10 April 2024

A short visit to some
more churches and
places of worship in
the streets of Norwich

It is said that Norwich once had 52 mediaeval churches – one for each week of the year (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Patrick Comerford

During my recent visit to Norwich, I visited Norwich Cathedral and the Roman Catholic Cathedral, a number of churches, including Saint Julian’s Church, Saint Andrew’s Hall and Blackfriars Hall, Saint Andrew’s Church, Saint John Timberhill, the Quaker Meeting House associated with Elizabeth Fry, and the former monastery of the eccentric Father Ignatius.

I also managed to see other places of worship, including Norwich Synagogue and the Ihsan Mosque.

It is a popular saying in the city that Norwich once had 52 mediaeval churches – one for each week of the year, and 365 pubs – one for each day of the year. I have been writing about many of these churches, chapels and places of worship in recent days.

Even though we were staying in Saint Giles House Hotel on Saint Giles Street, I never managed to get inside the church that gives its name to the street. But I now know that during such a short visit, I could only taste a sample of the many churches, former churches and church sites in Norwich.

In the early hours of the morning, and in the fading light of the evening, I managed to see more of these buildings than I imagined possible. So there is more to see when I visit Norfolk again.

Saint George’s Church, Tombland, dates from the early mediaeval period (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint George, Tombland:

Saint George is the patron saint of Norwich, and the Guild of Saint George was the major body of civic government throughout the late medieval period and until 1731.

The site of Saint George’s Church, Tombland, dates from the early mediaeval period, although the church standing today is the result of a major rebuilding in the 13th century. The oldest parts of the building are the nave and chancel (13th century); the tower was rebuilt ca 1430, a north porch and aisle were added in 1445, a south aisle in 1490, and a clerestory ca1600.

Much of the interior dates to a late Victorian restoration, but the church retains a 13th century font, topped by a 17th century carved wooden cover, a cut-down version of a 17th century three-decker pulpit, and an 18th century reredos.

Beside the font is a stone Bread Table, and a wall monument to John Symonds, a merchant tailor and Sheriff of Norwich (1603), who left 2 shillings a week to be distributed in bread for the poor when he died in 1609. The weekly dole distribution continued until 1891.

The name Tombland is derived from the Old English word ‘tom’ meaning empty, so Tombland meant simply ‘empty space’. This empty space was used as the main market place during the pre-Norman period, and the church overlies on part of the market.

Saint Giles on the Hill, also known as the Wisteria Church, has the tallest church tower in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Giles on the Hill:

Saint Giles on the Hill sits at the top of the street with its name, and is also known as the Wisteria Church. Saint Giles has the tallest church tower in Norwich at a height of 120 ft. The wisteria was planted by a former priest at the church in celebration of his daughter’s wedding over 100 years ago and it still flourishes each year.

Saint Giles is the patron of lepers and nursing mothers, and a hospital for lepers was formerly close by beside the gate in the city walls, called Saint Giles Gate. The church was originally founded by a priest called Elwyn and given by him to the Benedictine monks of Norwich Cathedral. Later, the dean and chapter who appointed a chaplain.

The church is noted in the Domesday Book (1086), but the present church dates from 1386. The tower was almost finished by 1424, and the building was complete by 1430. The porch was added about a century after the main church was built, and which has a noble carved stone façade, a fine fan vaulted roof and a small room above, called a parvise. The main church consists of a nave with two side aisles, separated by an arcade of five bays. The church was restored by Richard Phipson in 1866-1867.

Saint Gregory’s Church has been described as ‘the jewel in the crown’ among churches in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Gregory’s:

Saint Gregory’s is a mediaeval church between Pottergate and Saint Benedict’s Street. The body of the church dates back to a 14th-century rebuilding, although the tower is older. Saint Gregory’s is noted for its wall-paintings, which include a depiction Saint George and the Dragon at the west end of the north aisle.

A public passageway under the chancel was rebuilt in 1394. Most of the stained glass dates from the late 19th century.

