Good news for St. Mary’s Church, Bungay, from Mrs. Betty Warnes

Good news for St. Mary’s Church, Bungay, from Mrs. Betty Warnes

St. Mary’s , the large and lofty church standing in the centre of Bungay, has been allocated part of a grant which has been awarded to the Churches Conservation Trust (CCT) from the Government’s Culture Recovery Fund, which was set up to help heritage organisations through the coronavirus pandemic.    The CCT own and protect 356 churches which are at risk but are still part of our country’s heritage.  In the case of St. Mary’s the repairs listed as necessary in their 2019 survey will be supplemented with funds already provided by the Friends of St. Mary’s, who will help again if further funding is required.

St. Mary’s was made redundant in 1977, leaving Holy Trinity as the sole Parish Church and St. Mary’s in the care of the CCT.  Since then the building has developed into the largest venue in Bungay, hosting events from flower festivals to rock concerts but also maintaining its Christian status with the annual Remembrance services, Civic Services and other important events taking place there.   Being renowned for its acoustics it is regularly used by choirs and orchestras with some bookings already in place for 2021.

Before the pandemic struck, St. Mary’s had been identified already as a building needing urgent repairs and renovation and with the help of this funding, work has started already on the tower  and priory ruins which lie on the east side of the churchyard.   St. Mary’s is often referred to as the Priory Church as it was built for this Benedictine Priory.  After dissolution of the monasteries by Henry the Eighth the priory buildings were allowed to deteriorate but the nave and aisles were retained as part of a second parish church.   The ruins are a great draw tourists and during the Bungay Festival are used for a “Soiree in the Priory” which is an ecumenical event with music and other entertainment.

Other areas of the Church identified as needing urgent repair were revealed only after closer inspection in 2019.   The 15th century tower like other areas of the building has suffered from water ingress causing them to be detached and extensive reworking of this flint work is required.    The great west window is described as being in a parlous state  requiring urgent conservation work; it is believed the damage is partly the result of the blast from world war bomb which exploded nearby.

There is evidence of damage in large sections of the mullions and tracery, some of which is the result of corrosion of through bars and there also sections of glazing to be repaired.   All stone work areas needing attention have been shrouded in a cocoon of plastic above a structure of corrugated iron;  this arrangement creates a greenhouse effect creating a micro-climate providing the right conditions for the craftsmen to work with the mortar,  which does not bond at winter temperatures.   Another benefit of this project is that the craftsmanship involved will be used by the CCT to host a series of training, outreach and educational days for professionals in the fields of masonry and glazing plus some open community days for school children and college students and anyone working in the conservation and heritage sectors.

The present large repair programme should strengthen this much loved building and ensure it remains Bungay’s focal point for centuries to come.   The Churches Conservation Trust describes St. Mary’s Church, Bungay as “a landmark for miles around and the focal point of this historic market Town”.