Friday, 16 December 2011

The Two Towers


This Christmas card view is of the churches of All Saints and Saint Mary, in the lovely, rural parish of Great Melton near Wymondham.  Although it covers a large area, it has a tiny, scattered population and no village or population centre at all.  All the roads have names, suggesting a town or some kind of activity but hedges and fields are all there is.  Market Lane for example, has nothing on it at all, apart from a farm, the entrance to the derelict Melton Hall and the churches.

The two buildings share a graveyard and are so close together, each service could be heard from the other.  Whilst All Saints is in use, all that remains of St Mary's is the ruined and roofless shell of the tower, stripped of most of its decorative stonework and just a few humps where the nave and chancel stood.  The two churches used to represent the two ancient parishes of St Mary and All Saints, which were combined during the reign of Queen Anne in 1710.  The entire population of Great Melton would barely fill one church, let alone two, so I wonder if the place buzzed with industry and life in the 11th century?  'Market Lane' may have meant just that, but there is nothing here now.

All Saints was left to rot, whilst the population worshipped at St Mary's until 1880, when the Parish made the very odd decision to demolish it, all apart from the tower.  The stone was used to restore the by now decrepit All Saints.  Why demolish a perfectly usable building in favour of a derelict one is also a bit of a mystery, unless St Mary's had structural problems, or was simply too small.  Or looking at the sparse population of Great Melton, too big? 

It is difficult to take materials off a tall structure without smashing the valuable cut stone dressings into little tiny bits, and scaffolding a tower then (and now) costs a small fortune.  I expect the tower was left in place as enough materials could be gleaned from the more accessible parts of the building.
Great Melton's parishioners are left with a15th century church, heavily and enthusiastically restored by the Victorians, and a rather expensive, listed, white elephant.

Very pretty, though.