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

St John the Baptist Maddermarket, Norwich

St John Maddermarket: a familiar sight

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hemmed in processional way beneath the tower

    St John the Baptist Maddermarket, Norwich

This square church is a familiar sight to shoppers, where the pedestrianised identikit shops of London Street give way to earthier Pottergate. There used to be a wonderful vegetarian restaurant on this corner, and I mourn its passing. St John the Baptist became redundant as a result of the Brooke Report, which is also sad, but understandable given the proximity of St Andrew and St Peter Mancroft. For a while, it was used by the Greek Orthodox community, which unfortunately made it inaccessible to other people, but since they moved on to the Mother of God, the building has come into the care of the Churches Conservation Trust, making it accessible again. George Plunkett's 1938 photographs show it at once familar and different, the exposed graveyard rather startling.

8th April 1938: from the north, the graveyard exposed (c) George Plunkett   St John the Baptist is well-known for its processional way beneath the elegant but hemmed-in tower; at one time, there was another one at the east end, through which Maddermarket Street ran; but the chancel was demolished in the late 16th century, making Maddermarket Street clear for traffic, and giving the church its square shape today. The extraordinarily high clerestory, faced in stone, accentuates the strangeness of the shape. This is a typical 15th century Perpendicular church, but the tracery of the east windows is earlier; considering that the main one is now in the place of the chancel arch, there is reason to think that they may be 19th century additions, perhaps of medieval tracery from elsewhere.

The north porch, now no longer used, has a funny little turret on it. There isn't really a south porch; you step straight down in to the south aisle. Stepping inside to the dark, smoky, devotional inside, you would be forgiven for thinking that the Greeks were still in possession. In fact, this Baroque interior 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.

The outstandingly ugly font shows us something of his tastes, but altogether it is certainly effective, and the chancel has a quite different 18th century feel to it compared with the rationalism of St George Colegate. The lovely Arts and Crafts Annunciation scene by the King workshop is not overpowered by all this, but would be better known and thought of in a plainer setting.

This church is most famous for the enormous number of memorials, both in brass and stone. They are too many to list here, but do not miss 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 astonishing 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 that powered the English Reformation, mayors and merchants who had benefited from the Black Death's freeing of capital and land to rise to prominence. Here they are, in all their glory.

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

Simon Knott, December 2005


chancel font Sothertons
side chapel looking towards the south-east corner Annunciation Sothertons
angels John Tuddenham Robert Rugge and wife


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