The Norwich Historic Churches Trust manages the building, and it has been described as ‘possibly the jewel in the crown of those churches cared for by NHCT.’

Saint Gregory’s was closed in 1971 and was made redundant as a parish church. It was as a community arts venue from 1975 until 2002. It was then an arts centre, which closed in 2012. It is now an antiques centre.

Saint Martin at Palace Plain is close to the Law Courts in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Martin at Palace Plain:

Saint Martin at Palace Plain was another casualty of parochial re-ordering and closed in 1971. The church is mediaeval but was heavily restored by Edward Hakewill in the mid-19th century.

After it closed, the church was used as the store for the Diocesan Furnishings Officer, re-homing unneeded church furniture. It was taken over by the Probation Service in 1987, because it is conveniently close to the Law Courts.

MoveOn East, the successor of the Probation Service, left the building in 2012, and it stood empty until 2017, when the NHCT relocagted its administrative offices there.

The site of Saint Martin in Balliva … totally demolished in 1562 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Martin in Balliva (site):

The Church of Saint Martin in Balliva was also known as Saint Martin in the Bailey, and was referred to as at ‘Ber Street’ or at ‘Timber Hill.’

There was a church on the site during the medieval period. A fraternity of friars had a house in the churchyard before they were joined to the Whitefriars or Carmelites.

The church was totally demolished in 1562, when the parish was united with Saint Michael’s. At one time, all persons dying in the castle and all criminals executed. were buried in the churchyard. When the church was demolished, this right was transferred to Saint Michael’s at Thorn.

The south porch of Saint Mary the Less or the ‘French Church’ … on an ‘At Risk’ listing (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Mary the Less, Queen Street:

The Church of Saint Mary the Less, also known as the ‘French Church,’ is on Queen Street. It has been built up against on three sides and sits wedged between two estate agents, with only its door and tower visible from the street.

The church dates from the 13th century and is built of flint with stone and brick dressings. It has of a west tower, three-bay nave, chancel and a south porch.

The mediaeval church became redundant in 1544 when its parish was absorbed by Saint George’s, Tombland. With the influx of Flemish refugees into Norwich in the 1500s, Saint Mary the Less was let to Dutch merchants known as the ‘Strangers’ to use as a cloth hall.

The ‘Strangers’ stayed in the church for almost 70 years before French-speaking Walloons were given a 40-year lease to use it as a church again. In 1637, it was converted into a church for Walloon and French Protestants, known as l’Église Protestante Française de Norwich or the ‘French Church.’

The church continued in use until 1832 when it was sold to the Swedenborgians in 1832, and From 1869, it was used by the Catholic Apostolic Church or Irvingites from 1869. The church closed in 1959 and was a furniture warehouse until 1985. It was sold into private ownership by the Norwich French Church Charity in 1989, and for a time was used as an historical studies centre.

It was once described it as ‘one of Norwich’s hidden treasures’. However, it is not easily accessible today. Norwich City Council last gained access in 2014, and the building is on an ‘At Risk’ listing.

’Forget me Not’ … Saint Michael at Plea is now an independent bookshop and café (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Michael at Plea:

Saint Michael-at-Plea is a mediaeval church that was restored in 1887. When it closed in 1971, Saint Michael stood empty until the NHCT took responsibility for it.

Initially, it was an antiques market, with a café in the chancel. When this came to an end, it was taken over by the SPCK bookshop in 2004, which continued the café. Today it an independent bookshop and café known as ‘Revelation,’ and hosts a range of talks and events.

The site of Saint Michael’s Church, Tombland, possibly the oldest church in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Michael’s Church, Tombland (site):

Saint Michael’s Church, Tombland, was a Late Saxon church and possibly the oldest church in Norwich. Francis Blomefield, in The History of the City and County of Norwich (1806), says it ‘was one of the oldest churches (if not the very first) in this city.’

Blomefield mistakenly says Tombland took its name from the tombs in it. He says this was the largest burial place in the city, founded by the Earls of East Anglia, and the principal church in Norwich before the cathedral was built.

