St John Maddermarket

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St John Maddermarket

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St John Maddermarket

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The south front

A view of the south side of the church, seen from Pottergate.

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The Layer monument

The Layer monument.

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The east window

The east window depicts the miracle of The Healing of the Centurion's Servant.

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St John's Alley

St John's Alley, showing the ambulatory passage through the base of the tower.

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The church of St John the Baptist, Maddermarket stands alongside historic Pottergate, just a brief walk from Norwich city centre and the market place. This lovely, Grade I listed church remains consecrated but is no longer in use for regular worship, and is in the care of The Churches Conservation Trust *.

Although it is thought there was a church here as early as the mid-eleventh century, the earliest fabric still standing dates from the fourteenth century. Much of the present church is the result of an extensive rebuild of the nave and south aisle, completed in c.1452, and the addition of the north aisle some forty years later. An unusual feature is that, in order to squeeze the building into the limited space available, the tower at the west end was built straddling the adjacent footpath of St John's Alley, which passes through its base.

The church is almost as wide as it is long, and it is said this is due to the demolition of the chancel at the east end as part of the widening of the adjacent street in preparation for the visit of Elizabeth I to Norwich in 1578, but there is no firm evidence to support this.

On a bright day the interior of the church is bathed with light from the sixteen closely spaced windows in the clerestory. At the east end the high altar is enclosed in a wooden canopy - a baldacchino - installed in 1917 but thought to date from 1739 and to have been moved here from the nearby church of St Miles, Coslany. This, and other somewhat eccentric furnishings, many collected from other churches, are the legacy of the Reverend William Busby, who was the incumbent from 1898 to 1923 and who ran the church in the Anglo-Catholic tradition.

At the west end the current gallery and screen date from 1912, replacing an earlier gallery of c.1840. The organ dates from 1880 and was made for a church in Lowestoft, but removed from there and installed in the gallery at St John's in 1897 with the organist's console positioned at the east end of the south aisle. The connection between organ and console was primitive by modern standards and proved troublesome, however, and the latter was moved to the gallery in 1904.

The stained glass is mostly from the late Victorian era and the early twentieth century, as much of the earlier medieval glass had been destroyed in 1876 by a gas explosion during choir practice which is said to have stunned the rector, singed the choirboys and caused much damage to the windows and furniture.

The church has a wealth of brasses and monuments, many commemorating the lives of Norwich dignitaries. The most elaborate of these is the memorial to Christopher Layer (d.1600) and his wife, Barbara (d.1604). Layer was a grocer and became a leading citizen of the city, serving as Sheriff in 1569, Alderman in 1570, Mayor in 1581 and again in 1589, and as one of the two Members of Parliament for Norwich in 1584 and 1597. His memorial, at the west end of the south aisle, is in many ways typical of the period, with Layer and his wife kneeling and facing each other across a prayer desk, with their children behind them, sons to the left and daughters to the right. What sets the memorial apart from others in the church are the niches in the pilasters to either side containing allegorical representations of Pax, Vanitas, Gloria and Labor (see image elsewhere on this page).

Two other monuments in a similar but less elaborate style, both on the south wall, also commemorate the lives of mayors of Norwich. One is to Nicholas Sotherton, mayor in 1539, and his wife Agnes, the other is to their grandson Thomas, mayor in 1605, and his wife, Frances. The Sothertons lived at nearby Strangers' Hall, and it was the first son of Nicholas and Agnes, also named Thomas, who in his mayoral year of 1565 welcomed to Norwich the first of the ‘Strangers’ – thirty master weavers from the Low Countries, together with their families and servants, some 300 persons in total, and the precursors of many that followed to revitalise the woollen trade in the city.

At the west end of the north aisle a simple plaque commemorates the life of Walter Nugent Monck C.B.E. (1878-1958), churchwarden and the founder in 1921 of the Maddermarket Theatre, just across St John's Alley from the church.

The small area of Norwich known as ‘the Maddermarket’ is so named because it is said to have been the place where madder, a dye, was sold when the city was an important centre of the woollen trade.

At the time of writing St John Maddermarket is open around midday on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays, with very knowledgeable volunteers in attendance. For current opening times please click here.


* St John Maddermarket ceased use for Anglican worship in 1982. In 1990, after a period of use by the Greek Orthodox community, it became one of over 350 English churches vested into the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, a charity first established in 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund. For more information about the Trust please click here.

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* St John Maddermarket ceased use for Anglican worship in 1982. In 1990, after a period of use by the Greek Orthodox community, it became one of over 350 English churches vested into the care of The Churches Conservation Trust, a charity first established in 1969 as the Redundant Churches Fund. For more information about the Trust please click here.


The south front

A view of the south side of the church, seen from Pottergate.

St John's Alley

St John's Alley, showing the ambulatory passage through the base of the tower.

The east window

The east window depicts the miracle of The Healing of the Centurion's Servant.

The Layer monument

The monument to Christopher Layer and his wife Barbara.

The south front

A view of the south side of the church, seen from Pottergate.

magnifier

The Layer monument

The monument to Christopher Layer and his wife Barbara.

magnifier

St John's Alley

St John's Alley, showing the ambulatory passage through the base of the tower.

magnifier

The east window

The east window depicts the miracle of The Healing of the Centurion's Servant.

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