home I index I latest I glossary I introductions I e-mail I about this site

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

St John the Baptist Maddermarket, Norwich

Maddermarket from north door to south door

    St John the Baptist Maddermarket, Norwich
Henry Rex   The church is popularly known simply as St John Maddermarket, and is famous for being the church where the morris dancer Will Kempe ended his nine days dance to Norwich from London in 1599. A square church, and a familiar sight to shoppers, where the pedestrianised identikit shops of London Street give way to earthier Pottergate. The suffix Maddermarket comes from adjoining Maddermarket Street, and suggests a place where dye for clothes was sold. The church was rebuilt in a determined Perpendicular style in the late 15th Century. The nave is wide, the clerestory unusually high. Was there ever a chancel? If so, it had been demolished by the end of the 16th Century, but there may well have never been one, since the three east windows appear to have the oldest tracery in the building.

The south door sits on the busy street, the north door is reached by a long passageway past the Maddermarket Theatre. There are no proper porches, the north and south doorways opening directly into the aisles. In the early 20th Century they were joined by a narthex built under the west gallery, echoing the processional way which runs beneath the elegant but hemmed in tower. This emphasises the sense of a church which is wider than it is long.

George Plunkett's photographs show the church as it was on the eve of the Second World War, both views still fairly familiar today. The church was declared redundant in the early 1970s as a result of the Brooke Report, which is perhaps understandable given the proximity of St Andrew and St Peter Mancroft. For a while, it was used by the Greek Orthodox community, but the building came into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, and is regularly open, although perhaps not as often as it might be given its location.

8th April 1938: from the south-east, the view substantially the same today (c) George Plunkett 8th April 1938: from the north, the graveyard exposed (c) George Plunkett

Stepping inside to the dark, devotional interior, you might be forgiven for thinking that the Greeks were still in possession. In fact, this faux-baroque space is almost wholly the work of William Busby, arch-Anglo-Catholic Rector in the early years of the 20th century, much of it collected from other churches, the rest made to his orders. There is a feel, not so much of clutter, but of a crowding within the enclosing walls of late 19th and early 20th Century glass, and not even the dominating 18th Century baldachino, originally made for St Michael Coslany, can fully draw the eye eastward without distraction. Some fragments of medieval glass survive, but much that was old was destroyed in a gas explosion in the 1870s. A few noteable survivals are elsewhere, as we shall see in a moment.

With the exception perhaps of the 1870s east window installed after the explosion, the glass is good of its kind. In particular, Powell & Sons's Annunciation scene in the north chancel chapel is outstanding.

Gabriel at the Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913) Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913) Mary at the Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913)
Gabriel at the Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913) lilies and well at the Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913) Mary at the Annunciation (Powell & Sons, 1913)

The east window in the south chapel, which is probably also by Powell & Sons, depicts the Blessed Virgin surrounded by angels holding shields of the instruments of the passion beneath six female Saints in the upper lights. But it is the other window on the south side above the priest's door which is most memorable, showing a splendid Tree of Jesse by the J&J King workshop of Norwich, installed after the First World War. It is hard not to think that the faces of the prophets are actually Norwich worthies of the time.

XXV Annos (J&J King, 1916) Tree of Jesse (J&J King, 1916) MCMXVI Jesse (J&J King, 1916)
Solomon (J&J King, 1916) Josiah (J&J King, 1916) Virgin Mary (J & J King, 1916) Hezekiah (J&J King, 1916) Rehoboam (J&J King, 1916)

Missing from the church is the medieval rood screen, which must have run right the way across the nave. Surviving from it are some of the panels, depicting Saints including St Agatha and St William of Norwich, but today they are in the Victoria & Albert Museum, along with some glass from a Norwich church which is also likely to have been St John Maddermarket.

St Agatha St William of Norwich iconoclasm

Among the surviving medieval fragments still in the church are a fine figure of St Edward the Confessor, and a heavily restored Christ figure from a Coronation of the Blessed Virgin scene.

St John Maddermarket's splendid Anglo-catholic reimagining by William Busby rather pushes the number of memorials, both in brass and stone, into the background, but they are worth a look. Among them are the brass of John Tuddenham, who died in 1450. He has a complete prayer clause inscription in English. From the other side of the religious divide are the two Sotherton memorials, one of 1540 and the other of 1606, the couple in each case facing each other across a prayerdesk.

The Sothertons were exactly the kind of family which powered the English Reformation, mayors and merchants who had benefited from the Black Death's freeing up of capital and land to rise to prominence. And here they are today, in all their glory.

  Christ at the Coronation of the Blessed Virgin (head 15th Century)

Simon Knott, December 2017

looking west

lady chapel looking east high altar font
St Edward the Confessor (15th Century) St Edward the Confessor (15th Century/19th Century) Angel holding the IHS monogram angel holding a chalice and host angel holding the Five Sacred Wounds
fragments and continental head fragments and continental head fragments and continental head
fragments: angels, harp, chalice, etc fragments: feathered angel, etc fragments: St Peter's keys, head, etc

Eucharist with the prophets Amos, Obediah, Jonah, Michah, Nathan and Habbakuk


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


Amazon commission helps cover the running costs of this site.

home I index I latest I introductions I e-mail I about this site I glossary
Norwich I ruined churches I desktop backgrounds I round tower churches
links I small print I www.simonknott.co.uk I www.suffolkchurches.co.uk

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