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This is one of my occasional posts about Norwich.

Last summer, as I wandered about in Norwich while Elinor was at college, I saw that the church of St John Maddermarket was open and so took the opportunity to look inside.


This lane is Pottergate and the church of St John Maddermarket is on the right of the photo. The black and white building next to the church is The Belgian Monk pub

St John Maddermarket, dedicated to St John the Baptist, closed for Anglican worship on 31st December 1981 and for the following eight years was used by the Greek Orthodox Church.  It is now cared for by The Churches’ Conservation Trust.  Madder flowers were used to make red dye for the flourishing cloth industry in medieval Norwich but there is no evidence to prove that there ever was a maddermarket  in the city.


St John’s church, the Belgian Monk pub and St John’s Alley in-between them.


St John Maddermarket


The processional way (St John’s Alley) goes through the base of the tower. The pub is on the left of the photo and the Maddermarket theatre can be seen at the far end of the passageway.

In writing this post I realised that I needed a few more photos to illustrate some of the things I wanted to say about this church.  I called in at the church again on Tuesday 17th January and took most of the pictures I wanted.


The processional arch under the tower has a rib vault with carved bosses 


The Maddermarket Theatre was founded in 1921 by Walter Nugent Monck who, during that decade was one of the first people to re-create a Shakespearean stage.

There is a memorial in St John’s church to Walter Monck 1878-1958 (one photo I forgot to take!)


St John Maddermarket

Note the raised burial ground.  In the 16th and 17th centuries there were many complaints about graveyards like this one.  Because of the confined space allowed for burial there were often too many bodies with too little earth to cover them!  This graveyard contains the Crabtree headstone which has a pre-Christian symbol of the Ouroboros carved on it.  An Ouroboros is a serpent eating its own tail.


The Crabtree headstone with the Ouroboros at the top on the left. There are other strange markings on this headstone which I think are Masonic.  Why the headstone for Mary and Mary Ann Crabtree should have these markings on it, I have no idea!  I couldn’t see all of it as the churchyard is permanently locked and this is the view I got over the wall.


Wall of St John’s churchyard

William Shakespeare’s friend William Kempe, the comic actor, had an argument with Shakespeare and in trying to upstage him wagered that he could morris-dance all the way from London to Norwich (about 100 miles) in nine days.  He managed to do it (though with a few days rest in-between the days of dancing) and on his arrival he jumped the wall of St John’s churchyard.   He wrote about it in his book ‘A Nine Daies Wonder’.


Entrance to the church through the south porch. The door to the north porch was open so a view of the lane beyond the church can be seen


Inside the church, looking out through the south porch door


Looking towards the altar from the back of the church

The eye is drawn to the imposing Georgian baldachin (canopy) over the high altar which is supported on columns.  I’m not at all sure I like it there very much; it seems too big and heavy for the church it is in.  William Busby who was Rector of this church from 1898-1923, assembled a large collection of church furnishings and this canopy was part of the collection.  It was made for another Norwich church (St Miles, Coslany) and brought to St John’s in 1917.  It obscures the Gothic revival reredos (decoration behind the altar) which had been installed in 1863, and part of the east window.  The east window itself (i.e. not the glass) dates from about 1325 and is older than the rest of the church.  It was possibly taken from a former chancel.


A closer view of the baldachin and high altar


Here you can see how ornate the carving on the baldachin is.


This is the ledger stone in memory of ‘Dame Rebecca the deservedly beloved consort of S. Benj. Wrench Knt. Dr. of Physick, of whose singular virtues in every relation of life, the remembrance of surviving freinds (sic) is the amplest testimony and the best monument.  After thirty-six years happily spent in the conjugal state she departed this life the 4th day of March 1727 in the 59th year of her age’.


The nave roof is basically medieval but was heavily restored in 1876 after it was damaged in a gas explosion. It probably has a hammer-beam roof but ribbed plaster coving hides the hammer-beams.  There are angels at the edge of the coving.


The ribbed coving and an angel holding a shield. The stop at the bottom of the photo also has an angel.


