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

St Etheldreda, Norwich

St Etheldreda's tiny round tower

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Normandy Tower beyond the chancel south side   

    St Etheldreda, Norwich

The plethora of medieval churches in central Norwich is unusual, but fitting. It seems much more unusual as you leave the centre and stray south into the King Street and Rouen Road area to find that this concentration continues in a part of town that largely consists of warehouses, factory units and expanses of working class housing. No wonder that most of the churches here are now redundant, and several of them have found new uses.

the view east, 1938 (c) George Plunkett   the view east, 2005   St Etheldreda is a round towered church which was largely Victorianised. The tower is tiny, the octagonal bell stage as big as the rest. In 1883 the church still had a thatched roof, but when the church of St Peter Southgate up the road was abandoned, there was a large scale restoration here that replaced windows, roofs and all internal furnishings.

Although there are remains in the lower walls that are obviously Norman, and medieval wall paintings had been discovered in the 1850s, St Etheldreda was to all intents and purposes rebuilt.

The church became redundant as a result of the Brooke Report, and was converted for use by local artists as studio space. You enter through the former priest door in the chancel, and the first sight of the interior is disorientating. A long mezzanine floor splits the length of the narrow church into levels, with a metal spiral staircase in the west end and a metal zigzag staircase in the chancel linking the two. Coming here from the awful things that had been done to St Simon and St Jude, it was very attractive and interesting.
The lower area is larger than the upper, with a sense of space despite the partitioning into studios. The upper level, where the partitions reach into the Victorian roof space, is more cramped. All the furnishings and features have gone, except for a fine early 17th century memorial on the chancel wall to William Johnson and his family, now partly obscured. Pevsner records a brass, but I could not find it.

This was a busy, exciting place to explore. Along with all the other medieval churches of Norwich,both those in use and those redundant, this building was open to the public on National Heritage Open Day 2005, for which I was very grateful. A pity, then, that this was the only place where the present custodians appeared to resent our presence, watching us sulkily as we invaded their space, and in one case answering my cheery greeting with raised eyebrows. A pity, because it's exactly the kind of thing you remember.

  the font, apparently 15th century - I wonder what happened to it? (c) George Plunkett

Simon Knott, November 2005

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

   

looking east looking west view from inside the tower arch view east
looking west from inside the chancel looking east from the west end early 17th century memorial on the chancel wall to William Johnson and his family, obscured by boards Victorian roof timbers Peter emerges at the top of the chancel arch more Victorian roof timbers

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