Saviour of lost church Bob Davey appeals for help keeping St Mary’s, Houghton-on-the-Hill, near Swaffham, open

He has fought off devil worshippers and been made an MBE, but now a man who devoted his life to bringing a lost church back to life is appealing for help keeping it open for future generations.

Bob Davey has been restoring St Mary's in the abandoned medieval village of Houghton-on-the-Hill, near Swaffham, since his wife discovered it while leading a Women's Institute ramble 20 years ago.

He opens the church to visitors from around the world seven afternoons a week, and at other times on request, recounting its history, explaining its unique murals and proudly showing photographs of royal visits.

But he is now 83, and Kevin Simpson, one of four guides in their 70s who support him, said he needs fresh blood to help keep up with the number of visitors who arrive during the summer.

Another volunteer, Peter Chappell, warned the church may ultimately close if a new generation did not come forward.

Back in 1992, the church was covered in ivy and had no roof or floor, and Mr Davey said it was damaged by a German Zeppelin in the first world war and vandalised by American GIs in the second world war.

More worryingly, pagans used it for sacrifices, and threatened him and smeared it with blood before being scared off with help from the Territorial Army.

Most Read

The nave dates from about 1,000AD and it was only as layers of whitewash were removed that the building's true glory became clear – the oldest wall paintings in the country.

The church was never deconsecrated, and once again holds services, wedding blessings and funerals, and Mr Davey's wife is buried there.

Its restoration shared the Royal Institute of Chartered Surveyors' award for building conservation with Windsor Castle in 1998.

Originally from West Sussex, Mr Davey moved to Norfolk and set up an antique business.

He said: 'When this came up I shut the business, sold the stock and put the money into the church.

'It was my antique business that financed the church. It had to be done.'

He is optimistic: 'Whatever happens it will not close. Whatever I have to do I will keep going, even if I have to haunt the place.'

If you can spare an afternoon once a fortnight or so, enjoy meeting people and are interested in becoming a guide, contact Kevin Simpson on 01953 882790.

Become a Supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Become a Supporter