Category Archives: heritage

Canterbury Cathedral – a place for martyrs, medieval architecture…and guns

I sent this to the Dean shortly after learning about the new regime which began last Sept.

I left time for a reply, but didn’t get one.

 

Dear Dean Robert

I was shocked to learn that armed police patrol the Precinct, and the city.

I’ve long been unhappy at your entry fee, but this is even more offputting; I won’t visit whilst this guards policy is in place. It clashes with Christian welcome and values, and either puts the symbolic mother of the established church under the civic and military control, or willingly colludes with them.

Have you read James Alison’s On Being Liked, and his first triptych about the Twin Towers? He writes that God has nothing to do with the ways of violence, but subverts them to overcome them. Yet here, it seems that we fight evil with evil, fear by escalating fear, and begin steps towards a police state.

Using weapons isn’t accountable, it’s an immediate execution that doesn’t require a court, and it’s feared that a new Becket will occur.

Promoting fear and allowing the costly rise of armed police is not the way to handle attacks and threats – although public statements claim that there have been none. Greater defence and shows of strength gives rise to more reason to make us an object of attack with continued wars, along with erosion of civil liberties. It promotes resentment of other – Muslims and Middle Eastern/Indian people, and I fear, this is strong in Kent where you have so many refugees entering. I am already alarmed by what people’s responses have been to the news about your guards – notions that Trump supporters would be proud of.

It also makes greater public resentment of law enforcers and government, and makes us more like the gun slinging US police that we have so many appalling news reports about.

Christians are called to be different. It is a less evolved, less Christ centred society that allows an increase in weapons, an eye taken before an eye has been even lost.

I am frightened at the thought of yet more repeating history (ie another Becket) where curtailment and suspicion become accepted.

I do not believe this to be the kingdom God called us to build.

I am calling for the removal of police in the cathedral and the city.

I will also be publishing my call, but I wanted to give you a chance to respond first.

Yours sincerely

 

Elspeth

My Day Out With Elspeth can be read here. You can read my review of Canterbury’s arts cinema

 

Advertisements

2 Comments

Filed under heritage, society

Middlemarch and Sherwood

What links a Lincoln green clad arrow pinger, a mine magnate’s niece who’s chased by horses and her teacher, and a bonnet wearing philanthropic clergyman’s wife?

If you’ve read the blurb to my novel, you’ll know that I like making unlikely comparisons. If you’ve read the rest of this blog, you will see more of them.

The answer to the first question is firstly geography – for they are all located in the East Midlands; secondly, literature and film; – and lastly – well off people fighting to support the cause of the poor.

Thus Sherwood and Eastwood and Middlemarch are not so far apart.

I wrote my thoughts on Eastwood’s famous son – and the escapades of Ursula Brangwen – on Good Reads.

The rest of this concentrates on Sherwood – whose forest’s inhabitants need no introduction – and the fictitious manufacturing town invented by George Eliot, filmed in Stamford.

I like to read and watch and visit in themes, so if you want to know what my days out to Nottinghamshire and Stamford (and elsewhere in the East Midlands) involved – read them here.

Robin Hood and Dorothea Brooke are further linked by the fact that they are in some ways superhuman archetypes. Robin is borderline superhero, and in some versions (such as 1980s TV series Robin of Sherwood) he has a higher calling from a deity, the son of a god, the fulfilment of a long promised title: he is, as the theme song goes, The Hooded Man. (Does anyone else find the otherwise excellent Clannad’s keyboards tinny and dated?). Dorothea – ‘of the gods’ – is likened to not only famous mystic and theologian Theresa of Avila, but saints, angels and the Virgin Mary. (I ruefully acknowledge that Schmoop pointed that out to me).

Robin too has a special Mary in his all male band of called followers, who live rough and itinerant and give, in their way, good news to the poor and freedom for the prisoners and the oppressed… strange how closely Robin’s mission matches Isaiah 61, Jesus’ own self confessed mission statement. Robin descends from the higher echelons to save the people.

Dorothea also cares about the poor, about justice – and mercy – letting sheep stealers off fatal sentences, providing better homes for tenants, doing good with her money, such as supporting overlooked but genuine clergy and would be world changing doctors.

Both though are truly human as well as divine.

There is much in common with 1195 – the years leading to Magna Carter, 1832 – the Reform Bill – and now. All these are the cusp of a sea change  against long oppression and imbalance. Hence these stories keep coming round again. The 2006 BBC Robin Hood (with Jonas Armstrong) made explicit parallels to the middle eastern wars funded at the expense of the poor and where fair justice was dispensed with, and that there was no need to travel to Arab countries to see evil – “the real cancer is right here”.

Hence my satisfaction that seemingly disparate reading and watching material has a common thread.

I’ll talk more about Middlemarch in my next piece, but I wanted to round up by a final parallel which is more than pedantry.

It’s about accents in the TV versions.

