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St Etheldreda, Norwich

Norwich St Etheldreda The St Etheldreda dead

Normandy Tower beyond the chancel south side 

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    St Etheldreda, Norwich

The plethora of medieval churches in central Norwich is unusual, but fitting, and even an unfamiliar visitor soon becomes used to it. It seems more striking 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 otherwise largely consists of warehouses, factory units, building sites 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.

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 font and a significant memorial were brought here from St Peter Southgate, the font later being sold to St Peter's church in Folkestone, Kent.

St Etheldreda was closed in 1961 when the last vicar died, and was derelict by 1970. It was declared redundant as a result of the Brooke Report, and was repaired and 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, the east window and chancel arch in George Plunkett's 1937 photograph now partly obscured and taking a back seat to the work of the artists. 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. The lower area is larger than the upper, but when I first visited in 2005 it had been partitioned into studios, which made it feel extremely cramped. These have now gone, and the sense of light and openness is pleasing. All the furnishings and features have gone of course, except for the fine early 17th century memorial from St Peter Southgate to William Johnson and his family, now partly obscured. The late medieval font photographed by George Plunkett in 1937 has gone. The organ and bell went to St Francis at Heartsease, did the font go there too? Pevsner records a brass, but I could not find it.

the view east, 1938 (c) George Plunkett looking east the font, apparently 15th century - I wonder what happened to it? (c) George Plunkett

The war memorial survives, but has lost its name plaque. One thing you don't see from within unless you look for it is the Norman south doorway, eroded by centuries of coal and wood smoke, but with echoes of the one once up the road at St Michael at Thorn, today within St Julian. All in all, a busy and exciting place.

Simon Knott, September 2019

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


looking west south doorway under the roof
William Johnson and family, 1611 war memorial, name plaque lost he died on the 19th day of August 1830 on board HMS Lyra returning from a voyage which he had taken for the benefit of his health


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