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Ten historic unused Norfolk churches in national challenge

PUBLISHED: 10:22 21 July 2019 | UPDATED: 10:48 21 July 2019

Medieval wall-paintings at St Faiths Church, Little Witchingham.
Photo: Antony Kelly

Medieval wall-paintings at St Faiths Church, Little Witchingham. Photo: Antony Kelly

ARCHANT NORFOLK PHOTOGRAPHIC © 2006

The race around at-risk churches features some of the county's most beautiful buildings.

Booton Church  Picture: Rowan MantellBooton Church Picture: Rowan Mantell

A steeplechase, taking in 50 churches in 50 hours, races through Norfolk this week.

Peter Aiers, chief executive of the Churches Conservation Trust, is marking the charity's 50th anniversary, and raising money to counter the growing problem of heritage theft and vandalism.

Ten of his 50 stops are in Norfolk.

Starting in Dorset on Thursday 25 July, Peter will travel by helicopter, motorbike, microlight and even speedboat to 50 churches, meeting the volunteers who keep the churches open and discussing ways of tackling heritage crime, as well as marvelling at the history and beauty of each building.

St Augustine's Church.  Picture: DENISE BRADLEYSt Augustine's Church. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY

The Churches Conservation Trust looks after 353 churches which are no longer used for regular parish worship. The treasuries of architecture, archaeology and art from 1,000 years of English history attract almost two million visitors a year.

But not every visitor is welcome. Last year was the Trust's worst for heritage crime with a 75% increase in thefts of lead and irreplaceable artefacts, and vandalism including smashed stained glass windows. The Great National Steeple Chase aims to raise £50,000 towards the £2 million needed for repairs to Trust churches ravaged by lead theft.

Peter will be visiting the 10 Norfolk churches on the evening of Friday July 26:

St Laurence Church, St Benedicts Street, Norwich. Photo: Steve AdamsSt Laurence Church, St Benedicts Street, Norwich. Photo: Steve Adams

St Mary's Bell Tower, West Walton, near Wisbech, where a richly decorated, four-tiered tower, built around 1240, stands separately from its beautiful church. 6.05-6.20pm.

St Andrew's Church, Walpole, near King's Lynn. The 15th century church was built on a Roman site and includes a chapel in the tower and beautiful 20th century stained glass. 6.29-6.41pm.

St John Maddermarket   Picture Mark Sunderland for the Churches Conservation TrustSt John Maddermarket Picture Mark Sunderland for the Churches Conservation Trust

St Mary's Church, Islington Green, King's Lynn, is partially-ruined but its tower still has two bells. 6.56-7.06pm.

St Nicholas' Chapel, St Ann's Street, King's Lynn, is the largest chapel in England. Begun in Norman times, its carved pews include strange creatures and its roof is alive with 15th century wooden angels playing musical instruments. 7.25-8pm

You may also want to watch:

St Michael the Archangel, Booton, near Reepham was transformed into a fairytale gothic fantasy, soaring over the surrounding countryside, by an eccentric clergyman descended from Pocahontas, and a friend of Charles Darwin. 9-9.25pm.

St Nicholas, Brandiston, near Reepham, is round-towered Norman church with extravagantly-carved benches and medieval glass. 9.31-9.41pm.

St Faith's, Little Witchingham, near Reepham, has vividly coloured wall paintings of saints and dragons and vines laden with grapes, revealing how many medieval churches were once decorated. 9.51-10pm.

St Augustine's, Norwich, with its rare brick tower, has monuments inside linked to the American Revolution and Holkham Hall and a memorial to a soldier shot for desertion in 1917. 10.29-10.41pm.

St Laurence's, St Benedict's Street Norwich, is a vast 15th century church housing beautiful Edwardian paintings of saints and angels. 10.49-11.01pm.

St John Maddermarket, Norwich, was built in the 15th century when Norwich was one of the wealthiest cities of Europe. 11.05-11.17pm.

To see all 50 churches and find out more about the Great National Steeple Chase see visitchurches.org.uk/steeple-chase

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