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

St Margaret, Norwich

St Margaret: more subtle than it first appears

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no entrance south aisle interloper in early winter, leaf fall reveals a demur lady

    St Margaret, Norwich
church of art   St Benedict's Street has five medieval churches along it, and they all have characters of their own. Somewhat dwarfed by St Laurence a few metres to the east, St Margaret is actually quite a large church itself, a subtle building with little of the in-yer-face triumphalism of its Perpendicular neighbour. This isn't immediately apparent from St Benedict's Street, thanks to the large Perpendicular windows of the south aisle, but when you look up at the elegant 14th century tower and see the way that the aisle has been built hard against the eastern wall of an earlier two storey porch, you know that the aisle is an interloper.

As with St Laurence, St Margaret was recommended for redundancy and eventual demolition by the Brooke Report, the first of these ensuing in 1975, by which time the report's plan to demolish the churches and sell off their sites had been defeated, largely by popular outcry. The city council had wanted to wipe out the jumble of medieval and later buildings that form the wedge between Westwick Street and St Benedict's Street, and turn it into a really sexy traffic junction - four lanes of cars and lorries coming together from two different levels to be funnelled down St Andrew's Street and into Bank Plain. Now, thirty years later, we find it preferable to keep traffic out of our cities, and it is salutary to think that we came close to losing our heritage for a temporary town-planning fashion.

St Margaret can seem a brooding building after dark, set back as it is from the road, and so it is pleasing to go inside and find that it is full of light, during the day at least. For a few years it was used as a gymnasium, but after lying empty it is now an exhibition space, also used for antiques fairs.

George Plunkett's 1930s image shows it as a typical urban town centre church. As with most churches in this part of Norwich, St Margaret lost all its Victorian glass to German bombs, and had the good fortune, as at St Martin Palace Plain, to have some good 1960s glass installed in its stead. The east window is a gorgeous abstract Ascension which I think may be by Rosemary Rutherford, while the St Margaret in the south aisle chapel by the Kings is more conventional but equally beautiful.

  looking east, 1938 (c) George Plunkett   looking east, 2005
14th century font (c) George Plunkett   chest (c) George Plunkett   The font has now gone (where?) but George Plunkett's 1930s phtograph shows it as an elegant 14th century affair with shields in quatrefoils on the bowl, and a columned stem set on a large platform which has roses set in quatrefoils. He also photographed a squat little chest covered with carvings of Decorated tracery, which I suspect may actually have been Victorian.

The south chancel aisle probably predates the nave aisle, since there is only narrow access to it from the nave. In medieval days it was the chapel of St Anne. Georgian fixtures and fittings are common in Norwich, but all that survive here are the massive casements to the north and south doorways. Moses and Aaron flank the decalogue board above that on the south side.

St Margaret is a pleasant church to visit, if you can, as it is not open except when there's something on. It seems well suited to its modern usage, and we can only hope that the funding is in place to secure it for the future.

Simon Knott, November 2005


 towards the tower arch from the south aisle chapel decalogue Norwich Print Fair 
looking west the Ascension by David King St Margaret sanctuary

strange, the people you meet on St Benedict's Street...


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