Tag Archives: Ipswich

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 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!

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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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Fallen In Love

A review of a new production on ‘Anne Boleyn’s secret heart’

I was very excited to see this new play by Ipswich based theatre company Red Rose Chain, who say they had people crossing the Atlantic to see it and reviewers from all the national papers. They quote historical biographer Alison Weir’s positive comments, although she is thanked in the acknowledgements as being a key part of the research.

I have been passionate about Anne for several years and she formed a major part of my research degree. I was interested in how popular contemporary sources portray her, and how things have entered the canon of knowledge -ie what is seen to be true at any one time.

The canon regarding Anne has changed since the 1980s. Her enemies’ vilification programme was successful for 4 centuries, until several independent researchers of different backgrounds realised that there was another Anne than the Jezebel-esque ruthless upstart. Film has been slower to catch up, still portraying her broadly this way, and Philippa Gregory’s novel and now movie have tipped popular perception for the initiated back towards negative.

This summer, I’ll see two new plays on Anne, hoping that they might offer more of the fresh perspective that sees her as a heroine as Jean Plaidy, Vercors, Joanna Denny and Eric Ives have done.

Fallen in Love was disappointing for its portrayal and its execution – and no, not the one at the end of the play.

It wasn’t that I could detect historical inaccuracy, but that the portrayal fitted the conventional old style view – Anne as perhaps complicated, perhaps with a sympathetic motive, but not even as Prof Ives said – someone one admires but not likes. Naive Anne suddenly becomes hard, and we miss that trajectory out due to a major shift in time. The naiveté is shown through silly voices and exaggerated running about and frivolity.

I confess that I have never warmed to George Boleyn, and it is a shame that he is such a part of this play. Writer and director Joanna Carrick gives him the best lines – making out that it is he (not Anne) who is the religious reformer, the one who hates corruption but can also see genuine faith in some of the monks who are being so horribly butchered. She even lets George say the wonderful alleged final speech that Anne wrote to Henry about being raised from Commoner in stages to the highest honour of all – martyr.

A story about Anne that does not feature Henry feels odd. Small casts are tricky, and this duo didn’t hold the necessary interest for me. I didn’t know that it would just be Anne and her brother, and when this became apparent, my enthusiasm sagged. I also didn’t like the casting of Anne – again, a personal matter, but she didn’t act in a way that made you understand why the most powerful monarch of the western world was so smitten with her that he took such great steps to be with her. And – why this woman was deemed so dangerous that she was killed swiftly and then demonised.

That last part is something I have never found to be satisfactorily explained.

Fallen in Love is not the strongest title, suggesting a chick lit appraisal of one of Europe’s great moments of history. I had expected, therefore, a love story – and presumed this would be one of the few that would show Anne in love with Henry: often the affair is portrayed as onesided. I believe one intended interpretation of the play’s title is, as Gregory and Warnicke alone suggest, that Anne’s incest charge was actually accurate, with which I and most other scholars vehemently disagree.

I have particular tastes in theatre, leaning towards physical theatre and cross media as ways to best use the stage as a way of telling a story powerfully. This was a very traditional talk continuously play with too little room to act physically; the set is designed round a bed which also holds up the tee pee. The epic story doesn’t work in a small tent with not much of set. The post death scene with feathers and dancing was the best -for theatricality and innovation, and a welcome break from over egged young thespian voices.

Practically, there were also problems. Passing trains and football in the park didn’t help the authenticity. The tickets are expensive for what they are – £15 to sit an a marquee on uncomfy chairs with poor toilets, and a simple kiosk for refreshments. They have 2 evening shows back to back, meaning you can’t get in the carpark until the previous show has gone. This contradicted the ticket’s advice of arriving at least 15 minutes early. It wasn’t clear from the crude map that the Hall is not accessible from Gypeswick park, although it seems logical to assume it is. Retracing steps, having found the prohibitive high fence, wastes several minutes.

There was a free short aftershow by a community theatre. As much as I wish to encourage people to find their artistic feet, I have to say that this was a painful experience. What jarred most was not poor acting quality, but the incessant swearing. Dramatically, to swear constantly means you have played your trump card until it has no meaning. There are no more organ stops to pull out when the tension rises. The director warned it may offend ‘sensitive’ people, but sensitivity and a dislike of foul language are not connected. The action and dialogue were lost under the cursing. Group penned Guiltless Ghost is a play about transposing Henry, Anne, George and Jane Parker to a group of four friends on a modern housing estate, all on mobile phones and in chav gear. It forgets the high born grandeur, religion and politics at the heart of the Tudor story, and that Anne Boleyn does not lend herself to a kind of Gavin and Stacey directed by Shane Meadows or Peter Mullan. The bit that made me scoff into my hands was the closing voiceover quote that gave the piece its name. Halting, with a very Ips-witch rising accent, it made what might have been an interesting idea into a farce.

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