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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk

St Peter and St Paul, Cromer

Cromer

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Cromer Cromer Cromer 

    St Peter and St Paul, Cromer
Cromer   Norfolk and Suffolk are in many ways two sides of the same coin, but nothing sets them apart quite so much as the difference between their coastlines. The coast of Suffolk is secretive and wild, not least because there is no coastal road. The A12 comes pretty near to the sea as it approaches Lowestoft, but apart from that you need to come inland along often windy, narrow lanes, to reach one part of the coast from another. For example, to get by car from Walberswick to Southwold, two pretty resorts which face each other across the mouth of the River Blyth, requires a journey of nearly ten miles. Apart from South Lowestoft, one of Suffolk's best kept secrets, there are no beautiful sandy beaches, and only Felixstowe really fits the bill of being a traditional seaside resort.

But Norfolk was built for seaside holidays, and of all its resorts I love Cromer best. Cromer has a wide, sandy beach with a gentle incline, rock pools, cliffs, a pier, a children's fairground, narrow streets, old-fashioned pubs, fishermen's huts, a secondhand bookshop, local shops, and the smell of crabs - it is the Ladybird Book of the Seaside come to life. We love it. On a bright sunny day in early autumn, there's nowhere we'd rather be.

You can tell a lot about a town by the efforts its medieval church go to to be welcoming. While all the churches in the Yarmouth and Hemsby area appear to be kept locked most of the time, Cromer church is militantly open every day, and you can never be alone inside it. People passing by just wander inside, holiday-makers go in to explore, and best of all you can go up the tower, which is East Anglia's tallest. It has become one of the resort's attractions. Unlike many Norfolk town churches, the congregation here is low church in character, and so they are to be thanked and congratulated for allowing their building to be open for private prayer and meditation.

Pevsner's entry for St Peter and St Paul begins Externally a very impressive church, and you can hear what's coming. Several paragraphs later, he notes that the interior, after so much display, is a little disappointing, but there is good reason for this. Cromer had been one of the prosperous north Norfolk ports in the late Middle Ages, and it is the only one of them which retains anything like the same significance. But the post-Reformation period, and its suspicion of Europe, brought hard times to this remote place. Much of the eastern end of the church collapsed in the 17th century, and serious consideration was given in the 1780s to demolishing the whole thing. It wasn't until the Anglican revival of the second half of the 19th century that attention was paid to restoring St Peter and St Paul to full use, under the direction of Arthur Blomfield, an architect who was generally a safe pair of hands, if not terribly exciting ones. He rebuilt the chancel, refashioned all the window tracery, and restored the tower and porch, which nonetheless are all that survive in their original state. The chancel would once have been longer, and in proportion is not entirely successful now. Inevitably, you step into what is essentially a 19th century building.

The vast windows flood the great, lofty nave with light, and offset some excellent modern glass on the south side. Abstract lozenges commemorate various members of the lifeboat crew, and depict lifeboats as well as other features of the resort, including the lighthouse and buckets and spades.The distorted clear glass in which they are set creates a fine effect.

The truncated chancel makes the east window rather imposing. Blomfield apparently based its proportions and tracery on what was there before, but of course it had been set further to the east. The glass by Hardman & Co is good. The best glass is in the east window of the south aisle, by Morris & Co to the design of Edward Burne-Jones. It was damaged in an air raid in 1942, but has been fully restored. The west window has recently been filled with a fabulous image of the Ascension - I wonder who the artist was?

Apart from the glass, there isn't a huge amount to see, beyond the sheer drama of the soaring arcades and the vast tower arch, its proportions somewhat compromised by what is an undeniably attractive ringers platform with meeting room beneath. You step through here to climb the steps to the top of the tower, from which the view is spectacular, especially on a clear day, although I always find my vertigo kicking in when I stand on the raised decking, which at the centre of the tower is higher than the parapet. And then, down into the lovely town below.

  St John the Baptist
   

Simon Knott, November 2008

west window looking east Chancel looking west William Morris window
Jesus said: "I am the Light of the World" Henry Blogg William  Henry and Mary King lighthouse bell
Ezekiel Daniel angels St Elizabeth and the young St John the Baptist St John the Baptist
Moses Elijah angel Eunice and Lois 1968
arcade Moses, Samuel and Elijah He is Come to Seek and to Save you pays yer money and yer takes yer choice...


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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk