Tag Archives: Bristol

Robert Potato Peel Pie

Remember the Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie society?

Here’s a recipe involving the peel of a certain 19th C British baronet, with a little Hartley’s jam…

Cooking (reading) time: about 20 mins

I was intrigued that He Who Set Up England’s Police has just been in the news. Statues in Robert Peel’s honour are now an endangered species, for they may be destined to go the way of Edward Colston’s last Sunday (7th). I confess I laughed when I heard that the likeness of this unpopular 17th C Bristol magnate ended up in the Frome, in daylight and in front of a crowd.

His removal was long overdue. In 2007, at the bicentenary of the abolition of slavery in Britain, residents questioned why this man from 300 years ago whose wealth came from the slave trade, whose contributions (except the almshouses named after him) to the city are no longer tangible, should still be sitting in the middle of it. The nearby concert hall was being renovated, and much of the populace asked why this venue and its street bore his name. Bristol – the city of Princess Caraboo, Hannah Moore and Dorothy Hazzard – has a rich history of memorable people and a recent heritage of musicians. So why – if the largest music venue in the city needed to be named after anyone – did they pick someone who lived long before this hall, and who has no connection to music, but plenty to an abhorrent and obsolete trade? I was surprised that the statue and the hall – now with a ridiculous gold extension – had survived thus far.

I am pleased that we are asking about who we give honour to and if it is right to still give them honour. I note that like Colston’s displaced effigy, much statuary in Britain is 19th century, sometimes several after the person’s life; and that as one person put it, it’s public veneration. I like Christopher Wren’s epitaph – that on principle, we should be able to look round and see what they did. Not that I necessarily esteem the bewigged polymath and possible Illuminati member, just the notion that I shouldn’t need an eerie graven image to remind of what you’ve done.

I realise how many of Britain’s statues are of war heroes and states people: those whom we perceive made us great. I also note that many of our historic townhouses are named after historic rich men who were also public figures. Each time, this wealthy ‘successful’ businessman was also a statesman – MP, sheriff or mayor, often repeatedly. This ancient correlation continues.

So as I meld back to Robert Peel, I want to have in mind who were revere and remember, and that today, wealthy business people still steer our cities and countries (as well as get the best properties).

Robert too was from a wealthy business family, made from cotton, in the north west of England before moving to the West Midlands. Bury and Tamworth, who have statues to him, are now asking if they want to keep them.

Conservative media point out that activists may have confused his father – also Robert Peel – who opposed the abolition of slavery act in Britain because of the loss of revenue it would cause. Presumably he saw himself in that category, since cotton manufacture involved slave plantations. It’s said that we don’t know whether son was like father, and that Bobby jnr was too junior to have made much input to his father’s late 18th C decisions. Fair… but I thought that it wasn’t due to slave support that Sir Peel II was now on the not/wanted list: it was his police record.

It’s well known in Britain that Robert Peel set up our police, although I didn’t know the story. I thought that literally he was the first superintendent of the force, or perhaps even took on the role himself as a lone officer. Robert Peel didn’t do policing though: he created it. He was an MP and later prime minister in Britain, dying in 1850; and he was titled – 2nd baronet. He went to what we might call privileged educational establishments and lived in a hall. He founded the Conservative Party.

That doesn’t make him the enemy, although I confess that I baulked at reading this about him.

Peel is called the father of modern policing (note the paternalistic term), because by setting up the Metropolitan Police in London, he paved the way not only for the rest of England to have its own forces (Scotland already had one) but his example was followed in America.

So what did our example inspire or unleash on the world?

Bobby left us with 9 principles of policing which I’ve seen adopted in America as well as here – a sort of 10-1 commandments for law enforcement. Pro-police writers remind that Robert’s reforms cut hangable offences by 100 – so how many were left, I ask? – and working hours and child labour. So he did do some things right, or at least, better than his forebears. He also saved the country from its existing state of martial law enforcement; his ‘Peelers’ only had truncheons (wooden batons), not swords and guns, and their uniform was deliberately different from the red coats of the hussars, so that it was clear that a Peeler was not a soldier.

Can I stamp on this notion put about that we in Britain still call police ‘Peelers’. The only time I’ve heard that term used is when it is prefixed by Potato.

I’ll comment briefly on just four of those nine principles.

Note that police around the world are not keeping to these.

1) proportion, and persuasion first; never use more force than necessary

so no brutalities then, such as the ones that sparked all the riots recently or the abuse I read of today by an officer to another woman, allegedly seeking drugs

I agree to the first clause, but I wonder about the second ever being so; it is widely misused

2) police cannot usurp the judiciary – so no killing suspects and dispensing with trials

But the judiciary is not sovereign and untouchable, nor incorruptible; it too needs reform

3) Impartial upholding of the law – so no prejudice; but impartial can also lead to blind pernickityness; and the law itself needs much scrutiny (and will get it from me in another piece)

4) police are the people, and vice versa: that citizens are assumed to uphold the law and enforce it where they see it being broken

This makes assumptions about citizenry. We can’t opt in or out and we rarely have much say about the laws created, nor do we always agree with them. So whereas Bobby was expecting high standards of his namesakes, and society, I find that a bind which actually goes wrong…

Firstly, there is what kind of person joins the police – which is a topic to come back to…

This principle also gives support to the prevalent push that we can handle our problems without police – fodder for another article…

I want to focus on what was happening in England during the time of modern police forces’ inception. I remind that many US writers have commented that slave and immigration control were connected. I heard that London – England’s first force – was about custody of cargo.

So, I wondered, did England’s other contemporary great dock city – Liverpool – follow suit?

The banner photo on this blog is of Liverpool.

I recalled a snippet from a book on Liverpool’s docks by Ron Jones that made me want to investigate.

The official police in Liverpool seems formed by an act of parliament in 1835; although, as elsewhere, they existed in some form previously. This means, they were 6 years after London’s.

I wondered why it needed a central government act to create them as well as the docks I’ll soon get to…

In August 1819, the Peterloo massacre occurred in Manchester, a rival town in the same county which produced much of the goods that Liverpool got rich on shipping. A large (size unverified) crowd met to discuss equality and universal suffrage – for not even all men could vote yet. Their banners even included the word ‘love’. But over 2000 soldiers on horseback set upon what’s normally described as a peaceful crowd, and hacked at these unarmed civilians with swords. They wanted to charge the speakers, such as Henry Hunt, with treason (which was dropped), they set on journalists, and rushed through an inquiry. I watched Timeline dramatised TV based on the transcript of the inquest of one man, Lees. The trial was held, not in a proper court or a public space, but a pub in the next town. The witnesses – cotton workers, the mainstay of the town – were terrified as the magistrates were also their employers and landlords; some had even been part of the yeoman who attacked. As London lawyer, Mr Harmer, acting for the deceased’s father, made progress in showing the corruption and violent intent of the soldiers and town leaders, the coroner shut down the case.

However, it is often seen that this event was key in bringing about change, although not the revolutionary ones which were hoped for and feared, and not all immediately.

It did lead to the setting up of the [Manchester] Guardian newspaper, Britain’s most left wing daily broadsheet, and an important voice of supposed free and thorough journalism.

In 1831, riots occurred, notably in Bristol and Nottingham. Some of the fuel to the literal fires – the custom house, mayoral and bishop’s residences in the former, and ducal castle in the latter were burned – was the refusal to pass the Reform Bill. This Act is behind George Eliot’s novel Middlemarch, which describes the ‘rotten boroughs’, meaning that Members of Parliament were not representative of the population, by any means; it was a bribable boy’s club with easy to keep seats. The bill took up some of the issues that those Lancastrians of 12 years before had met about. But also, the city corporations also were seen as corrupt and self serving, as was especially felt in Bristol, Nottingham, and in Liverpool. The rioters’ quarry were people who had helped block this important bill for greater fairness. It was enacted the following year, and ‘rotten boroughs’ were no more.

Sadly, many of us feel that our government is still mainly self serving and not representative, and are effectively bribed by the wealthy elite.