The church was mentioned in the Domesday Book (1086) and in the foundation deed of Cathedral Priory (1101). It was demolished before 1119 by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga, who built Norwich Cathedral, and a stone cross was erected on site.

Saint Peter Hungate has become a centre for mediaeval art (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Peter Hungate:

Saint Peter Hungate was described by the Norfolk historian Francis Blomefield as a ‘neat building of black flint.’ There has been a church on the site since at least the 13th century, although most of the present building dates from the 15th century, when the church was rebuilt substantially. It was rededicated by the Paston family in 1460, with a worn inscribed stone marking a foundation date of 1460 or 1461.

The 15th century church was built against the tower and perhaps the porch of the 13th century church. The mediaeval glass and the roof suggest that before the Reformation Hungate was a place richly ornamented and full of colour. A series of steps was added to the chancel in the mid-19th century to give the Communion table greater visual prominence. The tower was shortened later that century because it was in danger of falling.

The church was in a poor state by the late 19th century and was saved from closure and demolition by the intervention of a local member of the Society for the Protection of Ancient Buildings (SPAB), Prince Duleep Singh. The church was restored and reopened in 1908, but as the city centre population dwindled, the church was no longer needed for worship.

When the parish was joined with Saint Michael at Plea, Hungate was threatened with demolition once again. Instead, however, Saint Peter Hungate was leased as a museum and the Saint Peter Hungate Museum of Ecclesiastical Art opened in 1933. This too was closed in the late 1990s, and a charitable trust, Hungate Medieval Art, was established in 2008. Today, it is a centre for mediaeval art.

Saint Peter Mancroft is the civic church of Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Peter Mancroft:

Saint Peter Mancroft Church has stood in the heart of Norwich for almost 600 years, and from the top of the tower there are views across the whole city.

Saint Peter Mancroft stands beside the market place and is the civic church of Norwich. It is the largest of the city’s 31 surviving medieval parish churches and one of the finest perpendicular parish churches in Norfolk. It is known for its mediaeval stained glass, its collection of mediaeval and renaissance treasures and its tower and church bells.

For 300 years it was known as Saint Peter of Gloucester in Norwich. In 1388, after local pressure, it passed to the Benedictine community of Saint Mary-in-the-Fields whose church stood on the site of the present day Assembly House and Theatre Royal.
The church was rebuilt in 1430-1455. It is 180 ft long and ashlar faced with a tower at the west end. It is a Grade I listed building and a member of the Greater Churches Group. The church is open Monday to Saturday from 10:30 to 3:30. Sunday services are at 8 am, 10 am and 5 pm, and the Sung Eucharist at 10 am is also livestreamed.

Saint Peter Parmentergate is now an indoor skatepark (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Peter Parmentergate:

Saint Peter Parmentergate is a large church on a sloping site below the Castle and above the Cathedral, at the end of King Street and close to Market Avenue. A large part of the church dates from the 15th and 16th centuries, and it is built of flint with stone and brick dressings.

The church has both a nave and chancel, with a high west tower, south porch and a vestry. Due to the sloping site, the vestry is reached by 12 steps up from the churchyard. The east window on the north side of the nave is partly blocked by a semi-octagonal rood turret from ca 1510. The chancel dates from the same period.

When the church closed in 1980, the congregation moved to nearby Saint Julian’s Church. The vestry was leased by the Norwich Historic Churches Trust to the Magdalene Group in 1994. In 2005, the church became the Norwich Centre for Martial Arts in 2005, reopened as a mediaeval combat training arena in 2019, and is now used as an indoor skatepark, run by the charity Community East. The Norman and Beard organ has been moved to Norwich School.

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Elm Hill, has been rescued from being an ivy-covered ruin (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Saint Simon and Saint Jude, Elm Hill:

Saint Simon and Saint Jude Church on Elm Hill is a 14th and 15th century flint, brick and stone former parish church with a fine 14th century east window.

Along with many other Norwich churches, it was redundant by 1892, and for many years it was used as a Sunday School. The west tower collapsed in 1911, the church was abandoned about 1920, and by the 1930s it was an ivy-covered ruin.

