Video and photo gallery: National English Heritage award for St Mary’s in West Somerton

Tireless work saving a historic church that houses rare paintings has today been recognised with a prestigious award.

The medieval round-tower church of St Mary's in West Somerton, near Hemsby, has been awarded an English Heritage Angel Award for Best Rescue of a Place of Worship - one of only five winners across five categories from more than 200 entries.

The prize, founded last year by Andrew Lloyd Webber, is testament to the dedication of church wardens Pauline Burckitt and Simon Peasley and the local community.

An English Heritage spokesman said: 'The judges were particularly struck by the tenacity of the congregations, chipping away at fund-raising over many, many years.

'At St Mary's, wardens Pauline Burckitt and Simon Peasley have been working tirelessly since 1989 to restore the church where 14th century wall paintings were in danger of being lost to damp, where the 13th century bell, probably the oldest in Norfolk, needed repair and the roof needed a complete re-thatching.'

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The church dates from Norman times and contains wall-paintings that make it among a mere 10pc that still house their original wall art.

Throughout the work, Mrs Burckitt, Mr Peasley nd architect Nicholas Warns used local materials and craftsmen. Work began in 1984, and has cost �180,000 of grants and fundraising.

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The church is now in use two Sundays a month and is visited by about 3,000 people a year.

Speaking after receiving the prize from TV presenter Graham Norton at a ceremony in London's West End today, compered by BBC sport's Claire Balding, Mr Peasley said: 'We are very honoured and a little surprised. We accept it for all the church wardens in Norfolk; everybody is doing the same and not necessarily getting the recognition they deserve.

'We are thrilled, but deserve it no more than any one else, everyone is doing their best. The church is very special, it has been hard work but we are getting to the end.'

Judges for the prize included broadcaster Melvyn Bragg and Richard Chartres, Bishop of London.

***To see more pictures, a video and list of all the winners, visit the EDP website,

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