This large church is close to Hay Hill where my last Norwich post came from. It is the largest of the thirty-one Church of England churches in Norwich and is often mistaken for one of the two cathedrals.
The building was begun in 1430 and was consecrated in 1455, a twenty-five year single phase of construction which gives the church its unity of style. There have been only a few additions to the exterior of the building since then, notably the little spire on top of the tower (a fleche), the parapet round the top of the tower and the ‘pepperpots’ on the corners added by the architect A E Street in 1895.
This church wasn’t the first to be built on this site. One of William the Conqueror’s barons, Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norwich, had had a church built there in 1075 but shortly afterwards he lost everything he had after rebelling against the Conqueror. Fortunately he had already bestowed the church on one of his chaplains, Wala, who fled to Gloucester after the rebellion. Wala passed the church on to the Abbey of St Peter in Gloucester and so for 300 years this church was known as ‘St Peter of Gloucester in Norwich’ – quite a mouthful! After pressure from the citizens of Norwich in 1388, the church was passed to the Benedictine Community of St-Mary-in-the-Fields in Norwich whose church (long since destroyed) was where the Assembly Room and the Theatre Royal are now. The Dean and Chapter of St Mary’s found the old church dilapidated and in very poor condition and so decided to re-build. It took them 42 years to save enough money through gifts, legacies and donations to be able to start the construction work.
I include here a link to an aerial map of St Peter Mancroft (marked in purple).
During the Reformation the College of St-Mary-in-the-Field was suppressed and the patronage of St Peter Mancroft was passed through several families until 1581 when it was acquired by trustees on behalf of the parishioners. The church was originally the church of St Peter and St Paul but the name was shortened to St Peter after the two saints were given independent saints days during the Reformation. ‘Mancroft’ probably came from the ‘Magna Crofta’ (great meadow) on which it was built.
The church is almost completely faced with limestone which was brought many miles over land and sea at great expense. (There is no local free-stone in Norfolk). It was a deliberate display of wealth on the part of the 15th century citizens of Norwich. There is some knapped flint flushwork decoration most notably on the tower which is well buttressed and was probably intended to carry another lantern stage The tower also carries a peal of 14 bells.
There are two fine porches to the church on the north and south sides. The North Porch has a parvaise (a room over the porch).
It is 60′ from floor to roof and has eight arched bays with slender columns. The church is also very long at 180′.
Richard, Elinor and I visited the church on a very rainy day last week. Amazingly, the church was warm inside! Even the cathedral doesn’t get as cosy as St Peter Mancroft.
The font was a gift to the church in 1463 by John Cawston, a grocer from Norwich. The Seven Sacraments were carved on panels round the font basin and an eighth panel showed the ‘Sun in Splendour’, the badge of Henry IV. Eight saints were carved on the shaft of the font. Sadly, the Puritans hacked off all the images, plastered the font with lime and daubed it with black paint. It was found in the crypt with other rubbish in 1926 and was cleaned and put in its present position. The four pillars and the base of the canopy over the font were made in the 15th century but the upper part of the woodwork is 19th century Victorian work.
I apologise for the poor quality of the photos in the slideshow but all of the objects were in glass cases in the St Nicholas Chapel. These objects are just a few of the many treasures owned by the church and known as the Mancroft Heritage.
This chapel is normally used for weekday services.
The Reredos (the panel behind the High Altar) has some beautiful carved figures made in 1885 and gilded in 1930 to mark the 500th anniversary of the beginning of the building of the church. At the same time the lower line of larger figures were added by Sir Ninian Comper.
This roof (and the roof of the Nave) is of open timbered construction supported by hammer beams. Most hammer beam roofs are ornamented and uncovered but this one is covered by fan tracery or vaulting in wood. Most fan traceries are made from stone so this roof is very rare. It is also an angel roof – there is a single row of small angels on either side of the Nave roof but a double row on either side of the Chancel. There are also gilded suns in splendour on the ridge bosses. The roof was restored in 1962 -64. Some amazing work was done then by the restorers who raised the roof on jacks and then pulled the walls straight which had been driven outwards by the weight of the roof over the centuries.
I have discovered a quote of Sir Thomas Browne’s from his treatise ‘Urn-Burial’ at the beginning of Edgar Allen Poe’s ‘The Murders in the Rue Morgue’.
The most memorable sight in the church is that of the Great East Window.
It has 39 tracery lights (windows/panes of glass) and 42 main lights, all of which are 15th century except seven main lights which are Victorian. The Victorian ones are the lower five in the centre colomn and the two bottom ones either side of the centre colomn. This window contains some of the finest work by the 15th century School of Norwich Glass Painters. Most of the church would have originally been full of glass like this but during rioting between Puritans and Royalists in 1648 there was a gunpowder explosion nearby in a house in Bethel Street which left many people dead and much of the glass in the church blown in. It wasn’t until four years later that the glass was gathered together from around the church and most put into this window.
Please click on this link to see each light in detail.
I am obliged and indebted to the Church Guide I purchased in St Peter Mancroft for some of the information in this post.
Thanks for visiting!