A beautifully-carved stone head, thought to date back 1,000 years, has been discovered during an inspirational project to conserve a medieval ruined church in the eastern English town of Hopton-on-Sea.
Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, working with Hopton-on-Sea Parish Council, which owns the St Margaret’s Church, is leading a £140,000 two-year project to conserve and consolidate the grade II*-listed structure as a safe ruin.
The limestone head was discovered yesterday (Thursday, March 12) embedded in the stonework at the top of the church’s 50ft tower, which is currently being conserved over 10 weeks by specialist contractor, Medieval Masonry Ltd.
Based on its Romanesque design, it is thought the decorative water spout was among parts of the original church building, dating from the 11th century, which were demolished and re-used when the church was remodelled and the tower added in the 13th or 14th centuries.
St Margaret’s Church, in Coast Road, – also known as Hopton Ruined Church – burned down in 1865 and is now a dangerous structure which is on the English Heritage buildings at risk register. The aims of the project are to save an important piece of Hopton’s history, culture and heritage as a maintained attractive feature, while providing vital training opportunities in traditional building skills for volunteers, who are conserving and consolidating the walls.
During a routine visit to the top of the tower to inspect progress, Darren Barker, the preservation trust’s project director, spotted the top of the head, which was subsequently extricated by trust conservator, Frederique Van Till. The preservation trust hopes to be able to put the head on display and plans to use a drawing of it as the logo of its new consultancy arm, Norfolk Conservation Ltd.
Darren, who is also the borough council’s principal conservation officer, said: “This beautifully-carved stone head is such an exciting find. Looking at the large eyes, nose and non-existent forehead, it is most likely to be Romanesque and probably dates from the 11th century. Norfolk does not have a local source of building stone, and moving stone long distances across rudimentary roads was difficult, so the limestone for the head and many other historic buildings in our region were shipped from Caen in France.
“This also explains why stonework like this was often re-purposed over the centuries. We have found bits of window tracery and door jams in the fabric of the ruined church, but to find a figurative carving is particularly special.
“This is the artwork of a nameless stonemason, who lived and died a millennium ago, which had lain hidden about 50 ft above ground for most of its existence, so it is a fantastic chance discovery and extends our understanding of the church and this period of history at Hopton.”
The project is supported by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Pilgrim Trust, Hopton Parish Council, Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, and Great Yarmouth Borough Council.