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Church ruins in Norfolk
As someone who is fascinated by old buildings, history and days gone by, I set about finding Church ruins in Norfolk I could visit. When I started doing my research, I couldn’t find a list anywhere that had a whole heap on. So armed with Google maps, a car, some random wrong turns I discovered all of the following church ruins in Norfolk. It is amazing actually how many there are! According to research there are over 100 church ruins in Norfolk, and each has it’s own fascinating and interesting history.
So, if you are ever in Norfolk and want to do something a bit different, use this guide to help uncover some old and impressive church ruins! This ruins in Norfolk post is split into areas, to try and make navigating a little easier!
And if you come across or know of any other ruins in Norfolk – please do let me know!
Kings Lynn and West Norfolk Area
Wiggenhall Saint Peter
Located in the tiny village of Wiggnehall, in West Norfolk, not too far from the town of Kings Lynn. This church was last known to be in use in the 1930’s before it’s decline. It is a very impressive building, with the main structure still intact, just the roof missing. Today, it is looked after the Norfolk Historic Churches Trust, who maintain the structure. It is thought to date from the 15th Century and to have been left to ruin when the building of a canal blocked the through road to the village.
112 St Peters Rd, Wiggenhall St Peter, King’s Lynn PE34 3HF | Map
Church of St James, Bawsey
A 20 minute drive away from Wiggenhall St Peter is the ruins in Norfolk of an old church in Bawsey. To find these ruins, you have to drive down a farm track. Your car will only take you so far, so park up and walk the rest of the way. As you are driving towards them, you will see the outline of the old church on the hill in front of you.
Although the church stands completely isolated today, it used to be the centre of a thriving village. There are no other signs of the village left, but fragments of pottery and other finds show there was a settlement here during the Iron Age. The church began to fall into decline after the village was destroyed in the 16th Century. The landowner decided to clear the tenants and destroy their homes to create new grazing pasture for sheep. The church was not demolished, but it’s condition gradually deteriorated. It was reported in 1679 that the tower needed repairing. But despite this baptisms and burials continued in St James until 1770’s.
Now, this ruin is left to stand on a windy hill top. Looking a little gloomy and eerie, harking back to a village that is long gone.
Bawsey Ruins, Kings Lynn, PE32 1EU | Map
Appleton St Mary
This ruin is locked very near the royal estate of Sandringham, so if you are visiting there make sure to swing by this church on your way home!
Appleton is another village that no longer exists! When it snows you can see the outline of streets buildings where they once stood in the neighbouring fields behind the ruined church. The tower arch seems to be dating from Norman times. However, there is evidence that the tower itself could even date from pre-conquest! Until recently it was quite overgrown, but it has since be cleared. There is a fence around the outside, but definitely an interesting church to visit!
Appleton St Mary | Appleton Drove, Appleton, King’s Lynn PE31 6BB | Map
St Andrew’s, Bircham Tofts
This one I found really sad! It is a medieval church with parts of a 13th Century nave with 15th and then 19th century additions. It seems to have been unroofed in 1952, but it is unclear as to why. Ivy has grown up over all the entire church, so it is hard to spot!
Church Ln, Bircham Tofts, King’s Lynn PE31 6QW | Map
Castle Acre Priory
Castle Acre is one of the largest and best preserved monastic ruins in England, dating back to 1090. Founded by the Warenne family not long after the Norman Conquest. For almost 450 years Castle Acre Priory was the home and workplace of monks and their servants, a refuge for pilgrims, and a stopping point for royalty, clergy and nobility. It was also part of a vast monastic network centred on the great abbey of Cluny in France. Today the impressive ruins are a really special place to walk around.
It is run by the English Heritage and the entry is £8.70 for an adult.
When visiting the Priory, make sure to take a walk through the really picturesque village of Castle Acre. From there you can walk to the site and ruins of the Castle Acre itself, which is free to enter.
Priory Rd, Castle Acre, King’s Lynn PE32 2XD | Map
North Norfolk Area
Just the tower remains of this one! When this church was built there were only 13 tax payers in the village, and then after the black death this was reduced to 3! Clearly not sustainable for a village church. It was then sold to the nearby Walsingham Abbey and used as a barn. The graveyard was used for grazing sheep.
Little Walsingham, Walsingham NR22 6AX | Map
This was founded in 1096 and home to a community of Benedictine monks for 400 years. The nave is still used as the local church for the village. But the ruins that surround it tell the story of a large and impressive place. However, its history is one of almost continuous scandal. Many of its priors proved to be unscrupulous and irresponsible, and by the time of the priory’s suppression in 1539 the community had been reduced to just six monks. The monastic ruins are open any reasonable time during daylight hours. The priory church is open daily throughout the summer from 9am-6pm and in winter 9am-4pm.
Warham Rd, Binham, Fakenham NR21 0DQ | Map
Beeston Regis Priory
This little priory is located just outside the town of Sheringham on the North Norfolk coast. It was founded in 1216 for a very small community of 4 canons. Abandoned in 1540 during the dissolution of the monasteries. Most of the stone was taken, but the church remained intact at it was used for farm buildings!
Abbey Farmhouse, Sheringham NR26 8SF | Map
Bromholm Priory, originally known as Bacton Abbey, was a Cluniac priory located near the village of Bacton. It was founded in 1113 by William de Glanville, Lord of Bacton, and was originally subordinate to Castle Acre Priory until 1195. King Henry III visited the priory in 1223 to take the holy waters and dedicate to the relics.
These ruins are now on private land, in the care of Historic England, but you can still walk up to the north gatehouse and see the central area.
5 Abbey St, Bacton, Norwich, NR12 0EL | Map
St Margaret’s, Antingham
This was a ruin I stumbled across, and it doesn’t appear on any maps! Just outside of North Walsham is the village of Antingham, which is home to two churches on the same spot. One being a ruin standing in the graveyard of the current church. They are both on the same site, due to the fact there used to be two manor houses in this spot, so one chruch for each. The ruined church dates from the 12th century and the current from between 1330 and 1360. They were both in use until adter the reformation but by the 18th century both were in a poor state, and the village could not afford to maintain them both. So stones from St Margaret’s were used to repair the current St Mary’s.
Church Ln, Norwich NR7 8AU | Map
St Michael’s, Bowthorpe
This ruin is the last remaining building of the old medieval village of Bowthorpe. Now, as the city grew, it feels like it is located in a very urban setting, making it different to any of the other ruins in this post. The village of Bowthorpe was first recorded in the Domesday Book of 1086, with 14 villagers. Excavations have shown that a church stood in this spot at this time. However, the first written records of the church is not until 1306. A renovation took place in the 1400’s, and this is the building that remains ruined to this day. By the early 1800’s the church had fallen into disuse. The tower was then used as a chimney for a brick filled oven. And in-fact during excavations on the 1980’s a skeleton was found in the oven! By the early 1900’s the church was used to house pigs.
Today, the ruin and the gardens are free to wander around. It is not a huge ruin or space, but one worth popping into!
Norwich NR5 9AA | Map
South Norfolk Area
St Saviours, Surlingham
This church ruin maybe where my fascination with ruins in Norfolk began. Surlingham is the village I grew up in and so this ruined featured on many a walk of my childhood. Even after moving away from the village, this still remains one of my favourite walks and I often come back. My mother was even on the committee to help preserve this building!
The ruins of St Saviour’s church, Surlingham is a prominent and stunning land-mark overlooking the marshes of the Yare Valley. The church was an early Norman Originally there were two parishes in Surlingham, and St Saviour was linked to the nearby Surlingham manor. By the 13th century it was under the control of the Abbess of Carrow Abbey. The population of the parish subsequently declined and eventually St Saviour was absorbed into the parish of St Mary in 1705. It gradually declined, a process was speed up by the robbing of the church for building materials. It is also the final resting place of a number of local residents including ‘the people’s naturalist’, Ted Ellis (1909-1986) writer, curator and founder of Wheatfen nature reserve. St Saviour was repaired and preserved in 2011.
Park at the nearby St Mary’s church, and walk around the church with it on your left. Turn left at the junction and walk down the track to find the ruins.
Surlingham, Norwich NR14 7DF | Map
Saint Wandregesilius, Bixley
Located up a little lane you will come across the ruin of this old church dating from 1272. Unusual in it’s name already, with the long saint’s name. This church is a relic of a village almost disappeared. In May 2004 this church was deliberately set on fire by arsonists and gutted. It is believed they used the gas canisters that were on site for the heating to start the fire. Being deliberately destroyed seems a really sad way for a church to go!
Bixley, Norwich NR14 8RY | Map
St Martin, Shotesham St Mary
This church is one of 4 medieval churches that used to exist in this village! It early medieval times this small village was prosperous enough to have 4 manors and therefore 4 churches. Both All Saints and St Mary are still in existence to this day. St Botolph, a mile away, is simply some raised ground, but St Martin is a rather more substantial and impressive ruin, sitting a hundred yards away from St Mary. After the reformation, the focus was on congregational worship rather than sacramental devotion, which meant there was no need for the many churches anymore. St Martin had to go. The church was simply abandoned, with the roof being used for other buildings. In 2006 this was one of the churches Norfolk County Council cleared to save.
Hawes Green, Norwich NR15 1UW, | Map
St Mary’s, Saxlingham Thorpe
This church probably originated from the late Saxon period. It seems it’s ruin came from repairs to the building simply stopping somewhere around 1684. By 1687 the building was ruinous with materials being used to repair St Mary’s Church in nearby Saxlingham Nethergate.
Although the ruins are substantial, they are completely surrounded by trees in a wooded area, making it fairly hard to spot! This gives it quite a mysterious and eerie vibe.
Saxlingham Thorpe | Map
St Mary’s, Tivetshall St Mary
This was one of my favourite ruins in Norfolk! There were two villages here historical, which became one. As such, there wasn’t so much of a need for 2 churches. While the church at Tivetshall St Margaret is frequently used and loved for its sixteenth-century tympanum and rood screen, its sister church at Tivetshall St Mary is now a ruin. Even before it’s final abandonment in 1940, it was described as a ‘plain building’. Even as far back as 1702 it was recorded that the church ‘is fallen into great decay’. However, it’s final demise came in 1947, when the tower collasped into the nave. This was caused by vibrations from an aircraft flying too low! The War Damage commission wouldn’t make any payment for damage caused by the event.
Today, the ruin is a peaceful one. The graveyard is still maintained and it’s tall, perfect east window, no glassless, looking out over the fields. There is even a visitors book in the porch to sign.
Tivetshall St Mary, Norwich NR15 2DF | Map
All Saints, Gillingham
This one felt quite spooky! It was a grey, misty and overcast day when I visited and the tall imposing tower, covered in ivy, hides among the trees. Only the tower remains of All Saint’s church, which sits in the graveyard of the existing church. The village was still wanting to spend money on All Saints in the 1470s, because several bequests survive from that time. However after some enthusiasm towards the restoration of the church in 1660, it then fell into disuse. By the mid-18th century was a ruin. The stones from the nave and chancel must have been taken away pretty quickly and used for building materials, because there are several 18th century headstones where the nave used to be.
Gillingham, Beccles NR34 0ND | Map
Great Yarmouth Area
St Mary’s, East Somerton
This is an incredible ruin and probably the most dramatic of all the ruins in Norfolk I visited. It is so overgrown and covered in ivy, that despite it being right by the road, and huge, it is incredibly easy to miss! It was built in the 15th century, and was originally, in its own individual parish. Over time, this was absorbed by the nearby, larger parishes of West Somerton and Winterton. After this, St. Mary’s was used as a chapel for the residents of Burnley Hall until the 17th century before it fell into disuse.
Now, the most striking thing about this ruin is the huge tree that grows straight up through the centre of it. Folklore tells the story of a witch with a wooden leg, who was caught and buried alive in the church. From her wooden leg, the oak tree grew and ruined the church, coaxed by her vengeful spirit. Now, it is said if you walk around the tree three times, the vengeful spirit of the witch will be released. Other spooky reports tell of monks, often angry, wanting the church to be left alone.
