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Thunderbolts and fire - community remembers town church blaze

PUBLISHED: 15:22 19 July 2019 | UPDATED: 15:22 19 July 2019

St Nicholas Church, Wells. Picture: Ian Burt

St Nicholas Church, Wells. Picture: Ian Burt

Archant © 2012

A community is shedding a light on the history of its church - 140 years on from a devastating fire.

An etching of St Nicholas Church during the fire: Picture: Local RecallAn etching of St Nicholas Church during the fire: Picture: Local Recall

St Nicholas Church in Wells will be holding a two-week long exhibition and a commemorative event to remember the blaze.

The church, on Church Street, was engulfed in flames on August 3, 1879, when a bolt of lightning struck the base of the tower during a violent thunderstorm.

Although the lower parts of the wall survived the fire largely intact, the building was almost wholly rebuilt by Herbert Green, the diocesan architect.

At the time the restoration cost £7000 with an additional £2000 being spent on a new organ, pews and completing the porch.

Now, the repair work that needs doing adds up to £300,000.

Alison Bowles, one of the people organising the event, said: "We have now found £300,000 of repair work that needs doing. It is mainly the medieval tower as it was damaged during the fire.

"That damage, along with some windows, is the reason for the appeal because it is a medieval feature that is special to the town's look."

The main event, which will be held on Sunday, August 4, will commemorate the disaster and celebrate the Fire & Rescue Service.

Wells Church floodlit  pic taken 20th dec 1982  m96933-35  pic to be used in lets talk dec 2012Wells Church floodlit pic taken 20th dec 1982 m96933-35 pic to be used in lets talk dec 2012

Mrs Bowles said: "We will be celebrating Norfolk Fire and Rescue because the work they do often goes unrecognised. Their job is so important."

The evening, which will be held at St Nicholas Church, will have an exhibition of pictures, organ playing, barbecue and a light display.

It will also mark the official launch of the restoration appeal which will see the church raise money for the repair work needed.

Mrs Bowles said: "The local school have also done some creative writing about fires which will be on display.

Kate Clodd is to undertake a walk in Spain to raise money to help replace the floor at St Nicholas Church, Wells. Picture: Ian Burt
Kate Clodd is to undertake a walk in Spain to raise money to help replace the floor at St Nicholas Church, Wells. Picture: Ian Burt

"I think it is a wonderful example of our community coming together and a great show of community involvement, which we are grateful for."

Along with the main event, there will be an exhibition in the church everyday between July 27 and August 11 which will show old pictures of the church and share its history.

You may also want to watch:

Wells church destroyed by fire. Picture: SubmittedWells church destroyed by fire. Picture: Submitted

The Eastern Daily Press report from the night of the fire

On August 4, 1879, the Eastern Daily Press published the following report:

"Norfolk has not experienced since August 9, 1843, such a thunderstorm.

It raged over the greater portion of the county between Saturday at 7pm and 7am on Sunday.

Wells church destroyed by fire. Picture: SubmittedWells church destroyed by fire. Picture: Submitted

The greatest disaster to buildings occurred at Wells-next-the-Sea. The parish church has, in fact, been destroyed.

It was struck at six o'clock by lightning, fire took hold and and it was burned in spite of the effort of the inhabitants to save it.

A telegram describes the building as a wreck, and adds that nothing is left standing but the tower."

In relation to the storm, the EDP also reported on one man that was killed and another injured, scenes in Norwich streets, destruction of property and houses and shops that were flooded.

Wells church destroyed by fire, exterior engraving. Picture: SubmittedWells church destroyed by fire, exterior engraving. Picture: Submitted

Are you interested in Norfolk's local history?

Would you like to explore Eastern Daily Press newspapers from days gone by?

If so, check out the Local Recall Project at www.localrecall.archant.co.uk/

This major, Google-backed project, will digitise the entire EDP newspaper collection back to October of 1870. Using the latest voice search and chatbot technologies, Local Recall will make these old stories and adverts available online for all - in new, accessible and exciting ways.

Local Recall will be made available to the public in Autumn 2019.

If you'd like to see these old adverts and articles before the release date and be part of the project, we need your help editing and enhancing the scanned digital files.

Find out more about how you can volunteer by heading over to www.localrecall.archant.co.uk/volunteer

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