Exterior of St Mary the Virgin, Wymondham
Photograph: L.H. Felton (1940)
Source: RIBA British Architectural Library Photographs Collection
Wymondham possesses one of the country’s oddest parish churches. Approaching St Mary’s, two looming towers compete for your attention. The church is sandwiched in between, its windows many patterns, or blocked up. Beyond, the building becomes a ruin.
Wymondham’s peculiar architecture narrates a long, troubled history. In 1107, a priory church was founded here to serve both monks and the local population. But the two groups soon came to blows. The church was carved up: the west end taken by the locals; the east end by the monks. The towers mark the church’s physical divide, the gulf between the two groups. The octagonal, three-staged tower, built 1390-1409, was the beginning of the monks’ church. The locals responded by building the taller, blunter, west end tower, some 142 feet high, between 1445 and 1498.
The disputes were decided by the Reformation. The abbey closed down; it was left to decay. The final blow was the rebuilding of the south aisle shown here, using materials from the monastic precincts.