St. Margaret's Ruins in the Millennium Garden
Just a little history to give you a flavour of the old St. Margaret's Church on Coast Road Hopton-on-Sea.
There has been a church on the site at Coast Road since 1087. There aren't many records but it is thought that the church was built between 1189 and 1250. It was a small church, with the north aisle added some 100 years later.
The Norfolk Records Office in Norwich holds Baptism, Burial and Marriage Records dating from 1673.
The church is positioned on the crossing point of two powerful energy lines that wind their way down the country to Lands End in Cornwall. This is an ancient pilgrim route. The Michael and Mary Lines are dowseable and have been traced along their entire length.
A fire broke out in the church on Sunday 8 January 1865 when the stove became overheated and the building was all but demolished. The church was replaced by the existing church, also called St. Margaret's, on the Lowestoft Road Hopton-on-Sea.
The old churchyard was officially closed in 1966 and only parts of the walls and tower remain today. Grave stones were re-sited and the area was left to grass over. Due to health and safety concerns, Great Yarmouth Borough Council erected a security fence around the ruins.
Much work was carried out by volunteer groups both inside the ruins and in the gardens (Millennium Garden) over the past 15 years or more, removing debris, dead trees and brambles.
In 2008 Hopton-on-Sea Parish Council agreed to purchase the ruins from the Church of England Commissioners for £1 with a view to protecting this heritage site for generations to come. A number of fundraising events were organised over the years by willing volunteers and this money was used as match funding when grants were received and to maintain the ruins and gardens. The gardens are today (May 2022) maintained by the Parish Council's contract gardener. Prior to this local volunteers, firstly Hopton in Bloom and then the Friends of Old St. Margaret's, used to maintain the gardens. The gardens provide a peaceful place to walk or sit and relax. There are many benches, including picnic benches and a dedicated Remembrance Bench.
In August 2013 Heritage Lottery awarded funding so that the walls could be stabilised, to enable the Grade 11* Listed Building to come off the "at risk" Register. The Parish Council worked in partnership with Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust and the project provided opportunities for local residents, school children and visiting apprentices to work on the walls using traditional skills such as masonry, flint-knapping and lime-mortaring. A total of 65 trainees and 80 volunteers were involved in the two year project, which also included a community archaeology dig at the site. A village history group was also set up and as a result Hopton-on-Sea Exploring the Past booklet was published.
Work started in May 2014 to consolidate the fragile walls of the two naves using traditional building materials and the flint walls were re-pointed in coarse lime mortar.
In April 2015 work started on the tower. Two stone heads were found buried in the wall at the top of the tower, which are believed to date from the 11th or 12th Century, which would indicate that they were reused from the original church or from the ruins of the church at Newton (village to the east that fell into the sea) when the tower was added in the 15th Century. The two gargoyles (sometimes called "Grotesque" stone heads) were gifted by the Parish Council to the new St. Margaret's Church Lowestoft Road in April 2022 where they can be viewed today.
Further funding was received from various sources, enabling work to continue on the north and south walls. By October 2016 timbers removed from the tower during preservation work together with surplus flints, bricks and masonry were stored in a corner of the garden.
After two and a half years, the outer security fence was removed on 20 October 2016 and the Millennium Garden was once again open for the public to enjoy.
A record of gravestones at the ruins has been kept and is available via the Parish Clerk.
The official opening ceremony took place in April 2017, when the Lord Bishop of Norwich, the Rt. Rev. Graham James, formally unveiled a new information board and commemorative bench. The Mayor and Mayoress of Great Yarmouth, along with many residents, volunteers and those involved in the Project attended the ceremony. A new bench and plaque, thanking all those involved in the Project, was unveiled by the Lord Bishop and Mayor at the event. Tours of the ruins took place during the afternoon.
Since the opening ceremony, a new Apple Orchard has planted by the Friends of Old St. Margaret's and in April 2022, two Cherry Blossom Trees were planted on the south side, by The Mayor and some pupils from Hopton CE Primary Academy, along with Parish Cllrs. in celebration of The Queen's Platinum Jubilee. The trees were gifted to the Parish Council by Great Yarmouth in Bloom and two plaques are in place detailing the planting.
The Parish Council would like to thank Darren Barker, Project Organiser, GY Preservation Trust, Heritage Lottery Fund and all funders, conservation specialists and trainers, structural engineers, architects, ecologists, historians, and all volunteers who have worked tirelessly on the Project. In particular a huge thank you to Rachel Harrison and Graham Mills for all their hard work and perseverance. Thank you also to to Ian Hardy, Conservation Officer GYPT, Franziska Callaghan, Project Manager, Rachel Harrison Project Co-Ordinator, Giles Emery from Norvic Archaeology, Medieval Masonry, Borough Cllr. Carl Annison, County Cllr. Andy Grant.