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ST MARGARET'S CHURCH

Old St Margaret’s Church in Hopton is a Grade II* listed building, mainly of 13th century fabric. In 1865, an overheating stove and chimney caused the church’s thatched roof to catch fire, leaving the building completely gutted. Rather than rebuild the church, the decision was taken to construct a new place of worship on a different site, which took the same name. 


The ruins remained in the centre of the village, serving as a visual marker and physical connection with Hopton’s medieval origins and heritage. In the subsequent decades, however, the ruins were left to grow increasingly fragile and unstable. Vegetation consumed the structure, and the old churchyard was officially closed in 1966, with original grave stones re-sited and the area left to grass over. The site was fenced off from the public due to the risk of injury, and it was eventually entered onto the Buildings at Risk Register. Having reached a tipping point of accelerated deterioration, it was recognised that, without intervention, the ruins were at risk of being entirely lost.


Concerned about its condition and fearful of its loss, the Parish Council purchased the ruins from the Church of England in 2009. Working in partnership with Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, a successful funding bid enabled plans for consolidation and repair of the church to be drawn up. The project also had the added benefit of providing valuable opportunities for training and community engagement. 


To learn more about the history and fabric of the church, please read Andy Phelps’ historical building survey.

Following a structural survey in February 2014, the contract was awarded to Medieval Masonry Ltd. The main issues identified were vegetation growth inside the church walls, as well as mortar deterioration; which was causing the flint to become loose. Repairs to the church tower involved consolidation of the stone quoins and buttresses, the replacement of damaged stonework and the removal, cleaning and restoration of flints. The capping of the tower was also completely replaced, using reclaimed bricks matching the approximate time period of the original materials.


As much as possible, traditional building techniques and materials were employed whilst repairing the church. Stone was initially cut using modern tools, but the shaping was accomplished using traditional stone-masonry tools. This practice left marks on the stonework, lending authenticity to the finished product. The project was successfully completed using only flint, brick, lime, sand and gravel; allowing the church to resemble its original appearance as closely as possible.


During the repairs, two 11th-century stone heads were found in the tower at various heights, and were taken out to be examined. Based on their Romanesque design, it is thought that these were part of the original building, but removed and repurposed when the church was remodelled – embedded into the tower as they were deemed unfashionable. Both heads are now on display at the new St Margaret’s Church. A press release about the stone heads can be read here.

The work was completed in 2016, with the gardens opened to the public in October 2016 and the ruins opened in April 2017. As a consequence of the work undertaken, the building was removed from the Buildings at Risk Register.

Archaeology 

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Led by Giles Emery from Norvic Archaeology, a community archaeological dig took place in September 2014, allowing  volunteers to come and take part in discovering the ruin’s original footprint, as well as locating the Sayers Tomb steps and vault. Over the three days, four pits were investigated to piece together the building’s various phases of construction. This was necessary due to the church’s inconsistent record-keeping. Last uncovered in the 1980s, the Sayers Vault was also re-investigated. This allowed us to record the position of the steps and vaults and to discover whether the vault was sealed, to determine if it was safe to work above the tomb. 


To learn more, please read Norvic Archaeology’s report of the project, published summer 2014.