St Swithin Norwich

This is one of four churches in St Benedict’s Street, and its dedication to St Swithin (the famous rain-making Bishop of Winchester!) indicates it may well have an Anglo-Saxon foundation date. The original church was probably no longer than the one we see today, and its development has been restricted by its site. Rich enough to rebuild the church as it stands in the fifteenth century, and still containing some well-to-do parishioners in the eighteenth, by the nineteenth the parish had become a slum.


The church appears very odd from outside, as there is no tower, and no obvious entrance. The tower became unsafe, and was demolished in 1882, and replaced by the turret. There were porches either side of it, as at St Gregory. Entrance was through the west door.

The windows are of the Decorated style, though those in the clerestorey are square-headed Perpendicular. They show that it is a building of four bays, with no separate chancel. The rood-stair turret on the north side shows the original screen crossed half-way along, giving a chancel and nave of two bays each.

Also on the north side is the Mission Hall, built in 1908, and as large as the church itself. This was the result of a generous benefaction.


Very little remains to be seen. Entry from the Arts Centre is now through the east wall, where the altar once stood.

Of special note are the arcades. That on the north (left as you enter) is a standard Perpendicular structure, with Gothic columns and arches; that on the south was remodelled around 1700 in the Classical style, with square piers and round arches.

All the fittings have been removed. These included an East Anglian ‘lion’ font; a screen which separated off the altar of 1905. This included a projection screen which could be raised and lowered for magic lantern lectures; and an organ, which is now at Heckingham.

The monuments include one to Anne Scottowe, who died in 1650; William Willcocks (died 1770) and Abraham Robertson (died 1777).

Nineteenth century. Closed in 1881, it reopened in 1883, then closed again in 1891, and fell into disrepair. It was thoroughly restored in 1905.

Twentieth century. Although the Hall had enabled it to become the social centre of its parish, falling numbers of residents forced its final closure in 1951. After many years’ use as a furniture store, it became the Norwich Arts Centre in 1980. The church is used as a concert hall, and the Mission Hall contains the restaurant, galleries, and offices.

Churches managed by NHCT are highlighted in in bold below. Click to visit a church.
All Saints Westlegate St. George Tombland St. Julian St. Michael at Plea
St. Andrew St. Giles St. Lawrence St. Peter Hungate
St. Augustine St. Gregory St. Margaret St. Peter Mancroft
St. Benedict St. Helen St. Martin at Oak St. Peter Parmentergate
St. Clement St. James Pockthorpe St. Martin at Palace Plain St. Saviour
St. Edmund Fishergate St. John de Sepulchre St. Mary Coslany St. Simon & St. Jude
St. Etheldreda St. John Maddermarket St. Mary the Less St. Stephen
St. George Colegate St. John Timberhill St. Michael(Miles) Coslany St. Swithin