Norfolk fire crews tackle huge fire destroying thatched roof at St Mary's Church in Beachamwell

  • Video from Norfolk Fire & Rescue Service

A church which dates back to the 11th century has been heavily damaged by a fire which tore through the building.

The blaze at St Mary's Parish Church at Beachamwell near Swaffham in Norfolk broke out on Wednesday morning just before 10.45am.

Six fire engines were sent to attempt to bring the fire under control, but were unable to stop widespread damage to its thatched roof.

The Grade I-listed building is one of the county's oldest Medieval churches.

Villager John Sanderson, 87, told the PA news agency that residents were “devastated”.

“All the roof is gone. I think just the walls are left”, he added.

It is understood the church was closed for repairs at the time.

Eleven crews were sent to the church in Beachamwell Credit: Gary Dent

From the scene: ITV News Anglia reporter Callum Fairhurst

By mid-afternoon, the flames were under control but the impact on the village of Beachamwell was only beginning to be felt.

There is a real sense of sadness among the residents who have been on the streets today to watch the village church that has been there all their lives going up in flames. Many that I spoke to have a lifelong link to the church: they were married there, their children were married there, their grandchildren were christened there.

This is a church which appears in the Domesday Book - it can trace its origins to the 11th century - but was still a part of the daily life of the community. Parishioners have been fundraising for a new roof for the church for the past four years in the hope giving the church a new lease of life. 

Now they don't know how much of the church will survive.

According to Historic England, the church's west tower dates to the late 11th Century, with additions to the building in the 14th and 15th Centuries.

Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service has asked people to avoid the area as firefighters battle the blaze.

The crew tweeted: "We are currently dealing with a church fire in Beachamwell.

"We would ask local residents to please stay away from the scene and to keep doors and windows shut. Thank you for your support."

The fire was brought under control by mid-afternoon. Credit: PA

It added that the fire was now “under control”.

“We will have a presence on scene for the rest of the day at least”, said a spokesperson.

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