The mystery of the Norfolk church tower that fell down

St Edmunds Church in Horningtoft is involved in a village heritage weekend. From left, Pauline Chapm

St Edmunds Church in Horningtoft is involved in a village heritage weekend. From left, Pauline Chapman, Olive Tuck and Jenny Reeder. Picture: Matthew Usher

On New Year's Day 1797, amid storms and wind and just after, or possibly during, the first service of the year, Horningtoft's church tower crashed to the ground.

The remains of the tower that fell down in 1797. Picture: Matthew Usher

The remains of the tower that fell down in 1797. Picture: Matthew Usher

To this day its remnants can be seen poking up among the grass and grazing sheep.

What caused the collapse is not known but now modern day villagers are trying to uncover the past to solve the mystery.

Horningtoft Heritage Society will be holding a heritage weekend on June 25 and 26 which will tell the story of the church tower as well as of those living in the village at the time.

Pauline Chapman, treasurer of the society, has researched the incident along with Heather Gooch.

St Edmunds Church, which is thought to have been built in the 14th century. Picture: Matthew Usher

St Edmunds Church, which is thought to have been built in the 14th century. Picture: Matthew Usher


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Mrs Chapman said: 'It is 220 years since the tower fell.

'Some sources say it fell during a service and others say it was after.

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'We know there were four bells in there, so one theory is that it was the vibration of the bells that caused it, although that is just conjecture.

'Looking at records we know the weather was bad at that time, so it could have been caused by a storm.'

While there is no suggestion anyone was hurt during the accident, there are records of the cost to repair it: £89 and seven shillings.

A drawing from 1823 shows a small tower to the south of the church which may have been a cheaper replacement. It too has disappeared.

The church is thought to have been built in the 14th century.

Other stories have emerged, including the tale of an unfortunate digger hired to dig a 70ft well. While at the bottom of the pit the earth collapsed on him in what is described as a 'melancholy accident'.

He could be heard groaning up to two hours afterwards, according to a newspaper report.

The exhibition will be held at the church from 10am to 4pm on both days.

• HOW MUCH DID REPAIRS COST IN THE 18TH CENTURY?

A copy of the churchwarden's estimate for the cost of repairs at the time:

Building a new gable at the west end of the church with old stones and good lime and sand properly mixed for mortar. £30/0s/0d

Doorcase and hanging the old door £1/10/0

New window in the new gable with Bak jams £3/0/0

Glazing the window with common glass with iron bars £3/15/0

An oak tye to the gable and iron anchors £3/12/0

[word missing] of coping on the gable £2/0/0

Clearing away the old stones and taking down the old wall, and preparing stones for building £11/0/0

£54/7/0

Building the steeple on the south side to support the wall with old stones and mortar made with lime and sand £25/0/0

A floor to the steeple with old timber for joist £2/0/0

2 spr new roof to the steeple £5/0/0

Four new sound windows to the steeple £5/0/0

£35/0/0

Total: £89/7/0

Suppose the bells worth £70/0/0

£19/7/0

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