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St George Colegate, Norwich
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This area of the city centre, Coslany or 'Norwich over the water', is home to about half a dozen medieval parish churches, of which St George is the soul working survivor. This was one of the most intensely industrialised areas of Norwich in the 19th century, and the blackened flint of the walls still bears testimony to this. Now, the inner ring road is not far off, and the area is redeveloped with wine bars, law firms and loft conversions. Norwich has consciously tried to develop residential areas in the heart of the city, with considerable success, and this has contributed to the feeling of St George being a living church in the heart of a community.
Although not as big as the likes of St Andrew and St Peter Mancroft, this is a large, determinedly Perpendicular church from the years when the 15th century was becoming the 16th. A surprise, then, to go inside and find that the vast, clear windows fill with light what is still a largely early 18th century interior, as if this was the city of London. In truth, of course, just as central London was prosperous at this time, so was central Norwich, and what you see here must have been what many other churches in the city were like; quite literally, in fact, because St George is now home to many 18th century furnishings stripped out of other churches that fell to redundancy. St George was almost derelict after the war, thanks to bomb damage and neglect, and so their misfortune has really saved its life. You can see a similarly rich interior at St John Maddermarket, although there it is in shadowy candle-lit darkness, and in the chancel at St George Tombland.
Because of the big windows, the heavy dark wood is not hard to bear, the west gallery is not oppressive. The tiling of the floor is harmonious, the sheer white of the 14th century font a striking central feature. The font appears as if it has been cobbled together; the bowl and shaft may be from different fonts, and the connection between is probably Victorian. It came from St Saviour, just to the north; the original Purbeck marble font went eventually to St Peter Hungate when it was a museum of church furnishings, and is probably in storage under Norwich castle now.
The white walls and opulent furnishings make St George a pleasant place to wander, and if you do you will eventually find the north chancel chapel, now home to a large terracotta tomb chest and a triple figure brass. The tomb is to Robert Jannys, a Mayor of Norwich who died in 1530. Tombs of this type are interesting, because they were produced right on the eve of the Reformation, and give us an inkling of what the English Renaissance might have been like. Though smaller, this recalls the Bedingfield tombs at Oxborough; Pevsner wondered if it might have been the same craftsman. The brass depicts a Mayor from half a century earlier, the aptly named William Norwiche and his wife, with the figure of their son between them.
I think this is a super church, full of light and interest and a little out of the ordinary.
Simon Knott, November 2005
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