Thursday, September 20, 2012


The three lancet windows at NCBC's north end.

This is the rather overdue part 3 of my series on the stained glass windows at the back of NCBC’s nave. The previous parts can be seen here and here. In this part I want to look at the coats of arms displayed in these windows.  On this subject I have had invaluable help from historian Nick Groves.  

I have already published a short post on the Norwich coat of arms which appears near the top of the middle window. (I may revisit the meaning of this motif in a later post). In this post, however. I want to look at the three coats of arms associated with past grandees of the church.  

About a third of the way up the central window our eye meets this heraldry:

The Colmans

My first hint of what this heraldry represented was a chance find whilst browsing the NCBC historical library: Here I came across a book on The Act of Uniformity of 1642. On the inside front cover of this book I found this:

 Did the book where this arms can be found once belong to a one of the Colemans?

Underneath this piece of heraldary we can read the name J. J. Coleman. As Nick Groves has confirmed this is none other than the coat of arms of the Colman family, the owners of the well–known mustard business. This family had connections with NCBC going back to the eighteenth century at least. The Latin inscription on the coat of arms reads:
Sat cito si sat bene
The individual words have the following connotations:
“Sat” ~ satisfactory
“Cito” ~ quickly
“si” ~ if
“bene” ~good
According to this web site the translation is:

It is quick enough if it is done well enough.

The sentiment here is one of satisfaction over speed, perhaps not exactly identical with the ethos of latter day industrialists!

Nick was also able to help me with the heraldry appearing in the left hand window:

The Wilkins

According to Nick:

A bit a poking around reveals that the arms belong to the Wilkin family (whelks - wilks!!! I'd thought it might be Mark Wilkes, but could not see why, as he had nothing to do with the place). Jewson's book The Baptists in Norfolk p 66, reveals, as I am sure you know, that Simon Wilkin (1790-1862) was Kinghorn's ward, and edited the first complete edition of Thomas Browne's works. He was (p 92) one of the trustees who commenced the Chancery suit to prevent open communion.

We have here an interesting reference to the Strict Baptist law suit of the mid nineteenth century, a suit that failed to achieve its purpose of legally enforcing closed communion on NCBC. That law suit was perhaps the rearguard action of the old marginalized non-conformity: From the nineteenth century onwards the only way was up as far as NCBC was concerned (in terms of its societal status); NCBC was becoming mainstream. To my mind it is ironic that Strict Baptist Simon Wilkin should be editor of Thomas Browne's works: Browne stood for a liberal establishment.

Finally we have the coat of arms that appears in the right hand window:
The Jewsons

Compariing this with a feature on NCBC’s Charles Jewson wall memorial (see below) we see that the above is the coat of arms of the Jewsons: (Another fact pointed out to me by Nick!)

Detail on Charles Boardman Jewson's wall memorial


Now, it is a curious fact that the foregoing was a revelation to me. I had spotted the Coleman’s coat of arms in the book on the Act of Uniformity and I had also noticed that the Jewson's wall memorials had very similar heraldry to that found in the right hand window. These were big clues, but in spite of this it never occurred to me that prominent families in the church had some sort of “ownership” of these motifs and that the church would make a point of displaying them in their windows – I needed Nick Groves to tell me this. Yes, I was familiar with the mediaeval practice of heraldry being assigned to high status families. But there was an inhibition that prevented me from extending this idea to the non-conformity of NCBC’s recent past. And yet the signs were about me: The sanctuary’s architecture and layout was evidence that by the 1950s the church was very much identifying itself as an establishment church. Displaying the family heraldry of those in their midst with a high social rank was a next logical step, especially in a time when public rank was able to elicit more respect than it does today. The church of the early fifties had so identified itself with the civic establishment that they felt no inhibition about celebrating the lives of the grandees amongst them who had become important pillars of society. 

Somehow I just couldn’t take all this onboard: I found it difficult to put myself in times when the church was less at odds with society. Moreover, evangelicalism's affectation for self-abasement grates with motifs that are likely to register in the evangelical mind as the glorification of individuals. Coming up through the neo-evangelical tradition I had become very used to a non-conformist culture that regarded itself as on the fringe of society and no longer a civic force to be reckoned with. Indeed, in some quarters it regarded that society with a measure of disdain and suspicion. An almost New Testament relation between church and society had reasserted itself. It therefore is no surprise I had such difficulty in conceiving that a non-conformist church should celebrate its links with civic society by displaying the heraldry of members who had achieved a high status in that society. It all goes to show how disconnected, perhaps even alienated, evangelicalism has become from civic life. Instead of celebrating their social standing evangelicals, particularly fundagelicals, are more inclined to glorify their holy remnant status as they gallantly hold on to their traditions in the face of the pressures of modern life. 

Church culture slips and slides to a different equilibrium as its relationship to a changing social environment shifts. But what doesn’t change is the inability of many marginalized and alienated evangelicals to see themselves in the context of the wider historical landscape and in consequence they underrate the work and ministry of those Christians who have gone before them or those who are not with them. Like Elijah in 1 Kings 19:10&18 paranoia and spiritual egocentricity blinkers their perspective.

The motifs in NCBC's north end nave window form a lively pattern of light, rich in colour. To many that's as far as it goes; their significance has long since been forgotten and they cause the merest disturbance in the repose of the church. And yet here we have big clues about Christain culture of the recent past and just how far and fast change can go. Like the graffiti artist's signitures those colorful patterns evidence the passing of those who were once in the here and now and who left their mark on church and civic society.

The following link may prove a useful resource when considering some of the elements of heraldry:

No comments: