WEIRD NORFOLK: The Norfolk church that was swallowed by the Earth
PUBLISHED: 08:31 16 August 2020
The giant sinkhole in Dilham which not only swallowed several oxen, but also an entire church – were fairies responsible?
Dilham used to boast two churches and not just one – but then the Earth swallowed one up in a gulp along with several oxen. The village, close to North Walsham and on the south-west side of the River Ant, doesn’t have a huge amount of luck when it comes to churches. St Nicholas, on Church Road, has had a chequered past: in the 18th century cracks appeared in the 450-year-old tower and were a warning of imminent collapse. Demolished and rebuilt in 1835, even when the new building was renovated in the 19th century it wasn’t enough to save the church, which had to be demolished a second time. The third rebuild was in the 1930s with only a few hints to its long tenure at this spot in Norfolk: the medieval font and the organ, a large piece of lead set in a frame, a bell cast in Norwich in 1653 and the remains of the round tower.
Dilham’s other church, however, has disappeared from the landscape entirely. According to local legend, another church in the village was swallowed up by a sinkhole with the name ‘Seagar-ma-hole’, in an area with another nickname: Fairies’ Bay. Seagar is a Norse-Viking surname which translates as “sea spear” and has been a British surname since after the Norman invasion of 1066.
The mysterious Seagar-ma-hole is mentioned by Weird Norfolk favourite Mrs Lubbock, the wise washerwoman of Irstead whose predictions, proverbs and observations were shared across Norfolk in the late 1700s and early 1800s. In 1849, the Reverend John Gunn published a paper on her in Norfolk Archaeology, having collected her sayings “as they fell from her mouth, as nearly as possible in her own racy language” and noted that “her venerable lore is not without its inconveniences and drawbacks. It has exposed her to the suspicion of witchcraft.”
In Norfolk Archaeology, Mrs Lubbock said: “There used to be Fairies in old times. There are no such things now.
“In the parish of Dilham there is a deep hole, called ‘Seagar-ma-hole.’ This was held to be a Fairies’ Bay. A church, which stood upon the spot, is said to have been sunk in it; and several oxen, which ventured upon it when the rushes began to grow over its surface, were swallowed up.”
In the mid-1990s, a large hole 10 feet across and two feet deep appeared in the graveyeard of St Nicholas, adding weight to the argument that Dilham is prone to large sinkholes. Such holes are formed where water dissolves limestone under a soil covering which gradually gives way – they could also explain why the remaining church has had so many structural issues. Unless we put them down to the work of naughty fairies.
Also of interest in Dilham is a fragment of a 15th century castle which is bonded to Dilham Hall and thought to have been built by Sir Henry Inglose, Lord of the Manor, who died in 1451 and was a relative and friend of Sir John Fastolfe, the builder of Caister Castle.
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