The church became the headquarters of Norwich Scouts and Guides and a shop in 1952. They carved up the interior, inserted a floor in the nave, built offices into the west gallery, and divided the chancel into a warren of small rooms. After they left in 1997, it became a boxing gym, then a dance studio, followed by an award-winning theatre company in 2018.

Some of the original interior survives, including two memorials, one to Thomas Pettus, Mayor of Norwich (1590), the other to his son Sir John Pettus, Mayor in 1608. Today the scouts and guides have gone and the church is being restored.

The former United Reformed Church on Princes Street closed in 2020 (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The (former) United Reformed Church, Princes Street:

The former United Reformed Church (URC) on Princes Street, at the junction with Elm Hill, is in the process of being changed into ‘a positive and active environment’ or nightclub. The church stands opposite Saint Peter Hungate and dates back to a small chapel built in 1818-1819.

Princes Street United Reformed Church was founded as a Congregationalist church in 1819 and the first minister, from 1819 the 1866, the Revd John Alexander, was a founding figure. He came to Norwich as a student minister at Easter 1817 to preach at the Tabernacle in Bishopsgate, a chapel in the Countess of Huntingdon Connexion.

He was invited to return to Norwich for the summer holiday when a dispute within the congregation over control of the church reached a head, with 400 members breaking away and inviting Alexander to be their minister.

Alexander was a noted preacher who attracted large congregations on a Sunday. He chaired the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital at a time when it this was unusual for a nonconformist minster, he supported the anti-slavery campaigner Sir Thomas Fowell Buxton, and he was on friendly terms with many people in Norwich, from the Gurney banking family to the Bishop of Norwich. He retired in 1866 and died in 1868.

The local families involved in the church included: the Copemans, wholesale grocers and owners of the Eastern Daily Press; the Colmans of Colmans mustard fame; and the Boardmans. Jeremiah James Colman (1830-1898) ran the family mustard business and was both sheriff and mayor of Norwich before being elected a Liberal MP.

The church was rebuilt in 1869 as a substantial pale brick building by the Norwich architect Edward Boardman, a prominent member and a deacon in the church. The church is one storey high, with a façade onto Princes Street of three window bays with Corinthian pilasters. The central entrance bay is flanked by polished granite Corinthian columns under an inscribed moulded brick arch. Inside was a gallery on cast iron columns and a coved plaster ceiling and a Victorian organ built in 1875 by Henry ‘Father’ Willis.

The Revd Donald Hilton, the sixth minister of the church. steered Princes Street through the transition from Congregational Church to United Reformed Church in 1972.

A survey in 1984 reported that within the 19th century church were the remains of a 16th century timber-framed building. The church underwent a major refurbishment in 2014 before it closed in 2020.

The former Baptist Particular Chapel was once a warehouse (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

The (former) Baptist Particular Chapel:

At one time, there were eight Baptist chapels in central Norwich. The former Baptist Particular Chapel on Timberhill is an 18th century building and was originally a warehouse. It was bought by the Particular Baptists in 1832 for £1,150. They converted into a chapel they used from 1833 to 1975.

Norwich Spiritualist Church … part-funded by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and used by the Jewish community in the 1940s (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Norwich Spiritualist Church:

The Spiritualists are marginal to if not outside any serious consideration of church history. But Norwich Spiritualist Church at No 10 Chapel Field North is of particular interest if only because of a unique gesture during World War II.

The chapel was built in 1936, part-funded by proceedings from a packed meeting in Saint Andrew’s Hall addressed by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle in 1922. It was built by RG Carter, who also built the United Congregational School, Jessop Road, Dereham Road Baptist Sunday School, Goldsmiths Street, the Anglican shrine at Walsingham, and a garden house at the Old Meeting House. The foundation stone of the chapel was laid in 1936 by the suffragist and aid worker Mabel Annie St Clair Stobart (1862-1954).

The lower floor was offered to the Jewish community in Norwich to use as a temporary place of worship in 1942 after the synagogue had been damaged by bombs. At the request of members of the Jewish community, a side entrance was built so they would not have to enter under the cross in a stained-glass window above the front door.

