Church History

Houghton-on-the-Hill stands on a track overlooking the Wissey Valley at North Pickenham.

The area has an ancient history stretching back to the Stone Age and excavations have shown that there was probably a pre-Norman church here. Over the centuries several changes to the footprint of the church were made. The original round tower was replaced by a square one. A south aisle was built, collapsed and was discarded. There were at least three chancels.   

The parish itself was always small and the villagers inevitably worked on either the land or as domestics. It seemed to have gained some financial stability during the 13th to 14th centuries – perhaps as a result of sheep farming - but there was then a steady decline to only two to three houses by 1920. It was badly hit by the 19th century agricultural depression and as the estate owners turned from farming to sport and adopted mechanisation.

The villagers left, the houses were pulled down. By the end of World War II the village was asleep. 

The church became encased in ivy and brambles. It was roofless; windowless. Memorial tablets inside were broken up. Plaster was beginning to fall from the walls.

Then, in 1992,North Pickenham WI stopped by the overgrown churchyard on a local ramble. Newcomer to the village Gloria Davey was fascinated by the ruins and told her husband, North Pickenham churchwarden, Bob. Bob was intrigued enough to visit the site and so began a relentless campaign to see the church restored.  It was in the early stages of this campaign, working with the County Council, that fragments of wall paintings were found on the walls. St Mary’s was about to awaken.

St.Mary’s is a mixture of architectural styles from the Saxon to the Victorian

The parish chest of 1724 bears the carved names of the Rector and churchwardens

Bob Davey, churchwarden and “guardian” of St.Mary’sThe early 11th century double splayed window in the south wall