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

St Mark, Lakenham, Norwich

St Mark Lakenham

Lakenham St Mark Lakenham St Mark St Mark Lakenham

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    St Mark, Lakenham, Norwich

A charming aspect to the city of Norwich is that the parishes outside of the historic city walls are still termed 'villages', even if, like Lakenham, they have been a part of the urban area for centuries. Lakenham lies to the south-west of Conesford, the medieval southern suburb within the walls, and today Lakenham is an inner-city area of Victorian terraced streets and huddled shops. St Mark lies at the city centre end of Lakenham, a chapel of ease to the medieval parish church of St John in the heart of the old village centre a mile or so away. However, its nearest medieval neighbour is actually St John Sepulchre within the city walls, barely 200 metres off, and when the suburbs expanded and St Mark was built it spelt the beginning of the end for St John Sepulchre and the other Conesford churches.

St Mark was an early work of the Diocesan Architect John Brown. Built in the 1840s when the first great wave of the Anglican revival was just beginning to make its way from Oxford, its style, although ostensibly Perpendicular, is largely pre-Ecclesiological, more Carpenter's Gothick than Gothic Revival. The practice came back twenty years later and added the apse. Before this, the chancel-less church must have seemed very blockish and Evangelical.

Externally then, St Mark was pretty much complete. But what happened after was a succession of refurbishments which added to rather than replaced what was already there. Because of this, you step into a church which really is quite unlike any other in Norfolk.

The 1840s gallery, which goes around three walls of the nave, still has its box pews. On the walls below it, however, are 20th Century stations of the cross, and the view to the east is of a fantastical rood loft, which completely dominates the interior. The colourful apse beyond seems distant, mystical. St Mark then is a curious hybrid of the enthusiasm for building commodious churches at the start of the century, and a yearning for mystery and elaboration that arose as a response to the Anglo-Catholic movement later in the Victorian period and into the 20th Century.

Without a doubt, the most important feature of the interior is the rood loft and screen. It was installed here in 1910 to the designs of George Bodley who had died three years earlier, and then painted in 1913 to the designs of the architect and artist Temple Moore. It is painted in a rich, late medieval style, with something of the Art Nouveau qualities of the late Victorian period but with none of the contemporary morphing of the style into the Jazz Modern of Art Deco. It depicts the Christ story from the Annunciation to the Day of Pentecost. It looks all of Bodley's work, which was presumably Temple Moore's intention.

looking east

rood loft: Annunciation (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Visitation (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Adoration of Magi and Shepherds (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Flight into Egypt (Temple Moore, 1913)
rood loft: Presentation in the Temple (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Baptism of Christ (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Last Supper (Temple Moore, 1913) rood loft: Ascension (Temple Moore, 1913)

The near contemporary south chapel echoes the decoration of the roodloft, and is a memorial chapel to those local boys killed in the First World War, a huge number of names it seems, even if this is an inner-city parish. On the north side, the chapel was laid out in the 1930s, very much in the sober Art Deco classical style of that decade, and instantly familiar from the fittings of nearby St Alban and St Catherine in north Norwich. It works very well. It is almost an anti-climax to step into the long apse with its elaborate 1890s reredos and coloured roof, which seem rather less singular. But there is a surprise behind the reredos, because here is an excellent range of figures of Saints by FW Cole and made by the Morris & Co workshop. They were installed in 1954 to replace windows blown out by the Norwich blitz. It is interesting to compare them with the contemporary range by Dennis King at St Thomas on the Earlham Road, installed there for the same reason.

One of the reasons for the continued elaboration of St Mark is that it was, until well into the 1970s, one of the highest and most militant Anglo-Catholic churches in Norwich, a city well-known for its extremes of churchmanship. Since then it has drifted back towards the centre, but still retains the fixtures and fittings of its former life. Another striking example is the set of 1930s Stations of the Cross, deep reliefs in an Italian Renaissance style and made by the Kilburn Sisters workshop.

One tiny detail that you might miss is the vestry in the south-west corner. It retains the only 19th Century window in the church, depicting Samuel and David beneath a descending dove, and remembering two choirboys drowned on an outing in the 1860s.

It is intriguing to imagine St Mark filled with incense and plainsong chant, both used at daily Mass here into the 1960s. Even more intriguing, perhaps, to imagine watching Mass from up in the gallery, because here are the surviving box pews from the 1840s, as if this was a non-conformist chapel. They have done well to survive, because there have been regular suggestions to remove them over the last 150 years. Perhaps the installations of treasures down on the ground floor made their removal less of a priority. The nave itself was rebenched in the early 20th Century, and it is intriguing to spot, on the south side, that some of the benches and the wooden floor beneath still bear the burn marks of the falling ceiling when this church was firebombed in 1944. Apparently, the parishioners stood bravely in the church with brooms, beating out the burning timber as it fell from the roof above.

And it is a good job they did, because this church is an outstanding example of its kind. It has been threatened with redundancy on several occasions in the last few decades, but hopefully the Diocese of Norwich's benefice system will save it for us. It was at one time used by local Catholics for their Mass on a Saturday evening, and they must have truly thought they were at home here.

My one doubt is that it is so rarely open, and thus apparently little-known - Bill Willson's revision of Pevsner in 1991 gives it just five lines, mentioning John Brown but neither George Bodley nor Temple Moore at all. Did he even know about them? If you read Wilson's review, it would appear that he did not even go inside, and I'm sure that Pevsner didn't either. But coming back in 2019 I was delighted to see that a huge amount of work had gone into restoring the interior since my last visit eight years previously, especially the WWI memorial chapel with its unfeasibly large list of names.

   

Simon Knott, January 2020

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looking east looking west
boxes in the gallery crucified WWI memorial chapel (1920, restored 2018)
St Mark Lakenham M U 1930s Lady Chapel high altar Christ in the tomb
St John the Baptist St Stephen St Mary Magdalene St Gregory St Augustine St Etheldreda
St Mark St Peter resurrection Blessed Virgin Mary St Fursey
St Oswald St Aidan St Alban St Felix St Edmund
Sam and Dave royal arms of Victoria WWI memorial
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The Norfolk Churches Site: an occasional sideways glance at the churches of Norfolk