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

St Saviour, Norwich

St Saviour: a sweet little thing

Read the captions by hovering over the images, and click on them to see them enlarged.
St Saviour in the snow south porch, now no longer in use chancel, with flyover beyond from the former graveyard, now a car park
west door

    St Saviour, Norwich
the reconstruction of the interior   Of all the redundant medieval churches in Norwich, this is the one that I feel most sorry for. Far from being hemmed in and overshadowed by the modern city, St Saviour has been completely exposed by the clearance of buildings around it, and given some monstrous new neighbours into the bargain. It sits halfway along Magdalene Street, but the great flyover of the inner ring road soars beside it; the graveyard, shown as pretty in pictures of a century ago, has been completely cleared for the ignomony of a car park and, if you please, a large public lavatory has been built immediately to the east. On the other side of the bypass is the massive block of Anglia Square and the hideous tower of Sovereign House, home of Her Majesty's Stationery Office.

As if this wasn't bad enough, St Saviour is such a sweet little thing, not an urban church at all. It looks for all the world like a village parish church that has come to the city and got lost; it now sits shivering, far from home, while the metropolitan whirl goes on around it. Somewhere along the way it has lost the top third of its tower, and the 19th century parapet replacement is small recompense. But all is not as it seems, as we shall see.

The medieval dedication of the church was to the Transfiguration of the Holy Saviour. In Victorian times this church was host to some fairly muscular low church worship, and the Rector seems to have been quite a character. On one occasion, a group of Anglo-catholic monks settled themselves down here to stare him out at evensong, only to be chased out of the church and back to St Laurence by the irate minister.

26.3.38: an impossible view today (c) George Plunkett   On Saturday 26th March 1938, George Plunkett took photographs of the church, capturing forever St Swithin on the eve of the Second World War and the great changes that would overtake this part of Norwich. They show a typical 19th century low church interior, a stove pipe rising from the middle of the nave floor. It is as if time has stood still for forty years. At the west end is a gallery with an ornate organ, the font towards the south door. There is no screen, just decalogue boards flanking the east window with a text from scripture in a banner above, a familiar feature in the low Norwich churches. There are memorials along the nave walls, with the mayoral mace and sword rests flanking the Baseley monument.

26.3.38: inside looking east (c) George Plunkett 26.3.38: the font, now at St George Colegate (c) George Plunkett 26.3.38: inside looking east (c) George Plunkett

St Saviour survived the blitz; its near neighbour, St Paul, was completely destroyed, but this little church soldiered on, covering St Paul's parish as well as that of the former parishes of St James and St Edmund, which were by then both redundant. This was a fairly run down area in the 1960s - God knows, it is bleak enough now - and once the flyover had cut St Saviour off from the houses of north Norwich there was not much chance of a future. The Brooke Report recommended its closure, and it was stripped bare, the font going to St George Colegate.

26.3.38: mayoral mace and sword rests flank the Baseley memorial (c) George Plunkett   At first, St Saviour became a badminton court, and presumably served a useful purpose for this while it quietly rotted. And then, as if by a miracle, salvation came to St Saviour. The King's Church, Norwich's branch of the New Frontiers International Church, were offered the lease by the City authorities.

They had been looking for a central location for their youth outreach programme; they already had the lease on St Edmund, but St Saviour is in a much more prominent and visible location. In the early 1990s they completely renovated this building, using an architect's plans but doing most of the work themselves. You can see their photographs of the work in progress at the start of this article.

The pretty gallery had been moved to All Saints, but the King's Church put in a new, larger gallery. This was screened off beneath to make a cafe/bar area, and the upper storey forms a meeting area and is the location for the light and sound equipment. The chancel was also screened off about half way along, and the easterly part divided into two storeys, the upper an office and the lower a backstage area.

view from the gallery looking east looking west towards gallery and partitionthe partition in the chancel

All of this is designed so that it can be taken out if ever it becomes necessary. The plaster ceiling was removed, revealing an intricate scissor-brace roof. The interior was painted throughout in green and orange, which is more effective than it sounds, as I hope you can see in the images below. The monuments are all still in situ.

Originally called the Sanctuary by its new owners, St Saviour was renamed the Gate, and today hosts weekly youth club sessions called GateCrash, and regular youth worship called HardCore. There are also opportunities for groups to take part in discussions, counselling and so on. I think this is a perfect reuse of an urban medieval building which might be otherwise left to fall down; a vital facility for this part of Norwich, and still a spiritual touchstone.

Simon Knott, December 2005


war memorial, reset in the stairwell of the chancel partition south chancel window memorial memorial: Cutting memorial: Bayfield tie beams and scissor-brace - there used to be a ceiling
cafe area in the north-west corner of the nave memorial: Baseley 19th century glass in the east window south-west corner of the nave
   scissor-brace roof top of the tower arch lighting rig 


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