Several accounts of these riots – such as you might read in a guidebook – don’t tell you that the soldiers again set upon their people. They’ll instead tell you how much property was damaged.

——————————–

The Police and Albert Docks

Many readers, perhaps those not from Britain too, will recognise that place. It’s famous – the Merseyside Metropolis has made it so. They are the synecdoche for the whole of a huge system, mostly designed by one man, Jesse R R Hartley Hare*. I wonder if his statues and plaques are on the Unpopular List? (*Hartley Hare is from kid’s TV; and J R R Hartley wrote a book on fly fishing).

Much of Ron Jones’s book, like others, boasts about the wonders of Liverpool (yes, I am already a fan) and its docks, but I realised that my values have changed. I’ll write a report on my travel blog. In short, Liverpool was built on the wealth that its port gave it, but it was a very divided city. The story I recalled was that when Prince Albert, husband of Queen Victoria, came to open the much vaunted groundbreaking dock in his name in July 1846, many of the half a million who came to greet him couldn’t afford shoes.

There were other significant visitors to Liverpool that year. Lots of them. They came from the West. Unlike the Prince, they weren’t guests of honour. They’d come in hordes, in desperation, due to a potato famine that they saw their neighbouring country as having contributed to.

These Irish families – already destitute, tired, stressed, displaced – were squeezed into tight ghettoes. 20,000 citizens – that’s about a tenth of Liverpool at the time – were sworn in as special constables (ie plain clothes police for a particular s/reason) to help control these asylum seekers.

Not to welcome or support them, but contain them.

Now I’m not assuming that there was no trouble from these immigrants, any more than I’m supporting the rioters of the previous decade; but I am questioning how they are portrayed and how much their treatment added to the ‘social problems’ that we conveniently and patronisingly file them under.

I’d like to point out that these immigrants were white, and the same ethnicity as the indigenous people of Liverpool.

In Ron Jones’s book, I noted a comment which wasn’t critical but which should have been, and is very timely. A local lecturer, Dr William H Duncan, spoke out against the diseases that he said were rife in these Irish cramped lodgings, and said that they endangered everyone else in the city, morally and physically. This man then went on to be the first chief health minister for the country.

I very much take issue with this, which used health of others to demonise these Irish and other poor people, and use ‘infection’ as an excuse to control them and knock down their homes. The book doesn’t say what happened to the residents.

I’d like to say – and remember, I am very fond of Liverpool – that a city which is very cultural today and famous for certain musicians especially – was actually slow to get culture. At Albert’s visit, it didn’t even have a theatre yet, a lifetime behind more provincial towns. Even its classy residents who lived in terraces or mansions far from the stinky water which gave them their wealth celebrated key events not long before with bear and bull baiting. So the rich too engaged in activities which were considered morally dubious. Yet here was one putting moral fibre next to illness and equating the two. Familiar?

What did those new docks really mean?

I wonder if Jesse Hartley will join the not-so-wanted list. Of his day, I can see that he could be a hero, and that the wealth he helped amass for Liverpool (not even his native town, he’s from Yorkshire) would make him celebrated. As an engineer, architectural books keep telling me that Jesse’s work was extraordinary. But I can see that actually his work was short sighted and he seemed a hard, driven man, although because he achieved things, we overlook that. I’ll analyse what he built on my other blog.

I want to ask WHY Jesse Harley created so many new docks, on top of the 18th Century set which saw so much slave trade. A Liverpool superlative it should not be proud of is that it was Europe’s leading slave port; and it sent at least 10 times the human cargo ships that Bristol and London did. When Albert Dock opened, the slave trade had been outlawed in Britain for 40 years. Yet the port thrived on the produce it had made, and the produce of domestic slavery which continued in America till c1860. I was also surprised to learn that in Britain and its empire, slavery needed a second act, passed in 1834, to actually grind it to a halt, which wasn’t immediate.

Whilst we celebrate the names of those to whom we attribute slavery’s abolition, perhaps even they need scrutiny. William Wilberforce didn’t advocate immediate emancipation – he said slaves needed to be prepared for freedom. Resocialised, don’t you mean? Sometimes, they had to work for a generation first.

