Thursday 21 September 2023

Norfolk churches 257-81: Norwich central north

Just a few days later, and we could have been walking in the same sunshine, but somewhat less than 32° C. No matter; those of the 24 churches which were open were cool, the distances short (though Jill's pedometer clocked up about seven miles of footfalls) and it was the only thing possible for me six weeks after the Big Op (there was an alternative proposal of clocking up some country churches not connectable by foot in two cars, but sitting is uncomfortable still, and getting up and in not easy). 

To reiterate, this year I decided to collect not for the Norfolk Churches Trust, as we've always done before, but for Maggie's Centre West London, a crucial help in my trial and healing. Best to click on the donate sign here - especially if you can claim Gift Aid - and specify the centre. I appreciate the Algerian and Moroccan disasters have priority just now, but a kind word is always welcome in the comments.

The wonder of Norwich is that so many of these churches, even if no longer put to their original purpose (but praise be to their survival), are so grand, so rich: the merchants of each district knew they couldn't compete with the Cathedral, but strove to impress as best they could. So many streets offer handsome vistas - while Bishopsgate, pictured above with St Helen's and the Old Hospital wall on the right, the Cathedral on the left (I hymned an evensong visit the previous afternoon here), is spacious, the houses in the centre form a beautiful complement. And you think you're approaching one church tower when another appears to the left. 

So here are four of the five having just left Kate and Fairless's Old Rectory on the hill - I'll join them in the final photo - and ticked off the church next door, now converted into offices.

We descended to the Lollards Pit pub (see previous entry about the cathedral precincts), crossed the lovely medieval bridge over the Wensum and strolled up quiet, spacious Bishopsgate to the Great Hospital. It was founded in 1249 by Bishop Walter de Suffield to look after 'decrepit chaplains', and then (Pevsner) 'any poor, sick people,' though a notice above the usually shut door (I took this photo at sunset on New Year's Eve 2019 - just as well because this time in our delight at finding the place open, we rushed through), gives the Tudors all the credit.

The Great Hospital holds roughly to its original brief, though one of its inhabitants, whom we met at St George Tombland at the end of our walk, told us there are 'too many rules' and that it's become quite expensive (you used to have to be without property, and that's no longer the case). Moreover the three-tier arrangement whereby those who had become infirm in the second category could move on to the third no longer pertains, since the ultimate care has been removed. It's all exquisitely beautiful, starting with the 'bee garden' to the left of the church entrance from the road.

Simon Knott in his comprehensive Churches of East Anglia - Norfolk website remarks of the church of St Helen that 'this great building is the last of the the medieval churches in Norwich city centre to appear on this website, simply because it is the last one that I have been able to get into'. Occasional special tours of the Hospital make it possible, and there are weekly Sunday morning services. The tours weren't happening at the time of our visit, but we were lucky in that not only was this the day of the Norfolk Churches Walk (always the same September Saturday) but the second of the Heritage Open Days, which meant that the good people of Norwich had put quite a bit of effort into opening and presentation. 

First impressions past the porch are of a certain strangeness - there's no east window, for instance, but an 18th century copy of Raphael's Tranfiguration and a pulpit.

This is by no means the end of the building, which continues thus (a block had been knocked down, hence the red hoardings).

To the east, the chancel was used as accommodation for women, the Infirmary Hall to the west for men. That no longer pertains, but the separation remains (it was a shame not to get to see the 252 spread eagles on the ceiling of the room above, built in honour of Anne of Bohemia in 1383). The altar is in fact located in the Chantry Chapel, in front of an early Georgian Creed Board,

and above is one of the glories of Norwich, the lierne vault, carries on the tradition of the brightly (re)painted bosses in the Cathedral (and is probably by John Everard, the chief mason). 

Amazingly, though the cleaning and repainting of the ceiling was undertaken in 1944, the original colours in oil could be traced at that time. Soot encrusting had saved them; it probably came from the Great Hospital fire instigated by anti-enclosures rebel Robert Kett's uprising in 1549. Extraordinary that so little damage happened then or subsequently, when the cult of the Virgin represented in the stories of the bosses was saved from defacement - easier to understand in the case of the Cathedral bosses because they're so much higher. 

