300 years of rot set to stop as repair date set for North Walsham’s most iconic landmark

PUBLISHED: 06:30 01 May 2014

North Walsham parish churchwarden Nancy Heywood.

North Walsham parish churchwarden Nancy Heywood. PHOTO: ANTONY KELLY

Archant Norfolk 2014

The rot is at last set to stop - saving North Walsham’s most iconic landmark after nearly 300 years of neglect.

Contracts were signed this week giving the go-ahead for repairs to begin on the town’s crumbling church tower next month.

But there is still a £28,000 gap in funding for the project and church chiefs have appealed for the public to rally round by supporting a special community fundraising exhibition next month.

The 85-ft tower of medieval St Nicholas’ Church, in the very heart of North Walsham, has been fenced off since 2011 after large flints began to fall from it.

Originally 147-ft tall, it has been in a state of ruin since it partially collapsed in 1724. There were further falls in 1835 and 1836.

Emergency work to stop further debris falling has already taken place but long-term repairs will start on the £210,000 project on June 2 and should be completed in December.

Nancy Heywood, churchwarden at the grade-one listed church, said she was delighted that a long delay to sort out funding was finally over: “I think people thought it was going to go on forever, which was disappointing when so many people have helped us with our fundraising,” she added.

The breakthrough came when English Heritage recently increased its grant offer to £82,000. When added to the amount the church has already raised, it meant the work could start, said Mrs Heywood.

Repairs by Essex-based contractors Universal Stone would include replacing porous cement pointing with lime, removing the concrete apron at the base and installing proper drainage, and repairing the water-damaged south-aisle window.

But the ruined tower, which has become part of the town’s identity, will not be restored.

Church chiefs have decided to try and bridge the funding gap with a money-raising 100 Years Celebration exhibition combining the centenary of the outbreak of the First World War with a look at what has happened in North Walsham since 1914.

Nearly 40 local organisations and businesses will have displays highlighting landmarks in their own histories and Mrs Heywood said these could include photos, written information, flowers, and models. For example, the town’s Roman Catholic church would include in its display a carving of a saint made by a prisoner of war.

Visitors will be able to vote for their favourite stand during the exhibition.

A preview evening, on June 6, will include a buffet and wine. It will be opened by Major General Sir William Cubitt, whose family home is in Honing, and who is president of the Royal British Legion in Norfolk. Tickets cost £5.

Admission to the exhibition, from June 7-9, is free with programmes at £1 and donations invited. It will be open from 9.30am-4.30pm on June 7 and 9, and from 11.30am-2.30pm on June 8 with the annual civic service at 3pm. There will also be refreshments and a tombola.

On June 8 there will be an evening concert of inspirational music by Cantamus, admission £6. “The changes in North Walsham over the past century have been phenomenal,” said Mrs Heywood.

“Throughout them all the church tower has stood sentinel in the centre and this is a fitting way to raise money for its repair.”

■ For tickets and more information, ring Mrs Heywood on 01603 782407.

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