Sunday, February 01, 2009

NCBC Guided Tour. Anglo Saxon Norwich

(The updated version of this tour can be downloaded from here:

Below are my tour guide notes for the Wensum valley walk from Norwich Central Baptist Church to the Cathedral and back. These notes are likely to be enhanced as new information comes to light.

History: Looking back we see ourselves in perspective. We can see repeated themes and ask ourselves if our world view really works when seen in the context of a larger history. The enhanced experience sample provided by history can change the significance and meaning of our own smaller subset of experience.

• This is a picture of St Mary’s Baptist church (now NCBC) before it was destroyed by bombs in WWII
• Baptists came to this site in 1744, but built this structure under the popular and famous minister Joseph Kinghorn in 1811.
• Why does it have a classical Georgian facade? Why did the nonconformists fail to find satisfaction in the protestant Church of England?
• Why did the Norwich Baptists emerge during the 1600s?
• Why are the 1600s are such is a pivotal century for non-conformity in England?
• Answers to these questions take us right back to Saxon times
• Saxon government was closer to a kind of protection racket model whereas the feudal/serf system introduced by the Normans was closer to a slave model. This gave rise to Saxon discontent.
• Saxon England never really took to the feudal system and the Normans themselves become saxonised in attitude.
• This may have helped create the conditions needed for religious dissent, the rise of parliament, and the industrial revolution and science – the seeds of the modern world.
• The NCBC tour around old Norwich takes us around the ancient urban theatre that hosted the history behind these questions and issues.


• The tour takes us along the Wensum valley to the Saxon centre of Norwich, Tombland a name which means “Open Space” or “Empty Space”
• In Saxon days Tombland was the centre and market area of Norwich
• The valley is densely pock marked with churches evidence that this part of the city is older than the higher parts of Norwich
• Major routes into the city still lead to Tombland: for example King street, Magdalen Street, St Benedict’s.
• Many of the street lines we will follow are Saxon.
• Notice that many street names in this area end in “gate . This ending is derived from the Danish word “Gade” which means “street” (“wick” or “vik” may also have Danish origins)
• The Normans (after 1066) moved the market place to the apron of the newly constructed castle.
• This castle dominated old Norwich in the valley: it was built to see and to be seen. These were the new men in charge.
• The current centre of Norwich (i.e. the castle area) was created by the Normans and not the Saxons

St Mary’s Plain
• Baptists first came to this site in 1744 (at the start of industrial revolution) under John Stearne.
• Expansion of the congregation under the popular and famous Joseph Kinghorn resulted in Kinghorn laying the foundation stone of a Georgian building in 1811. (see picture above)
• Where is his grave?

St Mary’s Coslany Church
• Anglo-Saxon style tower, possibly the oldest in Norwich and may be pre-conquest.
• Note V shaped heads of tower widows as opposed to Romanesque arches.
• About 400 years separates tower and nave. Latter built in perpendicular style with large windows.
• Cotman was baptised here.
• The church became very dilapidated in Edward times. A newspaper correspondent described the church as being left to the mercy of “Stone throwing street urchins”. A sign that working class people had left the church in droves as a result of life style changes.

Zoar Chapel.
• Strict and particular Baptists separated from General Baptists in the 1600s.
• They were strong Calvinists: They believed Christ’s saving work only for those elected to be saved.
• The General Baptists believed all men have the potential to be saved.
• The Baptist Union was formed from a merger of the Particular Baptists and General Baptists.
• Zoar chapel are the strict and particular Calvinist dissenters who maintained a closed communion.
• Zoar in Hebrew means "small" or "insignificance." Zoar was the town of Lot’s refuge as he escaped from Sodom and Gomorrah. (NCBC = Sodom?!!)
• It is a coincidence that they are next door to us? Research has not been able to uncover a link.

Roman Roads
• A north-south Roman road from Ber Street or King Street ran along Oak Street.
• An east-west Roman road ran from the cathedral area and then along St Benedict street.
• The roads may have crossed at Charing cross (?)

Muspole Street
• Possibly part of the Saxon street system
• “Muspool”. A pond used for drinking.
• Interestingly there is a very old water fountain at the Colgate end of the street.
• Another source claimed that Muspool derived from a pool of refuse!

Colgate East
St. George’s Church.
• Notice the ‘Basilica’ design: This was copied from the Roman forum design. Christians avoided the temple design with its association with idolatry.
• Nave built 1459, Chancel 1498, aisles 1505 (north), 1513 (south).
• Probably not the site of a Saxon church.
• This was the Renaissance period of perpendicular churches. They are called “perpendicular” because of the predominance of vertical lines and edges.
• Perpendicular churches were light and airy with big glass windows; perhaps a sign of increasing human technological confidence. In comparison Norman churches are dark and cave like.
• This church would have looked really up to date and modern in its time.
• These churches are evidence of the end of feudalism and the rise of a merchant class who helped subsidise them.
• It was these merchants who were to fall out with the monarchy and they found common cause with the non-conformists.
• Norwich was getting rich on the wool and textile trade and also confident.
• Perpendicular churches are the wool merchants churches. They are very prevalent in Norwich and have all but wiped out the early medieval designs. Their prevalence is a sign of a Norwich grown rich on the textile trade.
• John Crome worshipped here.

Henry Bacon House.
• Houses in this area belonged to wealthy (textile) merchants.
• Henry Bacon, a Worsted merchant, built this house in Colegate in the 16th century. He was Mayor in 1557 and 1566.
• Quote: “As Sheriff in 1548-9 he entertained the Duke of Northumberland at the time of Kett’s Rebellion, putting the Duke’s emblem of a ragged staff above his door. The lintel of the front doorway has a merchant’s mark balanced by the arms of the Grocers’ Company and his mark also appears over a window to the left as well as high up near the south-west angle”.
• The merchant class rising to a place of power and influence in society is a recurring theme in the Wensum valley area.

Norvic Shoe factory.
• A Victorian building.
• In times past shoes would all have been made and bought locally.
• The factory system produced a local surplus. Hence trade became more global and distant economies became linked. This is where the profit makers have taken us: if one economy falls over, it can take all the others with it!
• It is not known why Norwich should become a shoe making centre.
• By 1830, however, the textile industry in Norwich had decayed, but not the shoe industry. This may be because textiles are power intensive whereas shoe making is labour intensive.

Octagon chapel
• Originally the site of a Chapel for the Black friars.
• Dr John Collinges, vicar of St Stephen’s dissented under Charles II in 17th century, and set up the chapel with his Presbyterian followers.
• This is our first location with a link to NCBC in that it has a common ancestor; namely the disaffection with the established Church of England under the subliminally catholic Stuart dynasty of the 1600s
• These Presbyterians built the Octagon in 1756. The architect was Thomas Ivory (architect of the assembly room and many alterations to Blickling hall)
• John Wesley visited in 1757 and admired it. First of its kind in England.
• The Martineaus worshipped here (An influential Huguenot protestants) .
• Presbyterianism is the Scottish version of Congregationalism with a preference toward national centralisation.
• The congregation here had become Unitarian by the early 19th century. Was this connected with the enlightenment?
• Notice the pattern here: dissenters worship in a private house first and then create a building fit for purpose as the congregation expands and becomes more established – we see this pattern today.

Old Meeting House.
• Built in 1693 after the toleration act. The roots of the congregation go much further back to the disaffected Congregationalists who first met in private halls and houses.
• The Baptists that eventually became NCBC came out of the Congregationalists.
• Notice the classical architecture: they were disaffected enough to want to get away from churchy gothic looking buildings. There is irony here: when the early church started building churches they took their model from the Roman secular basilica, the public forum. This was a reaction against the religious temple with its associations with idol worship. Later as the nonconformists integrated with the establishment they started building pseudo gothic churches – see for example Dereham Road Baptist Church.
• Men and women entered the building by different doors. “The arrangement is similar to that of the Unitarian chapel in Ipswich, which began life in almost exactly the same way and is from the same decade.” Congregationalists still meet here and the liberal Jewish community meet here.
• Note: Congregationalism in Norwich goes right back to 1580 when Robert Browne set up a congregation: its chief characteristic is that of a rejection of a centralised church government in favour of local government.

St Clement’s Church:
• St. Clement was the patron saint of sailors. Churches of this dedication are found near the crossing point of rivers.
• It is the site of a Saxon church.
• Largely a perpendicular church with some older parts suggesting it was one of many perpendicular rebuilds. Some of its older parts can be seen; see for example the east end window which from the 1300s decorated period and also the corner stones on the west wall next to the tower showing that the nave was once narrower.

Fye Bridge Street
Fye bridge
• Had a ducking stool that records say was actually used.
• This was one of the first bridges and started as a ford in Saxon times.
• Its vicinity to the important space of Tombland is evidence of the antiquity of the crossing.
• It isn’t true that ‘fye’ minds ‘five’, but it so happens that this is the fifth bridge to be built.

Augustine Steward House:
• Augustine Steward (1491-1571) was a common councillor, a sheriff and then later an MP for Norwich.
• During the time of the Kett’s rebellion in 1549, Steward was Deputy Mayor and the rebels ransacked his home but he managed to escape. Merchants tend to side with law and order because that is best for business.
• His merchant’s mark and the arms of Mercers Corporation can still be seen on the building.
• He was another textile money maker.
• Ultimately this merchant class clashed with Stuart King Charles I in parliament over demands for money (Now, that really does upset the merchant class!). This lead to the civil war off 1642 which intimately impinges upon the history of NCBC.
• Inside the building the undercroft has blocked tunnels that lead to the cathedral across the road. The purpose of the tunnels is unknown. (Symbolically undermining King and High church?)

Tombland Alley:
• Follows the line of the east-west Roman road that crossed the north-south Roman road around Charring Cross (?)

St George’s Tombland:
• This is where we pick up the story of NCBC again.
• The Rector of this church, Rev William Bridge (and also of St Peter Hungate) became disaffected with Stuart King Charles I high church.
• He left for the Rotterdam in about 1635 and joined the English Chaplaincy in Holland where he had a freer rein.
• This Chaplaincy ministered to English merchants in the lowlands.
• Once again notice that the merchant wealth makers are figuring in the subversion of King and the established Church.
• Congregational dissent started to brew amongst the English Christians in the Netherlands.
• When the Congregationalists returned to England after the Civil War they asked sympathetic established church ministers to pastor them.
• The first was Rev Henry Amitage in 1647 who was associated with St Michael’s church in Coslany.
• The second was Rev Thomas Allen in1655 who was rector of this church (St. George’s) and St Peter Hungate.
• The early Congregationalists used this church for their services and a gallery (long since gone) was built for increased numbers, but they were thrown out after the restoration of the monarchy in 1660.

Cathedral Close
Norwich School
• Originally a free school for poor boys set up by the Benedictine monks in about 1300
• Notice the basilica design. Notice also the Roman “viaduct” look of tier upon tier.

Elm Hill:
A very dilapidated Elm Hill was up for demolition by the council in the 1920s but it was just saved by one vote by the newly formed Norwich Society.

St Simon and St Jude church
• Goes at least as far back as the Normans. The chancel is from the 'decorated' period and is older than the perpendicular nave. Contains the famous monuments of Sir John Pettus.

Pettus House
• Fifteenth Century Merchants house.
• Original diamond leaded lights on top floor. Has a Georgian shop front.
• Sir John Pettus was knighted by Elizabeth I. Major of Norwich 1608.
• As Pettus got wealthier he moved to an estate at Rackheath. He was aping the aristocracy with their large estates.
• House owned by the Pastons at one point. The Pastons have their roots in the peasantry. Their rise to wealth was contested by noblemen.

Strangers Club
• Started in 1927and intended to have a 50-50 mix of locals and foreigners
• It is now an elite club of professionals. The phenomenon of such clubs goes back to the Free Masons. Once again notice the mercantile connection.
• The house was owned by Augustine Steward who lived here around 1545.
• The club badge is adapted from Stewards coat of arms.
• The Club has entertained dignitaries such as Queen Mary, Princess Alexandra, the Lord Mayor of London, the Netherlands’, Belgian and Mexican Ambassadors, Lord Birkenhead, Lord Baden-Powell, Sir Henry Wood, Sir Alfred Munnings, writers, actors, politicians and overseas visitors to the City who are brought to see the Club Premises.
• Professional gentleman’s clubs were very important in the industrial revolution as the seed bed of new ideas and their dissemination.
• The Mason’s had their roots in the enlightenment and the notion of God as a rational architect.

Britons Arms: The only building on Elm hill to survive the 1507 fire. Medieval doorway. Home to a group of religiously minded women.

St Andrews Area

St Andrews Hall:
• Built in the “Decorated” period: about mid 1300s.
• The most complete friary complex in the country.
• Friars lived to serve the community rather than live the detached lives of the monks. They were popular amongst the people. They depended on gifts of charity.
• They were established in the late 12th Century as a reaction to the wealth and power of the monks and monasteries, which is ironic because monks started out as religious ascetics.
• However they were not exempted from the dissolution.
• After the dissolution Augustine Steward sent a proposal the Henry VIII that the City buy the building from the Crown and this was accepted. This insured the buildings survived.
• Hence from 1540 the city took possession and the building has served as a church, a priory, school granary, workhouse, and mint. It contains the country’s largest selection of civic portraits.

Anchoress/Anchorite cell:
• An ascetic of the Middle ages who lived for prayer and the Eucharist.
• They were bricked up permanently in cells against church walls and sealed by the Bishop in a special ceremony.
• A Squint hole enabled them to hear and receive communion.
• A hole facing the outside world enabled them to receive food and give advice and counsel.
• Maintenance of Anchorites may be provided by wealthy people: whilst the wealthy tried to make their name in this world the anchorite helped make sure their names were also heard in heaven.
• Julian of Norwich who lived in a cell off King Street is world famous for her teaching.
• Many anchorites and Anchoresses in Norwich.

St Peter Hungate
• The second of Rev William Bridge’s churches; the rector who defected to the Rotterdam congregations.

Cloisters, East Granary,
• By 1667 under Daniel Bradford the Baptists had split from the Congregationalists over the issue of child baptism. Bradford is the name of the first minister that appears on the NCBC history of ministers.
• In 1688 the catholic Stuart monarch James II was deposed. Sometime after this date the Baptists under their minster Henry Austine took the lease on what was originally the dormitory over the cloisters of the of the St. Andrews friary.
• However they left the East Granary circa 1720 for a house in Coslany. (There is a plaque on the Granary referring to the Baptist presence)
• These Baptists came out of a melting pot of religious dispute amongst non-conformist protestants.
• Congregationalists heart ached about the loss of the Baptists from their number: “….they have not only forsaken the churches for want of the ordinance of baptism, but also judged all churches no churches that were not of their mind or came not up to their practice” says a congregationalist source.
• There were other divisions amongst the Protestants: ‘Kingdom Now’ Anabaptist extremists even went as far as wanting to overthrown Cromwell’s puritan government in order to help usher in Christ’s rule with His saints.
• There were disputes between Baptists and Quaker “Charismatics”. The latter suggested that the Baptists water baptism was on a par with St John’s baptism and inferior to Christ’s baptism with the Holy Ghost.

• The 17th century was a century of intellectual and political turmoil.
• It was a century that looked for the right balance between leaders and the people, between materialism and spirituality, between science and revelation.
• What should be at the centre of things? Earth or Sun? People or King? Mind or heart? God or man? Or most sinister of all: was there any centre at all?
• The Copernican revolution and what it means was by now well underway and is still ongoing.

St Georges Street
Art College: Now “Norwich University College of the Arts”

Black Friars Bridge: Not an original Saxon bridge.

Colgate West
Duke Street:
• So called because the Duke of Norfolk had a palace here in 1540.
• In former days it was probably only a small lane and Colgate was the main thoroughfare and had priority.

St Michael Coslany Church
• This church figures in NCBC history. In 1647 Rev Armitage of this church was asked to pastor the Congregationalists after they returned from Rotterdam (This was before the NCBC Baptists came out of the Congregationalists).
• When Armitage died in 1655 they moved to St George’s Tombland, and Rev Thomas Allen’s ministry
• St. Michael’s is obviously a perpendicular church. (That is, a church built on wool money)
• The fine flint flushwork has been likened to the inlaid ivory of cabinets.
• The flushwork on the south and east walls of the chancel is a late 19th Century copy.
• The south side is the most decorated face because this is the side that faced what used to be a busy street. Duke Street which cuts off this end of Colgate may only have been a small lane rather than the main thoroughfare it is today.
• St Michael’s is now the Inspire centre whose purpose is promote and encourage the discovery and enjoyment of science by all members of the community using hands-on exhibits and related activities." Very appropriate. The merchants helped subsidize the perpendicular churches, and in the long run their search for profit promoted science as a side effect.
• The conflicts we have talked about resolved in favour of commercialism and nonconformist religious freedom.
• Ultimately this commercialism lead to the industrial revolution and this revolution in turn helped to promote science.
• So at St Michael’s science has come home: Norwich’s glut of perpendicular churches was down to the wealth of the merchants and it was the merchants who ultimately (if a little inadventantly) laid the seed bed of non-conformity, parliament, and science

Old Baptist Meeting House:
• This house was situated somewhere beyond the west end of St Michael’s.
• The Baptists moved here from the East Granary circa 1720.
• The house was extended at one point to accommodate increased numbers, but in 1744 they left for a house situated on the current site of NCBC.

