The church is now ruinous, but like all churches it seems to have had a checkered past...
In the 14th and 15th century the church was enlarged, despite the black death, but it has seen bad times and it has been said that when times were particularly hard the parishioners even stole the lime mortar from its walls!
Things did however go from bad to worse. Local records show that in1605, it was returned to be a free chapel, that paid no synodals nor procurations, and therefore is exempt from archidiaconal jurisdiction, but the King lately presented to it as a rectory, valued at 6 marks, in the archdeaconry of Norfolk and deanery of Hingham. It was during this time the church was neglected and laid in decay, without any service, it being esteemed as a sinecure, till Matthew Bishop of Norwich obtained a decree in Chancery, dated 23d Feb. 1635, against Henry Yaxley, Esq. lord here, by virtue of which the church was purged of all things in it; (it having been used as a sort of store-house;) the churchyard was fenced in, (being 28 rods round,) four windows were put into the church, and one into the steeple, a porch built, new doors made, the church paved, ceiled, whited, and reeded a font erected, and the pulpit and desk finished, at about 140l. charge; the profits of the whole living were sequestered to repair the church, and it was finished at Michaelmas, 1639; the priest's or chaplain's salary to be paid by the said Yaxley, and all others after him, that shall possess the tithes and glebes; all which was performed accordingly, and ever since it hath been served by a chaplain or parish-priest, as it is at this day, it being a donative in the lord of the manor.
All of this basically meant that the St Michaels was in the hands of a local Catholic recusant family, the Yaxleys, who for whatever reason let the church fall into disrepair. They were in fact at one point using it as a barn, but were forced to reinstate it as a church and make the necessary repairs. Some of these repairs can still be seen today with most notably a series of large holes running parallel to each other and set low on either side of the nave. During a survey of the remains in the 80s that was part of a dig prior to the building of a new church, it was suggested that these holes once took floor beams to support a raised wooden floor. It was suggested that there is also evidence of a gallery above. If this is right the church would have become more like a meeting house than traditional church, which seems unlikely knowing the Yaxley's beliefs. But who knows, for some have suggested that the raised floor was put in whilst still a barn to keep grain away from the damp floor.
The holes that at one time took beams to support a raised wooden floorThat's the beauty of all ruins they all have their secrets, but St Micheal and All Angels has a few more... During the excavations in the 80s, the archaeologists found that the tower of the church had been demolished in the 1700s, but prior to that a kiln had been placed inside it. This kiln had gone out of use, but at some stage a body had been buried inside it and all had eventually be covered by the demolished tower! Now archaeologists aren't the kind to hypothesise on such mysteries, preferring to instead to stick to the evidence and in this case it appears that the floor of the kiln had been leveled and made good prior to the body being placed there. This suggests a level of care and reverence that infers that it was a proper burial albeit in an unusual place and it has been suggested that it was done by a family unable to afford the rite or perhaps because they had been denied burial for some other reason. Myself, I'm not sure for there would have had to have been exceptional circumstances to deny burial in consecrated ground and its more likely i think that something far more sinister took place here long, long ago!
Thanks to the Reverend Canon Simon Stokes and all the parishioners and volunteers at the new Church in Bowthorpe for making me so welcome.