Restoration of fire-ravaged 12th century church delayed

Fire gutted St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop

Fire gutted St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

Plans to restore a historic Norfolk church that was severely damaged by fire have been delayed due to the coronavirus.

Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 20

Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

St Mary’s Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, was gutted by fire last September, which destroyed the roof and interior of the medieval building including a holy table dating from 1638 and priceless carvings.

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze, saving the vestry and important church documents that were kept in a safe.

Following site investigations and discussions about its future use, work had begun earlier this year to move the restoration along and to enable the rector, parochial church council (PCC) and stakeholders to develop an interior design plan and carry out a community consultation within the parish and local community, but lockdown brought this to a halt.

The Rev Dr David Karoon, the church’s rector, said: “As with the rest of the UK, lockdown has meant that the work started by the main contractor on March 5 has ground to a stop. Scaffolding was erected also one week before lockdown and since March 23 very little of any significance has happened.”

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze which gutted the historic church at Wimbotsham, near Dow

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze which gutted the historic church at Wimbotsham, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

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He hoped that the relaxation of covid-19 restrictions could allow work to resume at the start of June.

Dr Karoon said: “Initially work was held up by access to the tower of the church. Until a structural survey of the contents as they stand post fire, it was not know whether the fire had caused unseen structural damage.


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“This done, it was agreed that the construction is safe and that site workers can work within the nave and tower of the building.

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze which gutted the historic church at Wimbotsham, near Dow

More than 50 firefighters tackled the blaze which gutted the historic church at Wimbotsham, near Downham Market. Picture: Chris Bishop - Credit: Archant

“This process took longer than projected mainly because of the complexities of the job.”

The bell tower and chancel sustained smoke damage and permission was granted in October for three bells from the 14th and 15th century to be removed and placed in storage.

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It is hoped these bells will be removed in the next stage of work, if it is safe to do so.

Dr Karoon added: “The three bells are still hanging in the tower on a badly charred very ancient wooden bell frame.”

Picture from 2016 of the interior of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, which was

Picture from 2016 of the interior of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham, near Downham Market, which was gutted by the fire. Picture: Simon Knott - Credit: Simon Knott

A public meeting held on Saturday, September 14 discussed possible plans to rebuild the church as a more modern and flexible community space.

READ MORE: Ornate interior of church before it was consumed by fire

Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 20

Fire destroyed most of St Mary's Church in Wimbotsham. Byline: Sonya Duncan Copyright: Archant 2019 - Credit: Sonya Duncan

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