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

St Augustine, Norwich

Norwich St Augustine

Norwich St Augustine Clabburn

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    St Augustine, Norwich

St Augustine was one of thirty-six parish churches in medieval Norwich to survive the Reformation, but it has always seemed apart from the others, and doubly so nowadays. It is the most northerly of them all, and from here to the heart of the city the factories and workshops spread in the 18th and 19th centuries. Then came the German bombing, and the area to the south and east of St Augustine was laid waste. Mad City Engineer Herbert Rowley seized his chance, and built a four lane urban freeway across the medieval city that cuts St Augustine off from the heart. And then, just to make sure that everyone's misery was complete, Rowley allowed the stupefyingly ugly Sovereign House and Anglia Square to be built to the east of St Augustine.

When you stand in the graveyard of St Augustine, you can enjoy the 17th century almshouses that line the south side of the graveyard, and some modern award-winning sheltered flats on the north side. But still dominating the scene is the jaw-dropping presence of Sovereign House. It really is stupefyingly ugly. It was built for Her Majesty's Stationery Office when such a thing existed, but has stood empty and derelict for fifteen years or more, and is soon to be demolished.

This double-whammy really does seem a slap in the face for this pretty little church. Despite being in an area of the city where lots of people actually live, St Augustine is redundant, but mercifully in the care of the Churches Conservation Trust. This means that you can visit it.

The most striking think about St Augustine, of course, is its red-brick tower, the only one in the city, and suggestive of money not available until right at the end of the medieval period. The rest of the church seems to hunch against it, for the nave is short but high, and the aisles continue eastwards to flank the chancel as at nearby St Martin Palace Plain. This gives a floor plan inside which is almost exactly square.

We should be thankful that the CCT have care of this church, because there are not many historical survivals inside, but of all the central Norwich churches this is the one that still carries the most memories of the ordinary people who once worshipped in it. Plaques are for Sunday School teachers and Churchwardens rather than for Mayors and Aldermen, and several remember members of the congregation who were killed in the First World War.

Churchwarden/Superintendent of the Sunday School for many years 32 years a member of the Girls Friendly Society and for 29 years a teacher in our Sunday Schools Benn brothers: Died fighting for his country in the Battle of the Somme/Died in action in France

The furnishings are all late Victorian, and the rood screen dates from the 1920s - it is the parish war memorial, and the names of the dead are inscribed on the western side of the dado. They are not dead who live forever in our hearts it reads on the eastern side, which seems a curiously secular thing to say, as if it came out of a greetings card which had With Deepest Sympathy on the front. The 1880s east window was probably brought from the catalogue of a now-forgotten London or Birmingham glass workshop, and would be unremarkable if it were not for the fact that the presumably meaningless geometric patterns in the outer lights make it look as if it would be more at home in a masonic hall. The angel greeting the Marys at the empty tomb in the south aisle is later, but not better I fear. Birkin Haward thought it might have been by the Morris of Westminster workshop.

When Mortlock came this way in the 1980s, he saw a surviving panel from the 15th Century screen depicting St Apollonia, one of the most important of all medieval Saints in the medieval economy of grace for the ordinary person, for she was invoked against toothache, but this is now in storage somewhere. But there are still a couple of curiosities. The Laudian communion rails, presumably ripped out by enthusiastic Norwich puritans, have been pressed into use as the western side of the ringing gallery beneath the tower, although the gallery itself has been boarded up. Below it, the font cover has been cobbled together apparently out of bits of furniture - a strange little head sits on the pinnacle.

One famous name associated with this church is Matthew Brettingham, the 17th century architect, responsible for refurbishing a number of Norfolk buildings. His memorial is in the north aisle chapel. I wonder what he'd make of Sovereign House?

Simon Knott, January 2020

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looking east chancel I am the Way the Truth and the Life (workshop unknown, 1880s) they are not dead who live forever in our hearts
font Angel at the empty tomb (c1920, Morris of Westminster?) This Tablet records the ample and judicious munificence of Edward Manning, Gentleman twenty successive years was Speaker of the Common Council of this City and for eighteen years held the office of Town Clerk (1792)
Killed inth Battle of the Somme, France, Falfemont Farm September 4th 1916




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