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

St Martin at Palace Plain, Norwich

St Martin at Palace Plain: a small church, but everything is in its place

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south porch headstop heavily restored tower

    St Martin at Palace Plain, Norwich
St Martin at Place Plain, 1934 (c) George Plunkett   A small church, but everything is in place: the tower, the aisles, the clerestories. But on closer inspection the appearance of St Martin is of a substantial Victorian restoration, as a result of a partial collapse of tower and chancel, and the heavy hand of Edward Hakewill.

Despite the proximity to the cathedral (the Palace in question is that of the Bishop) the setting was rather unlovely until a couple of decades ago, because the Norwich city gasworks sat immediately to the north of it. At one time, there had been a plan for a railway that would have cut St Martin off from the Cathedral precincts, but this is an area of regeneration, and today you would not know that such a controversy had ever existed. George Plunkett's image on the left, taken on a late winter afternoon in 1934, shows the church substantially as it is today, although the western end of the graveyard is now under the road.

There is a fine courts building now on the site of the gasworks, and this has resulted in St Martin finding an excellent new use as the home of the Probation service. Internally, there is a split level steel and glass mezzanine providing working space above and below the floors; it ascends into the space beneath the tower, reaching ground floor level at both the west end and in the chancel. The aisle chapels have been glassed in and form meeting rooms. It is all crisp and airy, fully functional without detracting from the former character of the church; the inner walls are pretty much intact and unscathed. Of course, it is now very different to how George Plunkett found it in 1934.

looking east, 1934 (c) George Plunkett looking east, 2005 looking west, 1934 (c) George Plunkett looking west, 2005

The windows were destroyed in the Norwich blitz, and were fortunately replaced by some fine modern glass before redundancy was declared as a result of the Brooke report. The east window shows the risen Christ flanked by Mary and a Roman centurion, while to the west is St Martin flanked by two smaller figures.

A surviving piece of Victoriana is the solemn inscription How Dreadful is this Place: This is the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven above the south doorway, which must have concentrated the mind a bit. A good 18th century ledger stone features a skull and hourglass backed by crossed bones.

  east window, lost to bombs (c) George Plunkett   east window 2005

In 1934, George Plunkett also photgraphed a large tombchest, a candelabra and the 15th century font, all gone today.

tombchest (c) George Plunkett candelabra (c) George Plunkett 15th century font (c) George Plunkett

I asked the kind man who let me wander around if it was a suitable building for its new use. He said that it was, and that the setting generally encouraged everybody to take each other seriously, and so when clients came for the first time they knew that this was a place that would give them a future. Amen to that.

Simon Knott, November 2005

   

glass and steel St Martin the risen Christ
Hakewill angel 18th century ledger stone How Dreadful is this Place: This is the House of God, and this is the Gate of Heaven

 

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