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CHURCH VISITS BY BRIAN WALLER

BOOK 3 – NORWICH

 

 

 

Hopefully you like Norwich, because for my third account of my church visits was entirely in Norwich, a marvelous city which has many churches. Saying has it that there is a church for every week of the year, hence about 52 I suppose, but on the down side, they say that there is a drinking establishment for every day of the year so that must be around 365. As my account is not about cafés, restaurants or pubs, I will stick to my church tour. Mind you, I do often use one drinking place in the city and that is Subway, where I can get coffee and a sub very cheap, if I go there before 11am. Handily placed near to the Thorpe railway station in Prince of Wales Road, I can pop out on the occasion when I am visiting or passing through the City.

 

As I now continue from where I left off in my last account, the date of this outing was on Friday 30th December 2016, which was now a week into my retirement. The full book began with the continuation of some internal and external photos of St Peter Parmentergate which was in Kings Street. This was the very old church set in a very run down area of the City. Further along the road was the very small church which was in St Julian’s Alley, this was between King Street and Rouen Road. This was called St Julian. Tucked away in a small alley, it can be easily missed, unless you planned your route like I had done. It probably took its name from the Lady Julian of Norwich, or Mother Julian, or Dame Julian, a 14th century anchoress. It was to be essentially destroyed by bombing in the World War 2, but thankfully had been restored and re-opened in 1953 mainly to act as a Shrine Church for Julian of Norwich. The Friends of St Julian have a shop and lending library in a hall at the corner of the street.

 

Now I was looping back around and heading back towards the City Centre and seeing a church from the back and the front, I tried to a decent view of St Etheldreda which was still in King Street. This was a redundant church but was now being used by artists. The exterior tower - The lower, round part is original. The octagonal belfry is a rebuild of 1723, though much of its outer facing is by Boardman.

Porch - This was added in the fifteenth century, in the Perpendicular style. Above the doorway are the coats of arms of its donors.

The niche was for a statue, probably of St Etheldreda, the Abbess of Ely. The fine inner round arched doorway is the Norman original, though much restored.

Nave and chancel: south side - The Norman zigzag 'string course' either side of the inner doorway continues outside and is the clue to the layout of the original church. To the left, on the present corner buttress, it marks the original south-west corner of the nave. To the right, broken by later windows, it stops at a flat Norman buttress, the original south-east corner of the nave. It then drops to a lower level, marking the start of the original, probably apsidal, sanctuary. It finally stops at a modern buttress, which marks the start of the later rectangular chancel which replaced the sanctuary. Following the sixteenth century Reformation, the church declined: in 1597 the chancel was described as being "greatly ruinous".

By the late nineteenth century the church was dilapidated and all but redundant. In the 1880s, an energetic new vicar took on its restoration, so it is not surprising that most of what we now see is in fact Victorian. The architect's aim was, not the 'conservative repair' of what he found, but the creation of an idealised 'Medieval' church. The nave roof was renewed, buttresses were added, flint work refaced and windows, where not already of that period, were renewed in the 'Decorated' style of the late fourteenth century. Exceptions are the two south chancel windows, which were copied from what was there before: hence the 'Y' tracery '(which is the clue to the thirteenth century date for the chancel) and the 'monkey and man' corbels. The chancel roof dates from the early twentieth century.

Internally, there is nothing, apart from the thick walls, now hints at the original Norman interior. The tall tower arch, replacing a smaller Norman one, was inserted probably in the thirteenth century. A wide chancel arch would also have been built at this time, but the present one is by Boardman in the 19th century. We can get a close-up view of Boardman's fine nave roof from the present upper floor. The wall beams on which it rests are probably fifteenth century. A wall painting of St Christopher was uncovered in 1884. A drawing of it was made, but the painting itself did not survive. The doorway, now blocked, on the north side of the nave (near the chancel arch) gave access to the rood loft stair turret. The 'rood loft’ would have been above the rood screen which, before the Reformation, separated nave from chancel. In the chancel is a monument to William Johnson, who died in 1611. It was moved from St Peter Southgate church, demolished in 1887.

The religious revival in the late nineteenth century saw the church furnished in a 'Medieval' style under the influence of the Oxford Movement.  But the revival was not to last. By 1970 the church was derelict. Since 1975 extensive repairs have been carried out. To accommodate artist's studios, an upper floor, north roof light, toilets and kitchen have been provided.