These, of course, are much easier to see without binoculars, though I did make use of my zoom. to highlight some of the details. Here are three. The smaller Bible stories around the large central boss representing the Coronation of the Virgin amplify Mary's 'Joys'. The second is a lovely nativity scene with, against the fencing, Mary left and Joseph right, while the central figure is one of the midwives featured in apocryphal nativity stories (and in Norwich mystery plays).

I love the Ascension, Mary's fourth Joy. While she looks up flanked by the disciples,Christ's feet and the bottom of his robe can be seen below and between clouds like fan-vaulting.

Beyond an outer circle of disciples are angels and historical figures. This one could be Richard II, and perhaps he's right to look worried.

Back in the main body of the church are fine bench-ends made between 1519 and 1532 during the Mastership of John Hacker.

The small cloister beyond, built about 1450, is a beauty. I wouldn't mind living on the first floor here.

And so, once I'd bought for a fiver in the porch sale a walking stick with a head on top like a medieval bench-end, we followed the precincts-skirting road between its battle-scarred walls right and then left again to the outwardly charming Perpendicular church of St Michael-at-Plea. I'd photographed it from the west the previous evening

and on the morning of the walk from the part of the surrounding green to the east.

Merry activities were taking place on the other side of the garden-graveyard, spinning included, and the Norwich Churches Conservation people inside were very friendly. This is their headquarters, and according to the warning of this notice above the door

I have to say they've made a dreadful mess of dividing it up. Grateful as I was for the cakes and drinks, as well as the fine model of the church made out of matchsticks,

the nave beyond was ruined by the tiers of office space (I'm about halfway up).

There were a few objects of interest on various tables

but they could have been better displayed. Time for a rethink - but is there the money?

Next, over the Whitefriars Bridge due north to the one wall that remains of the building of that name. The plaque on it is from the Richard III Society and dedicated to 'Lady Eleanor Talbot (Lady Butler), c 1436-1468, benefactress and conversa of the Whitefriars...buried here in the Carmelite Priory Church'.

This is an area of new office buildings and old ones converted to the purpose. The nearby church of St Edmund in Fishergate, now the home of I forget which organisation, was closed,

but St James, just off quite a busy roundabout and shorn (unlike most central Norwich churches) of part of its graveyard, proudly displayed its recent status as the Norwich Puppet Theatre.

Founded at the time of William the Conqueror - there's some of the same Caen stone used for the Cathedral in the East Wall - its attractive octagonal tower was built in 1743 on top of the original flint tower. 

The Puppet Theatre's foyer spaces are welcoming and full of incumbents from the past 40 years.

A talk as part of the Heritage Open Days was about to start. Two of us didn't want to join, I was curious and found myself sitting, with Fairless and later Kate, in the 150-seater auditorium. No escape! The talk was of some interest, focused around three personalities - Sir John Fastolf, thanks to Shakespearean connections, being the most interesting; apparently one of his many properties once stood close by. As the speaker was not the most confident, I'll stick to a shot from the top of the seating area.

There followed some retracing of steps until we reached the west entrance of St Saviour on Magdalen Street.

This is the building devoted to the most worthwhile cause (though others have social value too, of course): the St Giles Trust, which helps those in need, and specifically in Norwich offers the Pathway Out project, working with people in recovery from drug addiction. This would have been another charity for which to walk. It's not often you find a church interior with rows of cornflake packets.

The gent in blue was very friendly and told us that the celebrated font was now in another church (same case with the one in St James). 

Further up Magdalen Street is the dismal, decaying Anglia Square shopping centre, due for a revamp. If only that were true of the disastrous traffic system which made nonsense of my Pevsner map. All the more surprising, just off the busy roads, to find the oasis around St Augustine, the city centre's most northernmost church.

The building is now in the care of the Norwich Churches Trust, but services are still held in the church hall, as the very friendly vicar at the table, offering slices of water melon, told us. There was a good display inside the tower, with one panel telling us of the avian connections (Norwich canary yellow is a feature, not least of the football team).

While the building is mostly a mix of Dec and Perp,

the fine red-brick tower was built in 1726.

As we were leaving, it was clear that a double-bass recital as part of the Heritage Days was about to begin. Seeing that there would hardly be any audience, I apologised to the player and said we'd try and come back for part of it. I did, and let's just say that Bach's Third Cello Suite on the double-bass is a tricky proposition at the best of times, picturesque as it looked.

