St. Lawrence Church

St Lawrence’s has a very dramatic site: owing to the steep slope down to the river, on its south side, it stands several feet below street level, but on the north, an equal height above it!

St Lawrence was a deacon in 3rd century Rome, who was martyred by being roasted alive on a gridiron.


The most notable feature of the exterior is the unique profile of the tower, with its corner turret. This very un-East Anglian feature dates from the restoration of the church in 1893. The tower itself is 112 feet high. The nave and chancel with their clerestorey run without a break under one roof. The clerestorey is faced with freestone. There is a very prominent rood stair turret on the south side, which marks the division between nave and chancel.. The west door has two carved spandrels: one of St Lawrence being roasted on a gridiron, and the other of the martyrdom of St Edmund: the Abbey at Bury St Edmund’s was the original patron of the church. The south door is the original mediæval one.



The church has long since been stripped of its furnishings, and now stands as an impressive empty space, flooded with light from the great windows and the clerestorey. With the exception of the font, which is of the 15th century, all the fittings were of late 19th or early 20th century date.

These fittings include the flight of seven steps up to the altar, and the reredos, which is a war memorial of 1921. It includes painted panels by Kingston Rudd, though inspection will reveal that many of them are unfinished, and so have a rather ’impressionistic’ effect. The figure painting is very much of the period.

The nave and chancel are in fact divided internally, which may indicate that the continuous clerestorey is a later addition. The nave pillars are octagonal, with rounded angles, and their capitals are wavy.

The roof  is well seen from inside, and dates from 1498. There is some mediæval stained glass in a mosaic  in the east window of the south aisle.

There were several brasses, but these have been removed to storage. On the east wall of the north aisle, however, is a brass plaque of 1891 to the memory of Sarah Glover, inventor of the Norwich Sol-fa, on which the later Tonic Sol-fa (‘doh, ray, me …’) was based; her father was curate here from 1811 to 1827. Sarah died in 1867, at Great Malvern, where she is buried.

The Rev’d Edwin Hillyard

The church was a centre of controversy in 1863, when the Rector, Edwin Hillyard, allowed ‘Father Ignatius’ (Joseph Leycester Lyne) and his ‘monks’, who had a house on Elm Hill, to take part in the services. The services were conducted in an extremely Ritualistic manner, with candles, incense, and vestments – all virtually unknown in the Church of England at this time. Large crowds attended for the spectacle, and there were riots in the street outside. Ignatius left Norwich in 1865, but Hillyard stayed until 1876. By then, the classical style reredos had been removed, and also the box pews (chopped up one night by Ignatius and his cohorts), and the altar steps and the screens inserted.

After Hillyard left, the church went into a decline, and was united with St Gregory in 1903; it was finally closed in 1968. After many years of uncertainty about its future, it came under the care of the Churches’ Conservation Trust in 19..


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