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St Edmund, Egmere
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St Edmund is a dramatic and satisfying ruin, just to the west of the main Fakenham to Wells road, not far from North Barsham. It stands starkly on a little mound, jackdaws flurrying around it.
Pretty much all that remains is the bottom two thirds of the tower, which is clearly early 14th century. Enough of the west end of the nave survives to show that this was at least a Norman church, and possibly Saxon.
Egmere was a sizeable settlement until the C15, but declined and the church fell into disuse, reports Pevsner, but this simply isn't true. At the time the tower was built, the combined Lay Subsidy roll for Egmere and adjacent Quarles was just 31 tax-payers. This was before the Black Death, but many Norfolk villages had recovered by the time of the 1524 Lay Subsidy roll, when Egmere returned just 3 tax-payers.
The fact that the tower was built at a time when the settlement was so small is a reminder that our medieval churches were not built for congregational worship, but for the greater glory of God, for Mass to be celebrated, the people to take part in their private devotions, and prayers said for the dead of the parish. The nave would also be useful for secular purposes. Because of this, the size of the population didn't really become a factor in the survival of a church until the Reformation. St Edmund was in the patronage of Walsingham Abbey, so the Reformation dealt it a double blow, being sold with the Abbey lands to the Bacon family. It became a barn, the lower of the two rooflines on the tower probably being from this time, and the graveyard was used for grazing sheep.
I came here on a day that had promised much in the way of sunshine, but now in the late afternoon the skies were glowering, the rain falling in sudden sheets. I ran up the mound to the shelter of the tower - but of course, when I looked up it was quite open to the sky. I noticed then that the tower stairs were still in situ in the south-east corner of the tower. They looked reasonably sound - a few of them are missing, a gap-toothed grin of a staircase, but there was nowhere you couldn't have stepped over the gap. And so I climbed them. In several places there were holes in the turret wall, affording views across the rain-swept fields, and at one point a gap into the open tower which made me giddy when I looked through it. I kept climbing, until I eventually reached a place where the stair newel stood proud of the broken top of the tower. Feeling that I did not need to look over the top (the stairs were beginning to become a bit wobbly, and in any case if I had seen how high I was I would probably have thrown up) I returned to the floor, feeling quite pleased with myself.
While I do not think this ruin is particularly dangerous, I would point out that it is not particularly easy of access. The adjacent lane is very narrow, and there is nowhere to park. The drive to Egmere farm runs alongside the ruin, but again there is nowhere to park, and nowhere to turn around either. In the end, we cheekily drove down to the farm and turned around there, expecting the wrath of the farmer to not unreasonably fall on our heads at any moment.
Simon Knott, May 2005
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