Rosemary Lane:
(Before and after photo)

Thomas Pykerell House
• Built late fifteenth century by Thomas Pykerell.
• A mercer (textiles again!) who was Sheriff in 1513 and Mayor in 1525, 1533 and 1538. He died in 1545 and was buried on the north aisle of St Mary’s Church.
• Quote: In 1860 the building was an inn with the sign of the Recruiting Sergeant, and the yard at the rear was even then known as Pykerell’s Yard. It was later the Rosemary Tavern, but by the 1930s was being considered for demolition under a slum clearance scheme.
• One of the few thatched houses remaining within the city walls.
• It had the characteristic medieval hall layout of an entrance with a hall (then the living space of the house) on one side and private withdrawing rooms attached. On the other side of the entrance were three doorways into the pantry (for bread & associated foods), buttery (for meats and alcohol) and Kitchen (for food preparation).
• The site of the kitchen was probably that now occupied by the Zoar chapel.
• The spandrels over the arch would likely to have contained some sort of heraldry.

Self Link


a said...

Hi bro Tim.
I enjoyed that.
Ever read "If stones could speak"
By Motrum I think. I lent it to some one years ago and never got it back. I found it to be a deeply evocative book. I always had the intention to read it while walking in stages around the city.
I am also interested in looking at the spiritual history of Norwich. Something else we have in common.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Thanks for comment Mr. Smith! I don't think I have heard of Motrum.

a said...

Ah that maybe because I spelled his name wrong. But take a look at this
A fellow non conformist.
If you can get the book "if stone could speak" I guarantee you will enjoy.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Interesting. I note that Mottram attended the Octagon Chapel; so he was Unitarian. The book "If stones could speak" has a page on amazon. I also notice some first editions seem to be available.

Highland Host said...

Zoar published a history in 1945, there is a copy in the library in Norwich. It seems to indicate that the location of the building is a coincidence and its origins are independent of St. Mary's in a small meeting that took place in a tiny room off Bedford Street in about 1811 or so. They had a chapel on Dereham Road called Jireh that opened 1840, William Gadsby being the preacher. It closed because it was the private property of one man whose business failed about 1849. The name probably comes from the fact that Mr. Gooderham, the pastor under whom Zoar was built, had come from Zoar Chapel, Great Alie Street, London. Eli Ashdown, Pastor of Zoar Chapel in London, was the preacher at the opening service. Before Zoar was built the congregation had been moving around a variety of rented locations.

Timothy V Reeves said...

Thanks very much for the info Highland Host. These notes are in much need of an update as my knowledge has moved on! Yes I think you are right about the coincidental location of Zoar. In fact I consulted church historian
Nick Groves on this matter and this is what he said:

The Zoar book says that after the schism over communion, the strict communion people went to the Quaker meeting house at Gildencroft, under a Mr Bullimore, and has now died out. (St Mary's, while Particular, was not Strict.)

Zoar started as a schism from the Particular cause at Providence (the old Methodist Chapel in Cherry Lane): they bought it in 1817. They left Providence on 31 January 1875 "... for the truth's sake, and like Abraham of old went out not knowing whither we went"; as the church books of Providence prior to 1898 are lost, "it is difficult now to form a correct judgement as to the primary cause of the separation", but its sounds doctrinal.

They went first to Tabernacle ("Its name is now 'Ichabod', for it has fallen into decay ..." - and now indeed demolished). They were asked to leave in 1879, and then appear to have used Providence (what had happened to the cause there?) until they acquired the site of Zoar in 1886 for £120. The exact content of the meeting is not recorded in the chapel book, so we shall never know whether they deliberately pitched their tent at the gates of 'Sodom'! A Mr Gooderham had been supplying the pulpit at Jireh and Providence, and was invited to become paster of Zoar. He had been member of Zoar chapel in Gt Alie Street in London, and so I wonder if this is at least partly the reason for the choice behind the name?