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

St Edmund, Norwich

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free of factories now

    St Edmund, Norwich

Today, Fishergate is a quiet residential street on the outskirts of the city centre, just to the west of Magdalen Street. Standing outside St Edmund, it is hard to conceive what the setting was like a century ago. Where low-rise social housing spreads was then the heartland of industrial Norwich, enormous dark factories dwarfing this little church.

counselling centre   St Edmund was declared redundant before the end of the 19th century, being only a few hundred metres from St Martin at Palace, St James and St Saviour. It fell into decay, the roof only being repaired to make it watertight for use as a factory store.

One night in January, 1913, Norwich was lit up by a massive fire when the factory that surrounded the church on three sides went up in flames. After that, the area became a wasteland; but some attempt seems to have been made to rescue St Edmund. When George Plunkett came this way in 1938, he found the building in fairly good condition; the interior had been cleared except for some benches facing inward, suggesting that it was in use as a hall of some kind, perhaps for the nearby churches of St James and St Saviour.

St Edmund in 1938 (c) George Plunkett looking east, 1938 (c) George Plunkett looking west, 1938 (c) George Plunkett

St Edmund suffered damage in the War and when Cautley came this way in 1946 he was unable to get inside. For years after that, the dereliction spiralled, until the church was little more than a shell.

A small building with a south aisle hidden from the street, St Edmund had been largely Victorianised by the enthusiastic Edward Boardman in the 1880s, not long before the end of its liturgical life. Boardman's is the vestry with its chimney, the roof and the top of the tower. Before Boardman got its hands on it, St Edmund had a perfectly serviceable Georgian interior, perhaps like St George Colegate. Nothing at all survives of either the Georgian or Victorian furnishings. I think that the arcade is not Boardman's, however, and it is rather curious, with open niches in between the arches. I wonder what they were for?

St Edmund is one of the few churches that can be truly said to have benefited from the Brooke Report of the late 1960s. The renewed interest in caring, and finding new uses, for Norwich's redundant churches led to its repair and renovation, and it was let to the New Frontiers International Church. However, they have since moved to the more prominent St Saviour, and they have sublet St Edmund to Norwich Pregnancy Crisis for use as an advice and counselling centre. The interior is largely intact, with stairways and partitions put in place to make it suitable for its new use. Today it is an adornment to its street and a useful enterprise for the young people of north central Norwich.   rarely seen - St Edmund from the south (c) Chris Harrison

As you may imagine, St Edmund is less well known than many of the Norwich medieval churches, largely as a result of it being so hemmed in and cut off from the city centre. However, in 2001, a view not seen in more than a century was opened up when the factory and warehouses to the south of the church were demolished. They were quickly replaced by a housing scheme, but not before Chris Harrison snapped the view you see here. Take a good look; you won't see it like that again in your lifetime.

Simon Knott, November 2005

   

open niches in between the arches. I wonder what they were for?

 

You can see thousands of George Plunkett's other old photographs of Norwich on the Plunkett website

 

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