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

St Martin at Oak, Norwich

St Martin at Oak: a quiet little corner

from the west Oak Studios tower and nave chancel

    St Martin at Oak, Norwich
the roof, looking west, 2005 (c) Chris Harrison   This poor little church sits to the north of the city centre in Coslany, just to the south of the inner ring road. This became an area of shoe factories and publishing houses - indeed, the factory to the south-east of the church is the same one that stands to the north-west of St Mary Coslany.

Although St Martin was still in use until the Second World War, it was destroyed by bombs in January 1942, only its truncated tower and walls of the nave and chancel surviving. George Plunkett's three photographs below, taken over thirty years, show the process by which the tower was reduced and the walls and roofs restored. The architect of the rebuilding, completed in 1953, was John Chaplin.

1932: still there (c) George Plunkett 1952: going... (c) George Plunkett 1962: gone (c) George Plunkett

It may seem surprising that the church was rebuilt - nearby St Paul was no more badly damaged, but it was wiped off the map by town planners in the 1960s - but the intention was that St Martin at Oak would become St Martin's Hall, a resource for use by neighbouring parishes. When the building was restored, a new entrance was created at the west end of the south aisle; up until then, the main way in had been under the tower, as at St Saviour. However, the Brooke report of the 1960s oversaw the redundancy of all of the surrounding parish churches, and St Martin's Hall was no longer required.

Chris Harrison tells me that the building was then used by by St Martins Housing Trust which started life as the Norwich Night Shelter Project. The original Night Shelter had been at St James; in spite of the very basic amenities, the night shelter was in ever increasing demand, and within a few years new premises were needed to cope with the swelling numbers of residents. In 1976, the shelter relocated to St Martin.

In 2001 the night shelter finally closed to be replaced by Bishopbridge House, a purpose built direct access hostel and resettlement unit. After falling into disuse for a while, the building was reborn as Oak Studios, used by theatre groups and local bands for rehearsal space.

  looking west, 1937 (c) George Plunkett   looking east, 1937 (c) George Plunkett
looking east from the gallery, 1937 (c) George Plunkett   George Plunkett visited the church in 1937, and took the black and white photographs you see on this page. There was a large memorial to Jeremiah Revans, which was unfortunately badly damaged by the bombs; the figures on it are now in store at Norwich museum. Chris Harrison took the colour photographs of the interior almost seventy years later.

Simon Knott, January 2006


looking east, 2005 (c) Chris Harrison south arcade, 1937 (c) George Plunkett Margery and Revans families (c) Chris Harrison south aisle, looking east, 1937 (c) George Plunkett
Thomas Newton  (c) Chris Harrison font and font cover, 1937 (c) George Plunkett memorial to Charles Margery (c) Chris Harrison Revans memorial, 1937 (c) George Plunkett


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