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11th Century carved heads found at Hopton

4. June 2015

Conservators working on the repair and conservation of the medieval ruined church in Hopton-on-Sea were amazed to discover two rare 11th century carved limestone heads embedded in the stonework at the top of the church’s 50ft tower.

11th Century Carved Heads

Based on their Romanesque design, it is thought the heads were among parts of the original church building, dating from the 11th century, which were demolished and re-used when the church was remodelled and the tower added in the 13th or 14th centuries.

St Margaret’s Church, in Coast Road, – also known as Hopton Ruined Church – burned down in 1865 and is now a dangerous structure which is on the English Heritage buildings at risk register and is being repaired and conserved by the Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust.

The aims of the project are to save this important piece of Hopton's history, culture and heritage as a maintained attractive feature, while providing vital training opportunities in traditional building skills for volunteers, who are conserving and consolidating the walls.

Cllr Bernard Williamson, the preservation trust’s Chairman, said: “The fantastic chance discovery of these two heads highlights the borough’s rich built heritage and extend our understanding of the church and this period of history at Hopton.”

Cllr Graham Plant, the Council Leader, said: ““It is amazing to think that our ‘non-identical twins’ were created a millennium ago from stone shipped from Caen, in France, and have lain hidden for most of their existence in a village landmark. It makes you wonder what else could be in the tower.”

Norfolk does not have a local source of building stone, and moving stone long distances across rudimentary roads was difficult in the middle ages, so the limestone for the head and many other historic buildings in the region were shipped from Caen. This also explains why stonework like this was often re-purposed over the centuries.

Darren Barker, the preservation trust’s Project Director, said: “Today these figurative carvings are treasured as historical and artistic artefacts, but in the 13th or 14th century their primary value was as building stone to be re-used and hidden under plaster.

“With their large eyes, nose and non-existent forehead, these Romanesque carvings would have been out of fashion by the time the tower was built. The first head is more humanistic in style, while the second is more animalistic – a true grotesque.

“There are no marks on either head, so we will never know whether they were made by the same stonemason, but the carving style is very similar.”

The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Pilgrim Trust, Hopton Parish Council, Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council.

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