I’ve been driving around Norfolk delivering copies of Back Stories: Further Adventures in Colonel Unthank’s Norwich. The book can be ordered online from The City Bookshop (press this link to order it directly). It is also available from Jarrolds Book Department, Norwich (not quite yet online 8/11/22) (01603 660661) and from their branch in Cromer (01263 512190). It can also be bought by click-and-collect from Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich (01603 767292); The Book Hive, Norwich (01603 219268) and The Holt Bookshop (01263 715858).
I’m pleased to announce that the third book in the ‘Unthank’ series is now in print (November 2022) and is available from all Norwich bookshops: The City Bookshop (can be ordered online); Jarrolds Book Department; The Book Hive; and Waterstones. It is also available from Jarrolds in Cromer, The Holt Bookshop, and Kett’s Books, Wymondham. Like its predecessor, ‘Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City‘, it is comprised of short articles based on the history of Norwich and Norfolk. The 192-page book is profusely illustrated.
Here is a brief sample of some of the 26 chapters.
Three years ago I wrote about the Norwich artist Catherine Maude Nichols  and was surprised to find that she was one of only three women who, like 360 of the city’s male worthies and businessmen, presumably paid to have their potted biography and photograph featured in a Norwich trade book published in 1910 . This book – Citizens of No Mean City – was evidently opaque to the political mood for this was around the time that Margaret Jewson set up the Women’s Freedom League in the city (1909)  and Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) opened an office in London Street for the suffragette movement (1912). All of the featured men in the book would probably have been able to vote; admittedly, not all males could vote but women with the franchise were fewer still. They were not to gain parity with men until 1928.
The figure of Joan of Arc was a suitably militant emblem for an organisation that believed in action not words. She was brought to life on several occasions by the leading suffragette, Elsie Howey, riding a white charger.
CATHERINE MAUDE NICHOLS (Read her biography in ).
While Henry Cadman felt able to proudly declare his membership of the Gas-workers’ and General Labourers’ Union in his biography, Catherine Maude Nichols made no mention of her political affiliation. She was, however, known to have been active in the local branch of the National Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUMSS) set up in 1909  and the name of ‘Miss Nichols’ (surely our Miss Nichols) appears in the first annual report of the WSPU in 1907, which records a contribution of £11 16s Od.
The second of the Norwich women to have an entry in ‘Citizens of No Mean City’  was Margaret Eleanor Pillow, a friend of Miss Nichols who had studied at Cambridge but at that time was not allowed to take her degree. She listed an impressive string of credentials, including the diploma she was allowed to take from the Royal Sanitary Institute that led to her becoming the first female sanitary inspector in the country. Margaret was a pioneer in a man’s world and there are clues to her political stance. As a founding member of the Pioneer Club and the Lyceum Club she would have been in an environment where women’s rights were fervently discussed. Members seem to have been non-militant suffragists, rather than suffragettes who believed in direct action (‘Deeds not Words’), but her sympathies for the more militant wing can be inferred from the fact that her wedding reception was held at the home of Mrs Pankhurst – luminary of the suffragette movement .
In 1912 the WSPU, spearheaded by Emmeline Pankhurst, opened its Norwich office at 52 London Street. The keys were held by Miriam Pratt who sold The Suffragette from the corner of Gentleman’s Walk and London Street. Miriam (1890-1975) had moved from Surrey, aged eight, to live in Norwich with her aunt Harriet and her husband Police Sergeant William Ward. This was in Grove Avenue, not far off the junction between Ipswich Road and Newmarket Road . The name of Miriam A. Pratt , age 12, appears on the list of pupils at Duke Street Elementary, the former board school in the city centre. By spring 1913 Miriam had become a teacher at St Paul’s School and was living at Turner Road on the other side of the city, off Dereham Road. She was a member of the St Peter Mancroft Dramatic Society and there are several mentions in local papers of appearances, including a piano duet at a temperance meeting with Miss Stribling  and a part in ‘Three Irish Plays’ in Mr Orams’ garden, where the enjoyment of a ‘scanty’ audience was marred by a cold wind .
From 1912 to 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Christabel orchestrated a nationwide bombing and arson campaign . Miriam became one of her unmarried ‘Young Hotbloods’ and in 1913 attempted to set fire to a house under construction on Storey’s Way on the outskirts of Cambridge, together with the Balfour Laboratory of Genetics in the centre of Cambridge. She and her companions left behind an unfortunately melodramatic trail of clues: suffragette leaflets were found at both sites; the prints of a woman’s boot had been left on a newly cemented floor at Storey’s Way; blood was detected on broken glass; and a woman’s gold watch was found beneath a broken window. Having read about the fire in a Norwich newspaper, Miriam’s uncle, the policeman, questioned Miriam who admitted the watch was hers – in fact, it was one he had given her – and that she had cut her finger when trying to remove putty with a pair of scissors. She was arrested within days and on the morning of 22nd May was taken into custody. Later that day she was bailed on a £200 surety by Dorothy Jewson and her brother. Dorothy was to become the first female MP in East Anglia .
On bail, Miriam was unable to return to teaching but was employed on a temporary basis in the office of the Norwich Education Committee . On the 18th of July, she attended a meeting of over 2,000 people in Norwich marketplace demonstrating against the so-called `Cat and Mouse Act’ of 1913 in which prisoners weakened by force-feeding were temporarily discharged until they were strong enough to be returned to prison to be force-fed once more.
She was tried at Cambridge Assizes on Friday 14th October 1913. The Diss Express reported that Miriam was ’a pleasant looking young woman, who was attired in a violet-coloured costume with hat to match, and wearing a large bunch of violets at her waist’ – a reference to the suffragette colours of Green, White and Violet: Give Women Votes. Miriam’s solicitor claimed the cut on her finger could not have been caused by broken glass. He asked her to approach the magistrates’ bench and, according to the Manchester Daily Citizen, ’the young girl laughed merrily … and showed each of them the wound.’ Despite her eloquent defence her uncle’s evidence – which he read ’under the stress of considerable emotion’ – proved damning and she was sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour. The policeman, torn between duty and love for his niece, was later to become Honorary Secretary of the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement .
The attack on the Balfour Biological Laboratory for Women seems like an own goal for, at a time when barriers were erected to women attending lectures and practicals, and few actually sat the Tripos exams, the laboratory had been set up specifically for young women by the Vice-Principal of Newnham, Eleanor Sidgwick and staffed by women who were, perforce, not members of university departments . The rationale for the arson appears to have been that the suffragettes were drawing attention to the futility of women studying for degrees they would not be allowed to receive.
One of the assistants in the Balfour Laboratory was Anna Bateson whose brother William (1861-1926) coined the word ’genetics’ to describe the study of inheritance. The groundwork had been laid by the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who cross-pollinated different varieties of purebred pea plants and carefully recorded how characteristics like height or the wrinkling of pea seed were inherited (or not) by the offspring. Mendel’s work lay dormant until 1900 when it was rediscovered by three European scientists. William Bateson brought the discipline into the twentieth century with experiments in genetics pursued in a Cambridge laboratory staffed by his wife, sister and female students from Newnham. In 1910 Bateson was made the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in Merton Park, Surrey. The John Innes moved to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire in 1950 then moved again in 1967 to its present site on the outskirts of Norwich where it adds lustre to the Norwich Science Park.
In Holloway, Miriam went on hunger strike and was force-fed. Some time that week she was captured by a surveillance camera secreted by Scotland Yard in a van parked in the exercise yard, her photograph intended to identify her at demonstrations.
Miriam’s treatment seems to have weakened her heart; it left her in a critical condition and she was released under the terms of the Cat and Mouse Act against which she had demonstrated. She did not return to prison.
On the 24th October 1913 the nation’s local newspapers reported the ’disgraceful behaviour’ of suffragettes who, the previous Sunday, had interrupted services in London, Birmingham and Norwich. In Norwich Cathedral they are reported to have started a ‘chant’ but, as explained in The Suffragette, the intervention was more subtle than unruly. The group of suffragettes were sitting behind the canopied stall containing Mr Justice Bray who had handed down the harsh sentence to Miriam. Their ‘outrage’ consisted of an amendment to the daily prayer: ’O God, the Creator and Preserver of all Mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts of conditions of men …’. When the cleric reached the words ’for all conditions of men’, where the names of those deserving of prayer could be inserted, the suffragettes stood up and sang in chorus, ’Lord, save Miriam Pratt and all who are tortured in prison for conscience’s sake.’ They stayed quiet for the remainder of the service and were not removed.
Grace Marcon (b.1899) was the daughter of Canon Walter Hubert Marcon of Edgefield, North Norfolk. She raised funds for The Suffragette and attended WSPU meetings in Tombland – the ancient Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace outside Norwich Cathedral . In 1913 and 1914 she was arrested three times for her direct action in London. On the third occasion she was sentenced to six months in Holloway for damaging five paintings in the National Gallery, including one by each of the brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini.
In targeting a famous painting, Grace Marcon was in the company of suffragettes who, between March and July 1918, emulated Mary Raleigh Richardson’s famous attack on the Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery by attacking 14 others. She produced a meat cleaver and before she could be stopped by the guards managed to slash the nude with, in her words, ’several lovely shots’. In consequence some museums would only allow entry to women who had a letter from, or were accompanied by, a gentleman who would vouch for them .
During her hunger strike Grace became delirious and felt that her hair was like red hot wires in her head; the surveillance photograph captures her before she cut off her hair.
The first time she was arrested she was bound over, not jailed. For her third arrest she used the nom de guerre, Frieda Graham, with the possible intention of saving her family embarrassment .
A street in Edgefield NR24 2RX is named after Grace’s father who was the local rector for over 60 years. He is commemorated in his church of Saints Peter and Paul, Edgefield, by John Hayward’s stained glass depicting him as a cycling parson .
Violet Aitken, who lived to be 101 (1886-1987), was the daughter of William Aitken who became Canon of Norwich Cathedral in 1900 . The WSPU’s campaign of window-breaking started on the first of March 1912 when hundreds of suffragettes launched themselves on London’s West End carrying concealed hammers and bags of stones . Three days later there was another wave of attacks in which Violet was arrested for causing £100 of damage to the windows of Jay’s clothing shop (by appointment to Queen Alexandra) in Regent Street. Initially imprisoned in Holloway she was transferred to Winson Green, Birmingham, where she was force-fed after going on hunger strike.
Being fed by a nasal tube caused Violet to vomit continuously and she was released on medical grounds. She became editor of The Suffragette but thought of giving this up to make a living as a writer. She continued in post, however, following the funeral of Emily Davison (force-fed 49 times) who ran in front of King George V’s horse at the 1913 Derby. On Saturday June 14, 1913, Violet’s father entered these words in his red Asprey’s diary: ‘… very disappointing news from Violet that she is determined to go on with this wretched paper as she feels it would be like deserting the cause to leave them now.’ 
A year earlier, Canon Aitken had already confided his distress about Violet’s activities to his diary.
He wrote, ‘Violet … had again been arrested and this time for breaking plate glass windows. I am overwhelmed with shame and distress to think that a daughter of mine shd do anything so wicked and I can only throw the whole matter on Him who is the great burden bearer of His people. But my poor wife! It’s heartbreaking to think of her being exposed in her old age to this horror.’ 
Norwich did not avoid the wave of window smashing. In May 1913 the Dundee Evening Telegraph (Oh the randomness of newspaper searches) reported damage to a large new plate glass window belonging to Buntings the drapers in Rampant Horse Street, now the site of Marks and Spencer. Using a diamond, ‘Votes for Women’ had been scratched in the window together with three broad arrows relating to the imprisonment of WSPU activists. The window was smashed , its replacement estimated at £1000.
Ten days later the Diss Express reported that the glass slashers had gone on the rampage through Norwich, using a diamond(s) to make shapeless marks on what appears to have been most of the shop windows in the city centre. The main shopping parade along Haymarket and Gentleman’s Walk was affected; ‘even the bye-streets’ didn’t escape, including Prince of Wales Road, St Giles Street and ‘practically every shop in Dove Street’. Castle Street was also targeted including, rather curiously, Prince’s Tea and Luncheon Rooms belonging to suffragist Margaret Pillow.
Caprina Fahey came to local attention when Museum Trainee Andrew Bowen of the Norfolk Museums Service put out a call for further information about this suffragette who had died in 1959 in Hainford, a village just north of Norwich [16, 21]. One of her middle names gives the clue to her birthplace for she was born (1883) Charlotte Emily Caprina Gilbert on the island of Capri, the daughter of Alice Jane Gilbert and Alfred Gilbert – first cousins who married the day they eloped to Paris in 1876 .
Caprina’s father studied under the sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm and from the late 1880s to the mid-1890s achieved fame with major commissions such as the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. Towards the end of this golden period Gilbert (now Sir Albert) overstretched himself, failed to complete work, fell out with the royal family and declared himself bankrupt .
As a young woman, Caprina trained as a masseuse before becoming a nurse and, later, a midwife. Her first husband was Alfred Fahey who was her father’s assistant and, according to the 1901 census, lived with them as a visitor with the occupation of ‘Artist (Painter Student)’. They married but he abandoned her with a child; she divorced Fahey, suing him for adultery and desertion and, unusually, winning custody of baby Dennis.
Caprina joined the WSPU in 1908, and in 1909 was imprisoned for a month for being part of a 27-strong deputation to the Houses of Parliament from the Women’s Parliament Meeting held in Caxton Hall. A year later she took part in the infamous Black Friday (18th November 1910). The WSPU supported the inadequate Conciliation Bill that offered the vote, not to all women but to about a million property-owners. But Prime Minister Asquith – no supporter of female emancipation – effectively blocked the bill when he decided to hold another election. In response to this betrayal, three hundred suffragettes marched from Caxton Hall to the Houses of Parliament where they were treated brutally. Police were redeployed from rougher areas like Whitechapel and there were reports that women were sexually molested. Caprina was sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment for stone throwing.
Evidently, Caprina was an active campaigner for women’s suffrage and in 1910 was the WSPU organiser for the Middlesex Parliamentary Division . A recently discovered copy of the programme for Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral confirms that Caprina was one the 11 group captains marshalling the various sections of the funeral procession . Elsie Howey was part of the cortège, appearing as Joan of Arc mounted on her white horse.
During both terms in jail Caprina went on hunger strike for which the WSPU awarded her the Suffragette Medal with two bars ‘For Valour’. Despite her bravery Caprina’s father cut her out of his will, saying that Cappie was ‘a banner waver in a rotten Cause!!!!’ .
During the First World War, Caprina married Edward J J Knight. Sometime during the Second World War they moved to Rose Cottage in Hainford where she died on 26th October 1959. That same year, her husband presented Caprina’s suffragette medal to the Norwich Castle Museum .
The Colman family
The activities of the WSPU suffragettes drew most attention but others in Norwich – who either did not support direct action and/or wished to maintain contact with the Labour Party – also worked for the emancipation of women. These included: the Women’s Freedom League set up by Margaret Jewson in 1909; the Church League for Women’s Suffrage; the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (of which Miriam Pratt’s uncle was the Hon Sec); and the Norwich branch of the National Women’s Suffrage Societies(NUWSS) .
Daughters of the Colman’s mustard dynasty, the Colman sisters, Ethel, Helen and Laura, were all active in Norwich politics. All three supported the call for female suffrage; they were not, however, members of the WSPU although they sent letters of support . Following a meeting held in the Agricultural Hall in December 1909, when it was decided to set up the NUWSS, Ethel and Helen became Vice Presidents under Laura’s Presidency. And when Ethel became the Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1923 – the first female Lord Mayor in the country – she chose her sister Helen as official consort.
In January 1910 Helen L Willis – a prime mover in setting up the NUWSS – placed an advert in the Eastern Evening News to announce that the society was active in Norwich and that their office was open at 7 Brigg Street, near Rampant Horse Street. Her name also appears on headed paper of the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society.
Edith’s home was in Southwell Lodge (now demolished), at the corner of Ipswich and Cecil Roads, where she lived with her parents. Her mother, Mary Esther Willis, was the sister of JJ Colman, manufacturer of English mustard, philanthropist and father of the three Colman sisters. Helen was therefore cousin of the three Colman suffragists who held the presidential posts in the local NUWSS while she was the Honorary Secretary .
In 1914, at the beginning of World War 1, the suffragette campaign was suspended and at the end of the war (1918) the vote was extended to women who were rate payers or who were married to one. Women and men were not able to vote under the same terms until 1928 but by this time women like Dorothy Jewson and Ethel Colman were playing a more active part in local and national politics.
While searching newspaper archives my eye was caught by an unexpected name ,’Senghenydd’, in the news clip following the one for Muriel Pratt’s sentencing in 1913.
I never met my paternal grandfather; I only know him by a handful of keywords of which Senghenydd is one. I recall relatives telling me that he led the mine rescue team from his own colliery to the mining village of Senghenydd in the neighbouring South Wales valley. In 1894, 290 men and boys had been killed in my grandfather’s pit but the number of fatalities in the Senghenydd explosion was far worse even than the 336 recorded by the Derry Journal for the death toll eventually reached 439.
©2022 Reggie Unthank
I am grateful to Ruth Battersby Tooke, Andrew Bowen and Bethan Holdridge of the Norfolk Museums Service for information on Caprina Fahey. Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Rachel Ridealgh and Simon Knott helped me obtain photographs, as did Ben Craske of the Eastern Daily Press newspaper archives.
- Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold, Norwich.
- Gill Blanchard (2020). Struggle and Suffrage in Norwich. Pub: Pen & Sword Military
- Eastern Daily Press Monday 28 November 1910
- Norfolk News Saturday 20 July 1907
- Article by John Simkin https://spartacus-educational.com/Miriam_Pratt.htm
- Gill Blanchard (2022). Miriam Pratt (1880-1975) – A Norwich Suffragette. In, ‘Aspects of Norwich’ Pub: The Norwich Society.
- Diane Atkinson (2015). The Suffragettes in Pictures. Pub: The History Press.
- Norfolk Record Office MC 2165/1/23, 976×4.
- Norfolk Record Office MC 2165/1/24, 976×4.
In 1851, the Gothic Revivalist, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, observed that more rood screens were preserved in Norfolk’s churches than in any other county. One estimate puts the figure at 275, of which nearly 100 are painted . Some, like the beautiful screen paintings at Barton Turf, are treasures of international importance.
Although there are earlier examples, the large, carved wooden screens (rarely stone) that we see today, across the chancel arch, were built around the mid-fifteenth century. These partitions would have been topped by a rood (Saxon for cross), with a crucified Christ flanked by his mother and St John the Evangelist.
As we will see, the upper parts of this complex and by no means standardised superstructure were to disappear during the Reformation and the Commonwealth purges that followed. Despite its erratic history (limewashed, put up for sale, placed in the west end ), the screen at Attleborough, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is now restored to its rightful place at the east end and provides a sense of what used to be. ‘There is not another church in East Anglia that can match this screen for size and completeness’; from wall to wall the screen is 52 feet wide. Above and behind the rare rood loft are painted figures in the typanum once covered by whitewash. Like the majority of its counterparts throughout the country this screen is in Perpendicular style – the style that dominated church building from the latter part of the fourteenth century until the Reformation, when the evolution of ecclesiastical architecture stalled.
To see a more complete tympanum painting we have to exit the county for neighbouring Suffolk and St Peter, Wenhaston. In 1892 this wooden structure was taken down and, famously, left out in the rain, revealing the painting beneath the whitewash. This ‘doom’ painting illustrates the Day Of Judgement when God decides which soul goes to heaven and which to hell. On the Wenhaston Doom the unpainted silhouettes show where Jesus, Mary and John were once attached
Back in Norfolk, at Ludham St Catherine, is a tympanum painting that had lain in the unused rood stair until it was discovered during an Archaeological Society outing of 1879 . The arrows show the doorways at the bottom and top of the stairs that led to the rood loft. It is possible that the painting may have been hastily installed during the brief reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor who worked to reverse the iconoclasm begun during the reign of her father, Henry VIII .
In her Royal Order of 1561, the Protestant Elizabeth I directed that, although rood figures in the loft should be taken down, ‘a comely partition between the chancel and the church‘ should remain (or a new one erected), topped with a suitable crest or the Royal Arms . Elizabeth’s arms can be seen on the reverse of the Ludham typanum, although they now face the altar. The retention of a partition may explain why England has so many screens. And Norfolk may have so many painted dado screens because, during the Civil War, ‘Smasher’ Dowsing applied his iconoclasm to Suffolk and Cambridge.
The 12 painted panels make up ‘one of the best screens remaining in the county.‘ 
The screen had served to isolate the mysteries around the altar from the congregation in the nave – a permeable barrier to remind lay people of the distinction between this life and life hereafter. But by 1638, the Bishop of Norwich, Richard Montague, could communicate a more prosaic view of the function of the screen:
Is your chancel divided from the nave or body of your church … is there a decent strong door to open and shut … with lock and key, to keep out boys, girls or irreverent men and women? and are dogs kept from coming to besoil or profane the Lord’s table? .
None of the rood screen painters left their name but attempts have been made over the years to group their works stylistically. The mirror to which all other paintings are held is the screen at St Helen’s Ranworth, probably the best known rood-screen in the country.
St Michael has been described as ‘debonair’  [and detached  but despite the associated languor he has warmed to his task and already separated the dragon from two of its seven heads. These paintings, over twice the width of those on the rood screen, provide greater room for arm-waving than allowed the 12 constricted saints on the rood screen panels. Stylistically, it has been said that the demi-figures (below) painted above saints in the reredos panels are typical of the elegant feather-suited angels of the fifteenth century Norwich School of Glass Painting whose output can be found throughout the county  (see my earlier posts on Angels’ Bonnets , Angels in Tights  and Norfolk’s Stained Glass Angels ).
One further comparison with glass painting: in his key book on the Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century, Christopher Woodforde pointed out that ermine ‘tippets’ (short shoulder capes), of the kind worn by the demi-figures of angels at Ranworth, were also worn by angels in fifteenth century Norwich School painted glass, suggesting a common inspiration .
The ‘Ranworth style’ exemplified by the flamboyant saints, George and Michael, are a late and refined version of Northern Italian ‘International Gothic’ [15, 10, 11] characterised, wrote John Mitchell , by the ‘melodiously flowing’ garments that fall away from the body almost independently of the underlying limbs. The style may have lingered in Norfolk but Norwich was not an insular place for it had grown rich from trading woollen cloth with its neighbours across the North Sea. The artist who took over John Wighton’s C15 glass-painting workshop, John Mundeford, was a Dutchman and it is reasonable to suppose that the city’s other artists – working on screens, walls, glass and brass – would have been exposed to continental art that was increasingly influencing English religious art in general [10-12].
For example, St George on the Ranworth screen (above) strikes a similar pose to the superb equestrian painting on the wall of St Gregory’s Norwich (below) . In turn, the mural could well be influenced by prints of paintings by artists such as the well-known Netherlandish Rogier van der Weyden (c1400-1464), whose works had been in circulation for over half a century.
And as noted by Audrey Baker, the upright white lilies and red roses in the headdress of the Virgin Mary, from Jan van Eyck’s (d 1441) Ghent altarpiece, are mirrored in the garland worn by St Cecilia from the rood screen at North Elmham .
THE RANWORTH GROUP
The concept of a Ranworth Group has evolved over the years [11, 13, 15]. Originally five, there now appears to be a nucleus of seven: Ranworth, North Elmham, Old Hunstanton, Thornham, the apostle paintings at Southwold, Filby and paintings from St James, Pockthorpe Norwich removed to St Mary Magdalene Norwich. John Mitchell considers an unfinished panel of St Apollonia from St Augustine’s Norwich, now in St Peter Hungate and restored by Lucy Wrapson, to be a probable eighth, ‘Within the close orbit of the [Ranworth] shop’ . To this eight Lucy Wrapson adds North Walsham as well as the panels lost in 1891 to fire at Great Plumstead, known only from Victorian illustrations. See if you can spot similarities amongst the core seven.
In a magnificent book on East Anglian rood screen painting, based on her thesis of 1937 , Audrey Baker observed two details found in the Ranworth Group (with the possible exception of North Walsham). The first was the inclusion of animal or bird motifs in the rich brocades – based on Italian designs – worn by the apostles and virgins. On the basis of these rich fabric patterns the Ranworth Group has been called the ‘damask workshop’ .
The second motif identified by Audrey Baker was the ‘counterchanged’ tiles on which the figures stand. In all seven, the saints’ feet have been painted against a background of tiles represented as a two-dimensional vertical pattern . This gives the effect of a skirting board instead of the tiles receding into the painting as they would have done in Flemish paintings of the time; there is no landscape here and there is a strong impression that the artists were working from ‘old-fashioned prototypes’. The tiles are usually set diagonally with a central inset in which two colours are reversed. Here, I have cut vertical strips from rood screens representative of the core seven churches. All contain the characteristic floor tiles but they also illustrate another feature that unites the group: the floral pattern in the background, usually stencilled in gold leaf.
Baker identified two stencilled patterns at Ranworth: one of a bunch of loosely-tied flowers, the other a pomegranate .
Ranworth, Old Hunstanton, Filby, Thornham and North Elmham share the same stencil tool . St James Pockthorpe, Norwich shares a virtually identical pattern while North Walsham is ‘very similar’ (although there are no tiles at the feet of the figures at North Walsham ).
A ninth set of screen paintings in the larger group recognised by Lucy Wrapson is now lost. In 1891, the rood screen at Great Plumstead was destroyed by fire but we are fortunate that artist Cornelius Jansson Walter Winter had made copies in 1859 .
As we see, the tiles and stencilled background were also present at Great Plumstead. The facial features of St Martin – the narrow face and that ski-jump nose – is a stereotype found in some, but by no means all, of the Ranworth group. Bear in mind that details may have been lost or exaggerated during restoration; the Pockthorpe figures, in particular, have been heavily overpainted.
The similarities between these and other satellites of the Ranworth Group suggest that a workshop, of painters used studio cartoons as is known to be the case for Norfolk stained glass painters . The use of stock figures is particularly obvious at North Elmham where all the female saints are painted from the same model – some reversed – and only differentiated by the attributes they carry (e.g., St Barbara with her castle).
A Norwich School of Painters?
In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Norwich was a regional centre for glass painting . Around 1500, Alderman William Heyward’s workshop was preeminent and there is good evidence that it produced inscribed monumental brasses as well as painted glass, probably south of the river around what is now the redundant church of St Peter Parmentergate. When Heyward had been apprenticed to Thomas Goldbeater as a glazier, Richard Steere was apprenticed as a painter, again suggesting that drawing skills were used in more than one medium . Indeed, David King [17, see also 13] has argued that Heyward ran a multi-media workshop that may also have been involved in painting rood screens and walls – perhaps even the mural of St George and the Dragon in St Gregory’s Norwich .
Please note, I shall be taking a short break from the blog in order to write another book based on these posts.
© 2022 Reggie Unthank
- Lucy Wrapson (2013). East Anglian Medieval Church Screens: A Brief Guide to their Physical History. Hamilton Kerr Institute, Bulletin number 4, pp33-47
- DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches No 3, West and South-West Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions, Cambridge.
- DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches No 1, North-East Norfolk.
- https://hungate.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2021/05/rood-screen-trail-6-1.pdf. Do read the excellent Hungate Rood Screen Trail booklets. For PDFs press link.
- Tom Muckley (2005). Rood Screens in East Anglia. In: http://www.norfolkchurches.co.uk/norfolkroods.htm
- Christopher Woodford (1950). The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub: Oxford University Press.
- David King (2013). Medieval Art in Norfolk and the Continent: An Overview. In, East Anglia and its North Sea World in the Middle Ages pp. 82-119.
- John Mitchell (2000). Painting in East Anglia around 1500: The Continental Connection. In, England and the Continent in the Middle Ages. pp368-373.
- Lucy Wrapson (2015). A Medieval Context for the Artistic Production of Painted Surfaces in England Evidence from East Anglia c.1400–1540. In T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, Painting in Britain 1500–1630, Production, Influences and Patronage, London, 2015, pp.166-175.
- Lucy Wrapson (2015). Ranworth and its Associated Paintings: A Norwich Workshop. In, Medieval and Early Modern Art, Architecture and Archaeology in Norwich. Pub: Maney.
- John Mitchell, personal communication March 2022.
- Audrey Baker (2011). English Panel Paintings 1400-1558: A Survey of Figure Paintings on East Anglian Rood Screens. Pub: Archetype Pubs Ltd.
- Allan Barton. https://medievalart.co.uk/2018/11/01/neglect-apathy-and-fire-a-lost-norfolk-screen/
- David King (2011). ‘The Indent of John Aylward – Glass and Brass at East Harling’, Monumental Brass Society, Transactions, XVIII (3) pp. 251-267.
Thanks: I am grateful to Lucy Wrapson, David King and John Mitchell for their generosity in sending me reprints and answering my questions; Bea Leal and Sophie Cabot, Trustees of St Peter Hungate, kindly opened the church for me; Reverend Selwyn Tillett and caretaker Mike Preston arranged for me to see the rood screens at St Mary Magdalen, Norwich.
When browsing in the City Bookshop in Davey Place I came across Official Guides to Norwich for 1929 and 1935, in the reign of King George V. The contrast between ancient and modern was striking for while Ralph Hale Mottram was taking a backward look at the city’s rich history in the introductory section to the 1935 guide, businesses in the advertising section were gamely boosting their progressive credentials.
The rolling boundary between old and new is relentless and any marker of modernity quickly gets left behind as we see, not in an advert for Norwich, but in a puff for its distinguished neighbour, King’s Lynn. In the ‘Port for 1000 years‘ a passenger biplane is set against Henry Bell’s seventeenth century Customs House and the mid-twelfth century church of St Margaret.
Norwich had several firms making planes, such as Boulton and Paul at their Rose Lane Works where they manufactured more Sopwith Camels during World War I than any other company. B&P’s best known plane of World War II was the Defiant, with a rotating gun turret operated by the gunner seated behind the pilot. But in 1935, unconscious of the imminent descent into further conflict that would cause their factory to be bombed, they were advertising health-giving rotating ‘Sunshine Rooms’.
Mottram’s perspective on events from living memory is fascinating. About St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, he wrote: ‘The massive tower can be seen in any old picture of the marketplace to have had a much more homely appearance before the addition of the ornaments which … have been the object of some controversy.’ Controversy?
The sturdy tower overlooking the marketplace seems to have been designed to support a far more significant lantern stage for which the small spike was evidently judged to be a poor substitute. In the 1880s the Streets (father and son) were engaged to add a parapet with a stone pepperpot in each corner and in 1895 the son, AE Street, replaced the old spike with a lead-covered structure supported by crocketed flying buttresses. Not everyone liked it. Mortlock & Roberts  thought the old plain top and spike ‘infinitely preferable’, taking objection to the new model’s ‘cake icing effect’, while Pevsner & Wilson judged it ‘too playful to make a stand on this tower‘ .
Born in the 1880s, Ralph Hale Mottram was a small boy when the Streets were at work so his opinions about the Mancroft controversy are likely to have been borrowed from the ‘members of the last generation‘ – the witnesses who could ‘remember desperate faction fights here at election times, with a great chain drawn across the centre (of the marketplace) to separate the combatants, who used to kick up the old kidney-shaped cobbles for missiles, and frequently had to be driven from the field by force.’ Violence had long been a feature of Norwich political life ; at election time the marketplace was set out like a tournament field with the Blue and White (Whig) tent occupying one side and the Orange and Purple (Tory) tent the other.
As we saw in the post on Revolutionary Norwich , political meetings in eighteenth century Norwich were corrupt, drunken and highly adversarial. This continued well into the late nineteenth century. When Mottram was three, a 500-strong meeting attended by the unemployed turned violent. After shops were sacked and a ham stolen the rampage was remembered as the Battle of Ham Run .
Mottram said of the marketplace that ‘the roadway is pure twentieth century, public service and private vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine pass in a continuous stream.’ The air quotes shimmering around ‘internal combustion engine‘ betray someone born in the age of the horse-drawn carriage.
This photograph might be older than 1935 since the buildings at the back of the market were described as being ‘in course of demolition to make way for the New Town Hall’. The red arrow points to the tin hut that doubled as police offices and drill hall. Both the hut and the municipal offices on St Peter Street (top right) would be pulled down as part of the new City Hall project. In turn, these had replaced the old ‘butchery, spicery, Soper Lane, Worstead Row, herb market and Pudding Lane’ by which the medieval authorities had segregated the various trades. By May 1938 the old municipal buildings had been demolished to make way for the area to the back of the market containing the Garden of Remembrance, with the newly completed City Hall behind.
Mottram also wrote about another landmark that is no longer with us. In a brief section on Mousehold Heath (‘”Mussel” in local dialect’) he mentions George Borrow’s poem The Wind on the Heath – the high ground above the city where local hero Robert Kett was defeated and where John Crome painted his windmill (‘and only recently burned down’). At one time the painting was titled ‘A Windmill on Mousehold Heath, near Norwich No. 926′ although, as we will see, the location was brought into question.
Could ‘Old’ Crome’s windmill be one of the two depicted in Braun and Hogenberg’s (1581) prospect of Norwich?
The excellent Norfolk Mills website lists two mills for Mousehold Heath, one of which is the Sprowston postmill, sometimes thought to have been Crome’s windmill . In 1933, two days before the mill was due to be handed over to the Norfolk Archaeological Society for preservation, sparks from a gorse fire set the sails alight and the windmill burned down.
Except, a paper in Norfolk Archaeology 1966  turned this idea – and the map – on its head with a convincing argument that ‘Old Crome’s Mill’ was not situated on Mousehold Heath to the north of the city but in Trowse to the south.
The fingerpost in Crome’s painting seems to carry no inscription but Miklos Rajnai  explained that the fingerpost on a very similar drawing of a mill by Norwich School artist George Vincent contains the words, ‘To Crown Point’. The clincher – revealed for the first time in Rajnai’s article of 1966 – was that an old label on the back of Crome’s painting stated: ‘Trowse Mill/near Norwich/painted by/Old Crome’. The windmill at Trowse (see map) is near Crown Point, then owned by intrepid balloonist Major John Money (1752-1817) and subsequently re-built by the banker Sir Robert Harvey.
In a suggested tour of the city, Mottram describes walking towards St Andrews Hall down ‘the new street made for the trams which here descend the hill‘. By the time Mottram wrote his article the ‘new’ street was 35 years old. The tramway had cut a swath through mainly Tudor buildings: the City Arms was demolished and another Tudor building, purportedly made from timbers salvaged from the Spanish Armada, was neatly bisected. (Read Frances and Michael Holmes’ recent book for a fascinating account of the Norwich trams ).
Across the road from Armada House was another Tudor building, now exposed to the new street – the home of 1572 mayor Robert Suckling whose kneeler monument is next door, in St Andrew’s church .
Ralph Mottram wrote that Suckling House ‘was lately purchased by the Misses Colman who opened it as a public Assembly Hall.’
Ethel and Helen Colman, of the Colman’s Mustard family, bought this merchant hall-house in 1923, the year that Ethel became Mayor of Norwich and the first female mayor in the country. The philanthropic sisters had the building restored by their brother-in-law E.T. Boardman (son of architect Edward Boardman) and presented it to the city in 1925 as a place for public assembly. The complex is now Cinema City, housing an arts cinema and restaurant.
To the left of Suckling House (not in frame in the photo above) is the Boardman-designed Stuart Hall, named after the husband of Ethel and Helen’s sister, Laura Elizabeth Stuart. I hope to write about James Stuart in greater depth but he deserves a brief mention here. A fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, Stuart had been a Liberal MP concerned about the lot of ordinary people. He championed education for all and as a director of Colmans promoted their pension scheme for workers. After James Stuart’s death in 1913, his wife and her family commemorated his name with the almshouse-style Stuart Court apartments (1914). He is also remembered by Stuart Garden in Recorder Road, opposite the Court, but this wasn’t officially opened until after the war, making this year (2022) the centenary of the garden’s opening .
In another excursion, Mottram went to Norwich-over-the-Water and – foreshadowing the psychogeographers – took what he called a ‘wander’ off Oak Street, down Jenkin(s) Lane. Only 26 inches wide, the narrowness of this passageway was acknowledged in the rueful local alternative, Chafe Lug Alley . Although he wrote that this led to the first Quaker meeting house in Norwich, the first such place of worship was built in Goat Lane in the city centre in 1676, replaced in 1826 by the chapel that stands there today . The Goat Lane site of a quarter of an acre left no room for the Quakers to bury their dead, for which purpose they used an acre of land across the river (where Amelia Opie and the Gurneys were interred). It was here in 1700 that the Society of Friends built their second meeting house.
Because Quaker Lane (underlined red) was too narrow for funeral processions, land was rented so that the cortege could travel from St Martin Lane (now inside the ring road) up to a turning circle adjacent to the burial ground .
The advertisements are as fascinating as anything. In an older trade book (1910), the hatters and capmakers, T Wells & Son (estd. 1849) were enhancing their pedigree with an armorial plate. The hatmakers adopted three wells and a rising sun as their rebus, echoing the golden well used by the fifteenth century Bishop of Norwich, James Goldwell.
Accompanying this were photographs of the white-bearded father, Thomas Wells (b 1841) and the son, Herbert Rumsey Wells (b 1877). In Rumsey’s portrait, he sports a waxed moustache and that little patch of hair beneath his lower lip that might have once been called an imperial (in the fashion of Napoleon III) but now seems to be called a soul patch, demonstrating that even though you may change the name there is nothing new under the (rising) sun.
A quarter of a century later, in the Official Norwich Guide of 1935, Rumsey Wells was sporting the full goatee, flamboyantly advertising himself as ‘The most expensive Capmaker in the World’.
Famed for his ‘Doggie’ cap (modelled above in the ‘Watton’ shape), Rumsey Wells made headgear, like ‘The Brundall’ for men and the ‘Rumishanter’ for women. He died in 1937 but his shop – leased from the brewers Lacons – is now home to the Rumsey Wells pub in St Andrews Street.
Finally, I had occasionally wondered about the origin of the street name ‘Westlegate’ and Mottram provided the answer.
The name of the city street ‘Westlegate’ remains although, of its ancient fabric, only All Saints church and the adjacent thatched building still stand. In this Viking town we are familiar with ‘gate’ being derived from the Old Norse ‘gata’ for street or road, as in Fishergate, Colegate etc. According to Mottram the ‘westle’ bit derives from the fine wastel bread that used to be made there.
Wastel bread has its verbal root, guastel, from old French which is now gateau meaning cake, so it seems to have been a cake-like bread made from fine white flour . Jacob Grimm of the German Brothers Grimm knew the word Gastel for ‘a finer kind of bread‘ which was also known as Wastel in Upper Germany i.e. Bavaria and Austria. In Italy, the guastella (guastedda in Sicily) has survived the times in different shapes, mostly flat, always white, and often sweet.
© Reggie Unthank 2022
- DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
- Mark Knights (2004). Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 (eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
- Miklos Rajnai (1966). John Crome’s Windmill’ Norfolk Archaeology https://archaeologydataservice.ac.uk/archiveDS/archiveDownload?t=arch-3749-1/dissemination/pdf/vol_34/NorfolkArchaeology34_P86_P87.pdf
- Frances and Michael Holmes (2021). The Days of the Norwich Trams. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
- ‘Citizens of No Mean City’ (1910), a trade book published by Jarrold & Sons
I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permissions.
Over the years Norwich’s largest public green space has been known as Chapel-in-the-Fields, Chapel Fields, Chapple/Chapply/Chaply/Chapley Field, and now Chapelfield Gardens ; my daughters call it Chappy. We saw the area last when genteel Georgians promenaded around its triangular walk  but this only occupied a thin slice of time for the name goes back a further half millennium to when John le Brun founded the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Fields (1250). This evolved into the College of St Mary in the Fields, part of which was to be incorporated into the Georgian Assembly House (1745-6).
Braun and Hogenberg’s prospect of 1581 is based on Cuningham’s map of 1558 so provides a glimpse of Chapel Field around the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1569 the ownership of Chapel Field was transferred to the city. The map shows this sector dominated by two areas of open ground: the land behind Chapel Field House and a triangular meadow grazed by cows and occupied by figures with bows and arrows. This was at a time when it was still compulsory for men between the ages of 15 and 60 to prepare for war and we see them practicing archery under the walls. But warfare was changing and by the latter part of the century the field became the mustering ground for the city’s trained artillerymen.
By the time of King’s plan of 1766 the two parts were still largely open ground. Only minor inroads were made by the bowling green, theatre and Assembly House, which provided entertainment for leisured Georgians. On the triangular field we see the double row of elms that lessee Thomas Churchman’s planted for his promenade . This latter portion would survive as present-day Chapelfield Gardens.
A generation later, Chapel Fields still embodied a sense of bucolic openness as conveyed in the etching by John Crome (1768-1821). The city had always allowed Chapelfield to be used as a public space and in 1656 resisted Lady Hobart’s attempt to prevent citizens passing through . Infilling with shanty housing was the norm in the rest of the city but the only signs of encroachment on rustic Chapelfield are the post-and-rail fencing and the high wall to the left (possibly part of the city wall) .
From the beginning of the eighteenth century the fields were fenced in . In 1867 the council erected iron railings , which would be removed in World War Two, purportedly to make guns. This would have been the ‘massive palisade’ supplied by W S Boulton (later of Boulton & Paul) who, ‘produces every kind of railing … also mincing and sausage machines’ .
Chapel Fields lies in the crook of the protective arm provided by the city walls, built about 1300. Some 500 years later the gates at its southern and western extremities were demolished to ease the flow of horse-drawn traffic: St Giles’ Gate in 1792 and St Stephen’s Gate a year later. The walls were disappearing too, signifying a loosening of the hold of the medieval past and allowing – if only notionally – the escape of noxious air. In the 1860s, some of the wall around Chapelfield was used as hardcore for the new Prince of Wales Road that connected the markets with the newly arrived railway . Some of the ‘Chapelfield’ wall had been breached by houses built against them.
In 1969, these houses were demolished to make way for the ring road .
King’s map of 1766 shows a water house within Churchman’s triangular walk, part of the corporation’s scheme to supply water to the city. Water pumped from the river at New Mills (near Westwick Street, upstream of the built-up area) supplied Chapelfield and Tombland. The Tombland works were described in 1698 by Celia Fiennes as ‘a great well house with a wheele to wind up the water … a large pond walled up with brick a mans height … (and) a water house to supply the town by pipes’ [quoted in 8]. This is commemorated by John Henry Gurney’s obelisk and fountain of 1850.
Supply of unfiltered water was therefore restricted to a few parts of the city – and then only to those who would pay for the connection. In 1792, supply was taken over by the Norwich Waterworks Company who built the water tower and reservoir in Chapel Field that appear on Millard and Manning’s map of 1830 .
The presence of waterworks in Chapelfield had disturbed the illusion of a bosky retreat where the gentility could associate and by 1840 the park had become ‘the resort of loose and idle boys’ and washerwomen . One idea had been to dignify the site by placing a statue of Nelson on an island in the middle of the reservoir . This never happened and the statue was located, instead, in the cathedral’s Upper Close.
In 1852 the Waterworks Company agreed to hand the land over to the corporation provided they laid it out as a public garden, which they did. By designating Chapelfield Gardens a public park the site was protected from the terraced housing being built just the other side of the city wall.
In 1866 the corporation offered the north-west corner of Chapelfield Gardens to the militia for building a drill hall . This castellated Neo-Gothic building, designed by the City Surveyor, Ernest Benest, incorporated part of a tower from the old city wall. The triangular shape of Chapelfield Gardens would be lost when this corner, and the Drill Hall, were flattened beneath the inner ring road of the C20.
From within this lost north-west corner of Chapelfield Garden we see the back of the Drill Hall and beyond this the Catholic Cathedral, only just completed in 1910. And those must be Mr Boulton’s sturdy iron railings, removed in World War II.
The Drill Hall was demolished in 1963 but the position of the old city-wall tower incorporated into its structure is commemorated by a semi-circle of cobbles on the Grapes Hill roundabout, constructed as part of the 1968-1975 Inner Link Road.
To connect the roundabout with incoming traffic from Earlham Road – which had previously gone straight across to St Giles Street – an awkward fiddler’s elbow (yellow) was created when vehicles were diverted a little way up Unthank Road. Traffic was reconnected with St Giles Street via a spur off the roundabout, creating Cleveland Road (green) in the process. It probably made sense at the time.
George Plunkett’s invaluable archive of twentieth century photographs shows us the Earlham Road/St Giles Street intersection before the map was redrawn in the late 1960s. Here we look down the narrow street that appears as St Giles Hill on the 1884 OS map and as Grapes Hill in 1908. This was some 60 years before the houses were demolished in readiness for the dual carriageway and the pedestrian flyover built over it. To the far left, at No 1 Earlham Road, is the eponymous Grapes Hotel. It was the only building on the hill to survive the ring road but it was to give way to retirement homes built around 2000. I can recall being able to touch the upper floor of the former Grapes Hotel from the gangway up to the footbridge.
Inside the gardens, one of its most exotic inhabitants was the iron pavilion designed by Thomas Jeckyll. Made by Barnard Bishop and Barnards, and with much of the bas-relief work being forged by Aquila Eke (George Plunkett’s great uncle) it won a gold medal at the Philadelphia exhibition of 1876. Four years later it was bought by the Norwich corporation for £500 and installed in Chapelfield Gardens. I’ve written at length about Aesthetic Jeckyll and his designs for Barnards’ Norfolk Iron Works [e.g., 11], so I won’t run on, but this was the famous ‘Pagoda’, enclosed by railings in the form of uber-fashionable sunflowers – an icon of the Japanese-influenced Aesthetic Movement, here in provincial Norwich. Yet, despite it being a triumph of Norwich craftsmanship, the modernists who wrote the City of Norwich Plan for 1945 judged the Pagoda to be dispensable and so it was demolished in 1949. As Gavin Stamp wrote in Lost Victorian Britain, ‘Victorian, quite simply, was a term of abuse’ during the post-war period.
Designed by Jeckyll, the fabric hangings that once decorated the Pagoda are conserved in the Norwich Castle Study Centre.
Another occupant of Chapelfield Gardens was a thatched teahouse, known as King Prempeh’s Bungalow, built about the time of the Ashanti campaign in West Africa. Prempeh the First (1870-1931), who had tried to negotiate peace with the British, was captured by an expeditionary force led by Robert (‘Scouting for Boys’) Baden-Powell and sent into exile. In 1902, the Ashanti Kingdom became part of the Gold Coast colony. When Prempeh – once ruler of all he surveyed – was eventually released he found himself Chief Scout of what was now a British protectorate .
Surrounding Chapelfield Gardens
From about 1815 the New City arose outside the walls on the south-west side of Chapelfield Road. This signalled the start of the expansion of working-class housing away from the insanitary muddle of the old city. A piece of land once used as a market garden became Crook’s Place and along with Union Place and Julian Place these terraces of small houses were built to accommodate an influx of workers from the countryside . Mostly back-to-back, these modest dwellings with shared privies and water pumps proved to be insanitary and were demolished during rounds of twentieth century slum clearance. A generation later, terraced housing on the Steward and Unthank estates was built to higher standards and continued the city’s westward expansion well beyond the pull of the medieval walls .
Built better for polite society, the V-shaped Crescent (1821-1827) survives into the twenty-first century. Nearby, the distinctive Gothic House was demolished as part of the Vauxhall demolition scheme of the 1960s. The Gothic Revival, mostly encountered on Victorian non-conformist chapels around Norwich, hardly touched the city’s domestic housing; the Gothic House is a rare example of this style, here applied as a facade to an older building .
The street bounding the gardens to the north, Chapelfield North, is architecturally rich; it hasn’t altered significantly during my 40 years in the city although the ebb and flow of traffic seems to have changed according to various schemes. One bystander that has overseen a more dramatic change in transport fashion is The Garage, now a centre for performing arts.
Originally, The Garage was built as the new motor works for Howes & Sons Ltd.
In this photograph Howes were announcing themselves as ‘coachbuilders’ at a time when coachwork had come to mean the body of a motor vehicle. But this was just a breath away from a world when Howes built horse-drawn carriages.
A twentieth century addition to Chapelfield North is the Norwich Spiritualist Church. Built by RG Carter in 1936, this single-storey building was part-funded by proceedings from a post-WWI spiritualist meeting addressed by the faith’s most famous adherent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.
The third of the triangle of streets around Chapelfield Gardens is Chapelfield East, which divides the gardens from the larger block that once housed Caley’s chocolate factory (later, Rowntree Mackintosh then Nestlé). Demolished to make way for the Chapelfield Shopping Centre (2005) this complex was – with a nod to its ecclesiastical heritage – recently renamed as Chantry Place.
On this street Chapelfield East Congregational Church once stood, a prominent landmark with twin 80-foot towers. As George Plunkett noted , a stranger could have been excused for thinking it was this chapel that gave name to the neighbouring public garden. Of course, it was far too young, arising in 1859 to be demolished in 1972.
© 2022 Reggie Unthank
- Francis Blomefield (1806). ‘History of the County of Norfolk’ 4, part 2 Chapter 42 City of Norwich. Online at: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol4/pp145-184#h2-0003
- Frank Meeres (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
- A.D. Bayne (1869). A Comprehensive History of Norwich https://www.gutenberg.org/files/44568/44568-h/44568-h.htm
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
- Margaret Pelling (2004). Health and Sanitation to 1750. In, Norwich since 1550. Eds: Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
- Rosemary O’Donoghue (2014). ‘Norwich, an Expanding City: 1801-1900.’ Pub: Larks Press.
- Noël Spencer (1978). Norwich Drawings. Pub: Noël Spencer and Martlet Studio.
We’ve already encountered the artist Noël Spencer, most recently when his book on Sculptured Monuments provided inspiration for two posts [1, 2]. He came to Norwich in 1946 as Headmaster of the Art School (then still a department of City College) and retired in 1964 as Principal after the Art School had become a separate institution . Arriving from Huddersfield, Spencer was able to see his adopted home with a stranger’s eye. He seemed more interested in buildings than landscape, making pencil drawings on the spot, recording things that would soon be lost in the post-war period. His name cropped up again when I was introduced to Margaret Pearce who went to the Art School as a 16-year-old student in 1943. She was befriended by Spencer and his wife Vera who lived in Upton Close, Eaton, and who, for many years, sent Christmas cards based on Noël’s drawings of Norwich buildings. Margaret generously passed on these records of lost Norwich, which form the basis of this post.
Margaret’s painting of antique figures was made in the School of Art in the ‘new’ (1899) Technical Institute site on St George’s Street. Her work is reminiscent of young Alfred Munnings’ painting made in the last years of the old School of Art when it occupied the top floor of the Free Library at the corner of St Andrew’s and Duke Streets. For much of their occupancy of the Free Library, students drew figures, not from life but from plaster casts. Note the illumination from above; we’ll see this again.
