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

St Mary Coslany, Norwich

St Mary Coslany: ancient heart of the city

tower top factory area grand porch cruciform

    St Mary Coslany, Norwich
Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary (c) George Plunkett   Although St Mary Coslany is one of 36-odd surviving medieval parish churches in the centre of Norwich, it is so old that it actually predates that time, and was probably the original parish church of the Anglo-Saxon settlement of Coslany. Indeed, its thousand-year-old tower may post-date that status.

Coslany became an area of factories, warehouses and breweries, and there are still factories today; the huge one to the west of the church is the printing works of a religious publishing house. The three surviving Coslany churches are all redundant today, and St Mary has been redundant for the longest.

As at St Peter Hungate, St Mary has the elegance of a small, cruciform church, quite the prettiest of the north-central churches, I think. Its great treasure is a boss of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin into Heaven, which crowns the central crossing. it did well to survive the bombs of January 1942, which destroyed part of the roof and damaged the crossing.

1937, looking east  (c) George Plunkett   2005, looking east (c) Chris Harrison   Although St Mary had been derelict by the end of the Victorian era, it underwent a major restoration in the early 20th century; this was no doubt part of the evangelical enthusiasm that also saw the restoration of St Swithin. However, it had fallen out of use by the Second World War.

The tower had not been considered safe enough to ring the bells, and in 1937 they were taken down and rehung in the massive new church of St Catherine at Mile Cross to the north-west. The church presence in this part of Coslany is today maintained by the huge Norwich Central Baptist Hall directly opposite, and a smaller Elim Pentecostal church which today uses the former parish buildings.

George Plunkett's photographs of the 1930s, below, show the inside of St Mary on the eve of its destruction and redundancy. After repair, and serving as a craft centre for a number of years, St Mary Coslany is today the offices of an internet bookshop and a publishing company.

They keep it locked, and don't welcome visitors - indeed, when Peter Stephens tried to photograph the inside, a rather pompous woman told him that she was 'far too busy to keep an eye on you' and shut the door in his face, which seems a pity. However, Chris Harrison was more fortunate, and tells me that he was able to visit one afternoon by knocking at the south porch door. His photographs are the colour interiors on this page.

Perhaps the most interesting surviving features are a 1605 brass to Ann Claxton, and the memorial to Martin van Kirnbeck, who died in 1579. The figures are incised into the stone; there is something similar at St Martin at Plea.

  2005, looking west (c) Chris Harrison
   

Simon Knott, January 2006

Please note that Chris Harrison's images retain his copyright

You can see thousands of George Plunkett's other old photographs of Norwich on the Plunkett website

south chancel glass (c) Chris Harrison font and font cover  (c) George Plunkett Clement Hyrne, 1596 (c) Chris Harrison pulpit (c) George Plunkett
Martin van Kirnbeck 1579 (c) Chris Harrison Thomas de Lingcole memorial brass to Ann Claxton, 1605 (c) Chris Harrison

bells about to be rehung at St Catherine, 1937  (c) George Plunkett

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