Cheer at abbey after ha-ha restored

CELIA WIGG The ancient ha-ha wall at Wymondham Abbey has been restored to its former glory so visitors can once again enjoy uninterrupted views over picturesque grazing meadows at the historic beauty spot.

CELIA WIGG

For generations it was covered with brambles and scrub and had fallen into a sorry state of repair.

But now the ancient ha-ha wall at Wymondham Abbey has been restored to its former glory so visitors can once again enjoy uninterrupted views over picturesque grazing meadows at the historic beauty spot.

The trustees of the Reverend William Papillon's Charity, which owns the Abbey Meadows, commissioned the £55,000 work, which has taken 12 months to complete. And there were celebrations yesterday as the centuries-old structure was blessed with holy water by the Vicar of Wymondham, the Rev Canon Christopher Davies, to mark its return to pristine condition.

“It has transformed the view of the abbey and made it much more safe as previously people could lose their footing on the ha-ha and fallen. They have done us proud and the builders have been first rate,” he said.

A ha-ha, or sunken ditch, is a barrier designed to keep out livestock without being seen, and some say the name derived from the expression “Ha Ha, fooled you!”

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Church architect Neil Birdsall, who managed the project, said: “They are not uncommon but they are mainly associated with grand houses like Oxborough and Blickling. I cannot think of one that's a churchyard feature other than Wymondham.

“Its point is not to compromise the view if you stand in the churchyard which was a great place to promenade in the 18th and 19th centuries for people in Wymondham who went out walking - before the telly. You couldn't see the barrier so when you got cattle on the meadows it looked as though you were with them,” he explained.

The charity received a £1,500 grant from English Heritage for the initial clearance work. Trustee and clerk, John Cooke, said they were able to finance the considerable costs due to “good management of our funds over the years”.

“There was a movement towards the restoration being undertaken and we wanted to get it finished in time for the 900th anniversary of the abbey. We hope that what we have done for future generations will be appreciated and enjoyed.”

Repairs to the wall were carried out in sections, due to the use of lime mortar which requires good weather, and required a large quantity of flints being brought in.

The majority of the work was carried out by stonemason Chris Hill, who said: “It was a horrendous challenge. The wall measured 180m and I didn't think we were ever going to see the end.” His boss, John Allen of Briston, said some parts of the wall are a lighter colour than the rest at present, but this will even out over the next two to three years as weathering “takes the haze off the flints” and they become more prominent.

Those present at the celebration included Portia Griffey, manager of the probation unpaid work unit, whose team helped with clearing the brambles. The old post and wire fence within the meadows has also been removed and the ditch reseeded.

Expert advice was provided by Norfolk Wildlife Trust, English Heritage and the county council, as the meadows are a registered wildlife site containing the earthworks of Wymondham Abbey.

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