This ink drawing on one of Noël Spencer’s greeting cards is labelled ‘The Norwich Technical Institute. Now the City College and Art School, built beside the Wensum in 1899. Sir John Soane’s Blackfriars Bridge in the foreground.’ Soane built the bridge of Portland stone in 1783-4.
This was the building that replaced the overcrowded Art School housed on the top floor of the Free Library . But before leaving the Free Library we should acknowledge its place in the history of public libraries. The Libraries Act of 1850 revolutionised access to books, allowing ordinary citizens to borrow items without paying for a subscription. The Norwich Free Library (below) was the first in the country to be constructed under the Act, recovering costs by adding up to a halfpenny to the rates.
Accommodation for the School of Art on the smaller upper floor proved unsatisfactory from the start. Students were warned not to move about unnecessarily because the floor had dropped away so much that adjacent rooms could seen beneath the partition walls. Cracks in the chimney let the rain in, water closets were condemned, foul air pervaded the building but the problems with the WCs weren’t helped by students flushing modelling clay down the pan . Access to the School of Art on the upper floor was awkward, leading to a demand for a separate entrance and staircase to the top floor . This appears to have been granted for Noël Spencer drew a gate that led up to the School of Art .
On the Christmas card below, based on a drawing dated 6th of February 1966, we glimpse the western end of the old Free Library/Art School with its roof lantern illuminating the Antique Room. Number 11 St Andrew’s Street was constructed in the 1830s as the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institute but later housed a variety of municipal offices. Spencer labels it ‘The Old Baths’, the municipal ‘slipper baths’ so named because the towel draped across the bath for modesty made it look, well, like a slipper. The sign on the gable end wall refers to the Deaf Welfare Centre while the building also contained the Guardians of the Poor (later the Public Assistance Department). Other signs on the gable end point to Clarke’s Billiard Club at the rear in what had been the Catholic chapel – the last vestige of the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace. All of this was to be swept away in the 1960s to accommodate the new telephone exchange and the entranceway to the St Andrew’s Street car park .
In 1938 the City Council announced they would be building a new library on compulsorily purchased land centred around St Peter’s Wesleyan Chapel on Lady Lane, not far from St Peter Mancroft. But war intervened and it wasn’t until 1962 that much of what we see on the 1884 OS map was demolished to make way for David Percival’s modernist library, which would be destroyed by fire in 1994. Now, the site is occupied by The Forum, which houses the Millennium Library. What had been Lady Lane became Esperanto Way and is now called Will Kemp Way, which lies behind The Forum.
In 1960 Noël Spencer recorded the Lady Lane Chapel with his pen as George Plunkett had done with his camera in 1949. This chapel had been designed by John T Patience in 1824 in the same period that he designed the Friends’ Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane (1824) and the Roman Catholic Chapel in Willow Lane (1828) .
Tumblers clicked when I realised that St Peter’s Chapel at the junction of Park Lane and Avenue Road was built as the direct successor to St Peter’s Chapel in Lady Lane. In 1939, as the latter was being marked for destruction, Boardman & Son were supervising its replacement in the Golden Triangle . Currently, the ‘new’ St Peter’s is being converted to apartments. It was built adjacent to a smaller Wesleyan Methodist chapel of 1894 that was evidently stripped of its neo-Gothic identifiers when it was encased in brick and repurposed as the church hall. About two years ago those bricks were removed, revealing a Neo-Gothic window.
In 1954 George Plunkett photographed Plowright’s antique shop at the corner of Tombland and Queen Street. The dilapidated state of the adjacent building is explained by Plunkett’s description of an enemy raid in May 1943 when incendiary bombs gutted Bell’s the estate agents and ‘Plowright’s the antique dealers’ premises next door suffer(ed) severely from blast which scattered and smashed a quantity of valuable silver and glassware.’ 
By 1956 these buildings had been demolished and Noël Spencer drew, instead, a construction site. Demolition temporarily exposed the ‘hidden church’, St Mary-the-Less, once used by the Walloon strangers as their cloth hall and where French-speaking immigrants worshipped from the sixteenth century until the nineteenth.
Spencer viewed the scene from across the road, from the first floor offices of local architect Ernest Hugh Buckingham (1874-1962). This would have been in a three-storey, round-cornered early C19 building on the site of the ancient Popinjay Inn, roughly where the devastating fire of 1507 started . That building is no longer with us for the corner was presumably demolished as part of the post-war programme of street-widening. The site is now occupied by the bar/restaurant, All-Bar-One. I asked if I could go upstairs to photograph the former building site from Spencer’s vantage point but was told this wasn’t possible. All-Bar-Me then.
Arising on this site was a branch of the Woolwich Equitable Building Society that would obscure the church once more. It is now occupied by Haart the estate agents.
Another of Spencer’s drawings records a bomb site being levelled in 1949. Trevor Page’s Norfolk Furnishing Establishment had made and upholstered furniture here until it was bombed during a Baedeker raid in August 1942; its loss allowed St John Maddermarket to be seen from Exchange Street . To the far right of the illustration, beneath the tree, we see the stippled wall of the churchyard. This boundary wall was rebuilt in 1578 after land had been borrowed from the crowded graveyard to widen the lane so that Queen Elizabeth I could be conveyed from the Guildhall to the Duke of Norfolk’s palace on the riverside.
1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain, a ‘beacon of change’ for a country recovering from a debilitating war. It was also the year in which the 11-year-old twin King brothers dedicated the forward-looking Norfolk House on this bomb site. Impressed by Halmstad City Hall in Sweden, their father, Raymond King, was determined to introduce a similar note of modernity to Norwich . In spirit, if not in detail, this new building also bears comparison with Norwich’s own City Hall of 1939, which was influenced by Stockholm’s neo-Classical City Hall and Concert Hall. When completed, Norfolk House obscured all but the tip of St John’s tower from Exchange Street.
Breaking the roofline of the Halmstad City Hall is a sculpture of a man o’ war surmounting a clock (not shown). On Norfolk House this theme is transmuted into the shield of the kingdom of East Anglia topped by a Norfolk wherry.
The designer of this sculpture was James Fletcher-Watson, architect, famous water-colourist and nephew of architect Cecil Upcher, who was the subject of October’s post . In one of those little coincidences in a city bristling with artists, Fletcher-Watson and Spencer portrayed the same lost building on Cow Hill.
Another of Spencer’s greeting cards depicts the Golden Ball public house and provides an image missing from a short article I’d written for my recent book . The excellent Norfolk Pubs site locates the Golden Ball pub of 1900 at the corner of Cattlemarket Street and Rising Sun Lane on Castle Hill . The Golden Ball around which my article turned can be seen here, suspended over the junction of the two roads.
The OS map of 1884 shows the Golden Ball pub at the top of Cattlemarket Street at the three-way junction with Golden Ball Street and Rising Sun Lane.
At the right-hand edge of the map is Prospect Place Works that manufactured agricultural machinery for Holmes & Sons’ beautiful cast-iron-and-glass Victorian showroom (now the Crystal House) on the hill at Cattlemarket Street. This area was to be reconfigured, first by German bombs then by the bulldozers of postwar renewal. In 1962, the Golden Ball pub was compulsorily purchased and, along with Rising Sun Lane, flattened to form a wider, realigned route (Rouen Road) that bypassed narrow King Street. The name ‘prospect’, which must refer to the view across the valley to the Thorpe side, lives on in Prospect House, built in 1970 as the headquarters of Eastern Counties Newspapers. Golden Ball Street remains and the golden globe that once hung over the corner of that street is reimagined in the sculpture by Henry Moore’s assistant, Bernard Meadows, outside the ECN building. Norwich boy Meadows – who would have known the old street and the pub – resurrected the golden ball, now playfully prodded by the apprentice whose master’s works were famously holey and bumpy.
In the postwar period, Spencer drew one of only six thatched houses in the city – the sole timber-framed house on Westlegate to survive the twentieth century transformation. The house to the left was demolished to make way for Westlegate Tower.
The thatched building was once a public house known, in Norfolk dialect, as the Barking Dicky. A comment on the back of the card in Margaret’s hand explains the term.
The Barking Dicky – named after a rather poorly painted sign board of a rampant horse. Norfolk humour for the braying donkey. Norfolk old rhyme – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John/Hold you the dicky bor while I gets on.
Below is one of Spencer’s cards showing two carved figures that puzzled me for a while. The illustration on the greeting card was untitled but an online search turned up a larger version of the drawing labelled, ‘The Fair Tombland, Norwich 1949’.
Mention ‘carved figures’ and ‘Tombland’ to Norwich residents and they will automatically think of Samson and Hercules – the pillars holding up the porch of the C17 building in what had been the Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace. Over the years, these famous Norwich strongmen have guarded a war-time dance hall, Ritzy’s night club and a seafood restaurant (when S&H were painted an ignominious shade of lobster red).
Except … except Spencer’s drawings are usually faithful representations and these half figures don’t look anything like the full-length Norwich strongmen. Margaret recognised the jarring note and wrote on the back of the card, ‘Where can this have been, and when?’
Despite the inconvenient shuttering around a former jewellers we can see that Tombland curves away to the right and not to the left as in Spencer’s drawing.
By tweaking the signage on the stall, to the left of the figures on Spencer’s drawing, it is possible to make out the name ‘Castle Books’.
This is the Castle Book Stall that once stood on Agricultural Hall Plain, several hundred yards to the south of Tombland. The Shirehall – glimpsed below – is to the right, making the large monolithic block to the left in Spencer’s drawing, the Agricultural Hall (now Anglia Television).
Look closely and you can see these supporting figures to have been lit by strings of light bulbs, showing them to have been a fairground attraction. Until the seventeenth century the annual Tombland Fair was held on the Thursday before Easter but for most of the twentieth century ‘Tombland Fair’ was held at Christmas and Easter on the spaces around the Castle mound (e.g., Cattlemarket Street, Castle Meadow, Market Avenue) . The classical portico (circled) down the road belongs to the old Crown Bank (later the Post Office) next to the Agricultural Hall, meaning that the fairground ride was located at the southern border of Agricultural Hall Plain, adjacent to the hall itself.
In response to a request for information, Adam Brown, chair of The Fairground Heritage Trust , seems to have identified the actual fairground ride sketched by Noël Spencer. John Thurston and Sons brought their travelling fair to Norwich and to other venues, such as the Cambridge Midsummer Fair and the Mop Fair in Northampton. It was at the Mop Fair where the photograph below was taken in 1949, the year that Spencer made his drawing. The photograph is of an Ark – a ride consisting of cars or gondolas that moved around undulating ‘hills’. Later, this ride would be converted to a more exciting waltzer in which the cars spun around their axes as they moved around the track. The figures adorning the entrance represent Atlas who, with arms bent above his head, bears the weight of the heavens upon his shoulders. These Atlases (or Atlantes, plural of Atlas) were surely the half figures that Noël Spencer drew in 1949.
Thanks: I am indebted to Margaret Pearce, one-time student of the Norwich School of Art, for her kindness and generosity in providing the Christmas cards sent over the years by Noël and Vera Spencer, and I am grateful to Sarah Scott for making the introduction. Thanks also to Professor Simon Willmoth of Norwich University of the Arts, for providing images from the NUA Collection & Archives, to Clare Everitt of the indispensable Picture Norfolk site, and to Jonathan Plunkett for making his father’s photographs available to all (georgeplunkett.co.uk). Alan Theobald put me on the track of Thurston’s fairground attractions; Adam Brown, Chair of The Fairground Heritage Trust, identified what was probably Spencer’s fairground attraction; and I thank Jo Pike for discussions on Norwich fairs.
And thanks to you, dear reader, for following these posts and for the comments that illuminate our shared fascination with the history of this fine city: I wish you a Happy Christmas.
This post is respectfully dedicated to Noël Spencer who evidently loved Norwich and recorded this city at a time of great change. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holder of Noël Spencer’s images. I will be pleased to give credit and can be reached via the Contact link at the top of the page.
© Reggie Unthank 2021
- Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton and John Stevens (1982). A Happy Eye: A School of Art in Norwich 1845-1982. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., Norwich.
- Noël Spencer (1978). Norwich Drawings. Pub: Noël Spencer and Martlet Studio. (A beautiful book, worth seeking online).
- Clive Lloyd (2021). Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City. See: https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/new-book-2021/
In 1505 and 1507 great fires swept away the majority of Norwich’s early medieval buildings and a new city – still largely timber-framed – arose on the old street plan . Two centuries later, as historian Marc Girouard noted of the country in general, Georgian buildings were raised, ‘on medieval plots and incorporated a medieval, or at least Tudor, structure behind their new facades‘ . Grafting new faces onto old frames was therefore not peculiar to Norwich; however, the lack of stone, in what was still the nation’s second city, meant that new classically-influenced buildings based on proportion and balance would be of red brick or plasterwork masquerading as stone. The straitjacket of a medieval street-plan, encircled for much of the Georgian period by city walls, meant that no new squares and crescents would be laid out, as in London, Bath, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bristol. There would be no Georgian new town in Norwich.
