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St Martin at Oak, Norwich
at Oak, Norwich
Although St Martin was still in use until the Second World War, it was destroyed by bombs in January 1942, only its truncated tower, south arcade and the outer walls of the nave and chancel surviving. George Plunkett's three photographs below, taken over thirty years between 1932 and 1962, show the process by which the tower was reduced and the walls and roofs restored. The architect of the rebuilding, completed in 1953, was John Chaplin.
It may seem surprising that the church was rebuilt - nearby St Paul was no more badly damaged, but it was wiped off the map by town planners in the 1960s - but the intention was that St Martin at Oak would become St Martin's Hall, a resource for use by neighbouring parishes. When the building was restored, a new entrance was created at the west end of the south aisle. However, the Brooke report of the 1960s oversaw the redundancy of all of the surrounding parish churches, and St Martin's Hall was no longer required.
The history of the building after this point is busy and not a little convoluted. At first, the building was used by the St Martin's Housing Trust which had started life as the Norwich Night Shelter Project. The original Night Shelter had been at St James, today the puppet theatre, but within a few years new premises were needed to cope with the swelling numbers of residents. In 1978, the shelter relocated to St Martin. In 2001, the night shelter finally closed to be replaced by Bishopbridge House, a purpose-built direct access hostel and resettlement unit. After falling into disuse for a while, St Martin at Oak was reborn as Oak Studios, used by theatre groups and local bands for rehearsal space. This then became Onoak studios, a space for artists to create large scale sculptures and installations. Today, the building has become the Wharf Contemporary Academy of Music.
Simon Knott, January 2018
You can see thousands of George Plunkett's other old photographs of Norwich on the Plunkett website
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