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St John, Great Yarmouth
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This extraordinary structure, a short walk from Great Yarmouth's jolly sea front, with the terraces of bedsit land spreading to south and west, is the best example in Norfolk of an ecclesiastical village, the ultimate fruit of the Tractarian movement's desire for a return to the medieval monastic vision of the Church as a ritualist space, a place of teaching, of residency and of hospitality, all on one site. From the 1840s onwards this theory of architecture would be propounded, most notably by Pugin, but it would come to its ultimate expression at the end of the century, ironically with the non-conformists, who would built an agglomeration of church, school, hall and manse shoe-horned on to a single site in hundreds of places all over England.
St John was, at heart, the 1850s work of JH Hakewill, whose less competent brother EC Hakewill is more familiar in East Anglia from his dozens of gloomy restorations. In this poor area it was intended as a church for fishermen and their families, perhaps the children of the fishermen that Dickens knew and brought to life in the pages of David Copperfield. This would have been the Peggoty family's parish. The church was then extended to west and north by a number of other minor architects in the subsequent decades. Best of all is Bottle & Olley's hexagonal vestry of the 1880s in the style of a chapter house, wedged into the most easterly point of the site.
Simon Knott, December 2010
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