Have you visited any of these 'haunted' ruins in Norwich?
- Credit: Archant
They remain as echoes of the past. Towers and flint walls. Shells of churches. Rubble remains hidden a stone’s throw from busy roads.
For those with an insatiable ‘ruin lust’ Norwich is a veritable sweetshop to browse on daily walks and weekend adventures.
And for those who enjoy a side serving of the supernatural with their history, many of the ruins below are said to have a resident spirit watching over them.
Some of the ruins in our list were created by the tragic Baedeker bombing raids of April 1942, others by decay and disuse.
There is something strangely beautiful and compelling about ruins and those below are in the city centre or a matter of a few miles away: lose yourself in the past with an unusual walking tour of Norwich.
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Remember to treat ruins with respect and diligence: they can be delicate and dangerous.
St Bartholomew’s, Norwich: On the edge of Norwich city centre, a bombed-out church has been reduced to just its tower – but before tragedy hit St Bartholomew's Church in Heigham, it was at the centre of a frenzied ghost hunt. The church, which had been abandoned by the 16th century and was then used as a warehouse and factory, was almost destroyed in the Baedeker Raids of April 27 1942. Just a tower is left, which now stands in parkland on Church Close. But before the bombs fell, there were rumours of a ghost in the churchyard which so frightened those living nearby that they decided to take action. Each night, “the roughs of Heigham” (according to the Norfolk Chronicle of February 1906) went looking for the spirit after nightfall until a rector came and laid the ghost to rest. Or did he?
Norwich City Walls: All around the city can be seen the remains of mighty defences that began to be built in 1294 and were completed in the mid-14th century. They were once the longest circuit of urban defences in the land, even bigger than the walls in London. Once, there were 12 gates and 40 towers that controlled the main routes into the city in addition to a pair of Boom Towers on the river. A ditch outside the wall made it look even more imposing. Only fragments can still be seen, but it’s fascinating to walk round Norwich to see what remains. The Norwich Society has put together a really useful map which will help you to navigate your way around the flint ruins, take a look here https://www.thenorwichsociety.org.uk/explore-norwich/the-city-walls-walks
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St Benedict’s, Norwich: Towards the end of St Benedict’s Street at the Grape’s Hill end, there is another sad reminder of the night that also claimed St Bartholomew’s Church a short walk away. The bombing raid reduced poor St Benedict’s to a shell and over time, the aisle and the south wall have been lost. Only the tower survives today, and it stands on a patch of grass, framed by modern flats. In this area, 500 years ago, there were five medieval churches within a short walk but all are now used for purposes other than worship. The trees that still stand are those that once stood in the graveyard and the bell that once rung in Norwich is now at St Benedict’s in Lowestoft.
Cow Tower: A Norwich landmark, Cow Tower replaced an earlier toll house which was attached to a 13th century Benedictine monastery and is thought to be the first major brick building in England. On a bend on the River Wensum, it was built by the city in response to the threat from France and English rebels and was intended to defend the north-eastern approach to Norwich. It once boasted three floors and was designed to hold a garrison when required. The tower played a role in Kett’s Rebellion – more of Mr Kett later – when the rebels attacked Norwich and damaged the tower’s parapets with artillery fire. You can see the nibbles they took out of the tower today. There’s also a ghostly legend that sees an undead coachman ride his coach and horses to Cow Tower ever Christmas Eve just before midnight. Norwich’s ghostly version of Father Christmas and his sleigh, perhaps.
St Michael and All Angels, Bowthorpe: This atmospheric ruin is the last that remains of medieval Bowthorpe and once stood guard over the highest point of the village. A patchwork of red brick and flint show where the chancel stood and, thanks to some sympathetic and loving restoration, you can now walk through the Norman-style entrance and along a path which takes you inside the old church. Redundant since the 16th century, the formerly round-towered church is believed to have been used as a barn until in the 1790s the church collapsed and fell into ruin. The tower was then used as a brick-filled oven and by the 1900s, became a home for pigs. There are stories that claim that during excavations in the 1980s, a skeleton was found in the oven.
All Saint’s, Keswick: When is a ruin not a ruin? When a tumbledown church is attached to one where worship still takes place. All Saint’s in Keswick stands on top of a hill just outside Norwich on the road to Mulbarton. Medieval, the church was partially destroyed in 1598 by Henry Hobart, who bought the manors of Keswick and Intwood (and also The Assembly House in Norwich, although he is most famous for building Blickling Hall). The building materials were used to build Intwood Church. Fast forward 300 years and the Gurney family, one of Norfolk’s most famous families, restored the ruin as their mortuary chapel, building it against the remaining tower to create a small but perfectly-formed space. In the 1920s, it became a church once again and in the 1950 a rounded apse was added – inside, there is a beautiful stained glass window from the William Morris workshop which shows the figure of Hope.
St Peter Southgate, Norwich: Hidden out of sight up a narrow passageway called Southgate Lane off King Street, the remains of St Peter Southgate can be found, an echo from the time when this parish of Conesford had as many as nine parish churches to its name. It was built between 1175 and 1186 and what can be seen today are the ruins of the tower that once stood here alongside a churchyard and a rectory where the wonderfully named Roger the Rector once lived – the rectory is believed to have been where numbers 1, 2 and 3 Southgate Lane are built today. Demolished in 1887, this most southerly of the nine churches was excavated in 1997 when a medieval path and post-medieval graves were found and in 2011, further work uncovered 23 burials, mostly 19th century coffin burials. It once perched on this sloped site, a tiny church but one that nevertheless failed to grow its congregation.
St Andrew’s, Whitlingham: Overlooking the river, St Andrew’s isn’t easy to spot, but this was once the spot where courting couples would go for romantic walks. The Norman church was in a ruined state by 1630 and by Victorian times was a folly much-loved by locals. In Land of the Broads by Ernest Suffling, the author wrote: “The church is planted right upon the edge of a precipitous, wooded hill, from which a good view of the surrounding district is obtained. The circular tower is nearly intact, but the church itself is roofless, and the interior contains a congregation of trees, in flourishing condition. The tower is surmounted by figures, symbolical of the four evangelists. These stone figures, according to local tradition, walk round the edge of the tower at midnight, meet, shake hands, and then resume their positions. This sight cannot be seen by married persons!” The ruins are close to the A47 bypass – take the road to the country park, drive past the broad and stop before the bridge that passes under the A47 and look up the hill and to your left. To the right, you can see the moss-covered remains that have fallen down the hill.
Chapel of St Michael, Kett’s Heights: One of Norwich’s best-kept secrets, Kett’s Heights offers majestic views of Norwich, the ruins of a medieval chapel, 19th century garden terraces and is where Robert Kett and his 10,000 followers gathered before they besieged the city in 1549. Now maintained by the Friends of Kett’s Heights, the entrance to the climb to the top of the hill is about halfway up Kett’s Hill on the B1140 out of Norwich and is accessed through well-signed metal gates. St Michael’s Chapel was said to have been established in 1101 by Bishop Herbert de Losinga to replace those in Tombland destroyed during the building of the cathedral. Monks carried out services here daily until the Dissolution and it was occupied by Kett during his rebellion, hence its second name, Kett’s Castle.
St Mary’s, Kirby Bedon: Two churches stand side by side in the village of Kirby Bedon, one a ruin, the other standing, both said to be haunted by the same ghost, a white lady riding a white horse. Just two miles from Norwich, Kirby Bedon boasts two churches, one either side of the village street, one dedicated to St Mary, the other to St Andrew. There are the remains of the round tower, the north walls of the nave and chancel and fragments of the east and south chancel. Abandoned in around 1700, the ruin is in a hazardous state, but can be viewed from the grass in front of it. In The East Anglian Handbook of 1885, a story is told of “…a very tall woman in white, mounted on a white horse, who rides slowly first around one churchyard and then the other.” In paranormal circles, the White Lady is a famous example of a type of female ghost, typically dressed in a white dress or a similar piece of clothing and often spotted in rural areas – or once rural areas – and associated with tragic local legends. Such White Ladies are found across the world, often linked to an accidental death, murder or suicide and the theme of loss, betrayal or unrequited love.