Open Churches Week

EMMA LEE Norfolk has an unrivalled collection of ancient churches. And there’s an opportunity to discover the secrets of some of the county’s architectural gems during Open Churches Week, which starts on Sunday, August 5.


Norfolk has more churches per square mile than anywhere else in the world. They are part of the fabric of the county - there are 659 in total, from tiny Saxon parish churches to magnificent cathedrals to the shrines of Walsingham. And more than 150 of them are in the Broads area, each providing a fascinating glimpse into our history with their own story to tell, the towers landmarks in the wide open expanses of countryside.

Sadly, fears of vandalism and theft mean that many of the interesting buildings are now only open to the public during services, meaning that visitors miss out on seeing them.

But from Sunday the majority of the churches in the Broads and rivers area, stretching from Worstead in the north to Diss in the south, will open their doors for a week.

Open Churches Week, which is jointly funded by the Leader+ European funding programme and the Anglican Diocese of Norwich, is in its second year, and will start with a family fun day and a service led by the Bishop of Norwich at St Benet's Abbey.

Jennie Hawkes is co-ordinator of Open Churches Week, and says that there are a wealth of hidden gems and intriguing stories to capture the imagination of visitors.

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“It's a three-year project and it was decided that the best way to open up as many of the 150 churches as possible was to have an Open Churches Week. There are churches with fantastic fonts and screens - I know the one at Ranworth is very famous, but there are painted screens at other churches and there are the hidden churches,” she enthuses.

“The church at Irstead has an amazing door with seven locks on it and then there are churches with fantastic wall paintings, like Wickhampton.”

Most Norfolk churches are built from flint, making them particularly distinctive and has what Jennie describes as a “fine collection” of round-towered churches.

One of the quirkier-looking places of worship is Burgh St Peter Church, which has a distinctive ziggurat design, inspired by the temples of Iraq.

“And then there are churches which have connections with particular families - Mautby is connected with the Paston family, and Blofield has connections with John Dryden. There are all kinds of interesting things to discover,” Jennie says.

The following Norfolk Broads and rivers churches will be open during Open Churches Week:

t Stalham, Smallburgh, Dilham, Honing, Crostwight (weekends only or via key-holder), Happisburgh, Walcott, Hempstead, Lessingham, Sea Palling with Waxham.

t Ludham, Potter Heigham, Hickling, Catfield, Horning, Ashmanhaugh, Neatishead, Barton Turf, Irstead.

t Wroxham, Hoveton St John, Belaugh, Tunstead with Sco'Ruston, Worstead, Coltishall, Great Hautbois (ruin), Rackheath, Salhouse.

t Ranworth, South Walsham, St Lawrence Centre, Panxworth, Upton, Woodbastwick, Blofield.

t Acle, Beighton, Fishley, North Burlingham (keyholder only), Braydeston, Burgh Castle, Reedham, Freethorpe, Wickhampton, Tunstall, Cantley, Limpenhoe and Halvergate (via key-holders only).

t Martham, Clippesby, Thurne, Repps with Bastwick, Ormesby St Margaret with Scratby, Ormesby St Michael, Hemsby, Winterton, West Somerton, Horsey, Filby, Stokesby, Mautby, Runham, Burgh St Margaret with Billockby, Thrigby.

t Loddon, Chedgrave, Sisland, Hardely, Caistor St Edmund, Gillingham, Geldeston, Stockton, Ellingham, Kirby Cane, Aldeby, Burgh St Peter, Haddiscoe, Norton Subcourse, Thorpe next Haddiscoe, Thurlton, Toft Monks, Wheatacre.

t Pulham Market, Pulham St Mary, Dickleburgh, Rushall, Starston, Ditchingham, Earsham, Denton, Alburgh, Hedenham and Broome (via key-holders).

t Diss, Scole, Tibenham, Carleton Rode, Bunwell, Great Moulton, Aslacton, Winfarthing, Burston, Gissing, Shelfanger, Tivetshall, Roydon.

t The Hempnall Group: Morningthorpe, Fritton, Shelton, Topcroft, Woodton.

t Great and Little Plumstead, Swardeston.

Special events being held during the week include a family fun day at St Benet's Abbey on August 5 from 10.30am-3pm. A boat will travel between Ranworth and St Benet's at 10am, 11.30am and 1.30pm and will return from St Benet's at 4.30pm and 5.30pm. It costs £3 adults, £2 concessions and ages 11 and under go free. The Bishop of Norwich will lead a service at 3.30pm. There will also be a bee walk, leaving Catfield church at 11am on August 8 and on August 10 there will be two concerts - one by the Medieval Minstrels at Braydeston Church and an organ recital at Catfield Church. Both start at 7.30pm.

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