As one of our party was wilting, we were lucky to find The Hashery in St Augustine's Street - a real alternative treasure. Excellent coffee; I avoided the generously filled rolls, as I'd overeaten the previous evening and was giving the stoma a rest, but the rest loved them. Needless to say I was back from my compassionate excursion to the recital rather sooner than anyone expected.

The street could be one of Norwich's most attractive if the rush of cars were stopped and pedestrianisation introduced. Already there's the eatery and a couple of quirky galleries. But to reach the calm of Norwich central you have to cross one of the main roads to the lovelier part of Oak Street. The old tree that in the Middle Ages had a branch grown in the image of the Virgin Mary, and which gives St Marin-at-Oak its name, has been twice replanted, but the symbol is an essential one, and the shady green in front of the church very welcome. Sadly the church lost its tower in a 1942 air raid and much else was rebuilt.

The building has been converted into a rather handsome music centre and rehearsal space, Oak Studios, though the pianos need a tune.

Turning back into Oak Street, the tower of St Michael Coslany becomes very apparent

but first we found we needed to turn left along the front of the long building that becomes St Mary's Works, and there in one of Norwich's many wide spaces known as Plains is the round tower of St Mary at Coslany.

Inside was a very lively scene. Coslany Arts were proudly showing their plans for partioning what we saw as a beautiful, light-filled open space, partly under scaffolding.

I guess the light will remain a feature, and one will still look up to the fine roofs, with the Virgin surrounded by rays as the central boss in the nave, 

but how much will be lost? Let's hope the many details and monuments will still be clearly visible.

I'm intrigued by what's on the coat of arms - above it are 'Laxton' and 'Clarke', but it's not the Laxton arms I looked up. Anyway, hedgehogs play a major part.

On the other side of St Mary at Coslany Plain is a modern Baptish church (of course we include that in the list)

and - J, somewhat ahead, noticed this, I didn't, so this is his photo - there's also a Zoab 'Strict Baptist' chapel.

An attractive narrow lane leads to the equally pretty ensemble around St Michael (aka Miles) at Coslany. This is a glorious building on the outside, rich in flushwork (light stone patterning infilled with dark flints).

John Sell Cotman, baptised at St Mary at Coslany and one of Norwich's most famous sons, was able to see more of the splendid west door than we could

since the vans of Lost in Translation Circus, an admirable set-up which occupies the building, blocked the lower half; but the upper 

has glories, especially in its angels.

Inside, Lost in Translation makes full use of the space

and I got told off for walking over the special flooring in my shoes. When I explained that I wanted to see the fragments of medieval glass in the north aisle east window, my rebuker let me off. How could I have seen them otherwise (though I was willing to remove my footwear)?

Whatever else there is to see of the old interior, several monuments on the west balcony apart, isn't apparent. One of our party, affected by the heat as well as displeasure at not finding proper church interiors (I found it all fascinating), declared that we would stop here. No way, said I, so we compromised on seeing the wonders of Colegate and a few more churches on the other side of the Wensum around Elm Hill. And our next church restored equanimity.

Not only is Colegate a total delight - converted warehouse buildings on one side, Georgian townhouses on the other - but St George was the greatest hit for all of us. The building is in essence late 15th - early 16th century. The porch has in its spandrels St George and angels left, Annunciation right.

Once inside, you instantly note what a handsome and restrained makeover the Georgians achieved, far removed from Victorian excess. 

Wall monuments between light-filling windows looked good on this brightest of afternoons, and the five sword-rests add interest.

A statue of Apollo Belvedere now stands on top of the allegedly fine 1802 organ

and may be a replacement for the figure of Fame now in the south aisle.

The pulpit is also Georgian, one of its panels handsomely decorated.

The Georgian elegance is undercut by an older, grim inscription for Bryant Lewis, 'who was barbarously murdered upon ye Heath near Thetford' in 1698.

The long admonitory poem that follows I couldn't entirely make out, but it begins

FIFTEEN Wide Wounds this stone vails from thine Eyes

But Reader Hark their VOICE doth Pierce the Skyes.

VENGEANCE Cryd ABELS Blood gainst Cruel Cain

But BETTER THINGS spake Christ [can't make the rest of this line out, but you get the gist - it develops into a 'desist from crime' homily]

There's also a fine Early Renaissance tombchest of terracotta to Rober Jannys, with decorated panels.

Continuing along Colegate, the tower of St Clement came in to sight beyond a pleasing row of houses

but there were two more significant detours to take to our left. One is a singular glory of Norwich, the Octagon Chapel completed in 1754-6 by Thomas Ivory for the Presbyterians before becoming the base of the best of all the religions (IMO), the Unitarians ('all is one') in 1820.

Pevsner writes of the 'one-storeyed pedimented portico of four unfluted Ionic columns...Octagonal pyramid roof and in it it little dormers, or bull's-eyes with curly surrounds, which are the only light relief of an otherwise, not stern, but reticent bulding'. Thus the dome inside.

The 'eight gigantic Corinthian columns' are painted lime green, not quite sure why - doesn't look quite right; but the interior is still mighty impressive, especially from the wooden galleries upstairs.

It was good to learn in the exhibition room behind the organ more about some of the remarkable Unitarian figures, not least the Martineaus of Huguenot descent (remember Norwich was always very welcoming to outsiders, which accounts for its success as a textiles centre). James (1805-1900) and Harriet (1802-76), brother and sister, children of a local manufacturer, were equally remarkable in their various ways.

James is, as the Martineau Society puts it, 'best remembered for his views on religion based on reason and conscience'; Gladstone acclaimed him as 'the finest of living thinkers'. Harriet is claimed as the first female sociologist; writing and lecturing from a holistic perspective, she was admired by the young Victoria, who invited her to her coronation, and was hailed with pointed words by Wendell Phillips as 'the greatest American abolitionist'. She deserves her portrait here too - by Richard Evans, 'prepared' by Thomas Lawrence.

There was one more handsome ecclesiasical edifice to see before we reached the church tower at the end of the street (getting closer).

It was a 

that the Octagon's neighbour, the Congregational Old Meeting [sic] of 1693 was closed on a Heritage Open Day; maybe they'd shut up shop unusually early. 

Pevsner describes the exterior with architectural precision:  'a beautiful facade of red brick, lying far back from the street. Five wide bays and two storeys with hipped roof. The centre with four monumental brick pilasters with stone capitals, brackets. Windows in raised frames. They were, Mr Biggs reports, the earliest sash windows in Norwich'.

Both the Octagon and 'Old Meeting' have fine green spaces/graveyards around them. So, too, does St Clement, where attractive old trees compete for height with the slender Perpendicular tower.

The friendly man in attendance had cake for us, which Jill and I ate sitting out the back, another pretty if narrower space.

He was closing up at 4pm, but didn't rush us. Was this still a place of active worship? Apparently - it still had its font

and a brass under a carpet to a now-faceless Margret Pettiwode, d. 1514,

though the contents of some parishioners' houses were in storage around the pew, and the chap found the lady who'd left stuff including Netanyahu giving the finger a bit odd. 

A former celebrity, Barry from Eastenders, had a similarly mysterious presence on a lamppost outside.

Then we turned right, rejoining Magdalen Street, and crossed back over the Wensum

reaching Tombland and heading up Norwich's 'quaintest' street, Elm Hill, past the Church of St Simon and St Jude, for which we'd already received a signature from the Norwich Churches Trust at St Michael-at-Place - is it still used as a scout hall? -

and the atmospheric triangular space where the last of the elms had succumbed to the disease and replaced with an already large London plane, following the street round and uphill towards St Peter Hungate.

We ticked off St Andrew's Hall on our right since it had been the Blackfriars' Church of Norwich, its east end seen here through the north door of the higher church.

Probably we'll see what the Hall/Blackfriars looks like inside at the start of the Norwich Churches Walk Part Two, scheduled for November to combine with a two-piano recital arranged in Overstrand by our friend David Parry. St Peter Hungate I've seen before, with a stained-glass exhibition; what they had in there this time doesn't need describing, but the medieval glass is of course impressive, if nothing compared to the east window of St Peter Mancroft, long a favourite (again, to be listed properly next time). The church was refurbished by the ubiquitous Paston family, who seem to have fingers in every Norwich pie as well as elsewhere.

SPM's main glass is in the east and west windows, grandly so in the east. As befts the museum, it's mostly composite, a mixture of figures from the 15th and 16th centuries.

Lower panels, all 15th century, are (left to right, top to bottom): St James with his scallops adorning his coat, St Simon carrying a fish: an unknown vicar of 1522; barely discernible figure and St Bartholomew with a flaying knife; unidentified apostle and patriarch; St Agatha; unidentified apostles.

Further up, king and patriarch, below them three angels holding scrolls.

You can make out from the first that the text is the Nunc dimittis or Song of Simeon, so beautifully set by James MacMillan in the Evensong we'd heard in the Cathedral the previous afternoon.

One of the north windows has four figures including two angels, lions beneath canopies beneath them.

Most striking is the angel covered with orange feathered wings like a chainmail coat.

There are more demi angels in the north transept main window, rich in contrasting reds and blues,

again exquisitely detailed - I've selected one here

The top of the wet window looks like an ensemble celebrating the Coronation of the Virgin, but all panels were originally in other parts of the church.

The two angels here are playing instruments, a stringed instrument (right) and bagpipes (left, detail).

Exiting the church and noting the ferny vegetation (must be dark and damp, though south-facing)

we were accosted by a neighbout who told us that the Princes Street Congregational Church opposite was due to be turned into yet another nightclub. She needed to have a petition at the ready. Handsome 1869 building, anyway, too good for the intended repurposing.

Seen from here, the tower of St George Tombland, our final destination, seemed to be sprouting a spire - that of the Cathedral.

Up another hill, all-Perpendicular St Michael-at-Plea looks handsome from beneath

but is disfigured by gold naming on the tower, and further by the advertising of the Revelation Christian bookshop lodged within. Its south facade is still fine, though,

and the two-storeyed porch has a worn St Michael and the Dragon in its spandrels.

Round the corner, St Mary The Less is tucked away, slightly spooky and not to be accessed (it's privately owned). 

There's another doorway round the block, opposite our second St George of the day and final church. I've been here before, but hadn't been told the story of how the titular saint on the font, deprived of his lance by football-kicking boys, had it replaced by a knitting-needle.

The church's two fine monuments aren't easy to see - I snapped them last time, not on this occasion - but you can't miss the big dragon used in processionals.

The Victorianized interior is disappointingly dark and heavy, but what an ensemble glimpsed from the north door, leading straight to Tombland itself (the name has nothing to do with tombs and comes from 'toom', old language for a waste land). I need to give the C J Sansom novel of the same name, mostly set in Norwich at the time of the Kett rebellion, a try.

What lovelier homeward stretch could there be than down past the Cathedral precinct houses along what used to be a canal from the Wenseum? As we hit the river, a passerby offered to take a photo of all five of us - we hardly look exhausted, I fancy. The grass in that late afternoon light really came out that colour - no saturation...

And so to a pleasant tea at the Old Rectory. Sadly my stoma supplies had run out of one essential ingredient, so instead of the plans to go north on Sunday and have lunch, as in previous years, at the Suffield Arms, we had to take an evening train back to London. But we'd had our full vision.

Here are the links to all previous Norfolk church walks covered on the blog:

Loddon to Surlingham, 2022

Wensum Valley loop, 2021

South Lopham to Roudham, 2020

Around the Bure Valley, 2019

Metton to Hanworth, 2018

Happisburgh to Winterton, 2017

Honing to North Walsham, 2016

Cromer to Southrepps, 2015  

Mileham to Bittering, 2014  

Beechamwell to Gooderstone, 2013 

Ingoldisthorpe to Thornham, 2012

East Rudham to Helhoughton, 2011

Wormegay to Castle Acre, 2010  

Walpoles to Wiggenhalls, 2009 

King's Lynn to Sandringham, 2008


Peter said...

Many thanks; what an intriguing trip! Fascinating photos especially of the details of the glass......

David said...

More riches than I could have imagined (and I already knew some of them) - though that's always the case with each of these Norfolk church walks.

Kate said...

Thank you for this, David. It's always good to see your photos and read about all the fascinating details that I failed to notice during our walk. Lovely memories of a fine day. Looking forward to part 2.

Kirk said...

