Urgent repairs needed for 14th century church and prison lock-up

Becket's Chapel, Wymondham

Becket's Chapel, Wymondham - Credit: Supplied by Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust

Plans have been submitted to carry out urgent repairs to a historic Norfolk church.

Becket’s Chapel, in Wymondham, needs restoration work due to years of neglect, with poor maintenance and inappropriate additions blamed for the state of the building.

Plans submitted to South Norfolk Council show the walls and roof need to be refurbished, flooring must be replaced, and plaster and stone masonry requires repairs.

A mid-20th century lobby will also be removed and heating, electrical and lighting systems replaced.

The plaque on Becket's Chapel commemorating the life of Robert Kett.

The plaque on Becket's Chapel commemorating the life of Robert Kett. - Credit: Archant

Much of the Grade I listed structure dates to around the 1400s.

According to the Norfolk Heritage Explorer, the building was converted into a school in 1559 before being used to lock up unconvicted prisoners.

More recently it has been a library and currently houses the Wymondham Arts Centre.

A planning statement said: "The heritage significance of Becket’s Chapel is exceptional due to its evidential, historical, aesthetic and communal value.

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"However, lack of maintenance and unsympathetic alterations over the years have affected its heritage significance.

"Becket's Chapel is in poor condition, and the repair of walls and roofs is a priority to halt decay."

The building is also not energy-efficient and running costs are high, making it very difficult to use during the winter months.

Due to the poor condition of the building, the chapel has been included in the Heritage at Risk Register since 2018.

Wymondham Arts Centre, Beckets Chapel

Wymondham Arts Centre runs at Becket's Chapel in the town. - Credit: Archant

The Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust has taken an interest in looking after this heritage site to bring it back into full use.

Much of the site is in disrepair, with overgrown vegetation and debris piled against the walls, roof tiles in poor condition and areas suffering from dampness.

Funding for the project will come from Historic England and the Architectural Heritage Fund.

One of Historic England’s requirements was improvements to the building's environmental impact.

Becket's Chapel

According to Richard Halsey, building historian and trustee of the Norfolk Historic Buildings Trust, the chapel is thought to have been founded in the late 12th century, although most of the surviving structure dates to around the 1400s.

The precise date of the construction of the original chapel and its purpose is unclear but is thought to be 1174, a year after the martyr Thomas Becket was canonised.

The chapel had been owned by the nearby Wymondham Abbey until King Henry VIII dissolved monasteries across the UK, which brought its closure in 1538.

After dissolution, the town purchased the chapel in around 1540.

During the reign of Edward VI, it was converted into a grammar school.

By the 1800s the ground floor was used as a coach house for the parish fire engine and the parish lock-up. The grammar school used the upper floor.

Following extensive restoration works the chapel was reopened in 1873 as a public hall and then used as a school again until 1903.

In 1948, it became a county branch library, with extensive works carried out including a new lobby entrance. The library closed in 2008.