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

St Mark, Lakenham, Norwich

Lakenham St Mark

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St Mark, Lakenham St Mark, Lakenham St Mark, Lakenham
west end view from the main road 1860s apse: before the church was chancel-less a fine inner-city church - though sadly inaccessible

    St Mark, Lakenham, Norwich
Annunciation by Temple Moore   A charming aspect to the city of Norwich is that the parishes outside of the 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 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 obstensibly 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 fantastic 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 feautre 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.

Visitation by Temple Moore Adoration of the Magi and the Shepherds by Temple Moore Presentation in the Temple by Temple Moore Flight into Egypt by Temple Moore Finding in the Temple by Temple Moore Baptism of Christ by Temple Moore Last Supper by Temple Moore Resurrection Ascension by Temple Moore Pentecost by Temple Moore

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.

St Alban St Oswald St Felix St Edmund St Gregory St John the Baptist
St Stephen St Mary Magdalene St Augustine St Etheldreda St Mark St Aidan
St Peter Resurrection Blessed Virgin St Fursey

One of the reasons for the continued elaboration of St Mark is that it was, until well into the 1970s, the highest and most militant Anglo-Catholic church 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.

Christ before Pilate entombed deposition

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 thast 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 is used by local Catholics for their Mass on a Saturday evening, and they must truly think they are 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. At present, you can only visit the church on a Wednesday lunchtime, but I was told by the person on duty that there are plans to extend these hours. Good. The better St Mark becomes known, the more secure its future will be.

  St John the Baptist

Simon Knott, June 2011

1919 south chapel altar looking east looking east reredos chancel roof
organ 1930s lady chapel south chapel altar high altar Blessed Virgin and child Samuel and David
dove of peace Sam and Dave stations in the shadows WWI memorial preaching house gallery 
rood loft and organ box pews in the gallery view from the gallery box pews in the gallery rood by Temple Moore

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