Dereham – Church of St. Nicholas (Bell Tower)

When they wanted some new bells for Dereham Church they realised that their existing church tower wouldn’t be strong enough. So, they came up with a new plan in 1520, which involved building a separate tower within the churchyard. From the side, the tower looks as though it’s a church of its own, it’s a substantial affair.

The tower was built in the early sixteenth century, comprising of four layers and its height has made it useful as the location for the town’s public clock. The clock was added in 1902 and was designed by JB Joyce Clockmakers of Whitchurch, with their successor company restoring it in 2008 when they also added gold to the clockface. This separate bell tower set-up isn’t unique, but is rare in the UK, the most notable form is probably that at Chichester Cathedral, although Norwich Cathedral once had one.

During the Napoleonic Wars, the tower was used to house French prisoners of war. One such prisoner, Jean de Narde, tried to escape on 6 October 1799, managing to climb a tree and he refused to come down when requested. So they shot him out of the tree, which wasn’t ideal and it received some criticism from locals. He’s buried in the church’s graveyard, although he didn’t get a gravestone until 1858 when Anglo-French diplomatic relations had improved a bit.