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St Peter and St Paul, Cromer
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and St Paul, Cromer
You can tell a lot about a town by the efforts its medieval church goes to to be welcoming. While all the churches in the Yarmouth and Hemsby area appear to be kept locked most of the time, Cromer church is militantly open every day, and you can never be alone inside it. People passing by just wander inside, holiday-makers go in to explore, and best of all you can go up the tower, which is East Anglia's tallest. It has become one of the resort's attractions. Unlike many Norfolk town churches, the congregation here is low church in character, and so they are to be thanked and congratulated for allowing their building to be open for private prayer and meditation.
Pevsner's entry for St Peter and St Paul begins Externally a very impressive church, and you can hear what's coming. Several paragraphs later, he notes that the interior, after so much display, is a little disappointing, but there is good reason for this. Cromer had been one of the prosperous north Norfolk ports in the late Middle Ages, and it is the only one of them which retains anything like the same significance. But the post-Reformation period, and its suspicion of Europe, brought hard times to this remote place. Much of the eastern end of the church collapsed in the 17th century, and serious consideration was given in the 1780s to demolishing the whole thing. It wasn't until the Anglican revival of the second half of the 19th century that attention was paid to restoring St Peter and St Paul to full use, under the direction of Arthur Blomfield, an architect who was generally a safe pair of hands, if not terribly exciting ones. He rebuilt the chancel, refashioned all the window tracery, and restored the tower and porch, which nonetheless are all that survive in their original state. The chancel would once have been longer, and in proportion is not entirely successful now. Inevitably, you step into what is essentially a 19th century building.
The vast windows flood the great, lofty nave with light, and offset some excellent modern glass on the south side. Abstract lozenges commemorate various members of the lifeboat crew, and depict lifeboats as well as other features of the resort, including the lighthouse and buckets and spades.The distorted clear glass in which they are set creates a fine effect.
Simon Knott, November 2008
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