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Egmere's ruined church, Norfolk

Back to the summer of 2009...




Norfolk has many churches which have not survived, a quick glance at the Ordnance Survey map reveals several listed as 'remains of' and St.Edmund's at Egmere is just such an example.


www.flickr.com/photos/barryslemmings/sets/72157594328112113/ to see the full set.


I know other Flickr photographers have visited Egmere before but few probably realise that - for a ruined church - it still has its own little paper church guidebook available from the present parish church at nearby Little Walsingham. I found a copy when I visited Walsingham two years ago and I had kept it on file since.


Delving into my files and working from this source I can say that the prominent church tower we see today is early 14th century [the Decorated Period] and probably went up shortly before the Black Death slashed the English population and killed many of the most talented stone masons and craftsmen. The surviving nave walls are certainly earlier. The presence of conglomerate stone indicate that a Saxon church may have stood here and that the tower had been added to this earlier structure. The north and south doorways of the nave are semi-circular, of large stones roughly cut, and could also be pre-Norman.


The dedication to St Edmund, a king of East Anglia who was killed by the Mercians, also implies a Saxon date for the site. Another suggestion pointing to the Saxons is that Egmere's hilltop position, next to the modern road between Walsingham and the Creakes, could have easily been a pagan site which the early Christians took over and re-used either to continue the local tradition of worship here or else to firmly stamp out its pagan use.


The tower has a badly broken staircase visible through a hole in the tower wall while, on the inside of the church, there are clear signs of two different roof pitches for the nave. The earlier one presumably being the Saxon original building that the tower was built against and the later pitch being at a time with the nave was either renewed or simply heightened. This remodelling could have been in the 1450s when there was some prosperity and much new building in East Anglia.


The chancel has been almost completely lost but there are a few steps in the corner of the nave which may have once led to the rood loft separating chancel and nave.


The Domesday survey of 1087 shows a decline in population since 1066 while a Lay Subsidy of 1334 [about the time the tower was built] showed 31 people [presumably only the heads of households] who were taxed for £6 13s 4d. Many English villages were hit hard by the Black Death in 1348 and by 1538 there were only five taxpayers of the Lay Subsidy in Egmere raising a mere £1 11s 4d.


Walsingham Priory were the patrons of the church from 1423 [and may have paid for the nave roof to be raised in the 1450s] but when the Priory was dissolved in 1538 by King Henry VIII and all priory assets seized and sold off to private landowners, it is clear that a struggling village might have little hope for long-term survival. By 1602 Sir Nicholas Bacon was allowing the church to be used as a barn and the site was mere grazing for his sheep. It would appear that - sometime prior to 1602 - the village had been declared uneconomical and the site was cleared for sheep in much the same way as the later Highland clearances in Scotland.


A sketch map in the guide leaflet shows that the old road ran much closer to the church. In the 19th century marl was quarried from deep pits nearby to lime the fields. The church remains left standing may have survived simply because there was not a town near enough to make quarrying the building stone for re-use elsewhere economically viable.

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Taken on June 12, 2009