6. A Fire in Walsingham

A church, originally dedicated to All Saints, has stood on the present site since Saxon times but nothing now remains older than the 14th century.


Following his appointment as Vicar in 1921, Fr Alfred Hope Patten re-established devotion to Our Lady of Walsingham and set up a newly carved image and Shrine in the Guilds Chapel of the church in July 1922. Consequently, the village of Walsingham became again a centre of pilgrimage. The statue of Our Lady was translated to the Holy House in the new Shrine on 15th October 1931.





Thirty years later, on 14th July 1961, a fire almost completely destroyed Little Walsingham's Parish Church. Details of the church before the fire, its destruction, restoration and re-consecration are desribed in a fund-raising book entitled

'A Fire in Walsingham'

which is available for £5 from the Church

(using the 'Contact Us' enquiry form) or

The Shrine Shop


The following book review by The Revd Ian McCormack appeared in New Directions in 2011.


The year 2011 marked not only the 950th anniversary of Lady Richeldis’ vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary, but also the 50th anniversary of the fire which almost completely destroyed the parish church.

This attractive book tells the story of the fire, its aftermath and the rebuilding of the church through old photographs, newspaper cuttings and the personal reminiscences of a range of Walsingham folk who witnessed some or all of the devastation and reconstruction that followed.

Much of the material was found in three box files stored away in the Vicarage. Graham Howard, the Shrine’s photographer, has done a splendid job of sorting through this mountain of material to produce a book which is as attractive to look at as it is to read. For people like me who love to study old photographs, the high-quality images included here will be the highlight of the book: they begin with postcards and other images of the Church as it was before the fire, then progress through the fire itself and the ruins that were left behind.

A picture of Mass being said in the ruins is particularly poignant. Finally, the photos move triumphantly (as every Christian story must) towards Resurrection: the restoration and, on Saturday 8 August 1964, re-consecration of St Mary’s. Extracts from contemporary newspaper reports lend further atmosphere, whilst also giving useful background information to the story told primarily by the pictures.

I had not known, for example, that the same night had witnessed serious vandalism in the parish church at nearby Dereham, which led many people to suspect arson at St Mary’s and a link between the two events. The personal reminiscences are poignant and (at times) amusing: the fact that the fire sorted out the death watch beetle once and for all is a case in point!

The book finishes with some information about the beautiful organ and the fine church bells (including an atmospheric photo of the Rt Revd C.L.P. Bishop solemnly censing the new treble bell at its baptism in 1988!) and some photos of the church as it stands today.

This is a very fine book which deserves a place on the shelves of all those who love Walsingham and its parish church.

Ian McCormack


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