There was a good example of Georgianification in last month’s post . Where Norwich architect Cecil Upcher had restored the centre house above (No 24) by stripping it back to its Elizabethan bones, the house next door (No 26) had already been modernised by the Georgians who had inserted sash windows (although the timber-framed construction is betrayed by the jettied [jutting] first floor). That other trademark of the Georgian makeover – the Classical door surround – is out of shot but a stroll around old Norwich produces numerous examples of Georgian doorways – many retrofitted to older buildings [4,5].
Not long before the first George acceded to the throne in 1714, Celia Fiennes visited the city on her travels by side-saddle. She commented on the lack of brick buildings in the city centre, noting that what few she saw belonged to rich merchants in Norwich-over-the-Water.
‘… but all their buildings are of an old form, mostly in deep poynts and much tileing as has been observ’d before, and they playster on Laths wch they strike out into squares like broad free stone on ye outside, wch makes their fronts Look pretty well; and some they build high and Contract ye roofes resembling the London houses, but none of brick Except some few beyond the river wch are built of some of ye Rich factors like ye London buildings’ .
This house, with rusticated plaster-work designed to look like stone, was built about 1619  and appears on James Cobridge’s ‘Mapp of the City of Norwich’ (1727). Subscribers who wanted their house to be depicted in the margins were asked to pay seven shillings down and three on delivery. Mr James Reeve should regard this as ten bob well spent since his house at the corner of Elm Hill and Princes Street is the only one that can still be recognised (although most churches remain) .
Paradoxically, Mr Reeve’s house is the least grandiose of the illustrated buildings and we can only mourn the number of large C17-18 houses that we have lost. During the eighteenth century, most of the houses in Norwich-over-the-Water were remodelled or rebuilt , no doubt on profits from a thriving textile industry. An example of contemporary remodelling is provided by 27-29 Colegate, ‘ … a seventeenth century timber-framed house raised a storey in the C18’ .
St Giles Street is one of the most imposing Georgian streets, full of houses either built in the Georgian period or brought up to date with a new facade (usually involving an increase in height) .
Focussing on newly-built brick houses of the 1700s, Pevsner and Wilson  noted that none retained the old courtyard plan. Abandoned by the rich then filled with the shanties of the poor, numerous ‘courts’ or ‘yards’ were to become insanitary slums that lasted well into the twentieth century. Meanwhile, the wealthy either retreated to their country houses surrounding the city or lived in their brick-built townhouses (stone being famously scarce in these parts). The wealthy master-weaver Thomas Harvey did both. He built a mansion just north of the city, Catton House, while maintaining a town house in the heart of the weaving district. This was number 18 Colegate, built in the early eighteenth century . Thomas Harvey was the man whose collection of Dutch paintings influenced the co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome, who lived off Colegate .
Pevsner and Wilson considered 18 Colegate to be ‘(one) of the best early C18 houses in Norwich’ and awarded a similar accolade to Churchman’s House on St Giles Plain – ‘one of the finest houses in Norwich’ . The imposing front we see today was added in 1751 by Sir Thomas Churchman in the course of remodelling his father’s house. Both this and Harvey’s house are seven-bayed but the pediment above the central three bays of Churchman’s House adds a more elegant top note.
In 1746, Churchman Jr planted a triangular walk of elms on nearby Chapel Field that he leased from the council .
This was the age of the promenade in which polite society paraded itself in the evening, or the afternoon in winter. In the provinces, polite society was mainly composed of the rising middling sort who looked ‘to register a cultural claim to gentility rather than one solely based on pedigree.’ Promenaders would take the air in their finery but, in this Second City passeggiata, as elsewhere around Europe, this could be read as a display of tribal affiliation in which a warm greeting or a curt nod betrayed your position in the social order .
In 1777, Parson Woodforde [13, 14], whose diary tells us so much about Georgian Norwich …
‘… went and drank tea this evening … with Mrs. Davy in St. Stephen’s Parish, with her, Mrs. Roupe, her mother-in-law and a very pretty young Lady from the boarding School. We took a walk afterwards in Chapel Field etc.’
In addition to drinking tea or coffee with friends, the leisured class could visit one of the several coffee houses around the marketplace [12,15]. There, they could read newspapers, gossip and – as unwitting participants in the English Enlightenment – discuss ideas that might have been considered seditious in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An Act of Parliament that restricted printing to London, Oxford and Cambridge had been allowed to lapse in 1695  and Norwich was first to publish a truly provincial newspaper. By 1707, when only about six newspapers had established themselves in the provinces, Norwich had three of them. This was accompanied by a surge in the number of booksellers, which rose to 17 by the end of the Regency (1820) .
The east side of the marketplace was where the fashionable came to gaze into the specialist stores along Gentleman’s Walk – an early shopping parade. This print is a little later than the Georgian period but the discernible names give a sense of the shops along the Walk: Lammas Bros (tea dealers); Potter & Co (furrier); Sidney & Ladyman (also tea dealers); W Ringer (Berlin [wool embroidery] and fancy repository). Other shops from this period on the Walk include: confectioners; glove makers; coffee roasters; china dealers; mercers specialising in lace; hatters, and booksellers.
From 1724, advertisements in the local newspaper invited Members and ‘Clubbers’ to listen to professional musicians at the Musick Night in Mr Freemoult’s Long Room .
There was also music and dancing at assemblies, especially during Assize Week in early August, when county society came to town. The genteel could visit pleasure gardens, country cousins of London’s Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens (read  for the fascinating story of Norwich’s pleasure gardens). At Quantrell’s pleasure garden, for instance, the interval at concerts could be filled with humorous dialogues and songs, the evening completed with a celebration of military victories animated with illuminations, transparencies, capped off with spectacular fireworks.
But the days needed filling too. Visiting lecturers would expound on a range of advances in the natural sciences for this was the Age of Reason and the enlightened were hungry for Knowledge as well as Diversion. In one day in 1785 Parson Woodforde explored the two poles: he attended a lecture at the Assembly House on astronomy aided by a large mechanical orrery but in the afternoon he ‘went and saw the learned Pigg at the rampant Horse in St Stephens’ . It was claimed this animal could spell, using letters and numbers placed before him. Could the paperweight I bought a few years ago be a souvenir of the Learned Pig?
I was prompted, in part, to write this post by a book on ‘Georgian Norwich: Its Builders’ by local architect, Stanley Wearing . Before focussing on ‘the genius of Thomas Ivory’ he says a few words about the Norwich-born Brettingham brothers, Matthew (d.1769) and Robert (d.1768). During the building of Holkham Hall in north Norfolk, Matthew was assistant to William Kent – the man who introduced Palladian architecture to England – and managed the project for some years after Kent’s death.
There is a small piece of Cow Hill, Norwich, that is forever Holkham Hall: this is Holkham House, built in the mid-eighteenth century. A green plaque states it was designed by Matthew for his brother Robert but Pevsner and Wilson are unsure which brother designed it .
Provided they pledged an oath of allegiance, nonconformists were extended the freedom of worship by the Act of Toleration (1689). In the following century a new nonconformist chapel arose on Colegate – a manifestation of the strong current of dissent that ran through the city. Initially, Robert Brettingham was engaged as architect and surveyor but seems to have been discharged by a select committee. Thomas Ivory (1709-1799) then competed with a Mr Lee for the contract but it appears that Ivory’s ‘Moddle’ for an octangular building swung it for him . Commissioned by the Presbyterians, Ivory’s new chapel of 1754 was said by John Wesley to be the most beautiful meeting house in Europe.
In 1751, six years after purchasing his freedom as a carpenter, 42-year-old Thomas Ivory was appointed to do ‘all the carpenter work’ in the medieval Great Hospital on Bishopgate. Ivory leased land from the hospital in order to build his own house, where he lived from 1756 until his death.
Ivory imported and exported timber from his business premises on Bishopgate; it was on this street that he also built what was probably his first major project in the city – the Methodist Meeting House or Tabernacle. His client was the Reverend James Wheatley, an Independent Methodist who had been expelled by Wesley from the Methodist movement for immoral conduct. Wheatley saved the money for his church, partly one feels, for his own protection; as an itinerant preacher he had been assaulted for his views .
Wheatley’s Tabernacle was diagonally opposite the Adam and Eve pub, the oldest in Norwich.
The three high points of Thomas Ivory’s building career are illustrated in the border of Samuel King’s plan of the city.
Ivory’s two buildings dedicated to entertainment were on the Chapel Field Estate, perhaps the closest in Norwich to a Georgian enclave. Ranging from local aristocracy to merchants and manufacturers there were about two dozen proprietors of the estate, their aim being to create ‘a superior neighbourhood for leisure in the mid eighteenth century’ . Along with a new bowling green, the remodelled assembly rooms were opened in 1755, adjacent to Churchman’s triangular walk . The Assembly House was built on the vestiges of the ancient College of St Mary-in-the-Fields and Sir Henry Hobart’s mansion, already used for occasional assemblies. This was the town house of Hobart of Blickling Hall, who had been Steward of Norwich in 1595 and went on to become Attorney General. An anonymous tourist in 1741 had pronounced, ‘the buildings which have anything of grandeur in them are all Gothic’ but the Assembly House is a Georgian building of which Norwich could be proud, for – with the exception of Bath – no other city of its size could match it . Due to lack of funds Ivory was unable to remodel the attached wings but this didn’t prevent the connecting doors from being thrown open so that dancers could form a line 143 feet long.
The sculpture in the centre of the fountain is of a female putto made in the late 1930s by sculptor James Woodford, the man who designed the roundels on the great bronze doors of the City Hall (1938) and is thought to have made the two flagpole bases in the Memorial Garden outside City Hall .
In 1757, on an adjacent plot, Thomas Ivory built the 1000-seat Theatre Royal, purportedly based on the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. As proprietor, he engaged the Norwich Company of Comedians to perform plays. To get around the inconvenient fact that only London theatres could be licensed to perform plays, he renamed his enterprise The Grand Concert Hall and presented free plays in the interval between the paid-for concert . Norwich became the second provincial theatre to receive royal assent after an Act of 1767 allowed the licensing of theatres outside the capital.
The theatre was modified by William Wilkins in 1801 and rebuilt by in 1826 by William Wilkins Jr., better known as architect of the National Gallery. Wilkins’ theatre burned down in 1934.
In the 1760s, Thomas Ivory built a four-storey terrace in Surrey Street. Numbers 35/33 and 31/29 were completed in 1761 while 27/25 were built around ten years later, with the possible involvement of Ivory’s son William. Outside number 29 is a plaque recording that this was once home to Sir James Edward Smith, son of a wealthy Norwich textile merchant, who founded the Linnean Society and brought the Linnean collection to this city. The collection was comprised of Carl Linnaeus’s own ‘type specimens’ – the standards for each species. This was at the height of the world-wide collecting and gathering of plants and animals whose classification into groups paved the way for Darwinism. Smith also had what must have been a fascinating garden and, as a former plant scientist, I twitch each time I read that the garden was bought in the 1930s by the Eastern Counties Bus Company to build the new bus station .
In 1939, another red brick, four-storey building was raised on St Andrews Street, giving us the opportunity to look at the Georgian legacy in the twentieth century. This was the nine-bay Telephone Exchange built in the ‘Post Office Georgian’ style favoured by His Majesty’s Office of Works between the two world wars. The Georgian references are minimal (only three of the windows are encased in a stone architrave with a triangular pediment – and these aren’t real sash windows) but they are sufficient to disguise a high-tech building in comfortable traditional garb when it could (perhaps, should) have been clothed in a more challenging modernist style.
Around the corner from the Ivory terrace on Surrey Street, Thomas built a house for himself at the west end of All Saints Green, but immediately let it out in 1772 at £60 per annum to a Miles Branthwayte. From 1860, the house was to become the Norfolk Militia Artillery Barracks with sufficient land to provide for a parade ground and stables.
In 1779, Thomas Ivory died of heart disease and is buried in Norwich Cathedral. Echoing Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s Cathedral (If you seek his monument, look around), the Norwich Mercury wrote, Let his works speak for him .
And if we seek a secular memorial there is St Catherine’s House. Thomas Ivory designed this building on All Saints Green but died during its construction. His son William completed it the following year .
©Reggie Unthank 2021
For your Christmas stocking. Published this year, my latest book is a collection of short, richly illustrated articles on the history of Norwich, including Mrs Opie’s medallion, angels’ ears, random walks, a half-size Pantheon and golden balls. Click here for a look inside.
Derek James of the Eastern Daily Press generously wrote, ‘It must rank as one of the finest books in recent times on the Fine City.’
The book is available in Jarrolds Norwich and City Bookshop Norwich. Click the underlined links to go straight to their mail order pages. It can also be bought in: The Bookhive, Norwich; Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich; the Holt Bookshop; Ketts Bookshop, Wymondham, and ‘Bear’ on Avenue Road, Norwich.
- Marc Girouard (1990). The English Town. Pub: Yale University Press.
- Celia Fiennes (1698). Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, Being the Diary of Celia Fiennes. London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press, 1888. Available online: https://digital.library.upenn.edu/women/fiennes/saddle/saddle.html
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
- Raymond Frostick (2002). The Printed Plans of Norwich, 1558-1840. Pub: Raymond Frostick, Norwich, England.
- Angela Dain (2004). An Enlightened and Polite Society. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550’ (eds. Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
- William Chase (1783). The Norwich Directory. Online at: https://www.gutenberg.org/files/62333/62333-h/62333-h.htm
- Trevor Fawcett (1979). Music in Eighteenth Century Norfolk and Norwich. Pub: Centre for East Anglian Studies, UEA.
- Stanley J Wearing (1926). Georgian Norwich: Its Builders. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.
Thanks. I am grateful to Roland Harris, Norwich Cathedral Archaeologist, and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk.
Norwich was slow to find its way into the industrial world. Before the slum clearances, the city still had a timber frame: largely Tudor in appearance with Georgian contributions. Around 1900 the architect Edward Boardman introduced a glimpse of modernity with factories and offices built around steel frames with concrete floors, while George Skipper’s more exuberant projects added sparkle. The contributions of these two Norwich titans survived well, helping to define the city’s present-day character, but much of the fine texture from a century ago was built up by numerous smaller practitioners like Cecil Upcher.
Upcher was born in 1884 in Barnham Broom, Norfolk, where his father, the Reverend Arthur Charles Wodehouse Upcher B.A., was the rector.
White’s Directory described Reverend Upcher’s home as ‘a spacious residence with pleasant grounds near the church’ . The 1911 census records that the Upchers lived in the rectory with a cook, a parlour maid, a house maid, a kitchen maid and a nurse. They lived well, in a manner appropriate to the descendants of Abbot Upcher, the man who commissioned the Reptons to design Sheringham Hall and Park.
Having mentioned Abbot (his given name, not title) Upcher it would be wrong to cast him aside so soon for in some quarters he is the better known Upcher. The name Upcher may be a corruption of Upshire in Essex yet census returns find it most frequently – although still scantly – in Norfolk . In 1812, Abbot and Charlotte Upcher bought their estate near Upper Sheringham on the north-east Norfolk coast. They engaged John Adey Repton as architect and Repton’s father Humphry to reconfigure the landscape.
Humphry Repton (b1752), the foremost landscape designer of the late Georgian period, died in March 1818, seven years after being badly injured in a carriage accident. In less than a year Abbot Upcher, would also die, aged 35, never to live in the hall he had commissioned.
Abbot’s great grandson Cecil therefore came from Norfolk stock and it was as a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment that he served in the Great War.
Writing to his fiancée, Hilda Ward, he describes the conscripts as “a top hole lot of men all true Norfolk men” . In his letters Upcher describes several of his billets; some he sketched.
Since 1906, Upcher had been in practice in Norwich as an architect, specialising in church restoration. His professional training emerges in the sketch below in which he measured the accommodation provided by a dugout: beneath a ceiling four feet high were two beds, six feet long and two feet wide, separated by an 18 inch gap. His temporary refuges were drawn with precision but revealed nothing about the awfulness on the other side of the tin roof.
Upcher’s letters convey the sense of the ironic, understated tone of the officer class – especially when wounded.
‘Monday September 27th 10am . In the train. Here I am on my way to England I believe. I got a bullet through the fleshy part of my left thigh. No damage and as fit as a fiddle. Feeling a bit of a humbug to be leaving it all, but walking is rather a job at present. We had to take a Bosch position at 7am yesterday Sunday morning and I got bowled over with a lot of others I fear .’
The voice will be familiar to readers of PG Wodehouse (and the name, Wodehouse, introduced into the family line by Upcher’s grandmother is inescapable here). When asked if he had taken part in the First World War, Bertie Wooster’s manservant Jeeves replied, ‘I dabbled in it to a certain extent, m’lord.’ (Ring for Jeeves, 1953).
By mid-1916 Upcher was suffering from deep depression and was invalided out with shell shock . When he married Hilda the same year we see him holding a cane that seems too large for a swagger stick, suggesting he was still carrying an injury. Nevertheless, he returned to active service until the end of the war.
Upcher had been educated at Haileybury College, Herts before training at the Liverpool School of Architecture. Before the war, he was in partnership with Arthur John Lacey at number 6 Upper King Street Norwich. They specialised in church renovation and one of their last projects before the outbreak of war was the restoration of the ruinous St Martin, Overstrand.
After the war, in the church in Upper Sheringham that housed the Upcher mausoleum, Cecil Upcher acknowledged men of the village killed in the war, by designing the oak pulpit and the foliate reredos above the altar.
And as a memorial to the men of the Norfolk Regiment who died in the Great War, Upcher designed a crescent of 12 alms houses in Norwich for disabled soldiers.
The medallion of Britannia at the top of this memorial is signed by HA Miller who collaborated with Upcher on a memorial in the cathedral . Herbert Miller (1880-1952), who trained at the Norwich School of Art, seems to have specialised in memorial plaques with portrait roundels, including: Amelia Opie on Opie House in Castle Meadow; John Sell Cotman on Cotman House in St Martin-at-Palace Plain; George Borrow outside George Borrow House in Willow Lane; and the Baptist preacher Joseph Kinghorn on a house in Pottergate near the Grapes Hill underpass .
After the Second World War Upcher was to design, for an adjacent plot, a range of six cottages for the wounded, funded by the public via The Home Guard. Distinguished by their Dutch gables, these cottages seem to belong to an earlier age; they appear less generous than the two-storey accommodation provided by the Great War cottages but were designed for the disabled as single-storey bungalows in order to avoid difficulties with stairs.
Documents in the Norfolk Record Office confirm that Upcher’s practice was involved in all aspects of restoration in churches around Norfolk. They were not, however, restricted to ecclesiastical work; for example, Number 24 Princes Street is a Tudor building restored in 1932 by Upcher. Stripping the plaster from the front revealed the herringbone brick infill we see today. According to George Plunkett, the wooden lintel above the door came from a house in Fyebridge Street, once home to Edmund Wood who was Sheriff in 1536 and Mayor in 1548 .
The repurposed spandrels of No 24’s door contain the merchants’ mark of the Worshipful Company of Grocers (top right, below). And around 400 years later, Cecil Upcher and builder Robert Carter left their names carved on the door jambs of the house in Princes Street.
The mark of the Mercers’ Company is also suggested to be represented somewhere  but the shield at top left contains a tangle of initials and not the maiden’s head that was, from 1530, the mercers’ mark, a fine example of which can be seen in nearby Elm Hill.
Cley Windmill in North Norfolk also received Upcher’s attention.
In the last years of the nineteenth century, when the city was expanding beyond the city walls, the Trafford estate in the parish of Lakenham was developed on land owned by Edward Southwell Trafford. In 1919 his son, WJ Trafford, extended the estate around Eleanor and Trafford Roads and in the early 1930s Upcher designed a church for the new community. As one of the few churches built in Norwich between the wars St Albans was very much in keeping with the surrounding detached villas – comfortable yet somehow ’modern’.
Pevsner and Wilson  called the style, ‘vaguely E.E.’, although the church’s rounded arches are clearly at odds with the lancets of Early English. By adopting a ’free’ Norman style, before the incursions of the architectural Goths, Upcher may have been differentiating his new church from the work of the Gothic revivalists of the previous generation. See, for example, the recent post on the campaign of Nonconformist church-building by Norwich architect AF Scott before the Great War . Scott, incidentally, was still alive when St Albans was being built.
What the building is is vernacular. No imported stone here, its craftsmanship expressed in local materials drawn from Norfolk soil: unknapped flints with red-brick dressings. Pevsner and Wilson  described St Albans as being, ‘In the Maufe succession,’ suggesting a link with Sir Edward Brantwood Maufe (né Muff) whose first major commission was Kelling Hall in north Norfolk.
Following Norfolk’s two other butterfly houses – Happisburgh Manor in 1900 (by Detmar Blow) and Voewood in 1903 (by ES Prior) – Kelling Hall was built in 1913 for the co-owner of the Shell Oil Company, Sir Henry Deterding. Like St Albans, Kelling Hall is clad in local flint pebbles and, in making the connection with St Albans, Pevsner and Wilson are placing Upcher’s church in the Arts & Crafts tradition.
Inside St Albans, the reinforced concrete ceiling in the chancel is a thing of beauty, predating the raw concrete of Brutalism by some 20 years – perhaps less a display of modernist leanings than an expression of the ‘truth to materials’ propagated by Pugin and Morris.
The woodwork in the chancel is reminiscent of the carving at Upper Sheringham.
At the east end of the chancel is a large painting of an epicene Christ in Majesty, floating over the view of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. It was painted in 1955 by Jeffery Camp RA in response to a competition by the Eastern Daily Press to provide a work of art above the altar.
Upcher also designed the vicarage next door.
Cecil Upcher is perhaps best known for his restoration of one of the city’s most photographed landmarks: Pulls Ferry on the eastern boundary of Cathedral Close. Norwich Cathedral is faced with Caen limestone, each piece of which was shipped across the Channel. The stone was transferred to low barges behind what was to become Old Barge Yard on King Street, allowing cargo to be delivered up the narrow canal connecting the Wensum with the stonemasons’ yard inside the cathedral precinct. In the fifteenth century a flat-arched Water Gate was built over the canal and the waterway itself was filled in ca.1780 .
The crossing from the opposite bank of the Wensum was known for most of its life as Sandling’s Ferry . This watercolour by Robert Ladbrooke, co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, shows us what the ferry looked like at the very beginning of the nineteenth century.
Sandling was superseded by John Pull who operated a pub here (Pull’s Ferry Inn or Ferry House) from 1796 until his bankruptcy in 1841 . Pull’s Ferry operated until 1943 although it was already in ruin when Cecil Upcher drew the watergate in 1928.
The Norfolk Record Office holds a small collection of photographs, possibly taken by Upcher himself. Wisely, they are sealed in plastic covers (I mention this to excuse the reflections on some of the following photographs). Upcher restored the house and watergate 1948-9.
The restored Ferry House became offices for Upcher’s architectural practice but plans show that much of the space was dedicated to a two-storey flat – the only evidence of business being the small typist’s room on the ground floor and the office upstairs. The largest upstairs room, labelled ‘J.F.W.’, was allocated to Upcher’s nephew, James Fletcher-Watson. The largest room on the ground floor was C.U’s.
The photograph below, labelled ‘C Upcher’s room and armchair’, underlines how much space was dedicated to living accommodation.
Standing on the left of the photograph is James Fletcher-Watson (1913-2004), with whom Upcher shared the practice. Trained as an architect under Edwin Lutyens, Fletcher-Watson is better known as one of the finest watercolourists of his generation.
Cecil Upcher died age 88 and is buried in All Saints Upper Sheringham.
©2021 Reggie Unthank
- Cecil Upcher letters Aug 1915 – Oct 1916. Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum.
- Peter Bardwell’s Flickr page on Cecil Upcher: https://www.flickr.com/photos/132932913@N02/albums/72157682762647195
- Richard and Sarah Cocke (2013). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk. Pub: Liverpool University Press.
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I.Pub: Yale University Press.
- Frank Meeres (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore and Co Ltd, Andover.
I am grateful to Kate Thaxton, Curator, Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum for background on Upcher; to John Snape and Barbara Worland for Barnham Broom history; and to Gordon Blacklock at the Norfolk Record Office for guiding me through the Upcher archive.
An unintended consequence of the puritanical whitewashing of brightly coloured Catholic imagery on church walls was that it liberated vast acres to be colonised by hanging monuments. We see this at Saints Peter and Paul, Heydon, where cleaning work in 1970 revealed sequences of fourteenth century wall paintings that had been unwittingly obscured by later stone memorials.
In the previous post we saw the ‘kneeler’ monuments as grand floor-standing memorials but by flattening the perspective this theme could be readily adapted to slimmer wall-hung memorials. St John Maddermarket, one of the most intriguing churches in the city, contains the memorial to Christopher Layer (1533-1600), wealthy grocer, sheriff, alderman and twice mayor. On this wall monument, rich in symbolism , we see unbiblical motifs. The two uppermost statuettes in the niches are Roman (Pax and Gloria). The task of the slave accompanying the conquering hero on his triumph through Rome was to whisper in his ear, ‘Memento mori’ (remember that you must die). A similar purpose is served in this monument by the skull that hovers between husband and wife, warning against seduction by the transient vanities of life. The putto holding a bubble (lower left) is another much used symbol of the kind seen in Dutch vanitas paintings of the period. The reward for treading the middle way is, as we see at the top of the painting, entry into heaven.
