St Mary Tower Restoration - Progress Report

Written by Graham and May Prior.

Heritage fund logoIn November 2018, St Mary's was awarded a National Lottery Heritage Fund Grant - Saving Our Saxon Tower. This in addition to several smaller grants has allowed restoration work to commence.

Since work began in March the asphalt roof coverings on the Porch and Tower have been taken up, the roof structures repaired and the coverings replaced with stainless steel on the Porch, and lead on the Tower. The associated parapets and abutments have been overhauled and high level masonry repairs are underway. Work is progressing from the top of the tower down, and should be completed by the end of September 2019.

The Tower Scaffolded

Photos by Gethin Harvey of Nicholas Warns Architects Ltd.
please click on pic for slide show

The Holocaust Memorial Library is complete as a reference facility, and we hope to participate in Memorial Day in 2020.

A church booklet has been written and is awaiting final proof reading and publication.

New display and interpretation boards will be purchased when the main building work has been completed. It has been difficult to allow public access for much of this year because of the building work, but we plan to participate in Heritage Open Days in the future.

We continue to work on a regular basis with the Norfolk Wildlife Trust, and encourage use by local ramblers. This year St Mary's will again be open for the Norfolk Churches Trust Cycle Ride.

Regular Messy Church Sessions have been started for young people and their families.

Ensemble, a drama group, have a 3 night Christmas Show on 28th, 29th and 30th November this year in the church - 'It's Beginning to Look a Lot Like Christmas.'
For any enquiries contact

photos of the restoration work on St Mary's, taken by Gethin Harvey, from Nicholas Warns Architects Ltd.

Diggers & Dibblers visit the John Innes Centre, Norwich

Written by Ally Rae.

On a very warm afternoon in July an enthusiastic group of members of Diggers & Dibblers and their friends enjoyed a fascinating tour of the John Innes Centre (JIC) on the outskirts of Norwich. This world renowned research establishment has its roots at the end of the 19th century when John Innes set up a small horticultural institution in Merton (London) with a focus on fruit and flowers and how characteristics are passed on in plants. It has blossomed over the years bringing together on the Norwich site numerous related fields of plant research and now with a special interest in agricultural plants – wheat, barley, peas and brasicas.

John Innes visiting group

James Piercy, the Communications and Engagement Officer, lead us through several of the departments, where we plunged from the heat of July into the cool air conditioned Archive and Library with a wonderful display of exquisite historic plant illustrations, the deliciously chilly Germ Plasma Research Unit (‘seed store’) at 4-6℃, the heat of massive greenhouses growing on trial plants and the compact equipment- filled rooms of the Bio-imaging Department where the most up-to-date scanning electron microscope can produce extraordinarily detailed pictures of plant cells, bacteria and viruses. A fascinating detail was the ultra-fine brush made by glueing a single hair from an eye-brow to a stick so the slivers of plant samples could be lifted into the microscopes. I could write pages about all we saw and heard, but the JIC website does a much better job than I can.

John Innes Centre

Some of the highlights for me were getting a glimpse of the range of skills and areas of research covered by JIC and it’s associated organizations. Its ground-breaking work in plant breeding, genetic research and pathogens may help us with some of the challenges of climate change – developing drought and pest resistance – and in the search for new antibiotics, many of which are derived from soil-based bacteria. The levels of collaboration across the UK and the world were impressive as was the patience needed to develop new plant variants and nurture the generations of plants necessary to see if changes are successful and desirable.

The Seed Store

JIC has been a leader in plant genetics and genetic modification remains an area on which there are conflicting views. GM crops can’t be grown commercially under EU regulations. A surprise for me was to hear that the growing medium used by JIC is based on Irish peat. This provides important comparability with earlier growing trials. With changes in legislation coming into effect relatively soon the search for another medium is now on – and hopefully will benefit the wider horticultural community. It seems as if they need a new ‘John Innes compost’!

Brands carrying this name have nothing to do with JIC as the ‘recipes’ were given to the nation during the Second World War to help with the Dig for Victory campaign. Finally it was rather lovely to hear that John Innes concern for his employees' well-being has reached down the years and the staff are able to relax from their intense and demanding work on a site with some lovely green areas and a swimming pool. The visit was free and we are very grateful to James and his many colleagues who showed us so much of what they do. Thanks also to Roger Ranson for organizing the visit for us. We were delighted to make a donation to JICs work.

How Hill Gardens

Written by Margaret Hickman Smith.

What a treat we had in store with this month’s Digs and Dibs speaker Simon Partridge. As head of the How Hill trust he was the perfect person to show us with his excellent slides, knowledge and amusing talk the little known joys and wonder of the gardens at How Hill.

The house itself was built by Edward Boardman, originally as a summer house for himself, his wife and then his family but at the outbreak of WW1 he added to it and made it his permanent family home. The development of the house and gardens in its amazing position continued up until his death and when the family finally sold it the purchaser was Norfolk Education Committee. What foresight Sir Lincoln Ralphs, the chief education officer, had. Staff training and school visits took place there and when the How Hill trust took it over the work with school visits was certainly accelerated. The house provides a superb place for the children to stay and the grounds, Toad Hole Cottage and the new centre provide a wonderful base to study wildlife and the Norfolk broads.

how hill houseThe gardens surrounding the house are not always on public view because schools are in residence but the rest of the garden is open every day and is well worth a visit. At one time they were only open for a few weekends a year to see the azaleas and rhododendrons, which are spectacular, but now work has been done to make the gardens a place of all round interest. There is also a coffee shop!! Simon showed us slides of the restoration of one of the gardens near the house which promises to be really beautiful.

This talk was special for me as I took the children from Angel Road School and every year of my time as headteacher at Tacolneston School to How Hill. It is a place of real beauty and wonder and to my great delight Isobel, one of my pupils, came to Digs and Dibs to hear the talk. I would urge you all to visit this magical place on the Broads which was so eloquently spoken about by Simon.

Forncett Art Group Christmas Shopping Weekend

Written by Administrator.

What a splendid weekend of Art and Crafts! on Saturday and Sunday, 24th and 25th November, the very talented people of the Forncett Art Group put on a display and sale at the beautiful Church of St Mary’s in the Village. So many creative people selling handmade Christmas gifts - Cards, gift boxes, Oil paintings, wooden houses, encaustic art, mosaics, printing, jams and chutneys, wood craft, watercolours, soaps, photography, felting, hand sewn creations, jewellery and stained glass ornaments…amongst other things.

(Photos: Richard Ball - click on pic for slideshow)

There was a great atmosphere, created by beautiful lighting, glowing Christmas trees and lots of happy chatter and colourful creations. This all came together, promoting a very Christmassy feel to the venue. Hot drinks and mince pies added to the occasion, so there was plenty of time to sit and enjoy the scene. We were treated to a perfect performance by the wonderful ‘Clangers’ – the bell ringers from St Peters School. We were even given the opportunity to ‘have a go’ which was very entertaining.

Well done to all the stall holders in the Art Group, to Graham and May and their little Church team for helping us host the event and thankyou to everyone for supporting us and for buying lots of gifts from us.