Roll up! See
Eng ’s oldest hawthorn tree, the smallest nature reserve and a church with a history spanning a thousand years and more! land
Hethel Thorn and church are away from the Lotus works and wartime airfield, on the far side of the wood. It is said the thorn was a meeting place for rebels in the reign of King John! A legend links it to Joseph of Arimathia’s staff. Whatever the truth, the tree is certainly very old! A figure of 700 years is often given! Today it is in the care of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust and stands in its own micro nature reserve.
The name Hethel comes from the Old English meaning heather hill but visiting the parish I failed to find anything that resembled a heather hill. I couldn’t even find a hill! But the thorn grows at one end of what looks to be an ancient earthwork. Was this the heather hill? I wondered. Perhaps there had been a meeting place there long before a church was built!
Whatever the case, the church is certainly old! Its tower, with long and short work and the ghost of a doorway in Roman brick, seems to be a genuine Saxon build. It is set in a yard, rich with wildflowers and remains a place of meeting to this day. Week by week a small congregation gather to worship, keep the doors open and makes sure there’s a welcome for tourists and pilgrims alike! Among the pilgrims are those who come to honour the American 389th Bomber Group. From 1943-1945 the Sky Scorpions flew from Hethel airfield. A memorial by the church door records their wartime service.
The roar of Liberator B-42 aircraft is now just a memory. Inside, the stillness of the church’s plain nave, quietens the racing mind and draws one out from the swirl of historical events into the timeless world of prayer and an awareness of the eternal!