It was founded in the 11th Century, much restored in the late 13th Century after quarrels between monks and the local populace led to riots and considerable damage, and later, the carving and sculpture defaced by the Puritans. Despite subsequent repairs and improvements, and a major fire in 1801, it has remained essentially Norman in character. Not one of the larger cathedrals in the country, its spire is nevertheless the second tallest after that of Salisbury Cathedral.
So far as monuments go, the Cathedral does not contain that many, but there are half a dozen ambitious figure sculptures form the 18th and 19th Centuries, and a chance to see the work of several Norwich sculptors, plus some medieval work.
The pick of the 19th Century work includes Bishop Bathurst, by Francis Chantrey, 1841, a seated marble figure, enveloped in his cloak. A panel to the East Norfolk Foot Regiment in the Afghan campaign has a grieving Britannia kneeling on a step to a bier bearing martial accoutrements – the pose allows a treatment of the drapery where the folds over leg and haunch are pulled upwards like in some Renaissance biblical painting. The sculptor was E. H. Baily, the date 1842, and the figure is somewhat reminiscent of his Athena for the Athenium club in London (see the page on Waterloo Place).
The third important 19th Century monument is that to Bishop Pelham (1896), a recumbent marble figure, perhaps the most ambitious monument by James Forsyth, who was also responsible for works in St Paul’s Cathedral.
Akin in spirit to this 19th Century work is Derwent Wood’s statue of Violet Morgan, dated as late as 1921 but belonging firmly in the Art Nouveau/Symbolist period. A kneeling, praying girl in marble, characteristic of the sculptor, and with noble aspects from the front and side.
We briefly go through the other monuments more or less chronologically:
The earliest is a rather flattened alto relievo, painted, thought to be of St Felix, with a disproportionately long arm, but preserving something of grandeur. From the 15th century are a medieval stone font with various saints, angels and simple figure groups, sadly much defaced by Cromwell’s lot, a coffin tomb to Bishop Wakering, with 10 little standing figures carved in niches in the sides, and a recumbent figure of Bishop Goldwell (d. 1499) in a heavily painted ornate Chantry chapel.
We might mention a 16th Century panel with a small ruined relief figure to Osberto Parsley, and 17th Century panels to John Overall (with little painted portrait and vulturelike dove of peace) and to Edmund Scamler etc, rather baroque and with little peeping skulls among the ornamentation.
In the 18th Century, more important panels by Norwich sculptors. Robert Page of Norwich was the most reputed, and here is his monument to John Moore et al (d. 1725), with plump cherub above, 3 winged cherubic heads below the main plaque, a pillared composition with dark and light marbles.
The tomb of Thomas Batchelor (d. 1729), a much ornamented panel with two reclining cherubs, and skulls in high relief, is by George Bottomley of Norwich and R Singleton. That to William Rolfe (d 1754), again with coloured marbles, reclining cherub, and further cherubic winged heads, is by Robert Page’s rival in Norwich, Thomas Rawlins. A little later are the weeping cherub with portrait to Thomas Moore (1779), and the simpler and identically composed memorials to Joanna Chamber (1788) and Philip Lloyd (1790), all by J Ivory (the first together with J de Carle). And T Stafford and John Athow, also both of Norwich, sign the plaque to Robert Plumptre (d 1788).
From the point of view of these pages, that concludes the interesting monuments, though we might mention 20th Century works by Maide Buckingham (portrait of JPA Bowers, 1926), and a bust of Percy Mark Herbert. However, we should note also the carved bosses in the ceiling, and more easy to see, those all the way round the cloisters, showing small religious scenes in a rather cheerful but competent style.
Otherwise in the Cathedral, much good glass of 19th Century and earlier, a 19th Century Limoges revival enamel, and an enamelled altar rail, and among a few pictures, one by John Opie.
The exterior of the Cathedral is bare of sculpture, bar a few bits on the Western door, including a pair of spandrel angels and beasts, and a couple of rather severe, perhaps turn of the century or much later flanking figures.
There are two 19th century statues in the precinct: a Nelson by Thomas Milnes, and a Wellington by G. G. Adams, the latter being a rather assured bronze, but somehow lacking in presence. Adams made several rather similarly-posed male portrait statues, including Napier for Trafalgar Square. Milnes is perhaps less familiar, but also produced several extant marble statues of great men, and the tomb of Alfred Cooke in Kensal Green, London, which has seen better days.
We ought to mention the gates to the Cathedral precinct – there are three of them which survive, and one of these is the Erpingham Gateway. The use of knapped flints to face buildings and walls is a feature of Norwich, and the Erpingham Gateway is considered to be a building which brought flintwork to its highest form. The gateway also bears a statue of the Virgin and Child, which looks rather 20th Century, and two spandrel groups of grapevines and weird beasts in relief which rather puzzle me, but at a guess may be late 19th Century reworkings of earlier work, subsequently cleaned and restored rather zealously. The Erpingham Gateway faces onto the road called Tombland, and also on that road is a second gate, with plainer flintwork, but with a variety of small religious statues in various degrees of preservation in niches on the columns and on the inner part of the entrance, and a larger kneeling saint up above.
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