Wednesday, 15 February 2012

The remains of St Bartholomew’s

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HERE’S the full text for St Bartholomew’s – the church in Heigham which was all-but flattened by the Baedeker bombings of April 1942. Whadya think? Too whimsical at the end perhaps? Let me know.

“At first sight it’s like dozens of other urban parks in Norwich. A busy through-street to the north, quiet cul-de-sacs to the south: swings for the children, paths for the dog-walkers. But in the middle there’s something much more incongruous: a 15th century church tower marooned without a church.

That’s because this park was once a graveyard. And the tower was once part of the medieval church of St Bartholomew. All that changed on April 29th 1942 – the night of the second of the Baedeker raids on Norwich. The church was blown to smithereens. The bells came crashing down, the font was split into pieces and just about all of the interior timberwork went up in smoke.

A rector, visiting on behalf of his bishop a week later, found parts of the church still smouldering. He reported how a safe containing the parish registers had survived the blast, only for some of the papers to instantly combust on exposure to the air. Photos taken at the time show that some walls did survive, but there never seems to have been any question of the church being rebuilt. Instead the parishioners moved to an old Methodist chapel nearby. Everything but the tower was deemed unsafe and eventually demolished in 1953.sunny march 029

St Bartholomew’s had been the parish church for Heigham for centuries. It was probably most famous as the church where the exiled bishop Joseph Hall had preached during the Civil War. Architecturally, those in the know admired its square tower – building square towers of flint apparently requires much more skill than the round towers we’re more used to in these parts.

The church had fallen on hard times during the Victorian era, but was restored and extended during the 1870s. Yet Heigham had always been a bit of a backwater. As late as the 19th century the area was marshy. Edward Delves, writing in 1879, called St Bartholomew’s “a mere village church at the extreme North West corner of the Parish. Roads impassable in wet weather”.

And today? Today I guess it’s a poignant reminder of the Baedeker bombings. Albeit a low-key, all-but-forgotten reminder in an often over-looked part of Norwich. Part of me wishes they’d left the rest of the remains in place as a more permanent, more graphic symbol of April 1942. Part of me wonders if it could be the site for a small museum dedicated to the widespread death and destruction the bombings caused. But that isn’t the Norfolk way. Tidy up, move on and don’t make a fuss. It’s probably for the best.”

* Some great “Ghost Blitz” photos of the church from Nick Stone here.

* Simon Knott’s take on the church here.

1 comment:

  1. John Lowe March 2012 at 10:59

    I lived in Costessy most of my earlier life and often went exploring in the woods and area around the ruins of Costessy Hall. There wasn't much there, but I seem to remember a tall tower and some cellars and lots of rubble. It was, for a small boy, an eerie place, overgrown and full of "ghosts"! The old parkland around about was again very wild and overgrown but I always remember the large Rhododendron bushes that presumably had been planted by the owners. A great place to visit with your mates! I also used to fish the Wensum at Costessey Mill and on the meadows around there, and on the River Tud. Spent alot of time exploring the Tud. Used to get a rowing boat out from a yard at the Dolphin Pub and row up the Wensum to Hellesdon Mill, pull the boat out and put it back in beyond the mill and row further up beyond Lower Hellesdon to finally fish the Wensum at Costessey where it was difficult to get to by walking. Great stuff! Caught my biggest ever Roach there! I loved it.

    Also fished the river with my grandfather who had an allotment at Bishop Bridge, Riverside, now houses and part of the Riverside walk, I think. He lived at Lollard's Pit on Riverside next to the gasometer, now a DIY store. Always smelt of gas!