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Spyridon, Great Yarmouth
St Peter, 1831-1964
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Spyridon, Great Yarmouth
This was the Anglican parish church of St Peter originally, and the building's jaunty character is a consequence of its construction in the early 1830s; it is, in fact, a Georgian church, and was built before the rows of terraced houses were laid out around it. The architect was that prolific Yarmouth church builder JJ Scoles, and this was an early work of his. He was also responsible for the rather more ecclesiologically correct Catholic church of St Mary a short walk away, as well as the charming church of St Mary in Southtown. Three very different churches built over a period of less than twenty years, suggesting that Mr Scoles was an adaptable chap.
There is a concentration of 19th century churches in south Yarmouth, and it is not surprising that almost all of them have now been declared redundant. St Peter was the first to go, falling out of use in the 1960s. The Greek community were in possession by 1964, and the dedication plaque above the west door records that the building was formally dedicated in April 1983. It is a large structure, its nave and tower lifting forcefully and creating an impression of height, but it is not a wide church. If the aisles seem perfunctory it is because they were intended to accomodate a gallery, which runs around three sides of the interior. This is a reminder that the building predates the Oxford Movement's successful attempt to restore sacramentalism to the Church of England, and that first and foremost St Peter was built and intended as a preaching house. Pevsner declared the church large and uncommonly dull, noting that it was built through the aid of the second parliamentary grant at a cost of £7,735, about one and a half million pounds in today's money. Over the next decades the starkness of the building was ameliorated somewhat by the insertion of some very good glass, some by the Kempe workshop. Intriguingly, the tower had pinnacles, but they were removed as dangerous as early as 1860.
The interior of the present-day church is still large, but it is certainly not uncommonly dull. It is full of the colour and vigour of the Greek Orthodox Church. Most strikingly, of course, the altar and sanctuary are screened by a vast iconostasis painted with Saints. It must surely predate the 1960s in construction, and must have been brought here from elsewhere.
Rather startlingly, the arcades have been filled in on both sides of the nave to create rooms under the galleries. Above, these are screened off rather unsatisfactorily with blue plastic sheeting, presumably a temporary measure. On the walls of the infill, to north and south, are dozens of large icons of Saints. It is a beautiful place to wander, despite the plastic sheeting.
Simon Knott, November 2010
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