As with many of the other churches written about in this series, St Margaret is not so easy to find. It is in Parson Woodforde country near Weston Longville, down the drive to Morton Hall – a winding narrow lane with high banks on either side. Arriving at the Hall, the church can be seen on a bluff above you.
The church is for the most part a ruin. In 1959 on Easter Sunday, the tower collapsed into the nave. Fortunately everyone had left after the Service so no one was killed. It remained unloved and uncared for, becoming overgrown with ivy and brambles until the late 70s when Lady Prince Smith, owner of Morton Hall, with the help and encouragement of the Norfolk Churches Trust, decided to do something about it. Sensitive restoration of part of the nave and the chancel has created a light-filled space in which, although a private chapel occasional public services are held today.
The church dates from Saxon times (the round tower which collapsed was Saxon with a double splay window on the nave side). The Font was moved into the restored church and the base of the old rood screen lines the walls of the sanctuary.
Morton Hall was the home to the recusant family of Southwell in the 16th and 17th centuries. The most famous was Robert Southwell who died a martyr. He was a Jesuit and was hung, drawn and quartered. He was subsequently canonised by Pope Paul VI. Katherine Audley, Robert Southwell’s Aunt, lies in the middle of the church with her shining brass effigy. This brass was stolen while the church was in ruins and was handed back to Lady Prince Smith after the restoration. Another brass, however, is still missing.
The Church can be reached via a farm drive from Ringland Road, NR9 5JS. Please contact the keyholder in advance of your visit, on 01603 880165.