Wonderful narrative and excellent pictures! I especially like the font with the British flags sticking out of it. Laughed out loud when seeing it the first time. This is just a brilliant view into places that I'll probably never be able to visit myself. Thanks a million!

David said...

I'm always a bit alarmed at the use of Union Jacks, more so Eng-er-land flags. There were plenty in churches at the same time last year when photos of the Queen were on every table following her death. St Peter Mancroft did a very nice job of it. But anyway, Kirk, your Great British tour should at least embrace Norwich Cathedral, I'd say one of the top five, and possibly my number one now (though Lincoln and Durham have the best locations).

Kate, what a pleasure it was to walk with you and Fairless (and the two Js too, of course; CBJ was missed). You can always calm down my excessive enthusiasm more easily than J...but anyway I think we paced things very nicely. And yes, I'm excited about Part Two.

Catherine Bunyan said...

Thanks for this fantastic account of your Norfolk walk. I especially enjoyed the pictures of the detail. Almost felt like I had been there. I wonder would I have had the stamina. It was quite an undertaking especially in the heat. Well done!

David said...

Come next year! We should be back to the bigger mileage and the countryside.

Juliet Chaplin said...

Another wonderful account of so many beautiful churches. Good to know that you were able to do the walk even fairly well below your best. Lovely pics and the detail you include is fascinating. Well done all.

David said...

Thank you, dear Juliet. I felt an amazing sense of achievement, and as you suggest what we saw was no less wonderful than usual. The Old Hospital was a spectacular start, and it was so good to find churchyard spaces around most of the churches still green and shady.

Katharina said...

This is lovely on absolutely every level. Terrifically entertaining and wonderful that you are on the move, David. Have donated to your Maggie's (they are all so beautiful!).

David said...

Thank you, and aren't they? I feel it would be nice to see more, but probably not appropriate. Anyone can have one around Maggie's West London with me - just ask. It really is Utopia. The walk through Margravine Cemetery - arboretumn and bird sancturary - from Barons Court is splendid too. And you might see the peregrine folks on top of the main hospital building (which is of course by comparison with the Maggie's Centre brutish, but after my stay in Ward Seven North, I'll not criticise it again; big strides have been made to make it pleasant with art and brighten things up generally...)

Deborah vdB said...

Some extraordinarily fine details in churches here. Lovely to hear about, and see, as always. This time you really do deserve a medal for being so stalwart too. Thank you for this. xxDeborah.

David said...

Thanks, Deborah. Maggie's gets the medal, on behalf of all the healthcare people who've been so magnificent over a year. I could equally well have chosen Imperial College Trust or other cancer help organisations. Even the fact that the radio/chemo weeks didn't in the end stop the op doesn't matter; I met so many marvellous folk through that too.

toubab said...

You are amazing and inspiring! good health to you and may there be many more Church walks- hope to join you some day..

David said...

I return the compliment. You can always mark the date - it's the second Saturday in September. And thanks so much for the very generous donation to Maggie's.

Liz said...

You are a life force, David. Wonderful to read about your tour. Another extraordinary account of Norfolk’s treasures. I have to take issue with your description of Barry from Eastenders as a “former” celebrity. For many of us he is still famous. Did you know that this actor is a brilliant man, hugely intelligent and well-read, who has won quiz shows on TV? Pointless 3 times, Mastermind, Richard Osman’s House of Games (Champion of Champions) etc. Take that, Janine.

Sending you love and congratulations x

David said...

Thank you, Liz, and I didn't know how brilliant he was, but I caught a clip of him singing, and he was really good (I think the poster's idea was to mock, but I found it superb). Maybe I'll acquaint myself more with these game shows the more I visit my mother in her excellent care home (Greenacres in Banstead - a huge relief as it was stressy when I was just out of hospital to find her the right place for respite. She managed to fall and be hospitalised twice around my op). I was amazed how quick two of the other ladies were to answer questions to the screen, and yesterday they were doing a quiz with a lovely Indian lady working there, and got most right.

David Parry said...

I am so impressed and fascinated by your Norwich churches adventure. I feel hopelessly inadequate, that I haven’t seen anything like as many as you have, even though I’ve been living in Norfolk for twenty years now. I am resolved to rectify it! Anyway, thank you for including me, even if only vicariously!

Looking forward to seeing you in Overstrand on November 12.