Advertisement

  1. ITV Report

Hidden histories: The county with the largest concentration of churches in the world

St Mary the Virgin Church at Beeston next Mileham. Photo: ITV News Anglia.

When you visit Norfolk for the first time, what's the thing that really hits you?

For many people, it's the number of churches.

Norfolk has the largest concentration of medieval churches in the world. Almost a thousand of them were built and today some 635 are still standing.

Many of them were financed by the wealth associated with the wool industry and there was a lot of rivalry between individiual parishes as to who could build the biggest church.

St Nicholas' Church in Great Yarmouth. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

St Nicholas in Great Yarmouth is the biggest parish church in the country. Lord Nelson was among those who worshipped here.

Canon Chris Terry has the responsibility of looking after it.

"Yarmouth in the middle ages was one of the biggest towns within the country, one of the major ports, and I think the church was built to reflect something of that grandeur and a town that could afford to build something of this size.

"If the black death hadn't come along it would have been even bigger but the black death affected the population so they stopped building." he said.

During the Reformation, the Puritans destroyed much of the ornate interior of churches. Beeston next Mileham was badly affected.

It's recently won a major award for the quality of the roof repairs, but there are parts of the church that still bear the scars today.

"The screen has had the images slashed off, " said architectural historian Stephen Heywood.

"It wasn't sufficient to scrape them off, they cut them off with an axe so you could see the rough marks. It's amazing. These churches have so much to tell of just straight history."

Ada Hooker knows everything there is to know about Colby church. She's 93 and has been associated with it for more than 70 years.

This is a church without electricity and water an the parishioners are working hard to raise the £20,000 for repairs.

"Back in the 1800s they sold two church bells to finance work that needed for work to be done," said churchgoer Rachel Crampton.

"It means we were left with just one, so we can hardly do that again."

So, Ada and her friends were hard at work at a recent open day in the hope of piutting a dent in that repair bill.

They're way of making sure Norfolk's rich history of churches carries on.

Malcolm Robertson reports.

The rood screen at Ranworth. Credit: ITV News Anglia.

More on this story