Firefighters tackle the flames at St Mary’s Church in Wimbotsham. Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

A devastated community has launched an appeal after fire ripped through a village church.

Supporters of St Mary’s Church at Wimbotsham launched an online fundraising appeal towards repairs within hours of Wednesday morning’s blaze, which left much of the 12th century building severely damaged.

The main roof collapsed, a doorway dating back to Norman times and thought to be the largest in West Norfolk perished, along with the famous carved pew ends.

But a team of 50 firefighters did manage to save some historical documents and parts of the building including the bell tower, chancel and the stone font.

Picture: Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service

In the wake of the blaze, which broke out around 6am, the Venerable Hugh McCurdy, Archdeacon of Huntingdon and Wisbech, expressed his shock and said: “The community is obviously devastated by the damage caused to the ancient and beautiful St Mary’s Church. 

“We must now await the outcome of the structural report and, while some church treasures were saved, we know the holy table dating from 1638 has been destroyed.  

“As we move forward from the day’s sad events, we will be working very closely with the whole community about what we now need to do following this devastating fire. We are also so grateful to the brave fire crews from the Norfolk Fire and Rescue Service who tackled the blaze and give our thanks that no one was hurt in the fire.”

One eyewitness, who lives in Downham Market, said she saw huge orange flames at around 6.55am while travelling on the A10.

“I was going towards King’s Lynn when my husband pointed it out. He said: ‘Oh my gosh, the church is on fire.’ 

“We dialed 999 but spotted two fire engines so stopped the call. The flames were as tall as the tower, there was a lot of black smoke.”

Fire crews from Downham Market, Lynn, Terrington, Methwold, Outwell and Fakenham, as well as support vehicles from Wymondham were called to the scene.

Terry Pinto, station manager at Lynn, said crews worked very hard to extinguish the flames and stop them from spreading.

He said: “They arrived to a well-developed fire. They worked really hard and were able to stop the fire from spreading to one part of the church and  save some of the important documents.

The aftermath of a fire which tore through the church at Wimbotsham on Wednesday.
Pictures: Ian Burt

“Church wardens and people belonging to the church saw it, it’s very sad and terrible for them to wake up to.”

As news of the fire broke, members of the community took to social media to express their sadness.

One said: “Such a historic and beautiful church, with so many irreplaceable carvings. So sad for the local community.”

Another comment was: “Horrible for the people of Wimbotsham.” 

Funeral directors AJ Coggles, which has an office in nearby Downham Market, posted: “Very sad day for the community and parishioners of Wimbotsham.”

Supporters hope the community will pull together and have set up a donation page at Search for Wimbotsham Church to donate.

The aftermath of a fire which tore through the church at Wimbotsham on Wednesday.
Pictures: Ian Burt