In 1994 a devastating fire destroyed Norwich City Library, one of a group of civic buildings which, including the fine City Hall, Medieval guildhall and the great parish church of
St Peter Mancroft, look over the Market Place to the Norman Castle beyond. The city was fortunate in planning the replacement library. The chosen architect was Michael Hopkins and his brick and glass ‘Forum’ contains a library, tourist information centre, community space, cafes and TV studios. It is a popular venue with a large open air gathering space, the Millennium Plain, running down the hill to the west tower of St Peter Mancroft Church.
The Forum opened in 2001 and it distinctly changed the setting of St Peter Mancroft.
This church is seen towering above market stalls in historic photographs and paintings. It is the largest of the city’s many Medieval churches and the leading civic parish. It is one of the Greater Parish churches, has a broad and lively musical tradition and a ministry to the city centre. The church sits on a hillside and amidst a network of paths and steps. There is good access around the church to the two regularly used north and south doors. The paths continue under the west tower, whose ground floor takes the form of porch open on three sides. The fourth side has a moulded entrance arch with Medieval west doors.
These timber doors were only rarely opened, but the parish now longed to find a way to create a link through the west doors to the new public space and the Forum. The possibility of glazing in the arches of the porch to make a new entrance was explored, but failed to gain approvals. An internal porch and lobby were also considered but rejected because it would have encroached too far on the interior and into the much-used gathering space beneath the western organ.
The years went by and still the church lacked a public face to the new square. A compromise solution was considered, developed and eventually, with the help of the Diocesan Chancellor, agreed. It was paid for by the generosity of parishioners. >
The great west doors have been overhauled and conserved. They stand open during the day and new glazed doors hang in front of them, with the daylight-flooded building inviting visitors to enter. The paving in the porch has been adapted and new internal timber stairs inserted to make it easy to use.
The work was designed and lead by architects Purcell; Jane Kennedy, Inspecting Architect to the church with project architect Oliver Chinn. The work was carried out by specialist conservation contractor Nigel Coverdale and the doors were repaired by John Woodhouse Joinery with advice from conservator Joe Dawes. Intriguingly, when the team removed the doors for repair they found that some of the masonry had to be cut to release them from the hinges. Clearly the doors were ‘built in’ during the construction of the west end and tower and had not been removed before. The team removed a later addition at the bottom of the door, reinstating the threshold to its original level, and mended a few pieces of tracery decoration before the doors were rehung.
The new glass doors were made and installed by IDE Contracting Limited. Very fine bronze handles were commissioned from the sculptor Neal French. Internally a new oak platform and steps were constructed leading up to the door and thus reducing the number of external steps. The timber landing sits over highly polished Belgian Marble ledgers which have been recorded and protected with a separating layer and the void under the steps is ventilated. The church has many such ledgers and there are no gaps into which these could have been re-laid, so retaining and protecting them in situ was the best option.
Visitors and the local community can now see into the church during the day, and indeed at night when the building is open. There is a view down the tall arcade to the high altar and reredos (by J.P. Seddon, later gilded and painted by Sir Ninian Comper) below the magnificent east window which is filled with fifteenth century glass. The doors are kept open and as well as inviting people in, they provide a visual link from the church to the busy city outside. The ‘compromise’ option, as is often the case, has proved to be an ideal solution.