New centre to showcase Norwich historic churches
Norwich Historic Churches Trust (NHCT) has a new home which will also be an emerging centre for illustrating the history and heritage of Norwich’s world class collection of medieval churches. Keith Morris reports.
The centre will be at St Martin-at-Palace-Plain, adjacent to Tombland in Norwich city centre, which is already under the care of NHCT and has been empty for four years, since the Norfolk Association for the Care and Rehabilitation of Offenders moved out.
The move follows the very successful three-day Flintspiration festival held earlier this year which aimed to tell the stories behind many of Norwich’s historic parish churches.
Neil Blunt, Vice Chair of NHCT, said: “We wanted to create a permanent home for the ‘Story of Norwich’s Parish Churches’ exhibition, created especially for the event and housed in St Peter Mancroft for the festival itself; a distribution outlet for the considerable stock of booklets and trails which Flintspiration had commissioned; a location for talks, children’s activities and other events related to the medieval parish church; meeting space; and not least, an outlet for the energies of the many enthusiastic volunteers who had come forward to help and were eager to carry on doing so.
“Although we are in the very early stages of this, working with almost no additional resources, much progress has already been achieved. A volunteer rota has been established which will open the church to visitors from 10-4 every Tuesday and Thursday, and for organised activities on other days. The Flintspiration exhibition is on permanent display in the South aisle.”
Neil, who was also project director of Flintspiration, said: “The full set of church, churchyard and city wall trails which were devised for Flintspiration are available free to visitors from the newly-installed reception area. Volunteer guides are able to conduct short tours of the building and highlight its history and salient features; and volunteers from the Friends group have set to work tidying up the grounds and exposing the overgrown cobble borders around the path to the South porch.
“The Heavenly Gardens churchyard project has based itself here, and Dr Nicholas Groves is planning a series of day schools and an autumn conference as the first steps in the establishment of a Centre for the Study of the Parish Church,” said Neil.
For Heritage Open Days, from September 7-10, NHCT will be presenting three days of ‘Flintspiration Reprised’, including lectures, tours and trails, medieval music, children’s activities, a church run and more. A highlight will undoubtedly be Saturday’s three re-runs of the 40 minute show ‘Set in Stone’, in which the Cambridge-based theatre company Time Will Tell present an informed and highly entertaining condensed history of St Martin’s itself.
As for the future? Neil said: “Although many of our churches, both living and repurposed, do a fabulous job meeting and greeting visitors and helping them understand the wealth of history in their respective dwellings, the potential for a visitor centre giving a wider context and guiding people’s understanding and appreciation of their collective importance has been talked of for a long time. The Flintspiration project was a determined attempt to raise profile and interest among local people and visitors alike, and we hope that St Martins can carry this forward as it grows.”
See a fascinating short film outlining the history of Norwich’s historic churches.
Pictured above is Neil Blunt inside St Martin-at-Palace-Plain, which will be the new home for NHCT and, below, a short film about the Flintspiration weekend..