There is another very evil fact about slavery that I’ll end with. I had to walk round my home to take it in.

But my point for now is that Liverpool’s connection to slavery was around the time that policing began, and so did those new docks; and at a time of unbridled trading worldwide – two acts in the 1830s and 40s meant its ships could travel without restriction, and its profits were therefore unfettered.

What of the local workers – in factories and docks? Would they be considered working under modern slavery conditions?

I was also learned why these warehouses were built. London had a new kind of dock. Liverpool was encouraged to get some too. These enclosed docks where you could moor right by the secure warehouses meant that

1) the rich merchants lost far less of their goods to theft (or fire) 

2) the HM customs people could check and collect more easily.

Ah. Now we know why central government was involved.

And you’ll note that Jesse Harley’s designs included not only a huge wall (see why thoughts on walls here) to keep out, but police booths. Note their arrow slit motif and castle-like quality.

I don’t support looting, but I do wonder if some of the looters were those who couldn’t buy shoes.

Liverpool was also a port where people sailed for a new life to America. If you’ve seen The Golden Door, you’ll know it wasn’t such a land of the free and opportunity – more of a work force advert. Customs in New York were utterly brutal and degrading, in the name of health. But this also meant that further immigration occurred in Liverpool – mostly outgoing.

So yes, police were about keeping ‘rabble’ quiet and money in the right places.

I’ll also briefly touch on the fact that Catholic Emancipation happened at this time, and some further Church of England strangleholds on public office were released to non Anglicans.

Is it an accident then that policing was created in this era?

My shocking final fact: HMRC tweets that modern British tax payers helped end the African slave trade – we were paying for the compensation to the slave OWNERS til 2015!

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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.

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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….

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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.

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Empty Listed Buildings

Mentioning Chelmsford’s Marconi factory has prompted me to write about dead buildings left to rot by the owners, sometimes I think to gain money from the land and save money by taking responsibility in maintaining it. In Bristol, a graffitied concrete block in Stoke’s Croft stood with even the blowup inside deflated, spoiling the view of Georgian Nine Trees Hill (though perhaps ironically fitting for the area).

However, there are buildings which are architecturally/historically important and which mar a more serious view. I had long noticed a light brick kind of Queen Anne style building from the train at Chelmsford. I meant to go an investigate when I was there last. I am glad I did not make my way to New Street as I would have been met with a sorry boarded up building – one of Chelmsford’s very few (see my post on the Diamond Jubilee Cities).  I discover that this attractive building is surprisingly an Edwardian radio factory, important nationally as the venue of the very first broadcast. The daughter of the local pioneer Marconi spoke earlier this year to the BBC about her disappointment over the factory’s state – it not just in memory of her father’s  achievements, but for the town. There is a society of former workers who also feel insulted by the decaying building, often broken into.

The factory went into receivership and the firm replied to the BBC’s secret filming article that they had taken new steps to improve security and keep squatters out already. But they miss the point – the building should be maintained and used. I have a shocking suggestion – what about making it a radio factory again? with a visitor centre about the Marconi story.

Another example is in Norwich of a late 17th C house on King Street which has stood empty since 1960s. Howard House was the garden house of the Dukes of Norfolk and has an important staircase. Plans were made for the surrounding area, once a spectacular gardens of the house, but the development fell through in the mid 2000s. Now the semi cleared site remains with buddleia growing through concrete, and they’ve not even been allowed to use the land for a community garden. The scaffolding over Howard House grows each time I see it, blocking the lane and apparently putting off businesses. In an attractive street which is working hard to throw off a former red light district image and be a nice place to live and visit, this is really not helping.

The recievers claim they have no plans to do anything for a decade – which may be too late to save Howard House.

I think receivers should be compelled to sell to the council or a heritage group for renovation and reopening or maintain the property. If you take responsibility to administer assets, you have to look after them. Security cameras and waterproofing and window boards are not enough – they are all ugly.

I urge a change in the law to this end, and if there’s a dead building near you that you care about, fight for it to be cared for and reopened, and not left to rot.

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