One thousand years ago, Norfolk was one of the most populous parts of England, containing hundreds of small parishes, each with its own little church. Houghton-on-the-Hill was one of these, close by Peddar’s Way, a road that the Romans developed; the community built a sizable flint church during the 11th century, reusing some Roman brick. The simple chancel arch was flanked by alcoves for altars. The building continued to develop, with a S aisle added in the 12th c and a square 14th c. west tower. From that point, the settlement and its church declined. In 1760 a faculty was given to reduce the size of the chancel, the aisle had already been demolished. Farms got smaller and people moved away; during World War I a passing Zeppelin discarded bombs over the churchyard.  The last wedding was celebrated in 1925 and the last baptism in 1933; around the end of World War II the church was left to gently decay, becoming an ivy-clad ruin by the 1970s. Until Bob and Gloria Davey moved into the parish, Bob becoming churchwarden of North Pickenham, in whose parish Houghton now fell. On a WI ramble in 1992, Gloria spotted signs of Satanic worship in the ruins; her horrified husband organised night patrols to deter this and started to organise repairs. Houghton-on-the Hill church became Bob Davey’s life’s mission. The church was put on the Buildings at Risk register and new roofs were constructed. It was then, in 1996, that the restorers discovered the remarkable 11th century wall paintings, which are still being restored. There’s a Last Judgment on the E. wall, a Wheel of Fortune on the S wall and the Creation on the N wall; they are of international significance. Brought back from the dead, Houghton church now has a future, looked after by a group of volunteers, the Friends of St Mary’s.


Map reference: TF869053

Simon Cotton