Houghton on the Hill, Norfolk

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Houghton on the Hill
St Mary, Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk - geograph.org.uk - 309241.jpg
Saint Mary's Parish Church, Houghton on the Hill
Houghton on the Hill is located in Norfolk
Houghton on the Hill
Houghton on the Hill
Houghton on the Hill shown within Norfolk
OS grid referenceTF868053
Civil parish
Shire county
Sovereign stateUnited Kingdom
AmbulanceEast of England
EU ParliamentEast of England
UK Parliament
List of places
52°37′39″N 0°45′13″E / 52.6275°N 0.753611°E / 52.6275; 0.753611Coordinates: 52°37′39″N 0°45′13″E / 52.6275°N 0.753611°E / 52.6275; 0.753611

Houghton on the Hill is a deserted medieval village in the Breckland district of mid-Norfolk, East Anglia, England in the United Kingdom. The only surviving buildings are a farm and St Mary's church which was recently rescued after being left in a ruinous state. During the restoration some very old wall paintings dating from about the time of the Norman Conquest were discovered; these are the earliest known large system wall paintings in the country.[1] The restoration was driven by the tireless efforts of one man - Bob Davey MBE.[2] The church is now maintained by a charitable trust 'The Friends of St Mary's', who also provide public access and guided tours (see external link for details).


There is evidence of habitation in this area going back to prehistoric times, with flint tools and a Bronze Age spearhead being found in local fields. The village was located close to the Peddars Way Roman road, and a large villa and, possibly, a temple were located nearby.[3]

The village is mentioned in the Domesday Book, being owned by Reynold, son of Ivo. A man called Herlwin held land in Houghton from Reynold. The present nave of the church was built at this time, and the paintings inside date from this period.

Francis White's History, Gazetteer and Directory of Norfolk, 1854, states that the parish consisted of 10 houses, with 50 residents and 600 acres of land.[4] During World War I the church was damaged when a Zeppelin dropped a bomb into the churchyard.[5] The last derelict cottages were demolished in the 1990s.

St Mary's Church wall paintings[edit]

Extensive polychrome wall paintings were noticed during restoration in 1996, and it soon became evident that they were of major significance. Romanesque wall paintings are very rare, and certain aspects of the iconography, particularly the quatrefoil cross on God’s knee on the east wall, have given rise to a date of around 1090, or late 11th century.[6]

The best-preserved scheme is on the east wall, which depicts the Last Judgment. Over the arch of the chancel we see the Trinity, comprising Father, Son and Holy Spirit, set within a triple mandorla. Beneath and to the left are the souls of the saved, and to the right, probably the souls of the damned (one seemingly wearing a crown).

Further down and to the left are a well-preserved set of figures holding scrolls, which might be construed as apostles or saints, and to the right a badly-damaged matching group of figures that some have interpreted as demons, but which may represent the remaining six apostles, making twelve in all. Beneath and to the left is a scene depicting the Raising of the Dead.


Further reading[edit]

  • Curteis, Tobit (November 2006), St Mary's Church Houghton-on-the-Hill, Norfolk: Conservation of the wall paintings (PDF), Tobit Curteis Associates, retrieved 21 February 2018

External links[edit]

  • Official Friends of St Mary's Website. [1]