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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Edmund, Southwood

Southwood: click to enlarge

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    St Edmund, Southwood
John Gamble   Thank goodness for Health and Safety legislation, and fear of the threat of litigation! For without these twin bastions of modern Britain, this ruined church would have been almost impossible to find. Here we were in the secretive lanes of the Yare valley, with high hedges and little fields divided by copses, searching for the remains of a building that has been lost to view for several hundred years. The remains of the tower of Southwood church are completely overgrown with ivy and elder, and you wouldn't recognise it as anything other than a large tree set back from the lane if it wasn't for a laminated sign stapled to the gate: Please do NOT enter this site. DANGER of falling masonry.

Aha! we thought. We stepped through, and there it was, boiling with green leaves, but its secret revealed by a number of haunting little 18th and early 19th century headstones scattered about. In fact, a considerable amount of the building survives, the walls of the nave being pretty well intact, as is most of the tower.

This church was still in regular use until about 150 years ago. But Southwood had long been drawn into a joint parish with Limpenhoe, and in the 1870s it was decided to abandon one of the churches, and rebuild the other, which was nearer to the centre of population. A drawing from earlier in the century shows that St Edmund was simple thatched church, probably not over-endowed with significant features, and its casual abandonment is a reminder that clumsy solutions to the problem of remote and infrequently-used churches were not a preserve of the 1970s.

A probable reason for the falling masonry is that, as with most Norfolk ruined churches (and there are more than a hundred of them) some attempt has been made in recent years to tidy up the site and consolidate the ruin. This is an admirable intention - the only trouble is that many ruined buildings end up being held up by the ivy and the elder, and once you remove it the walls can come tumbling down.

The interior of St Edmund has been cleared, and so it is possible to wander in through the south doorway, look up into the tower, stand facing east towards where the chancel crumbles away into nothing, and even note the lovely red brick outline around the south doorway. You can stand for a moment in silence, and imagine this building during its liturgical life, filled with local people praying their devotions.

Although, of course, I could not possibly recommend that you do so.

  the giveaway

Simon Knott, December 2007

inside looking west tower arch south doorway tower
inside looking east up the tower wife of John Gamble

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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk