Volunteers hope to unearth hidden history at medieval church in Hopton

Residents will seek to unearth hidden history at a community archaeological dig to be held at a medieval ruined church in Hopton-on-Sea.

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.

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Great Yarmouth Preservation Trust, a registered charity, working with Hopton-on-Sea Parish Council, which owns the church, is leading a £140,000 project to conserve and repair the grade II*-listed structure as a safe ruin.

As part of the two-year project, archaeologist Giles Emery, of Norwich-based Norvic Archaeology, will lead a three-day community dig, where residents will use trowels, sieves and brushes to uncover and record the secrets of Hopton’s past.

The dig will involve three different groups of about 12 people on each day – Sunday, August 31, Monday, September 1 and Tuesday, September 2 – with work taking place from 10am to 3pm. A limited number of spaces are still available.

Residents are also invited to attend as spectators and bring along their own finds from the Hopton area to be identified by Giles, his colleague John Percival, and Claire Bradshaw, a community archaeologist at Norfolk Historic Environment Service.

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The dig has several key aims. The team will examine the internal fabric, including a joint in the building and a blocked-in doorway, to try to understand the changing form and layout of the church over the centuries. Keyhole trenches will be made to find the original floor level.

It is hoped the dig may identify evidence for an earlier ecclesiastical building and perhaps even find evidence for prehistoric or Roman activity at or around the site. The team will also seek to rediscover the entrance to the vault of the Sayers family, patrons of the church, which was last uncovered in 1981. The team will seek to avoid disturbing any human remains on the site.

Giles said: “This is the first archaeological investigation at the church, the only remaining medieval structure in Hopton, so I hope this community dig will unearth some interesting artifacts which will answer some long-standing questions about the church and site.

“For example, much of the church has been identified as a later 13th to 14th century construction, although it is possible that some of the fabric could be of an earlier date. The origins of the church are unclear, with no reference to a church in Domesday but some recorded evidence of a possible religious site here from as early as 1087.

“We would also like to talk to as many villagers as possible, and inspect any finds from their gardens, to try to understand what the medieval village was like, because no detailed maps for this area go back past the 1600s and almost no artifacts have been recorded.”

Franziska Callaghan, the lead project officer, said: “This is a fantastic opportunity for residents to literally unearth their area’s history. Places on the dig are very limited, but we still welcome spectators and those with their own finds.

“And the dig hopefully will help bolster our appeal for volunteers to take part in the vital conservation work continuing above-ground as part of this project, which aims to save this important piece of Hopton’s history, culture and heritage, and also provide vital training opportunities in traditional building skills.”

Since April, trainees and volunteers have completed surveying the walls, and have made swift progress on the main conservation work on the inside walls, working alongside the trust’s network of experts to learn buildings conservation skills, such as flint-knapping and lime-mortaring.

The project is funded by the Heritage Lottery Fund, English Heritage, the Pilgrim Trust, and other sources.

Guided tours of the site will run as part of the Heritage Open Days on Friday, September 12 and Saturday, September 13, from 10am to 2pm.

For more information about training opportunities on the project, or to enquire about places on the dig, email either of the project managers via [email protected] or [email protected], or call the preservation trust office on 01493 846195.

Great Yarmouth Council

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Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan
Mark Milligan is multi-award-winning journalist and the Managing Editor at HeritageDaily. His background is in archaeology and computer science, having written over 8,000 articles across several online publications. Mark is a member of the Association of British Science Writers (ABSW), the World Federation of Science Journalists, and in 2023 was the recipient of the British Citizen Award for Education, the BCA Medal of Honour, and the UK Prime Minister's Points of Light Award.

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