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Payout on church earthquake damage

PUBLISHED: 10:28 24 February 2009 | UPDATED: 10:40 07 July 2010

An Act of God has proved a blessing in disguise for Fakenham Parish Church after insurers agreed to pay for repairs to historic panelling damaged by last year's earthquake.

An Act of God has proved a blessing in disguise for Fakenham Parish Church after insurers agreed to pay for repairs to historic panelling damaged by last year's earthquake.

The UK's strongest tremor for 25 years hit the church on February 27, shifting its sandy foundations and causing large cracks in its reredos - a series of wood-and-stone panels depicting St Peter, St Paul and the four Evangelists.

The earthquake, measuring 5.2 on the Richter scale, lasted just a few seconds but caused £26,000 of damage to the huge Victorian backdrop to the church's altar.

Scaffolding was erected under the church's east window during the summer as the cracks widened, to prevent the heavy panels falling forwards.

But work to restore the building's focal point is due to begin next month after the Ecclesiastical Insurance Company confirmed it had accepted the church's claim.

The Rev Adrian Bell said the reredos had lost much of its original splendour and was delighted that a full restoration could now be carried out with the help of the insurance payout.

“It was an Act of God but it may be a blessing to the restoration programme of the church,” he said.

“The reredos was part of that programme but through this Act of God, the insurance will pay for its restoration, rather than the church having to find the money.

“A lot of the gilding has come off over the years but that will now be replaced.

“The final restoration will include additional lighting and bring to life a part of the church which has been neglected for many years.

“We are fully insured and thankfully our webmaster took new photographs of it a month before, so we were able to show that the damage was not there before the tremor.”

Specialist church restorers Skillingtons will begin dismantling sections of the reredos on March 16 for seven weeks of work.

Mr Bell said it would also give an opportunity to see behind the panels for the first time since they were built in the 1850s. “We think behind here there could be some inscriptions, maybe the Lord's Prayer or the Ten Commandments,” he said. “We are going to get some historians to look at it, and English Heritage and the Victorian Society are also interested.”

The church has spent about £350,000 on restoration in the last eight years, including ongoing work to re-floor the south aisle.

Mr Bell will offer tours of the reredos to visitors to the church's Grand Book and Jigsaw Sale on Saturday, February 28 from 10am-1pm.

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