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Visiting Great Yarmouth, Norfolk and the enormous parish church of St Nicholas: the largest in England

Updated on July 13, 2012
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth The western end of the church in evening sun.
St Nicholas Church, Great Yarmouth The western end of the church in evening sun. | Source
St Nicholas Church and market place, Great Yarmouth
St Nicholas Church and market place, Great Yarmouth | Source
Map location of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk
Map location of Great Yarmouth, Norfolk | Source

Stones defying bombs

In Great Yarmouth, Norfork, England stands the country's largest parish church by floor-space area.

Some history and features

The church of St Nicholas, dating from the 12th century, has proportions which exceed those of Anglican cathedrals in other countries. This is a tribute to the sheer extent of building churches which occurred in the Middle Ages which, for East Anglia, were relatively prosperous.

Although the nave is only 7.9 metres wide (not huge by many church buildings' standards), it is the length of the building that is striking: 72 metres. Hence the overall, seemingly cathedral-like, dimensions.

The founder of St Nicholas's church, Great Yarmouth was Herbert de Losinga, who was also Bishop of Norwich. This historical figure provides a link with Medieval England's Norman rulers, since he was actually believed to have been born in Normandy in the 11th century.

Part of the original foundation was a priory, which survived until the Reformation. In common with so many church buildings in England, at the Reformation, the church of England took over the buildings of the Roman Catholic church: St Nicholas's church thus became Anglican in the 16th century.

In the 17th century, during the Commonwealth period, the authorities were very sympathetic to Nonconformity, and both Independents and Presbyterians also used the building for a number of years, with the internal structure of the building being modified for this purpose. These modifications were themselves not 'de-modified' (if one can say so) until the 19th century.

War damage

During World War Two, with Great Yarmouth being a coastal town a relatively short flight across the North Sea from Axis-held territory, the town suffered extensive bomb damage, and St Nicholas's church was not spared. The Norman tower, however, survived the aerial bombing.

Repairs to wartime bomb damage were not completed until 1961. One casualty of the bombing was the organ, eventually replaced in 1960.

Also worth seeing

In Great Yarmouth itself, Anna Sewell's House in nearby Church Plain commemorates the birthplace of the author of Black Beauty.

Burgh Castle (distance: 6.9 kilometres) is a well preserved Roman fortification.

Norwich (distance: 34 kilometres); this cathedral city has many fine historic buildings.

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How to get there: Continental Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Great Yarmouth is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. The town is 265 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Please note that some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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