Plans unveiled for ‘jinxed’ South Walsham tower

It was a dramatic event still remembered by many villagers – and one with a spooky link to the story of a church jinxed by the 'wicked' sister who built it.

On March 18, 1971, residents all around South Walsham, near Acle, heard a thunderous roar and saw a rising cloud of dust as the ruined tower of St Lawrence's Church toppled to the ground – the victim, it is thought, of a sonic boom from a military jet.

Now approaching the 40th anniversary of the collapse, the parish council is hoping to finally clear up the 450 tonnes of rubble and create a permanent memorial on the site.

Council vice-chairman Peter Crook, who is leading the clear-up, which expected to cost about �8,000, said his vision was to put up a plaque with images of what the tower had looked like before.

He explained that the legendary bad luck of St Lawrence Church, which was built at the same time as South Walsham's neighbouring St Mary's Church at the end of the 14th century, had given rise to a fable of unhealthy rivalry between two sisters.

According to the story, while one sister built humble St Mary's – still prospering as South Walsham's church today – her sibling became consumed by pride, a sin in the eyes of the church, and built a much grander church that was consequently doomed.

The bad luck started when the thatched St Lawrence's was nearly destroyed by a catastrophic village fire in May 1827 which miraculously avoided St Mary's which shares the same graveyard.

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And a year before the final collapse of the tower – long since detached from the church which was rebuilt on a smaller scale – the bad luck returned when it was struck by lightning.

Mr Crook said: 'George Debbage, who for many years ran Fairhaven gardens and is still our district councillor, is one of those who can remember hearing the tower collapse and seeing the dust rise.

'With this important anniversary coming up, the parish council, which is responsible for the maintenance of the churchyard, is hoping to raise funds to move the rubble, which has become an eyesore and blights the view of the two lovely medieval churches in the centre of the village. The parochial church council which owns the churchyard is behind the plan.'

He said St Lawrence's had been converted into a successful arts centre in the 1990s and their clear-up plans would enhance the recreation of a medieval Sacristans' garden that had been established in front of it.

The parish council would be applying to Broadland Council for a community grant to help with the cost of the work, which was made difficult by the confines of the site, surrounded by graves.

'It is also made more difficult by the fact we are talking about the remains of a Grade II listed building and it is situated on consecrated ground and there may well be graves under the rubble,' he said.

The Rector of St Mary's, the Rev Nick Garrard, said the first step would be to get formal permission from the church authorities. It was hoped to carry out the work later in the summer.