Kneeler monuments were still commissioned towards the end of the seventeenth century, as in this memorial to Sir Thomas Greene in St Nicholas’ Chapel, Kings Lynn. Another merchant made good, Greene (d. 1675) was three times mayor. The effigies of Greene and his wife Susannah Barker no longer look at one another across the prayer desk. The faces are fascinating; they are clearly portraits of citizens who have done well in the world but, with puritanical restraint, are shown as plain folk, warts-and-all. The vanitas element is still present in the skull that separates the five daughters and four sons below, although the humility is somewhat checked by the splendour of the coat of arms above.
Pevsner and Wilson  attribute the Greene Monument to London mason, Thomas Cartwright the Elder, who worked with Sir Christopher Wren. Mortlock and Roberts , on the other hand, suggest local architect Henry Bell, providing me with an excuse to show his sublime Customs House on Kings Lynn Quayside.
In the same period as Greene’s puritanical kneeler, a far more sumptuous structure was erected for Sir Thomas and Lady Adams in Sprowston – now a northern suburb of Norwich. The contrast between Roundhead and Cavalier, new money versus old, is stark. Sir Thomas had been an intimate friend of King Charles II and rose to be Lord Mayor of London. Husband and wife semi-recline on separate levels with her, unusually, occupying the upper berth where she strikes a pose described as ‘precious and unrestrained’ . Poor Sir Thomas suffered from the stone, something common in Norfolk and was much operated upon by Dr Rigby when the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital opened a century later. After death, Sir Thomas’ kidney stone was found to weigh just over a pound and a half.
Below, this sculpture from the latter part of the seventeenth century shows the lingering influence of kneeler monuments. The angel flying across the black tablet carries away a chrysom child in its swaddling cloth, sowing confusion in the minds of those trying to read the inscription. You will search in vain for Sir William Heveningham’s name, it doesn’t appear here nor on his tomb slab in St Peter’s Ketteringham. Sir William was one of the judges at King Charles I’s trial. He didn’t sign the death warrant but, after the Restoration, was convicted of high treason and his lands seized by the Crown. His life was spared and through the exertions of his wife – Lady Mary Heveningham, daughter of the Earl of Dover – the estate was recovered. She erected this family monument but her husband’s name is absent .
Back to Stratton Strawless and the tomb of Henry Marsham (1692); a Classical backdrop, all Corinthian columns and scrolly pediments. The kneeling figures are Henry, son Henry and Anne Marsham (plus baby Margaret, upright in her swaddling sheet) but, in order for all of them to kneel in this narrow recess, they turn to face us, causing Spencer  to wonder what happened to their legs and feet.
In the 1700s, chest tombs ‘faded from the picture in favour of wall monuments and tablets more restrained than those of the C17’ . Elements of Classicism, already established in the previous century, came to the fore. To put this period into local historical perspective, this was a time when Holkham Hall was built in the Palladian style – a purer version of Classical than the Baroque. The outstanding London sculptors of their age, Frenchman Louis François Roubiliac (1702-1762) and the Flemish emigré, Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), were never commissioned to build tombs in Norfolk. Roubiliac did, however, sculpt the busts of Lord Leicester, Thomas Coke (d. 1759), and his wife on their monument in Tittleshall.
The Tittleshall monument itself is attributed to Charles Atkinson, responsible for carving most of the chimneypieces at Holkham .
To the right of this monument is the work of Joseph Nollekens, one of only two pieces by him in the county. Just sneaking into the next century (1805) is the bas relief to Jane Coke, wife of the great agriculturalist, ‘Coke of Norfolk’. The fashionable London sculptor Nollekens was to sculpture what Sir Joshua Reynolds was to portraiture .
Once apprenticed to Nollekens, the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers was best known for his sculpture of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey. His studies of Baroque and Classical sculpture in Rome helped him influence the development of modern sculpture in England . His only work in Norfolk is this large monument to Susannah Hare (d.1741) in Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolph . The reclining figure is rare after this date .
The Hare Mausoleum, built in 1624 by John Hare on the north side of the chancel of Holy Trinity Stow Bardolph, houses perhaps the most curious memorial in the county. This is the wax effigy of Sarah Hare in her mahogany case, emerging from behind curtains. She died of blood poisoning after pricking her finger while embroidering and it was her wish to be remembered in her everyday clothes. The model is unflattering and the effect of her gaze is variously described as ‘shattering’ and ‘terrifying’ – an antidote to the saccharine (or, at that time, sugar-laden) memorials that try to dissemble the reality of death.
Norwich mayors were elected annually. In life, their parish churches would have celebrated by adding their name plaque to ceremonial sword and mace rests (and Norwich probably has more of these than anywhere outside London ) while in death their achievement might be recognised by a wall tablet.
Very few eighteenth-century mayors had sufficient influence in death to command floor space in their place of worship but parish churches like St George Tombland began to fill with mayoral wall monuments. Norwich is said to have had more than a score of sculptors who could produce the increasingly popular wall tablets ‘equal in standard to the best London work’ . From the pool of ‘Norwich School’ sculptors Spencer picked out Robert Page (1707-1778)  and Thomas Rawlins (1747-1781) . He excluded Robert Singleton (1706-1740)  from the Norwich elite only on the grounds that he came from Bury St Edmunds. However, Singleton had a workshop adjacent to the Cathedral and was master to Page the apprentice and deserves to be in this group. Another member of this top tier of Norwich monumental masons was John Ivory, nephew to Thomas Ivory, the architect of Georgian Norwich (Octagon Chapel, Assembly House).
A simple but charming wall monument by Singleton is in St George Colegate. Almost in parody of the lolling pose a cherub rests on a skull while holding an hourglass.
Robert Page has been described as the best sculptor that Norfolk has produced. As we can see from this wall monument in SS Mary and Margaret, Sprowston, his work is characterised by the use of colourful marble veneers and the appearance of ‘delightful’ cherubs .
In St Andrew’s Norwich, Page’s tablet commemorating Thomas Crowe contains three cherub heads that so pleased Noël Spencer (‘the most delightful I have ever seen’) that he employed them on the frontispiece of his book . In the absence of sculpted portraits, flocks of cherubs, seen in their hundreds on Georgian and Victorian memorials, satisfied the need for a figurative presence.
Page was also known for carving handsome sarcophagi ; a particularly fine example, with detailed lions’ feet, memorialises Edward Atkyns (d.1750), Lord of the Manor at Ketteringham. The end of a sarcophagus projects part way out of the wall, showing how the narrow end of a sarcophagus or casket came to provide the format – lozenge or rectangle – for less florid wall tablets.
As spotted by church warden Mary Parker when viewing an interview with the Duchess of Cornwall on TV, a near identical inscription celebrating the Atkynses of Ketteringham can be seen in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey – this by Sir Henry Cheere, ‘carver’ to the abbey. Apart from the generic sarcophagus theme, this monument of 1746 is stylistically different from the one attributed to Page at Ketteringham.
Edward Atkyns (d.1794), a later lord of the manor at Ketteringham, scandalised the county by marrying an Irish actress, Charlotte Walpole, who performed at Drury Lane.
Shunned by the local squirearchy, they moved to France where she became friends with Marie Antoinette and is said to have squandered the family’s money in plots to release the queen and her son, Louis XVII, from prison. In one account Charlotte – reprising her performance at Drury Lane – dressed as a soldier of the National Guard in order to free the unfortunate queen. The romantic story of her escapades in Paris appears in the book ‘Mrs Pimpernel Atkyns’ by EEP Tisdall .
Trained in London, Thomas Rawlins worked from 1743 to 1781 as a monumental mason in Norwich, based in Duke’s Palace Yard on the site of present-day St Andrews Car Park. Rawlins’ work was thought to be among the best, not just locally, but on the national stage . This blowsy wall monument to the wonderfully named Hambleton Custance in St Andrew’s Norwich, shows the contemporary fascination with coloured marble and cherubs.
The Georgian wall monument by Rawlins in St George Colegate commemorates two-times mayor Timothy Balderston (d.1764). The mayor’s sword and mace lie behind the cherub who points to Balderston’s eulogy on the scroll.
John Ivory (1730-1805/6) – ranked by Pevsner below Page and Rawlins  – took over Page’s shop and yard at the corner of King Street and Tombland, just outside the cathedral’s Ethelbert Gate. Now the site of the All Bar One restaurant, this was roughly where the Popinjay Inn stood, the origin of the great fire of 1507 that burned 718 buildings . Probably Ivory’s best monument (‘a very fine architectural tablet’ ) was made for Charles and Mary Mackerell in St Stephen’s Norwich.
After I had written this post I unexpectedly found St Giles Norwich open and snapped this wall tablet by Sir Henry Cheere with my ancient phone. It commemorates Sir Thomas Churchman (d 1747) who lived in ‘One of the finest houses in Norwich’  – Churchman’s House on the opposite side of St Giles Plain. Both this and the Ivory monument above were made around 1747. They follow a very similar pattern, allowing the work of one of the city’s leading sculptors to be compared favourably with the output of Westminster Abbey’s carver.
At the very end of the eighteenth century, Ivory carved ‘a pretty memorial’, with vases straight out of the Wedgwood catalogue. This monument to Mary Evans, daughter of the man who had Salle Park built in 1761, is to be found in SS Peter and Paul, Salle.
The Classical influences that dominated the Regency period lingered until the time of Queen Victoria’s accession (1837) after which, according to Spencer , there was an aesthetic decline. He named three sculptors most representative of this period: John Bacon the Younger (1777-1859); Sir Richard Westmacott RA (1775-1856); and John Flaxman (1775-1826), most widely known as a modeller for Wedgwood.
A favourite motif of Flaxman’s, a young woman carried heavenwards, appears on the elegant memorial for Harriot Peach (d.1825) at Ketteringham church. It is reminiscent of the Nollekens group that we saw at Tittleshall.
John Bacon Junior had been a child prodigy, sculpting monumental works from the age of 11 . Here, he sculpts Lady Maria Micklethwait of Sprowston and her journey to heaven (1805). Compare this with the pared back simplicity of Flaxman’s similar theme, above.
John Bacon Jr also carved a fine monument in St George Colegate to Mayor John Herring (d.1810). A plain-speaking man, Herring twice declined to be knighted by the king, declaring himself unworthy of the honour.
Sir Richard Westmacott RA sculpted this monument to Edward Atkyns (d. 1794) and his son Wright Edward Atkyns (d. 1804) in one of Norfolk’s most fascinating churches – St Peter’s Ketteringham. The scene depicts a young woman mourning at the foot of a broken column crowned by weeping willow . The martial symbols refer to the younger Atkyns’ career as Captain of Dragoons.
From its inception in the 1830s, the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement raised ideological objections to large and boastful monuments, creating the climate for a countrywide proliferation of wall tablets ‘but hardly anything bigger’ . Classical design was considered pagan so religious buildings were to be in the Gothic style and certainly no later than Decorated. In Norwich, local tradition influenced the celebration of death (see The Norwich Way of Death ). Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the city’s population contained a high percentage of Dissenters. An Act of 1836 allowed Nonconformists to perform their own funeral services but it was not until 1880 that they were allowed to conduct burials in parish churches according to their own rites. However, in 1819, Thomas Drummond had established The Rosary Cemetery in the Norwich suburb of Thorpe Hamlet – the first in the country where anyone could be buried regardless of their religion. As a result, the monuments in The Rosary are gloriously various, some of them undoubtedly on the Oxford Movement’s proscribed list.
Jeremiah Cozens (d. 1849) has the only cast-iron sarcophagus at The Rosary …
… and the only mausoleum at The Rosary belongs to Emanuel Cooper, an eminent eye-surgeon (d. 1878). This is one of five C19 mausoleums in Norfolk .
Below is the memorial to John Barker, Steam Circus Proprietor (d 1897). The showman was crushed between two traction engines when setting up a ride at the old Norwich Cattlemarket (now Norwich Castle Gardens) . He left 15 children.
In the municipal cemetery at Earlham a horse marks the grave of horse dealer John Abel and his wife Frances .
© Reggie Unthank 2021
Thanks: I am indebted to Dr Mary Parker, churchwarden, for sharing her extensive knowledge of St Peter Ketteringham. Simon Knott is thanked for kindly providing photographs.
My new book (click this link for preview) is available at £14.99 from Jarrolds of Norwich and the City Bookshop, both of which do mail order. It can also be found in The Book Hive Norwich, Waterstones Castle Street Norwich, Kett’s Books Wymondham and The Holt Bookshop.
- Kevin Faulkner (2013). The Layer Monument. Pub: Kevin Faulkner. Printed by Pride Press Ltd., Norwich.
- Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and North-East and 2: North-West and South. Pub: Yale University Press.
- Joseph Hunter (1851). The History and Topography of Ketteringham in the County of Norfolk. Printed in Norwich by Charles Muskett.
- Noël Spencer (1977). Sculptured Monuments in Norfolk Churches. Pub: Norfolk Churches Trust.
- D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 3 West and South-West Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
- E.E.P. Tisdall (1965). Mrs ‘Pimpernel’ Atkyns. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.
- Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk.
- Judith Havens (2014). John Abel: Horse-dealer of Norwich. Pub: Judith Havens.