This angel has traces of gold paint still upon it. Just imagine how bright the church must have been when new!


Another angel with traces of paint on it.


The lectern was made in the 18th century. It revolves.


Here is the pulpit, made in 1863. The banner inviting us to climb up and read aloud is for the benefit of the many school visits they have.

The pulpit has a sounding board above it which may be 17th century.


The sounding board hanging above the pulpit. It helped the preacher’s voice carry round the church.


The Lady Chapel


The roof of the Lady Chapel in the south aisle is painted


A detail from the painted ceiling.


Another ledger stone. “Beneath are deposited the remains of Mary, wife of Thos. Rawlins architect. A woman of strict virtue. Borne down with a long series of affliction. Resign’d her soul to Him that gave it. On the 31st of August 1785 aged 65 years. Also the above Thos. Rawlins who died March 18th 1789 in the 63rd year of his age”.


A wall monument to Alderman Thomas Sotherton and his wife Frances with their children kneeling behind them.


Another Sotherton family monument, this time for Nicolas and Agnes Sotherton.  They had six sons and five daughters.  Nicolas was a grocer who amassed a great fortune and owned much property in the city.  He died in 1540.


Monument to Christopher Layer (died 1600) and his wife Barbara (died 1604). There are personifications of Pax, Vanitas, Gloria and Labor on the uprights at the side of the monument.  See here for a full description


Three wall monuments and the beautiful clerestory windows above


This is the centre monument from the photo above. It is to The Virtuous Lady Margaret Duchess of Norfolk 


There’s quite a crowd of wives in this grave!  Margaret, Rebekah 1 and Rebekah 2; the first, second and third wives of William Barnham, as well as his daughter Elizabeth!


The North Chapel dedicated to the Blessed Sacrament with its wood panelling

Because of the gas explosion in the 19th century most of the stained glass in the church is from the 19th and 20th centuries.  The window pictured above on the right has many fragments of the medieval glass that were rescued after the accident.  Fortunately, no-one was killed or even badly injured in the explosion despite it happening during choir practice.


A closer view of the pieces of old glass.


The font at the back of the church dates from the 1860’s.


This beautifully made gallery was erected in 1912 and has made the west bay at the rear of the church into a narthax (antechamber)

The north and south porches, which are inside the body of the church, are at either end of this narthax.  The craftsman responsible for the gallery lived just a few yards from the church and made it in the Jacobean style.  (The Jacobean era was named after King James I and covered the first quarter of the 17th century – 1600-1625).  The choir sang from the gallery.


Stairs up to the gallery.  On the left is one of the brasses from the church which were removed from the floor during one of the many re-organisations of the church.

Apparently, there is also a room above one of the porches (I think) which has information on all the servicemen in the parish who lost their lives in the First World War.


A monumental brass that is still in situ in the centre aisle.  I believe this is to Ralph Segrym (d. 1472) MP 1449, Mayor 1451 and his wife. 


A monumental brass in the north chapel to John Todenham (c.1450) in civilian dress with inscription and scroll  


The wonderful rib-vault in the north porch

The north porch has much thicker walls than the rest of the church and many people think this is because it might be all that remains of the Anglo Saxon church which stood on the site before the current church was built.  The doorway is much more ornate than the south porch door.  (Another missed photo!)


Photograph of a panel depicting St Agatha and St William of Norwich


Photograph of a panel depicting St Leonard and St Catherine

Both these panels came from St John Maddermarket and are now housed in the Victoria and Albert Museum



These panels were commissioned by Ralph Segrym whose memorial brass I have commented on above.  If you are interested in clicking on the links to the panels, I recommend you subsequently click on the ‘Further Information’ button.

All photographs are mine.

Information gleaned from a conversation with a Churches Conservation Trust officer at the church and also from the following books:

The Medieval Churches of the City of Norwich – Nicholas Groves

The Little Book of Norwich – Neil R Storey

Norwich – Stephen Browning

Churches Conservation Trust Church Tour leaflet


Thanks for visiting!