This church ruin has a special feel to it, and if you only visit one – this should be it!
Back Rd, East Somerton, Great Yarmouth NR29 4DY | Map
St Benet’s Abbey
1000 years ago, this isolated spot on the river banks of the Bure, was a thriving monastery. The origins of this abbey are a little mysterious. And when Henry VIII destroyed all the monasteries, this was the only one that survived. However, shortly after the buildings began to disappear. The Bishop of Norwich has remained the Bishop of St. Benet’s. And there are still services held at the site at Easter. Nowadays, there are ruins of the old monastery that remains, which show just how vast the site was. But the most impressive building left is the windmill a farmer built inside the abbey gatehouse in the 18th century.
Great Yarmouth NR29 5NU | Map
St Olaves Abbey
This ruin is the remains of a small Augustinian Priory. It was founded in about 1216, and named after the patron saint of Norway. The priory was dissolved in the 1530s. Now managed by English Heritage, it is a lovely little spot to visit. The area is small, so it wouldn’t take long to take in the whole site. The undercroft of the abbey was even turned into a cottage at one point in the 1800’s!
Norfolk, Beccles Rd, Great Yarmouth NR31 9HE | Map
St Margaret’s, Hopton
This 14th and 15th Century church sits right in the middle of the village of Hopton. It was destroyed in a fire in 1865 and has stood abandoned ever since. In 2014 a project involving onsite training and volunteers from the local community to clear it and make it safe so it can be enjoyed by the village.
4 Coast Rd, Hopton, Great Yarmouth NR31 9BT | Map
St. Theobald’s, Hautbois
A little tricker to find, but worth it. Located down a small path about half a mile from the main road is the ruins of St. Theobald’s. It was ruined in 1890 when the Victorian’s decided the location was inconvenient an built a replacement church in the centre of the village. This church dates back to the 11th Century, with some medieval additions. It has been de-roofed, with the exception of the chancel.
Great Hautbois Rd, NR12, Norwich NR12 7JZ | Map
All Saints, Panxworth
Only the tower remains of this 14th century church, standing alone and proud in the graveyard. Little is known about the church, except that it seems to have been in disrepair as early as the 16th Century. Panxworth was always a small village, and the church was located quite a distance from the main part of the village. Ranworth church is also close by, so this as well probably contributed to falling congregations. in 1847 villagers paid £500 to add a new nave and chancel. However, once again the village could not support the church and by 1969 it was again derelict. The Church of England decided to pull down the Victorian nave and chancel, but once again the tower was saved! Reports in the 1980s suggested that it was used as a meeting place for Satanists! This tower seems to have defied the odds, in 2005 it was struck by lightening but funding meant it was saved once again.
Panxworth Church Rd, Ranworth, Norwich NR13 6HS | Map
A little bonus church over the border in Suffolk! Because, it is a great one.
St Andrew’s, Covehithe
There was once a quintet of impressive medieval churches in this part of Suffolk. Southwold is the most complete, and the best example of what they would have looked like. Blythburgh has been resorted, Walberswick is yet another ruin and Easton Bavents has been lost to the sea, when almost the entire village went over a cliff.
However, parts of the original church at Covehithe remain. The large curtain of walling is almost complete, and shows the huge size of this church. Inside now sits a smaller 17th century church, which still uses the same tower of the original. The eastern end of the ruin is especially impressive, with the rood loft stairs in the north wall still accessible, and what was clearly a vaulted crypt in the chancel.
The larger, original, church was pulled apart by the villagers, not out of malice intent. But because they could not afford the upkeep of such a large church after the reformation meant much smaller congregations. So they had permission from the parish to remove the roof, and then built the much smaller church against the west tower. The newer church still includes the original font.
Mill Ln, Covehithe NR34 7JJ | Map
If you are thinking about visiting Norfolk make sure you don’t miss these awesome Things to do in Norfolk!
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