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

St John the Baptist Timberhill, Norwich

St John Timberhill

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    St John the Baptist Timberhill, Norwich

On the edge of the central shopping area, the small church of St John Timberhill as it is known has an understated exterior which conceals a gorgeous high Anglo-Catholic interior. The building had fallen on hard times by the 19th century, for the tower had collapsed in the 1780s, the roof was full of holes, and so there was a massive restoration in the 1860s to bring it back from the brink. It was at this time that the church was ordered for its extreme High Church worship. The Victorians put little dormer windows in the new roof and rebuilt the chancel, replaced most of the windows, and put a little stone bell turret at the west end.

Threatened with redundancy by the Brooke Report, St John the Baptist's modern incarnation as a working church dates back to the early 1980s, when it was designated the main church for the Anglican Diocese's new Parmentergate parish, which covers a wedge shape southwards from the town centre containing the predominantly working class King Street and Rouen Road areas. This wedge was originally served by about a dozen medieval parish churches but otherwise only St Julian in the parish has also been retained for worship.

You step through the disproportionately large 15th Century porch into a wide, aisled building full of space and light enhanced by the modern chairs and devotional statues and shrines. The most memorable features are perhaps in 20th Century glass. Martin Travers' Blessed Virgin and Child in the south aisle came here from the east window at All Saints when that was declared redundant. Dating from 1910 it is one of Travers' earliest works of all, designed and made when he had just left the Royal College of Art and was working as an assistant to Ninian Comper. A little later, and more accomplished perhaps, is the east window in the Walsingham chapel, a curious depiction of the Ascension in the style of a Crucifixion, Christ's arms outstretched and St John and the Blessed Virgin watching from below as if they were at the foot of the cross. This is attributed in some sources to Travers as well, but is actually the work of Herbert Hendrie.

Blessed Virgin and Christchild (Martin Travers, 1910) St John and the Blessed Virgin watch Christ's Ascension (Herbert Hendrie, 1920s) Ascension of Christ (Herbert Hendrie, 1920s)
Angels at the Ascension of Christ (Herbert Hendrie, 1920s)

Also memorable is the 16th century continental candelabra with its image of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin which hangs in the south aisle. There are a couple of near-contemporary but restored Norwich angels in the glass on the south side. The 19th century reredos is resplendent in paint and gold, and the parish war memorial asks us of our charity to pray for the souls of the dead, a reminder of the church's Anglo-catholic enthusiasm.

19th century shops screen the castle from the church, but this was the closest church to the Castle entrance, and at one time was known as St John Castlegate. It is said that executed prisoners from the Castle were buried here at this church. Now, the Castle Mall shopping centre has brought St John the Baptist back into the heart of the city.

Simon Knott, December 2019

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looking east chancel south aisle chapel font and font cover
Norwich School angel playing a harp (15th Century, composite) Mary Queen of Heaven Sacred Heart St Peter Norwich School angel playing a rebec (15th Century, restored)
'Died Suddenly by the Visitation of God': Page memorial, 1790s Tallow-Chandler, 1763 Cocksedge memorial, 1830s

   

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