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St John the Baptist Timberhill, Norwich
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the Baptist Timberhill, Norwich
On the edge of the central shopping area, this understated little exterior conceals a gorgeous high Anglo-catholic interior. The building had fallen on hard times by the 19th century; the tower collapsed in the 1780s, the roof was full of holes, and there was a massive restoration in the 1860s to bring it back from the brink. Internally, very little medieval survived. Externally, St John the Baptist is delightful, with that massive 15th century porch and aisles, but no clerestory; instead, the Victorians put little dormer windows in the new roof. They also rebuilt the chancel, replaced most of the windows, and put a little stone bell turret at the west end.
Threatened with redundancy by the Brooke Report, St John the Baptist's modern incarnation as a working church dates back to the early 1980s, when it was designated the main church for the Anglican Diocese's new Parmentergate parish, which covers a wedge shape southwards from the town centre containing the predominantly working class King Street and Rouen Road areas. This wedge was originally served by about a dozen medieval parish churches; St Julian in the parish has also been retained for worship. As a result, there was a thorough and sympathetic restoration.
You step into a building full of space and light, enhanced by the modern chairs, and devotional statues and shrines. Apart from Martin Travers' gorgeous stained glass Madonna and Child, which came here from the east window at All Saints, the finest attraction is the 16th century candelabra with its image of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin which hangs in the south aisle. It is obviously from the continent, but there are a couple of contemporary Norwich angels in the glass on the south side. The 19th century reredos is resplendent in paint and gold, and the parish war memorial asks us of our charity to pray for the souls of the dead, an indication that the Anglo-catholic enthusiasm of St John the Baptist is not new.
19th century shops screen the castle from the church, but this was the closest church to the Castle entrance, and at one time was known as St John Castlegate. It is said that executed prisoners from the Castle were buried here at this church. Now, the Castle Mall shopping centre has brought St John the Baptist back into the heart of the city, and I believe that it is open to visitors every day.
Simon Knott, November 2005
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