In his otherwise excellent site Bold Outlaw, Allen W. Wright says that Kevin Costner’s infamously poor/non English accent in the 1994 Prince of Thieves film doesn’t matter, because we don’t know how people talked in Robin Hood’s day, and some say that the modern American accent is more likely than today’s English one.

As a North American, he would say that.

As an English person, I feel that Americans not adopting the accent of the characters they play is not only cultural laziness but symptomatic of America becoming a synecdoche for all the English speaking western world. If actors of other nationalities play an American part, they change their voice – but not in reverse. Many dramas exported to America are remade, or redubbed.

Only one Robin Hood so far has used the right accent for Robin, going by what we today recognise as Nottinghamshire, and that again is the 2006 BBC series with Richard Armitage.

All the others do what Middlemarch also did – as well as so many films. The rich have a British gittish queen’s English accent, and the serfs and villagers and tradesfolk have the general lazy west country bumpkin voice that I have moaned about so many times. It’s not even true of the West Country! It’s not how people in the Midlands speak. And that accent serves to delineate class via accent and associate the country one with being not only rustic but stupid, poor, ill educated, lower, subordinate.

Thus class – a distinction and divide that Robin and Dorothea are working to erase – is demarcated for yet another era, and that shorthand is perpetuated and spread across not only Britain but all the countries who watch our dramas.

I shall be back with more about Middlemarch (or truly, Lowick and Tipton) shortly.

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, history, literature, society, television

Last part of Edith week – The Edith Pilgrimage

Comments and tips for those following the cycle/walking trail from Swardeston to Norwich

Sometime in the summer, stickers began appearing on lampposts, with a 19th C style silhouette. The Edith trail had arrived in Norwich.

I’ve had the leaflet, available free but now scarce, for some months. At the end of Edith’s fortnight of centenary commemorations, I did the trail. It felt a fitting end to an intense week.

Signage is often good – except towards the village itself, on that country lane where you most need assurance that you are on the right route. It’s brown for walkers, blue for cyclists but I found the cyclists’ route on the whole better for both – the outward leg, anyway, via Unthank Rd.

The leaflet doesn’t give directions, just a map to follow which is NOT TO SCALE. That is like having a clock not on time. It misleads about the length of the route.

I’ve oft read that Swardeston is 4 miles from Norwich and the signposts in the village say just that. As the crow flies perhaps, but not as the Elspeth walks or cycles. Although the fastest route is via the A140 Ipswich Road and the B1113, these include not nice bits for non drivers, such as a huge roundabout intersection on to a main road and then a fast traffic but lonely stretch on the B1113, though there is a path suitable for cycles or pedestrians along much of it – but like many paths, it stops and starts.

I am confident that the most direct route by cycle or foot is nearer 7 miles from Norwich rail station, which is included in the trail and is close to the Close.

I am shocked that Edith walked this journey daily to school – not marked on the trail – at the Assembly House on Theatre Street, which you are directed right past. Today’s Norwich High School For Girls is on Newmarket Road which is a direct route from the city centre to Swardeston.

However – beware.

Many of the roads chosen are dull and have nothing to see or to do with Edith.

Ipswich Rd is a fast road with 1930s housing along it and a retail park with Tesco’s on it at the extreme, country end. I recall no other facilities – perhaps one pub? – and do not recommend the Marsh Harrier just beyond Tesco’s, which is not easy to access without a car anyway.

Hall Rd’s farthest end is basically industrial estate with no facilities.

Lakenham Way is an ex railway line running from behind Sainsbury’s on Queens Rd/ Brazen Gate to Hall Road. It’s fast and straight and flat, but as a shared path, can annoy all types of users. Mind the kink at the outskirts end.

Marston Lane is for cycles only – it’s too weeny for anything else and there’s little life down it except the private golf course. There’s nowhere to tie your bike if you want to walk on the marshes and I should warn walkers that for at least the second time on this trail, you are plunged into a wood. This is not a suitable lane for after dusk, nor is much of the route beyond Eaton – which you are now entering.

Newmarket Rd is full of fast traffic and many buses, but whom rarely stop here. Grand houses hide behind trees and open woods, so it’s eerie after dark, despite being so built up. There’s a shared cycle path and walkway, but there are few on it. After the Eagle Pub near the old N&N hospital, there are no facilities until you reach Eaton Village.

Unthank Rd – the city half – has shops and a little bit of buzz; there’s some nice pubs and cafes along or just off it. It rightly features on the trail, and feels safe by day or night, and there’s plenty of people about. Unthank Rd might be a better way to do this journey, especially if you’re coming back after dusk. The grand houses at its top (outskirts) end aren’t so tree lined as Newmarket Rd and it’s also quieter traffic wise – though the cars that are don’t drive slower and I saw some maniac driving into a well known mini mansion. It’s lit but again, not loads of people on foot.

As you cross the ring road, whatever arterial road you’ve chosen, beware – it has few pedestrian crossings and is too busy to do otherwise. If you’re on Newmarket Rd, stay on the left as you come out of the city, and use the crossing on Daniels Rd. If you’re on Unthank Rd, also stay left and go slightly down Mile Cross Road to get over the junction.

However, there’s an issue at the top of these roads and I am shocked that the Edith trail sends you over it, and without warning!

Unthank Rd at its outer end finishes at the top of Newmarket Rd, and so both roads make you face a terrifying crossing. If you are not on the left side of Newmarket Rd, you will need to cross a fast arterial road as it becomes a dual carriageway and major trunk road – and the cars prepare to go full legal speeds, or just start cutting back. There’s a tiny ‘watch out for people’ sign and a little half way point to stand. It’s crazy. Not on the map are a few roads between Newmarket and Unthank Rd such as Upton and Judges Walk. But there’s not a good solution to this.

Then go down the slip road into Eaton Village. (Note that if you try to avoid this crossing by going via Bluebell Road, there is also a lonely bit and a wooded bit and I wouldn’t recommend this after dusk either).

Once you arrive at Waitrose in Eaton Village centre, you are on the last of everything – shop (Waitrose, closes 8pm weekdays, 4pm a on a Sunday), cafes and pubs, toilets, and village shop a little further up on Intwood Road, Cringleford. Often the trail map doesn’t name streets and misses some off. This is your last chance to withdraw money, and soon the pavement will disappear as you reach the crossroad at Intwood Rd Eaton. Coming back there’s no sign to Norwich but it’s straight on if you’re following the cycle (brown route).

Keswick Hall can be accessed with one of the other turnings, but I don’t recommend it on foot as there’s high verges and as ever, fast drivers coming round bends in country roads.

I am shocked that you are led by the A47 – a thundering bypass – and onto what seems to be a private horse field – and not well signed. I couldn’t see how to get off and it and rejoin the trail. You meet the thunder of traffic (originally if not oddly likened to warfare) as you cross it on the Intwood road, next to some ominous pylons, and then dip into Intwood village, or the lack of it. After the Intwood Hall gate we’re-very-private-signs comes the church at which you go left. There’s a dribble of a stream and a barn about healing and a tiny mud track called Swardeston something. Don’t deviate, keep on this road which is long and lonely and has a wooded bit, and not great for jumping aside when traffic appears.

I never saw a sign to Swardeston or telling me you’re in it, but when at last houses start again, you are almost at Edith’s birthplace. The road kinks at a cattery and then on the other side is Cavell Barn and next door, Cavell House. The trail doesn’t say it but the signs on it do – this is private house!!! Keep walking – it still doesn’t look like much of a village yet – next to the large common whose growth is as high as a person, until you come to a proper T junction. You can go either way but the trails sends you right and then up towards a sports ground. Walkers are directed through what Lady Catherine De Burgh would call a pretty sort of wilderness – which didn’t look at that safe – so I followed the cycle path and the road. You’ll glimpse the vicarage which has a sign about a hair salon, though the church is on the other side of it.

I found that the trail wasn’t so accurate in the village, which never does have a cohesive centre. The church is found off Main Road, which is the B1113 from Norwich, and there is the bakery, garage (not a petrol sort), a farm shop open til 6 Mon-Sat but only til noon on Sunday, and the ex pub. So little food buying opportunities and no toilets or drink stop.

Note the memorial to Edith and others who died in the village in the first world war as you walk up the lane to the church. It’s not mentioned on the trail.

There’s a window with Edith on behind the altar and a display re wartime participants of the village. The Cavell Room is like a mini scout hut on the other side of the church which you can find by going through the door next to a picture of her. There is a DVD and a display on her.

On the main road, the B1113, towards Norwich, is the village sign not mentioned on the map but worth seeing as it’s about Edith.

The trail doesn’t tell you opening times for the church or the Cavell Room, without access to which your trip would feel wasted. I think it’s about a mile to walk round Swardeston.

I wouldn’t attempt this after dusk or evenings generally as I don’t think anything is open by night. Norwich is considered a safe city but some places on this route, the country bits especially, can feel eerier and dark. Today 18th Oct, dusk began ant 6 and it was dark by 730pm, but next weekend, the clocks change and it’ll be an hour earlier. Note if you’re visiting from elsewhere in Britain, daylight varies and the north enjoys more in summer but less in winter.

Despite calling it a green pilgrimage, I would actually say it is better by bus or car.

Warning re buses: they are expensive and a single is often nearly as much as a return.

Rural buses can have big gaps in the timetable and stop early (c4pm) and not run on Sundays or Bank Holidays. The recommended bus is a First bus 37, the purple line, but there are buses to Cringleford (by Konnect) and Eaton (Anglia) but not the same bus company and tickets are not valid between companies. Buses do not run on the outer part of Unthank Rd but the inner part has regular buses which run to the railway station via the city centre.

—————————————————-

I used the walk to think more of Edith; perhaps I’ll write about her myself, as I still feel the woman, her feelings and relationships are not unlocked by anything I’ve seen or read so far.

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage

naughty guides and days out have a new home

I’ve started another blog for these. There are links to similar posts around the web on previous articles on this one:

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/my-travel-writing/

https://elspethr.wordpress.com/2013/04/10/naughty-guides/

I’ll keep my other posts on travel and heritage on here – eg churches, a sense of place, and musings on a couple of Essex cities – and the Elephant grey bottom post. (you’ve noticed the search box and category filter on the right?)

but I’m going to start updating the Day Out With Elspeth series and putting these all together.

They now live at http://elspethsnaughtyguides.wordpress.com/

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, travel writing

City of Churches IV: Conclusion

What I’ve realised is something about myself…

Firstly – what are my favourites among the cities we’ve been to?

Thinking about other cities (and not just those I’ve been discussing), I realise that Norwich, Bristol and Ipswich all have several special medieval churches – but like London’s classical ones, I can take them for granted.

Bristol churches22 Bristol St Mary Redcliffe crossing

St Mary Redcliffe Bristol – my favourite parish church in Britain

I like St Mary Redcliffe best – perhaps that’s why I’m so dissatisfied elsewhere as I’ve got such a high precedent. I would have work to do to any Norwich church to put it on this level. It’s also 60ft longer than Norwich’s largest parish church and its spire is only 23ft shorter than Norwich cathedral’s. It has modern glass, a neo medieval crypt for meetings, and it has interesting historical associations (that’s a whole other aspect I’ve not touched on).

What makes SMR stand out is its vault and a satisfying tower/spire, and no-one’s got such an unusual porch

From Norwich’s churches, I’d pick:

St Peter M Norwich churches at night6

I would want to put tracery on the arches inside, and do something about that Victorian spirelet and parapet.

St Giles   for its tall tower and porch – but only the latter has the kind of detail I seek

St Stephen’s  though the ceiling could be more carved and coloured and the glass is heavy and murky. Does the tower need a parapet?

St Andrew’s Norwich churches at night4 as it’s big, airy, partly stone, and has tracery on the arcade, but it needs many more details

 St Miles for its flushwork, but I’d like it all over and with a big east window. The inside needs renovation and it’s hard to assess the church in the state I last saw it in.

That’s not to say that none of the other churches have anything good.

Norwich churches at night2 St Michael at Plea, Norwich – good porch, well lit

My wish list from elsewhere

I’d like Cambridge’s round church

a classical church  – St Stephen Walbrook I think being my favourite out of several

modern stained glass – Bristol would be best for that

an octagonal open tower from York – St Andrew’s Halls lost theirs

There really are some great churches in Suffolk and also in the East Midlands and Cotswolds area; Norwich/Norfolk as a city and county may have the most, but not necessarily the best. To make Norwich’s 31 churches superlative, I’d have to pinch heavily from the West Country and Lincs/E Yorks/Notts too.

By cutting out Catholics and nonconformists, I’ve undermined the full picture in many cases. I don’t like Victorian gothic, but two great Catholic churches of that era are to be found in Cambridge and Norwich. Nearly these towns have great Nonconformist chapels and that evens out the lack of classicism. In Norwich, there’s a 17th C red tower and a bank that resembles a Wren style church (and another huge former bank has Gibbs-like rhythms in its ceiling arches) so it sort of does have all the eras and styles, for the missing Early English is made up for in the Catholic cathedral. And the synagogue opposite has modern stained glass. Perhaps Pevsner was right when he said Norwich has everything. I was beginning to doubt him.

Perhaps Suffolk’s finest and the best parish churches of England are posts for another time…

What I realised about me:

I realised that what appeals to me in a church is about space and atmosphere; that my non conformist roots, for all my 20 years of Anglican church interests and wide faith journey, are still very strong. I often pick out the preaching box like churches. I don’t miss furnishings: I like the damaged churches who sweep out as much as they’re allowed and start with a fresh open space – not that I’m condoning bombings, arson etc – but their aftermath is actually an opportunity.

But I also asked myself why this church stuff mattered, for as much as this is focussed on buildings, human emotions creep in. What is my relationship to these cities and to these churches, whether as worshipper, employee, citizen, customer, passer by, or tourist? Many of these churches have strong emotive attachments for me. The stories about being near or in those churches…. that might be a creative writing idea….

Sense of place is hugely important to me and churches are a part of that, both as my environment and as a spiritual person looking for a community. Why is perfection important? Perhaps it is about feeling I have chosen as my home a city that I feel really proud of and one that meets my needs; whose boasts I can believe first hand rather than accept those of others, and sense of belonging and having the same perspective as other citizens. Perhaps this reflects my own disillusions and doubts about where I live now and should live, rather than on bricks and plasterwork…

Perhaps this comes down to issues nothing to do with actual churches and things too personal to reflect on here.

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, spirituality, travel writing

City of Churches III Norwich vs London

London, I think, is the most remarkable of British cities for its church collection. On one level, it’s like Norwich – a large group of much the same, in this case, Stuart churches. There’s little medieval here and nothing externally of that era to please.

St Andrew Undershaft has an interior like an inferior version of Bristol’s St Stephen’s and Lord Mayor’s Chapel. St Helen’s has potential, but both St Helen’s and Undershaft are diminutive outside. The great Norman priory at St Bartholomew’s is not only shorn in half or less, but insensitively and anachronistically restored externally – and mean enough to enforce an entrance fee. I like round 12/13 C Temple church which doesn’t count under parish churches – I like it less now that it too imposes an entrance charge. Out of the classical ones, it’s hard to choose as I have not spent the time with them that I have in other cities. For the interiors, domed St Stephen Walbrook is supreme, but overall I think St Mary le Bow is my favourite; and I’ve just discovered St Mary at Hill near Monument.

St Stephen Walbrook St Stephen Walbrook London

Above: St Stephen Walbrook – the photo on the right captures the City.

Perhaps we take London’s churches for granted – would they would seem more special in other cities where there are none or few of these? If you visit several in one day, they can run into each other.

St Mary Abchurch By analysing them, you come to see the brilliance of Wren and his office. He used gothic as well as classical; and not all the same type of classical. There are white stone and red brick ones (St Mary le Bow being both), and some of more beigy stone (St Dunstan in the West), whereas the pre-Fire ones are of flinty rubble or whitish ragstone. Some have traditional spires (St Margaret Pattens), some have cupolas (St Magnus), some have little hats (St Benet) and some have tiered wedding cake toppings (St Bride). St Mary Aldermary has long parapets. Three have round ceilings (St Mary Abchurch left, St Mary at Hill and St Stephen Walbrook) as did the wonderfully named Barton [Bat] Fink (now gone). Bombs from the war and the 1990s have meant there’s several modern windows and other fittings.

Wren did not build all the City’s churches; some are pre Fire survivors, some by other 18th or 19th C architects; and some like bat eared St Sepulchre are mishmashes of several centuries, Classic and Gothic.

London churches

The rest of London has many more ecclesiastical treasures, but most are fairly central.

In the West End, there’s rightly famous St Martin in the Fields with its delectable plastered ceiling, but there’s other special classical churches around there – St James Piccadilly, St John Smith Square, St Clement Dane…

Hawksmoor’s 6 1/2 highly original churches are also quite central (one in the City). There’s one of these top left:St George in the East, in the Shadwell area.

London perhaps is the most remarkable city for breadth, but it lacks what Norwich and Bristol have by way of gothic and I don’t think that even Westminster Abbey really makes up for that, though the Lady/Henry VII Chapel is a supreme example of gothic.

Final thoughts in the next piece…

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, history, travel writing

City of Churches II Norwich vs York, Ipswich, Cambridge

These are the next nearest cities in terms of having the most parish churches in the old city.

(Note I use town and city interchangeably; all but Ipswich are cities now but Bristol and Cambridge weren’t in medieval times).

York churchesSo what of York? Even York books concede that though it’s better for variety and showcasing different building eras, its churches do not compare with Norwich. I like the local open octagonal belfry style but none of the churches individually really inspire and there’s no modern or classical here either. There’s no tracery within or out, no exciting ceilings; it seems the bombed one, St Martin’s Coney Street by the Picturehouse, was actually the best. (The wonky spire in the photo is on purpose!)

Ipswich St Peter'sIpswich is pretty special to have kept up with these major cathedral cities, although none of its churches are outstanding; it’s again more about the group than individuals. The two that are converted (St Lawrence and St Stephen’s) look better now than I suspect they would have as churches. Maybe that’ll make church crawlers gasp, but I confess I’m not interested in fittings, it’s more about the space, and my own expression of faith means I prefer the new floorboards and uncluttered vistas to statues, altars and even pews. The best church may be St Margaret’s for its painted ceiling. There are some big churches (like St Peter’s, left) and interesting flushwork in Ipswich (St Lawrence’s being the best though it’s Victorian). St Mary At Elm has a lovely red brick Tudor tower. But Ipswich doesn’t have variety, being as much about black flint high gothic as Norwich.

Ipswich St Margaret's Ipswich Mary Le Tower Oak Lane

Above: St Margaret’s and St Mary Le Tower, Ipswich

Cambridge chapelsCambridge isn’t so special either, even if I let the prereformation college chapels in. Only Kings and Jesus stand out. St Mary the Great parish church isn’t so great, it’s just the tracery in the nave I like. I’d pick out the rich honey coloured Saxon tower of St Bene’t’s and what I consider the best of the Norman Round Churches. The colleges run from classical to High Gothic but the parish churches don’t. Except King’s and St John’s college chapels, churches do not feature strongly in the overall look of the city, unlike the other towns.

Let me come back to Norwich and say that although its churches are all the same era and style, and there’s nothing outstanding to pop Bristol’s Redcliffe off its perch, it does have several excellent ones, though I’d like to change them all and to swap bits. The exception to that statement is St Stephen’s with its jaunty patterned side tower cum porch. It has a pitched hammerbeam roof with angels, big windows, a mix of stone and flint externally, and tracery on the arcade wall. Full house to my mind! And better still, it’s alive inside too, and restored with most pews save a few 16th C ones taken out. I don’t miss the others.

Norwich churches at night4

St Stephen’s and St Andrew’s, Norwich

I like big St Andrew’s but it’s not got any decoration externally – the tower especially feels a bit flat – and so does the ceiling. The east window should be larger (and no Victorian reredos would be even happier).

Norwich  St Miles Norwich St Miles inside

St Miles (above) is a favourite for the flushwork and for being unusual as having its nave and aisles the same height (is that a hall church or would the chancel have to be all one?). Simon Knott, he who has given us the huge online resource of Norfolk and Suffolk churches, thinks there’s a missing porch. I hope he’s right and it would account for the disappointing plastered over space in front of the beautiful chapel and the fine tower. He thinks it’s his favourite Norwich church and I am not far off agreeing, it’s just there’s no tracery internally, it’s got a small east window (the Victorian restorers got that wrong) and it’s not in good repair, whereas St Stephen’s has just had a refurb.

St Giles has got the highest tower, a great fan vaulted porch and is a pleasing space but I would like to make changes to the chancel. St Laurence might have potential if it was restored; but I only like the tower at St John de Sepulchre, Ber Street.

St John Ber St Norwich Norwich St Giles

St John de Sepulchre and St Giles, both in Norwich

(The parapet being cut off is by Boots the chemist, not me!)

Others might be pleasant places – St John Maddermarket, St George Colegate  – and do important functions. But as individual church buildings, I would not miss any of the others. What I would like Norwich to have is a classical church (eg St George’s Yarmouth) and a small Romanesque church. There’s a few of the characteristic local round towers in the city but no church bodies to match. Perhaps an urban Hale/Heckington (from south east Norfolk) would complete the set better.

There are several other towns with 6-8 central parish churches but I don’t think have a great grouping overall. The one I would consider a rival is Worcester, which has little gothic and impressive but some wonderful Classical churches, more than any city in Britain after London. I’d like to know this city far better. I also think that Coventry could be interesting to compare because it’s got a few but all good ones. Could Norwich’s be reduced to just 3?

Next time, to Norwich’s biggest rival:

I’d like to say – these pictures are not displaying how they look in the editing mode – WordPress, take note – they were aligned exactly!

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage

City of Churches I: Norwich vs Bristol

Is Norwich the best city in England for parish churches?

Norwich often boasts of having  “more prereformation churches than anywhere else north of the alps.” ! You can see from the chart in my last post that Norwich and London each have many more churches in their old centre than the British cities with the next most; but I have squashed Norwich’s claim put about for 40+ years from that John Betjeman documentary about having more than York, London and Bristol together. My chart in the previous post explains.

An old video on Norwich named “City of Distinction” called the collection “an embarrassment of riches”. The fact that Norwich’s are nearly all perpendicular (late gothic) and made of dark flint is both something that makes it special, and potentially boring.

ALL PICTURES ARE MINE, PLEASE DON’T USE WITHOUT PERMISSION

MY PICTURES ARE BEING NAUGHTY AND NOT DISPLAYING AS PLANNED

In my editing screen, they are beautifully lined up with their captions. Please imagine this if they are not

Think it doesn’t help, Word press makers, that what we edit in is not the same width as the published page!

St George and Bacon House NorwichSt Laurence Norwich

St George’s Colegate (right) and St Laurence’s in St Benedict’s St, both Norwich

I even had a little mental exercise with distilling the overall number to a tiny proportion of the best, keeping them as varied as possible. I do it to Norwich and various other cities and areas, especially the ones featuring in these 5 posts on cities of churches. It’s usually easy to pick a few really good ones – though none are perfect. What would be missing is their place on the townscape. St Benedict’s Street in Norwich is characterised by its churches; much of the street is churchyard. The towers welcome on corners and end vistas. I also realised these offer functions which are important to the life and character of the city: not only would some  mean a loss of a particular kind of congregation, but that there’d be no puppet theatre or artist run exhibition centre or community spaces. Separate buildings mean that not only can congregations diversify, but so can other uses – all artists don’t have to vie over the same space under the same management. But I’m not suggesting we actually pull any churches down, just analyse where the really good ones are.

I thought that Bristol’s bunch might beat Norwich because Bristol’s so varied. Norwich has no Georgian churches – I can think of only 2 in the whole of Norfolk (plus a private chapel). But Bristol has one whole one, two part ones and three in suburbs, including a Gothick one. Bristol can claim to have important church buildings from 1160 -1960 (1140 actually but 1160 has more of a ring about it). To be fair, in that statement, I am creaming from the entire city. In walled Norwich, there are no modern churches or major furnishings (save the new Cathedral windows and two in St Margaret’s) and nothing of interest in the suburbs – not in my opinion. The only church within the whole extra mural conurbation of Norwich that I’d single out is at Eaton for having a thatched roof next to a modern extension.

Inside Christchurch Bristol Bristol churches10

Christ Church, Bristol in and out; and with tower of All Saints (right)

It’s not true that Bristol has a wider selection of gothic than Norwich; it too focusses on the last period, including St Nicholas which was rebuilt in pastiche by Georgians (and again after being bombed). Neither city has anything seriously Early English, both having their best examples in Victorian neo Gothic churches (Christchurch Clifton and St John’s Catholic cathedral in Norwich).

But actually, several of Bristol’s churches are not of interest. I’m not missing any of the ones destroyed by bombs, only the leaning tower of Temple – I’d have preferred the earlier round church for its main body.

Bristol bombed churches Bristol abbey gate

St James Bristol Temple church Bristol

All Bristol c-wise: St Peter’s, Cathedral gateway, St James, Temple 

The Norman of Bristol other than the cathedral’s chapter house and arch of its gatehouse is quite mediocre (St James and a few bays of All Saints) and if we’re bringing cathedrals in, Bristol has nothing on Norwich cathedral which is one of the very great Norman churches of Europe and thus the world (a statement sure to please Norwich organisation HEART).

Bristol has Britain’s very greatest gothic non cathedral, in my opinion and in old Queen Bess’s – St Mary Redcliffe. It’s supremely satisfying and apart from adding a little more colour, there’s nothing I’d change or add, unlike almost any other church – including cathedrals and abbeys – that I an think of. Best of all is the gilded stone ribbed vault – only one other British parish church has one, to my knowledge (St Mary Otterly in Devon).

Redcliffe porch St Mary Redcliffe with graffiti

St Mary Redcliffe Bristol – porch (left) and with some contrasting local specialism – graffiti

Inside St Stephen's BristolSt Werburgh's Bristol by meBristol churches3

St Stephen’s (inside and out) and St Werburgh’s (with corner turret), Bristol

Also late gothic, St Stephen’s isn’t in the same league but it is consistent and satisfying. It  could be merged with the Lord Mayor’s Chapel (not counted with parish churches) for its similar long box shape and gilded flat wooden roof, adding the Lord Mayor’s fan vaulted chapel; but tall, pinnacled, traceried, Somerset-like St Stephen’s tower is far more striking than the Lord Mayor’s hidden one. Displaced St Werburgh’s also has a good tower – once at the crossroads of the old town, it’s now a climbing centre in a eco conscious suburb.

I like the idea of a church on the town gate, but the church of St John’s itself does little for me.

Bristol churches6 St John's Bristol

Crypts of St Nicholas (top) and John; St John on the Wall, Bristol

The interior of St Thomas has something that Norwich hasn’t and I quite like the Classical/gothic mix and match idea, it’s just not successful here. St Michael’s and Pip ‘n’ Jay are not architecturally interesting, I think.

St George's Bristol Inside St George's Bristol Although Anglican: it resembles a Baptist chapel

City wide, if I were to choose my favourites for outstanding or varied examples of churches in Bristol, I’d pick Regency St George’s (the concert hall) and the glass from the two 1960s Pembroke Rd offerings in Clifton; Georgian Redland Chapel and possibly the displaced medieval St Werburgh’s, now of the hippy suburb of allotments.

I’d keep Christchurch (old city) as the all Georgian church, possibly swapping the spire for neighbouring All Saints’ cupola.

St Paul's Portland Sq BristolSo Bristol perhaps isn’t richer in some ways than Norwich, but it does have that superlative medieval church, the only one in the country that completely satisfies me, and it also has Georgian and modern. Although Norwich has more medieval undercrofts than any other British city, I don’t know of any crypts under its churches (only the Canary Chapel in the Close), but Bristol has at least the two pictured. There’s no tower as good as St Stephen’s Bristol in Norwich and no ceiling there like Bristol’s St Stephens’ and the Lord Mayor’s Chapel have. Bristol’s red and light stone give a warmth not found in Norwich, although the grey stone is duller than Norwich’s ubiquitous flint.

Left: St Paul’s in Portland Square. Unnerving eh?

I would like to borrow some of its churches for Norwich – as I’ll summarise in the last part.

I’m fond of Bristol, as a city, and its church collection. I may well do a post with pictures of all Bristol’s central churches and chapels, on my new blog.

Next time, we go to three other cities of churches….

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, history, theatre

Cities of churches – intro

** UPATED WITH NEW EVIDENCE JUNE 2015**

Is it true that Norwich has more medieval parish churches in its walls than any other English city?

It even says it’s got more than most of Europe, in some daft marketing phrase that is so beloved of Norwich’s promoters. I can personally only account for the former, so that is what I’m sticking to – places I know and have actually counted myself in England.

Norwich also likes to boast it has as many churches as York, London and Bristol – England’s three other greatest medieval cities – put together. That claim has never felt right. It is also misleadingly phrased. The claim can only be to have more medieval churches in the centre – that’s medieval fabric today, not medieval foundation. There will follow some lovely tables to put this matter to rest.

Norwich has been a little sneaky with its boast because lots of other important medieval towns spread its walls but Norwich was neatly contained by them till medieval church building was done. And “medieval” is vague, as most central parish churches were founded in medieval times, but have often been rebuilt, whereas Norwich’s are all the same style of Gothic, built in the 14-16th centuries: remarkable, or dull?

I’ll come to that question in another post. This one is about numbers. Here are my definitions:just outside the wall = allowed; but not ones in the suburbs, nor who have been moved, nor utter ruins; and I count only Anglican parish churches, not cathedrals, friaries or private chapels.

I’ve enjoyed comparing the English cities with multiple medieval parish churches – mainly the 10+ group of Bristol, York, Cambridge, Ipswich, Norwich and London. Multichurches does seem to be an English phenomenon – Scottish or Welsh cities seem to have had one of two original parish churches. It’s interesting that several important medieval towns (Edinburgh, Hull, Coventry, King’s Lynn, Great Yarmouth) had only 1-3, opting for few large churches, which makes me wonder something for my next article… I’m aware of larger former numbers in Lincoln, Winchester and Exeter but I don’t know those cities well enough to personally vouch. Here is my table:

City # churches now medieval now prewar reformation
London 39 7 c48 c100
Norwich 31 31 34 c60
York 19 19 19 47
Bristol 10 6 15 21
Cambridge 13 c5? 13 U/K
Ipswich 12 12 12 12?
Canterbury 9 8? 11 14+

Colchester has 6 (+1 further out) and Worcester 6 (with 2 just outside the walls); Chester 6 including St John’s (had 9), Nottingham 3, Newcastle 4, Northampton 4…. this is sounding like football results!

But what’s more interesting – the greatest number or the greatest collection? There are going to be four more on this subject.

I made a full list of the churches in the 10+ cities but it won’t fit on these pages!

Reeling it off makes me feel like that character in a Count Duckula episode whose party trick is to recite the digits of pi – suffice to say the list is available to the curious and I do know the names and locations/look of all the churches in my chart. I have seen and visited many of them and made an effort to count personally, not copy figures from other sources.

I am being generous with “medieval now”  as Norwich claims that title for churches that have been bombed who have been substantially renewed and rebuilt by the Victorians, and whose furnishings nearly all come from other eras – the can also include glass. Nearly all its churches, whilst appearing medieval, actually have some fabric that isn’t. There is a blatantly C17th tower, also counted among its 31. So I am offering the same spirit of generosity in my definition of medieval to other cities. St Martin le Grand of York counts as it has a roof, windows and is used for worship..

Does Norwich really have as many medieval churches as Bristol, York and London?

Norwich  31/31 Bristol, London, York
1 All Saints All Saints                 B 6/10
2 St Andrew St James
3 St Augustine St John on the Wall
4 St Clement St Mary Redcliffe
5 St Edward SS Philip and Jacob
6 St Etheldreda St Stephen
7 St George Colegate All Hallows by the Tower    L 7/39
8 St George Tombland St Andrew Undershaft
9 St Giles on the Hill St Bartholomew the Great
10 St Gregory St Ethelburga
11 St Helen Bishopgate St Helen Bishopgate
12 St James St Olave Hart Street
13 St John Maddermarket All Saints North Street      Y 19/19
14 St John de Sepulchre All Saints Pavement
15 St John Timberhill Holy Trinity Goodramgate
16 St Julian Holy Trinity Micklegate
17 St Laurence St Andrew, Andrewgate
18 St Margaret St Cuthbert
19 St Martin at Oak St Denys
20 St Martin at Palace St Helen Stonegate
21 St Mary Coslany St John the Evangelist, Micklegate
22 St Mary the Less St Margaret
23 St Michael at Plea St Martin le Grand
24 St Michael Coslany/Miles St Martin-cum-Gregory, Micklegate
25 St Peter Hungate St Mary Bishophill
26 St Peter Mancroft St Mary Castlegate
27 St Peter Parmentergate St Michael le Belfrey
28 St Saviour St Michael Spurriergate
29 SS Simon and Jude St Olave
30 St Stephen St Sampson
31 St Swithin St Saviour

No – it’s the same. It has AS MANY medieval churches NOW as those three cities.

Adding up Bristol, London and York’s full set would mean 10+39+19 =58 – somewhat higher than Norwich’s 31!

So Norwich, your boast is wrong! I will never get a job at Norwich’s HEART now.

Leave a comment

Filed under heritage, history, travel writing

Keep elephant grey for elephant’s bottoms

There is a trend sweeping our cities to cover over the vibrant colours on our shops and cafes and turn everything dark grey or black. My area has a distinct palette of strong colours in which many buildings are plastered and washed, much needed for winter months and as a foil to the dark local building material.

Instead I see countless new shops and refits all turning this drab colour, all conforming – and we don’t; do that round my way!

Keep diverse and colourful and dark neutral shades as undercoats and contrasts, but otherwise, keep the hue for the hefalump and not on our buildings.

1 Comment

Filed under heritage