It was 3 years ago now when I picked up somebody in my taxi and he happened to mention he had just been to a meeting about scaff going up on the cathedral (and nearly every other church in Norfolk) in order to restore the roof and carry out essential maintenance. So me and my matey decided to go and have a look at it.. The 1st night we popped down mainly to recce it and nearly got up, but soon discovered we would need a sling to let us pull ourselves over the stupidly high fence. So we headed off into the dark of the night and on the way out ripped my trousers on the spiked fence So we popped back the next night, crept around the homeless person living under the blue tarp and made our way up, and as soon as we had got up we were rather happy that we had, but also disappointed that we had not taken out factor 50 suntan lotion and sunglasses, as it seemed every HPS light was trained directly onto us… We did not fancy getting spotted walking about so we kept to the shadows due to this having just been in the newspapers that week, and we figured if they thought we were interfering with it, it would be a lot of bother. So we made it up to the highest point of the scaffolding then packed up our camera gear and scooted of into the darkness of the night, just as they were locking up the gates for the grounds, so all in a great night with great company.
Norwich Cathedral of the Holy and Undivided Trinity was founded in 1096 by the first Bishop of Norwich, Bishop Herbert de Losinga, as penance for buying his Bishopric from the King five years earlier. In order to create his new cathedral, priory and precinct, Bishop Losinga acquired land at the centre of the ever growing town of Norwich. The land already contained the churches of St Michael Tombland and Christ or Holy Trinity church, and the homes of many Norwich townsfolk, but all were swept away to make way for the cathedral. Although the cathedral then took on the dedication of one of the demolished churches, the intrusive beginnings of cathedral and priory did not bode well for good relations with the citizens of Norwich.
Inside, the cathedral is much more impressive. The founder Herbert de Losinga had the cathedral church and cloisters designed as a whole. The first phase of building was begun at the eastern end of the church so that the essential ecclesiastical elements of the church were in place and it could be consecrated as soon as possible. This phase, up to the fifth bay of the nave and the tower to the top of the church roof, was built in Quarr stone from the Isle of Wight and was completed by 1119 when Losinga died, never seeing his design fully realised. The western portion of the nave, the remaining nine remaining bays and upper storeys of the tower, were completed by Bishop Eborard in Caen stone brought from France and Barnack stone from Cambridgeshire. The whole church was built in just fifty years.
At its completion the cathedral was the largest building in East Anglia and measuring 141m (461ft) long and, with the transepts, 54m (177ft) wide. The church has the second longest nave and the largest and most beautifully decorated Norman tower in England. It also had more patrons than any other cathedral in England. Today the building still retains its almost entirely unaltered original Norman ground plan, despite the havoc wreaked on the building over the years by devastating gales, fires, riots and wars.
Just twenty-three years after the completion of the building, in 1169, the first disaster befell the cathedral. Lightning struck the tower and set fire to the building. The chapel of St Saviour at the eastern end of the cathedral was particularly badly damaged but repairs were soon made by Bishop de Turbe. Lightning struck again in 1271 but damage was minimal as a rain storm doused the fire. Such luck was short lived as one year later, during the riotous conflict between Norwich citizens and the priory that resulted in the building of the Ethelbert Gate, the citizens set fire to the cathedral precinct. The timber roofs and timber furnishings caught fire and the repair work meant that the cathedral could not be reconsecrated for six years. The remains of a consecration cross dating to the 1278 reconsecration can be found on the north wall of the nave in the fifth bay from the west.
Repair work continued well into the fourteenth century and several additions were also made to the cathedral and the buildings within the Close. One of these additions was a wooden spire, erected in 1297 on top of the Norman tower. Unfortunately the spire was to be the cause of yet another disaster when it was blown down by severe gales in January 1361 or 1362. The fallen spire badly damaged the presbytery and this allowed Bishop Percy to bring more light into the presbytery by rebuilding the upper half with the soaring windows that we see today. Unlike the west front of the cathedral, Percy thankfully ensured that the design of the new windows married easily with the earlier Norman architecture below. The spire was also rebuilt but this time in stone. The spire was rebuilt but in 1463 it was damaged by fire. Bishop Goldwell rebuilt it again, this time in brick with a stone facing, and it survives today as the second highest spire in all England. At 96m (315 ft), only the spire at Salisbury Cathedral is higher.
When lightning struck the spire in 1463, the nave was severely damaged when fire spread throughout the wooden roofs. Evidence of this and later fires that ravaged the cathedral can still be seen on some of the stonework in the walls, the stone having turned pink through the heat of the fires. In the 1460s Bishop Lyhart took substantial measures to stop such fires ever taking hold again and completely replaced the nave roof with a beautiful stone vault, adding the spectacular west window to light the beauty of his roof and its colourful bosses. It is astounding that having gone through such a turbulent history Norwich cathedral and its Close survives to this day, let alone in so much of its original Norman splendour. When marvelling at the cathedral buildings’ unique survival it is worth noting some of the more unusual features. In the nave there is a large brass font. This was once a boiling pan used at the Nestlé chocolate factory that stood on the site of what is now Chapelfield shopping mall. The font was given to the cathedral when Nestlé closed their factory and moved from Norwich in 1996, the 900th anniversary of the foundation of the cathedral. There are also two curious barley-sugar twist piers in the nave. These represent the original western extent of the first nave sanctuary and the location of the nave altar. The piers two bays east are also barley twist but they are now concealed by a later covering. On the north side of the sanctuary a small chapel to Norwich’s own saint would have stood. St William would have provided the cathedral with a source of revenue from visiting pilgrims.
And a little bit about why the Scaffolding has come to be there.
Repairs to the nave aisle roofs at Norwich Cathedral will commence in February following the award of a grant from the Cathedral Fabric Repair Fund, a partnership between the Wolfson Foundation, the Pilgrim Trust and the Cathedrals Fabric Commission for England.
The £20,000 grant, plus generous supplementary funding from the Friends of Norwich Cathedral, will enable lead work repair to the roofs to take place along with the installation of trace heating which will prevent the build-up of snow and ice which can lead to consequential flooding on an area of the roof above important parts of the Cathedral’s organ.
Speaking on the project, The Reverend Canon Jeremy Haselock, Precentor and Vice-Dean of Norwich Cathedral, said, “We are hugely grateful to the Cathedral Fabric Repair Fund and the Friends of Norwich Cathedral for enabling us to get on with this vital work. Major expenditure on the repair and rebuilding of the organ lies ahead in order to ensure the continuation of its important role in our daily offering of prayer and praise. These organ repairs would be foolish indeed without weatherproofing the gallery chambers where a major part of the instrument is located.”
Major projects planned at the Cathedral also include updating and replacing the Cathedral’s interior lighting. The lighting scheme, anticipated to cost £1.5 million, will involve replacing the current outdated system with new sustainable technology that will not only assure the Cathedral’s future as a place of prayer, a renowned centre for liturgy and worship and a flexible venue for major cultural events, but also reduce power consumption and annual running costs, which currently exceed £4,000 a day.
Norwich Cathedral’s organ is the fourth largest in the country and an integral part of the Cathedral’s fabric and daily work, used for worship, recitals and concerts. The refurbishment of the 60 year old organ will cost an estimated £1.5 million and will involve redesigning its layout and replacing poor quality and badly voiced pipework with new ranks.