Artistic interest in Norwich

Royal Arcade, by Skipper and Neatby

Apart from the Cathedral and the Castle Museum, Norwich attracts for its aesthetics, ambience, network of small streets with buildings from the medieval period onwards, especially the large number of churches, and walks along the river. It is these features that we should visit for. However, for the particular interests of these pages, there are some particular things to see amongst these others.

Page Memorial, St John Timberhill

It is unfortunate that most of the many churches in the centre are rather less easily accessible than was the case a few years back, with the exception of St Peter Mancroft. Those that are open tend to be for short hours, and not at similar times or days, so offer little chance to the day-tripper to visit. However, we must at least mention one, St John Timberhill, a rather small church near the castle, because it contains the tomb of Robert Page, the most significant of the Norwich sculptors. His memorial is near the altar, and the plaque is, characteristically of his own work, in coloured marbles, with an obelisk shape above, the testimonial below; it records also his wife, Melliscent, and two relatives. It bears a damaged statue of a mourning cherub holding a shield. On the exterior of the church is a weathered St John in a niche, holding a bronze cross, and wearing an animal skin.

Page memorial (by kind permission St John Timberhill)

In the centre, we can seek out the works of the principal Norwich architect, called George Skipper. His major work, in Surrey Street, is the Norwich Union building, Classical Palladian outside (see the Classical architecture page), and with a sumptuous interior of coloured marble and alabaster originally intended for Westminster Cathedral – the consignment arrived too late for the London cathedral, and so was available for purchase for Skipper’s building. Remarkably, a remnant of the same consignment was discovered in the late 1990s, still unused.

Norwich Union though founded by a certain Thomas Bignold, achieved its greatest triumphs under Samuel Bignold, and early on took over the oldest of all the life insurance companies, the Amicable Society, founded by William Talbot, Bishop of Oxford. The statues of these two are on the exterior wall of the Norwich Union site, bulky stone efforts by Chavalliaud.

William Talbot, by Chavallaiud

Other buildings by Skipper are conveniently close to the central marketplace. In London Street is his own former offices, with terra cotta frieze showing building work and craftsmen. Among the terra cotta work may be seen clients consulting a map with the architect in a landscape with theodolite and craftsmen starting to build, working on an arch, erecting a staircase, using a furnace and beating ironwork on an anvil, and again clients with architect, in front of a fine classical building, with masons shaping masonry and a pillar. Interesting and quirky.

Next to it, also by Skipper, is Jarrold’s (1905), in Baroque. Running from Market Place through to Castle Street is Skipper’s Royal Arcade, 1898, with excellent tiling by W. J. Neatby, in one of his most successful and eyecatching art nouveau compositions (see top of page). The interior has a peacock theme and colours, and the frontage onto Castle Street is a splendid composition with a winged head on a stele surmounting a glazed lunette. Surely one of the best arcades I have seen.

In Red Lion Street, Commercial Chambers, 1901-3, is another example of Skipper in baroque vein, with three cherubs at first floor level, supporting a balcony, and at the top, a full sculpture of a Shakespearean robed man writing in a book.

Commercial Chambers, Red Lion St, by Skipper

Westerly, St Giles Street contains another interesting Skipper building, no. 41-45, called St Giles House, a classical baroque effort with a variety of pillars, emblems, pots on the top, and over the principal entrance, a head on the keystone surrounded by leaves, garlands and other ornament. Like all Skipper’s buildings, it is characterful, distinctive and draws the eye.

Roman Catholic Cathedral

Carrying on along St Giles leads towards the Roman Catholic Cathedral, just beyond the ring-road, a momentous pile by G. G .Scott Jr, with his brother J O Scott, conceived and designed as a piece in grand very early Gothic style. Inside, low, thick pillars in a rather Norman style rising less than a quarter of the height of the lofty nave. The bases of the pillars are sculpted into ornamental leaves, medieval-style birds and beasts, and there are little half-angels and ornamented bosses higher up. Tracery on the ceiling adds to the sense of harmoniousness of this excellent Victorian building. The stained glass is lively and of very high quality, and filled with little detailed scenes to accompany the principal figures of saints etc.

Boer War Memorial, and other sculpture in and around the Marketplace

Thomas Browne, by Henry Pegram

Near to the Castle, the Boer War Memorial has a particularly graceful bronze angel on top. She is dressed in a diaphanous costume, and is posed standing on tiptoe on a hemispherical boss, her seagull-wings upturned, one arm raised to draw a thin sword from its scabbard. But who did this excellent thing? Facing the memorial, a red sandstone and brick building, the former Post Office (1882), with two keystone heads of bearded kings, and, oddly, a third depicting a bull’s head.

Back in the very centre, in the market, is Henry Pegram’s bronze statue of Thomas Browne, seated contemplatively holding a shard of pottery, as is fitting for an aesthetic and thinker. This statue drew some considerable attention when shown at the Royal Academy in 1907. A second statue by Pegram in the town is the Edith Cavell memorial in Tombland (the two gates are described in the Cathedral page), with a bronze bust, and soldier below in stone as part of the plinth.

In front of the 20th Century municipal building dominating the marketplace, are a pair of bronze lions, in a deco version of Abyssinian.

We should also note architectural figure sculpture nearby in Orford Place, dominated by a tall thin Baroque building, perhaps one of Skipper’s, with identical pairs of semidraped girls reclining above arched windows, rather inconveniently high and in such a narrow street they cannot be easily appreciated.

That, I think, rounds up the significant sculpture. Back in the marketplace, by the Royal Arcade along Gentleman’s Walk is Lloyds Bank, a many pillared thing on three stories with two large ornamented emblems over the entrances, each flanked by a pair of cherubs, with much fruit around and at their feet; considerable further fruit around the second-floor windows. And a rather different panel, again with cherubs, above the entrance of the London and Provincial Bank. Yet another work by Skipper.

We end by noting en passant the Guildhall, castellated, faced in flint, a medieval building redone in the mid-19th Century, and with a couple of bits of sculptural decor above two of the entrances.

Boer War Memorial

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Norwich Castle museum // Norwich Cathedral // St Peter Mancroft

Victorian art in Britain // Sculpture pages // Architecture pages // Cathedrals and churches