Heading now on Rouen Road, I was now in the City street and the first seen was St John the Baptist in Timberhill. As I was to discover as I entered inside it was to be a Catholic church. These were some beautiful figures inside there. As the internet told me, this was the main Anglo-Catholic church of Norwich which is in the city centre, opposite John Lewis department store and is dedicated to St John the Baptist, and can be found at the top of Timberhill. The church is open each day from dawn till dusk for private prayer and worship. Mass is said daily either at St John's or at the Julian Shrine, just around the corner, and under the same management. St John the Baptist on Timberhill in Norwich is one of the smaller medieval churches in the city but it is a building of great quality.

Although the 'long and short' work in the east wall indicates a date very soon after the Norman Conquest, the present church, which was begun in 1420, replaced a previous building from 1303. St. John's Timberhill is one of five churches in the city which were dedicated to St. John The Baptist, the other four being St John's Roman Catholic Cathedral, St. John Maddermarket, the old Roman Catholic Church in the centre of the city now the Maddermarket Theatre, and the one time Anglican church of St John the Baptist de Sepulchre, which is now dedicated to St John the Theologian and is a Russian Orthodox church. St John's featured in the Catholic and ritualistic revival in the Church of England, under the great Fr Ram and Fr Roxby, who like other famous Anglo-Catholic clergy in our land had to cope with deep prejudice and even riots.

Fr Ram became Vicar in 1871 and over the next 39 years worked to repair and beautify the church which had fallen into dilapidation. He wished to transform the church into his vision of what a medieval church should look like. He removed the pews, the west-end gallery, the Ten Commandment boards, the reading desk and the pulpit. He then put a beam across the chancel-arch, ostensibly to tie the walls together. But it was clear from the start that he meant to put a Cross and figures on it, so restoring the Rood, which had existed in earlier days. He found a rood screen that was no longer wanted in Horstead Church and installed it in St John's and 3 fine figures, Our Lord, Our Lady and St John the Beloved Disciple, carved by Zwuik in Oberamagau, were placed on the beam above the screen. Fr Ram was instructed by the Bishop, John Pelham, and the Chancellor that the Screen and the Figures were illegal and should be removed. But Fr Ram was adamant that they stayed: and stayed they did!

St John's Church was closed for some years about 35 years ago, when it was generally agreed that it was surplus to needs. (Norwich City had 53 medieval church buildings in the 15th century and over 30 now - more than any other city north of The Alps!) But when the parish church of St Peter Parmentergate was found to be in need of considerable structural rebuilding because of an unsafe tower, it was agreed that it should be abandoned, and St John's should be reopened. And so in 1980, under Fr Michael McLean's inspired leadership, St John's was reopened, reordered and made comfortable and conducive to modern Catholic worship, much of the work being undertaken by members of the congregation. The Rood Screen was removed and the Chancel and Sanctuary opened up, but the rood beam with its figures was kept. WC facilities and a kitchen were added, and the church was equipped for providing the ways and means of presenting the great liturgies of the Christian Church in an attractive, modern, yet traditional way.

 

Crossing over the main street, close to the market area was St Stephen’s. This is literally adjacent to the Chapelfield Shopping Centre. This new area of shops was built on what was the Rowntrees Macintosh Chocolate Factory when I was in Norwich doing my studies in the mid 1970’s. Certainly when I sat and ate my lunch in the park area opposite, you always got a very strong of chocolate wafting across. Sorry I digressed too much so more about St Stephen’s which is in the odd sounding road name Rampant Horse Street. The church has a long history of being welcoming and forward-thinking. In the 1400′s a vicar based there embraced the Reformation and new ways of thinking, such as the movement to make scriptures accessible to people in the pews. 

 

Today, the way the congregation has embraced the new Chapelfield shopping centre development next door continues this tradition. Historically there’s always been a path through the churchyard (previously it went to the St. Peter Mancroft vicarage), but the congregation took a lot of stick from the public when the path was reopened to what is now Chapelfield. The upshot has been the opening up and re-landscaping of the churchyard, and around 50,000 people now walk past the church each week. At the beginning of the Annual Report they use an opening that Hereward the previous incumbent first used: 

 

“In fulfilling its God-given purpose, St. Stephen’s practices a shared parish ministry between all members of the church, a ministry of all the talents”. This is not just “pretty words”. They really mean it. Literally cross the road and you will see the imposing St Peter Mancroft church which has featured on TV news recently for its marvellous poppy display which I went to see and next to it at Christmas is a “light tunnel” which you can walk through. This was first there when I went in 2016, and this will be its third year. The church itself is very well worth a visit and sits overlooking the market and forum.  Its address is in Hay Hill. Like the market place where St Peter Mancroft stands, the Church was a Norman foundation built by Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norfolk, in 1075. The Normans tried to suppress the old market, held in Tombland, by building their Cathedral and monastery enclosure over it and set up a new market place in the great field below the Castle where they could keep an eye on it. Not long after, Earl Ralph lost everything in rebellion against William the Conqueror. Ralph had bestowed the church on one of his chaplains, Wala, who in turn passed it to the Abbey of St Peter in Gloucester where he fled after the Rebellion. For 300 years it was known as St Peter of Gloucester in Norwich. In 1388, after local pressure, it passed to the Benedictine community of St Mary-in-the-Fields whose Church stood on the site of the present day Assembly House and Theatre Royal.

 

The Dean and Chapter of St Mary’s found the old Church of St Peter in a poor condition and in 1390 they decided to rebuild it. However, it was not until 1430, with gifts and legacies from wealthy citizens, and donations from merchant and craft guilds, that the first stone was laid. The church was consecrated 25 years later (though building may have continued for some years after this date). The present building owes much of its unity of style to a single phase of construction. During the Reformation the College of St Mary-in-the-Fields was suppressed and the patronage of St Peter Mancroft passed through several families until, from 1581 it was acquired by trustees on behalf of the parishioners. Today the incumbent is styled Vicar, and he is still appointed by his parishioners. The importance of St Peter Mancroft was greatly increased after the Reformation when the religious communities which had overshadowed it were swept away and the religious life of the city became concentrated on the parish churches. It remains the most important church of the civic community as the many memorials on its walls to mayors and merchants testify.

In the twentieth century, the number of people resident in the parish decreased as the population moved from the cramped courts and yards of the city centre to the new suburbs. In 1982 the parish was joined with the neighbouring Parish of St John Maddermarket when that church was made redundant – St John Maddermarket it now cared for by the Churches Conservation TrustDespite recent residential developments within the parish, the resident population of this city centre parish remains relatively small and the congregation of St Peter Mancroft continues to be drawn from across Norwich as well as the surrounding towns and villages.

So who was St Peter Mancroft? There is fact no such saint – the church was originally dedicated to the common joint dedication of St Peter and St Paul, later shortened to St Peter. Mancroft may derive from the Old English ġemǣne croft (common field), from the Latin magna crofta (Great field), or may be named after a one-time owner of the land by the name of Mann or Manne.

The truth has been lost in the mists of time! The present church built in the ‘Perpendicular’ style is believed to have replaced a Norman church, possibly cruciform in plan with a tower over the crossing. The present building was a deliberate display of wealth on the part of the 15th century citizens of Norwich, then the second city in England after London: the church is almost entirely faced with limestone, which was brought from many miles away by land and sea since there is no local free-stone in Norfolk.

The stone is used with expensive knapped flintwork. The mighty tower, heavily paneled and buttressed to all four sides, was probably intended to carry a further lantern stage, as at Boston in Lincolnshire, but this was never done. The tower was crowned with the lead-covered fleche, stone parapet and pinnacles, by the Architect A. E. Street in 1895. The tower contains an historic peal of 14 bells.

The church has fine porches with stone vaulted ceilings to the North and South. The North porch has parvise (a room over the porch).

As rebuilt, the church occupies the entire length of the original churchyard. In order to maintain a route around the building within the churchyard for processions, a popular element of worship in the 15th century, at the east end a processional way was built (now incorporated in the Octagon) under the raised high altar, and balanced by an even more impressive passage-way under the tower. Right: the West doors under the tower.

The Interior - The nave is 60 feet in height and of eight arched bays with slender columns. Above there is a continuous clerestory of 17 windows on each side. There is no structural division between the nave and the chancel giving the church an open and airy feel. The chancel is delineated by the roof bosses.

 “Few who enter St Peter’s for the first time can stifle a gasp. The sense of space and light is overwhelming. To those who find Perpendicular bland or lacking in shadow or mystery, Norwich answers with a blaze of daylight, as if the sky itself had been invited to pray.”

The magnificent wooden roof is one of the chief glories of the church. It is a hammer-beam and arch-braced roof but the hammer-beams are concealed behind timber groining. There are angels on the end of each hammer-beam.

The importance of the chancel is emphasised by a second, smaller row of angels and gilded suns-in-splendour ridge bosses. In 1962-64 the roof was raised on jacks and the walls, which had been forced outwards over the centuries by the great weight of the roof, were pulled back to save the church from collapse.

The great East Window contains the finest and most extensive collection of the work of the fifteenth-century school of Norwich glass-painters. Until 1648 many of the windows in the church would have been filled with similar stained glass depicting scenes from the bible. In that year rioting between the Puritans and the Royalists led to a gunpowder explosion in a house in Bethel Street leaving many dead and the windows of the church blown in.

Not until four years later, in 1652, were the remains of the stained glass windows from around the church gathered together into the east window.

Photographs of sequences of stained glass panels that were formerly located in various windows are displayed at the back of church according to the season so that visitors can see them. The richness of the east end is continued below the window in the reredos, designed by J P Seddon in 1885 and gilded and coloured by Sir Ninian Comper in 1930.

Comper also added the beardless figure of Christ in glory and the figures of the four saints who brought Christianity to East Anglia. Two medieval canon’s stalls, complete with misericords, are incorporated into the Victorian choir stalls and may have come from St Mary’s.

The font in the baptistery stands under a rare and unusual 15th century wooden canopy – originally highly coloured. Only the lower section is original; the upper part of the canopy was restored, complete with trumpet wielding angels and pelican for Queen Victoria’s Jubilee. Also in the baptistery is the beautiful Mancroft resurrection tapestry of 1573. It may have been the Easter Day altar frontal woven in the parish by refugee Flemish weavers.

The 38 stop organ which graces the west end of the nave was built by Peter Collins, then of Redbourn, Hertfordshire, in 1984. The case is of English Oak with lime wood embellishments. The church has two small transepts aligning with the easternmost bay of the nave.

The North transept is the St Nicholas Chapel: Here, before the Reformation, the ceremonies to elect a ‘Boy Bishop’ were held on 6th December. The inventory, now held in the British Museum, describes the elaborate mitres and pastoral staff used by the ‘bishop’ and his ‘deacons’. One of the special coins struck to commemorate a Mancroft boy’s ‘episcopate’ can be seen in the Castle Museum. The transept now houses the treasury displaying some of Mancroft’s remarkable collection of church silver (one of the finest of any parish church in the country) including the Gleane and Thistle cups, and other historic artefacts and artworks. Church plate is also on display here from the neighbouring church of St Stephen.

The South transept, which formerly housed the 1911 Hele organ, has become a quiet chapel dedicated to the Blessed Virgin Mary. The book of sorrow and loss is kept here and the chapel is reserved at all times for private prayer. The meditative cross with raised arms is the work of York Sculptor, Charles Gurrey.

The St Anne Chapel (South aisle) was once the meeting place for mothers and daughters who belonged to the medieval Guild of St Anne (similar to the present day Mother’s Union). The Chapel’s East window is by H Hendrie (1921) and is a memorial to the dead of the Great War.

The Jesus Chapel (North aisle) is the earliest part of the present church and contains the tomb of Francis Windham. The East window of the chapel features a fine stained glass window with the theme of mountains commemorating a former vicar, Archdeacon Pelham Burn, who met his death in 1901, mountaineering in the Alps. The modern altar frontal and dorsal are the work of Isabel Clover. Weekday services are held in this chapel.

The medieval three-storey sacristy, built beyond the east wall of the church and fronting onto Weaver’s Lane was originally the sacristy and treasury of the church. It may have been converted later into accommodation for the priest.

Now restored to its original function it contains many original features, including a piscina still used for its original purpose as sacristy drain and a fireplace (now a cupboard) where charcoal for the censers was kindled. The richly inlaid octagonal sacristy table was once the sounding board for the pulpit!

Mancroft possesses one of the five remaining portions of parochial libraries in Norfolk. There are sixteen books dating from the twelfth century to 1763 including a manuscript Vulgate of 1340. The finest books, including the illuminated twelfth century St Paul’s Epistles are held in the Norfolk Record Office (facsimiles are on display in the treasury) while the other books are available to view on request at Norwich Cathedral Library. The Octagon, built in 1983 at a cost of £250,000, was the first extension of this type in recent years to a medieval church of this status and architectural coherence. It was designed by the then church architect, Robert Potter, also Surveyor of the fabric of St Paul’s Cathedral. Its form is derived from the common medieval plan of octagonal chapter houses attached to medieval cathedrals. The Octagon is the church’s midweek ministry home and is open for tea, coffee and refreshments five days a week. With its worshipping congregation and its outreach through the Octagon the church of St Peter Mancroft welcomes all who come through its door and endeavours to fulfil Wesley’s comment and remain ‘venerable and surprisingly cheerful’. It was to be reported that the congregation has raised £650,000 for restoration. They have been enabled to install a kitchen,

As I started to head back towards the railway station, I saw a few more very old churches, St Thomas Plia and St Andrew’s and Blackfriars Hall in St Andrew’s Plain.

Referring to my notes, I must have taken the river route back on what I said was a peaceful but pretty chilly one, where you did not want to sit about too much. Going back I saw the Cow Tower, although not a religious building, it has a lot of good things in its history to report about. The Cow Tower is an artillery tower by the River Wensum in Norwich, Norfolk, England. Built between 1398 and 1399 by the city authorities in response to the threat from France and indigenous English rebels, the tower was intended to defend the north-eastern approach to Norwich with hand cannons and bombards. It stood apart from the main city walls, close to the river where its height would have allowed it to fire onto the higher ground opposite the city. The tower was designed to hold a garrison when required and was well furnished, probably using different floors for dining and sleeping.

It was maintained throughout the 15th century, and played a role in Kett's Rebellion of 1549, when the rebels attacked Norwich, deploying artillery and damaging the tower's parapets. Repairs to the tower's walls in the late 19th century inadvertently caused long-term damage, and in 1953 it was taken into the guardianship of the Ministry of Works, who stabilised its condition in a five year conservation project. In the 21st century, Cow Tower is managed by English Heritage and Norwich City Council; the tower is now only a shell, however, as the floors and the roof of the building have been lost. The circular tower is 11.2 metres (37 ft) across, 14.6 metres (48 ft) high and divided into three storeys. Its walls are 1.8 metres (5 ft 11 in) thick at the base, with a core of flint stone, faced on the inside and outside with brick; the archaeologist T. P. Smith considers it to feature some "of the finest medieval brickwork" in England. The walls have gunports for the smaller pieces of artillery and the roof would have supported the heavier bombards, with wide embrasures giving the weapons adequate firing space.

The Cow Tower was specially designed to support the use of gunpowder artillery, making it a very rare structure in England for this period: the only close equivalents are God's House Tower in Southampton, and the West Gate at Canterbury. Sightings were seen of the Anglican Cathedral and this was in the Close.

Numerous photos were taken of the building which I had been in many times in the past and in recent years. For this visit to Norwich, I wanted to explore the areas of the City that I had not been before. It was a walk along by the river bank, with just a few people passed enroute, which was how I saw the Cow Tower, but now it was the cathedral. Norwich Cathedral is an English cathedral located in Norwich, Norfolk, dedicated to the Holy and Undivided Trinity. It is the cathedral church for the Church of England Diocese of Norwich and is one of the Norwich 12 heritage sites. The cathedral was begun in 1096 and constructed out of flint and mortar and faced with a cream-coloured Caen limestone. A Saxon settlement and two churches were demolished to make room for the buildings. The cathedral was completed in 1145 with the Norman tower still seen today topped with a wooden spire covered with lead. Several episodes of damage necessitated rebuilding of the east end and spire but since the final erection of the stone spire in 1480 there have been few fundamental alterations to the fabric.

The large cloister has over 1,000 bosses including several hundred carved and ornately painted ones. Norwich Cathedral has the second largest cloisters, only outsized by Salisbury Cathedral. The cathedral close is one of the largest in England and one of the largest in Europe and has more people living within it than any other close. The cathedral spire, measuring at 315 ft or 96 m, is the second tallest in England despite being partly rebuilt after being struck by lightning in 1169, just 23 months after its completion, which led to the building being set on fire. Measuring 461 ft or 140.5 m long and, with the transepts, 177 ft or 54 m wide at completion, Norwich Cathedral was the largest building in East Anglia. There are two gates leading into the cathedral grounds, both on Tombland. The Ethelbert Gate takes its name from a Saxon church that stood nearby.

The original gate was destroyed in the riot of 1272 and its replacement built in the early fourteenth century. It has two storeys, the upper originally a chapel dedicated to St Ethelbert and decorated with flushwork. In 1420 Sir Thomas Erpingham, benefactor to the city, had the gate which bears his name built, sited opposite the west door of the cathedral leading into the close. For over 900 years the awesome beauty of this Norman building has reached out and touched people, speaking to them of God’s glory and his love for each one of them. The Cathedral’s architecture is justly famous, its history fascinating and its collection of art and objects outstanding. The Cathedral deserves its five star rating as a tourist attraction, but this is no museum. Norwich Cathedral was founded by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga. He acquired and cleared land in the centre of the city for the new Cathedral and adjacent Priory complex.

As is always the case when I write my articles, I would like to give thanks to all the sources of information that I use from the internet via Wikipedia or the individual church websites themselves. Looking ahead to book 4, this completes my trip in the City of Norwich, then on New Year’s Eve, I caught the early morning bus to Braintree, went through Chelmsford and then travelled off to Brentwood …..

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