New look for St Benet’s Abbey ruins at Horning

It is a quite dramatic change in appearance for an iconic Broads view which has captivated generations of artists.

The mysterious ruins of St Benet's Abbey next to the River Bure at Horning are currently hidden beneath scaffolding as an �800,000 restoration project gets under way.

And the painstaking work of specialist builders from Suffolk firm R and J Hogg is creating quite a point of interest for Broads holidaymakers passing on boats.

Since the scaffolding went up in April, Bernie Bartrum and his team have inspected every inch of the medieval abbey gatehouse and adjoining 18th century windmill to check for the ravages of time.

Foreman Steve Martin said: 'It is a fantastic spot to work over the summer. Before we started we had to carry out a wildlife survey and we have seen everything here from hen harriers and kestrels to barn owls and a sparrowhawk carrying a large rat.'

He said they had been cutting out damaged brickwork and replacing crumbling mortar; the sand they were using had been sourced locally from Horstead quarry.

His colleague Paul McKerell said: 'There are some deep holes in the brickwork and repairs carried out in the 1950s using cement rather than lime mortar have caused more damage because it allowed water to become trapped behind the cement.'

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Replacement bricks had been bought from Suffolk specialists, Bulmer Brick and Tile Works, and they were due to be inspected later this week by officials from English Heritage before they were laid.

He said: 'A lot of people on boats have been asking us what is happening and they are really pleased something is being done to restore the ruins.'

Caroline Davison, who is managing the Heritage Lottery-funded project for site owner Norfolk Archaeological Trust, said: 'We are keen to get the public involved as volunteers. There are all kinds of exciting opportunities from helping Norfolk Wildlife Trust carry out a wildlife survey of the whole site to acting as a guide or researching the history of the abbey at the Norfolk Records Office for new interpretation panels we will be installing.'

In a second phase of restoration likely to be completed next year builders will move on to the other remains of the 1,000-year-old abbey - the precinct walls and church ruins.

The interpretation panels, seen as a way of enhancing the visitor experience, will explain landscape features such as the monastic fish ponds as well as the history.

Following agreement from the Crown Estate, which owns surrounding marshland, a track can now be used by the public and a new car park is to be built by the Broads Authority as part of its contribution to the project.

There are also plans for a riverside footpath linking St Benet's Abbey to the tourist hub of Ludham Bridge.

Peter Wade Martins, director of Norfolk Archaeological Trust, said: 'St Benet's Abbey is a well-loved landmark of the Broads, but at the moment it's not very easy to find information about it. Our project aims to increase understanding and appreciation of the archaeology, biodiversity and cultural history of the site for all.'

Robyn Llewellyn, head of Heritage Lottery Fund East of England, said: 'HLF is delighted to be able to support this project to breathe new life into this important site. It's exciting to see work starting, and to know that the process of protecting this important monument has begun.'

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