney, who died in 2003, also researched and wrote guides for the churches as well as giving talks with Hugh Holbeach, who was a long-serving churchwarden at Bittering. They led parties on the free tours to learn and understand more about the history and architecture of churches.

The tours are now organised by a small group, led by 'Lyn Stilgoe, Richard Barham and Michael Pollitt, who talk about the churches.

Mrs Stilgoe, also secretary to the Round Tower Churches Society, has written about 250 guides for the church tours during the past three decades.

On the season's final tour, the churches visited were Gressenhall, East Bilney, Beetley and one of Norfolk's smallest churches, St Peter & St Paul, Bittering.

A service of Evensong was held at Bittering led by Tom Butler-Stoney, who explained that the church had been closed in 1954 after the death of a former incumbent, the Rev Reginald William Puleston. Then in 1961, it was restored, rescued and re-opened as a parish church.

A young singer, India Simpson, from nearby Mileham, performed an extract from Faure's Requiem, as part of the service. Her younger brother Thomas also gave a gospel reading.

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