A love of Norfolk and a love of its churches

Derek James meets Jack Sterry, a man with a passion for our beloved round tower churches who has just published his fourth book on the subject.

It was a drive from Wells to Hunstanton which changed Jack Sterry's life - and resulted in not one, not two, not three but four books on a subject he has made his own – round tower churches in Norfolk and Suffolk.

Not a bad effort for a retired insurance broker who lives in the Midlands.

And there's more.

He has also penned his autobiography about his life and times called...Almost a Norfolk Lad.

Former CNS boy Jack, now in his 80s, may live at Kenilworth, but his heart is rooted in Norfolk, a place he loves with a rare passion.

The book of his life paints a colourful picture of growing up in Norwich in the 1930s and 40s, at a time when the city was under attack from the Luftwaffe, and then serving with the RAF at places like Coltishall and Neatishead before moving away.

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Jack was born in Gloucester during 1928.

His dad Sidney worked for Bevan and Sons, heating engineers and when they opened a Norwich branch in 1935 the family moved to the city – first to Christchurch Road and then Corie Road.

His first school was Colman Road and then he passed the scholarship for the City of Norwich School.

He recalls the careers master 'Bulldog' Houghton asking him if he had any idea what he was going to do after school.

He had no idea.

Bulldog suggested a place where so many CNS boys ended up – Norwich Union.

It was the start of a career in insurance which took him all over the country but wherever Jack went he always returned to his beloved Norwich and Norfolk as often as possible.

And it was during one of this visits when he spotted a church on a hill at Burnham Norton.

He then came across Burnham Deepdale and then Titchwell – the churches were all different but they had one thing in common – round towers.

Jack was hooked.

He discovered there were some 130 round tower churches remaining in Norfolk together with the ruins of several others.

There are also 42 in Suffolk and a few others in Essex, Cambridgeshire and other parts of the country. 'I am not a historian and I wasn't trying to be an expert.

'I was trying to encourage people who normally wouldn't visit these churches, to do so,' said Jack. So far the three books have sold more than 4,500 copies.

This has enabled him to donate �13,000 to church charities which is a tremendous help to the groups maintaining these wonderful buildings which have so many stories to tell.

'There are many theories as to why round towers,' said Jack.

And why Norfolk and Suffolk?

'Some feel that the origin came from instructions possibly sent out by King Atherstan, formerly Guthrum, a Viking leader who had settled in the Norfolk area – he was said to be based at the Saxon cathedral in North Elmham,' he explained.