History and natural wildlife of Reepham churchyard

An illustrated talk on the history and wildlife of Reepham churchyard was given by Rachel Richmond on 8 March, as part of the Heritage Lottery Fund community project.

Common spotted orchid in Reepham churchyard

The three medieval churches of St Mary’s Reepham & Kerdiston, St Michael’s Whitwell and All Saints Hackford were each built standing in their own parish, but within the one churchyard, the point where the three parishes met having been marked by a medieval cross, the remains of which is now attached to a pillar at the back of St Mary’s.
Reepham market was held in the churchyard until 1240 when the Bishop of Norwich asked for another site to be found, but it was not until 1277 that Sir John Vaux, Lord of the Manor of both Reepham and Hackford, was granted a charter for a market by Edward I and it moved to what is now the Market Place.
Most of the houses in what is now Reepham were within the parish boundary of Hackford until the three parishes were amalgamated in the 1930s.
In 1543, a major fire destroyed not only the church of All Saints, but most of the houses in Hackford; St Michael’s then became the parish church of both Whitwell and Hackford.
In the mid-1700s, Thomas Martin of Palgrave drew a plan of the churchyard before the ruins of All Saints were demolished in 1796, and this was enormously helpful in locating the foundations of the church during the geophysical survey in 2015.
From a drawing of 1790 and items found during the archaeological dig of 2016, there were indications that the All Saints part of the churchyard was neglected while the ruins of the church were still in place.
The churchwardens' accounts book for St Mary’s from 1780-1840 recorded that that part of the churchyard was regularly mown and kept tidy and this allowed the original meadow flora to survive, while that in the All Saints and St Michael’s parts have been lost.
Field woodrush, bulbous buttercup, lady’s smock and five other flowers, which are highly dependent on churchyards for survival in Norfolk, thrive within the three conservation areas of St Mary’s.
Together with the well-maintained gardens this area attracts many visiting insects and an illustrated list of the 59 species of plants and 45 different creatures recorded in the whole churchyard will soon be found on the Reepham Benefice website.

Ant woodlouse; these are very small and live in ant’s nests in Reepham churchyard

Related stories: