Sunday, 12 February 2012

Houghton On The Hill

Saint Mary
Houghton On The Hill
© Godric Godricson

Houghton on the Hill is a magical place and a palimpsest where we find medieval  architecture lying on top of Saxon buildings and all beside a Roman road in close proximity to a Roman Villa. The Church is almost the last building to survive in this largely deserted village.

For a gently undulating County like Norfolk, Houghton is an elevated position up on the hill and the views to the West are striking and amplified by the snow on a freezing cold day in February 2012. The silence on the hill is memorable and only broken by the call of wild pheasants. I have to acknowledge that on the day I visited a shooting party probably from a local estate were making a little noise and firing away with shotguns. Rural pursuits are still alive and well in Norfolk.

Multiple architectural styles
© Godric Godricson

The fabric of the Church dedicated to Saint Mary is well documented ‘on line’ and a simple search revels a wide range of learned documentation on the archaeology of the site and the history of the people associated with the Church. I am also aware that the Norfolk County record office may hold a wide range of records. There is no reason to repeat the work of other people[1] [2] and I suggest that you read the associated works which are revealing and fascinating.

Roman tiles
in the South Wall
© Godric Godricson

The cemetery is a wonderful place and it is the sort of site I mentioned at the start of this blog. Houghton is the sort of cemetery that set me on the path of exploring cemeteries and Churches. The Church and cemetery sit within the green land that is Norfolk. When I visited the Church and cemetery it was still covered with snow and looked for all the world like some sort of medieval fantasy. The Roman brick and tile set into the wall by medieval builders are magnificent and speak of a continuity that is profound and striking. I can only marvel at medieval man who by necessity hacked away Roman debris  from a ruined villa and carried it here to the hill to build the present Church. I wonder (without any evidence) whether or not we have a Roman temple under the Church as found in other parts of the world where later buildings conform to an earlier use.

18th century
© Godric Godricson

The cemetery is only separated from the wide open snow covered fields by a raised boundary of earth and stones and the footprints of wildlife make their way from the fields into the cemetery. The landscape has no real boundaries out here in the wilds  and we are very much in touch with nature. If we half close our eyes we can almost see the people who built the Church and indeed there is photographic evidence of a ghostly visitor who is well known to keep an eye on the place. I should say that the local Territorial Army keep an eye on the site and have been known to stage manoeuvres in this area at night and this military presence  gives the site an air of mystery and intrigue as imagine well armed camouflaged figures making their way through the night.

The building itself has a wide range of architectural styles although the cemetery itself has largely been robbed of its headstones or, more correctly, the headstones may not have been there in the first place. This was and is a lonely place and it may have been that burials were community events and largely without commemorations in stone. The few headstones that remain are largely mid 19th Century although we do find 18th Century headstones with their smiling putti looking down at the departed.

The small cemetery is unadorned except for the floor plan of earlier buildings which are laid out in the ground and this reminds us of earlier people and earlier epochs.

John Roope
© Godric Godricson

We find John Roper who died on 20 Jan 1848 aged 65 years with a headstone that proclaims  ‘Roope’ and his wife Ann Roper  who died just a little earlier on 31 Dec 1847 63 years. We can only wonder at the personal tragedy in this household. Interestingly, the International genealogical Index  (IGI) did not come up with  this parish on a simple search. Perhaps the Mormons haven't found the parish yet?

The Church and cemetery are well protected by people living nearby and by the Territorial Army who turn up without notice or encouragement. The Anglicans and Roman Catholics continue to hold services here in the wilds. From the Liturgy in Anglo-Saxon to Ecumenical gatherings the Church still proclaims its message.

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