The building was also used as a canteen for American servicemen for a time during World War II. I was curious to learn that in the immediate aftermath of World War II, the Revd Roland Maitland, Vicar of Darsham, Suffolk, was also Vice-President of Norwich Spiritualist Church.

The keys of Saint Peter seen at Saint Peter Mancroft Church in Norwich (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2024)

Daily prayer in Easter 2024:
11, 10 April 2024

William Law (1686-1761) is remembered in ‘Common Worship’ on 10 April

Patrick Comerford

This week began with the Second Sunday of Easter (Easter II), sometimes known as ‘Low Sunday’ (7 April 2024). The Calendar of the Church of England in Common Worship today (10 April) remembers the life and witness of both William Law (1761), Priest, Spiritual Writer, and William of Ockham (1347), Friar, Philosopher, and Teacher of the Faith.

Throughout this Season of Easter, my morning reflections each day include the daily Gospel reading, the prayer in the USPG prayer diary, and the prayers in the Collects and Post-Communion Prayer of the day.

Before this day begins, I am taking some quiet time this morning to give thanks, for reflection, prayer and reading in these ways:

1, today’s Gospel reading;

2, a prayer from the USPG prayer diary;

3, the Collects and Post-Communion prayer of the day.

William Law’s writings stress the moral virtues, a personal prayer life and asceticism

John 3: 16-21 (NRSVA):

[Jesus said:] 16 ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.

17 ‘Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18 Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19 And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. 20 For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. 21 But those who do what is true come to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that their deeds have been done in God.’

William Law led a life of devotion and simplicity and caring for the poor

William Law (1686-1761):

William Law (1686-1761) was born at Kings Cliffe in Northamptonshire and was educated at Emmanuel College, Cambridge. After ordination as a deacon, he became a fellow of Emmanuel College in 1711.

When George I came to the throne in 1714, Law declined to take the Oath of Allegiance, being a member of the non-juror party who believed the anointed but deposed monarch James II and his heirs should occupy the throne. He lost his fellowship, but in 1728 was ordained priest, and in the same year published A Serious Call to a Devout and Holy Life.

His writings stress the moral virtues, a personal prayer life and asceticism, and strongly influenced people such as Samuel Johnson and John and Charles Wesley.

Law returned to Kings Cliffe in 1740, where he led a life of devotion and simplicity and caring for the poor. He remained there for the rest of his life and died on 10 April 1761.

The chapel and cloisters at Emmanuel College, Cambridge … William Law became a fellow of Emmanuel College after ordination (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Today’s Prayers (Wednesday 10 April 2024):

The theme this week in ‘Pray With the World Church,’ the Prayer Diary of the Anglican mission agency USPG (United Society Partners in the Gospel), is the ‘Certificate in Youth Leadership Programme in the West Indies.’ This theme was introduced on Sunday by the Right Revd Michael B St J Maxwell, Bishop of the Diocese of Barbados.

The USPG Prayer Diary today (10 April 2024) invites us to pray:

Thank you, God, for the faithful response of youth ministers to be sufficiently trained and equipped to lead creative and proficient youth ministries throughout the Church in the Province of the West Indies.

The Collect:

Almighty God,
who called your servant William Law
to a devout and holy life:
grant that by your spirit of love
and through faithfulness in prayer
we may find the way to divine knowledge
and so come to see the hidden things of God;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.

Post Communion Prayer:

God of truth,
whose Wisdom set her table
and invited us to eat the bread and drink the wine
of the kingdom:
help us to lay aside all foolishness
and to live and walk in the way of insight,
that we may come with William Law to the eternal feast of heaven;
through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Yesterday’s reflection

Continued Tomorrow

John Myatt’s fading mosaic mural of Samuel Johnson on a corner of Bird Street, Lichfield … William Law’s writings strongly influenced Samuel Johnson (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2023)

Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicised Edition copyright © 1989, 1995, National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide. http://nrsvbibles.org