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Visiting St. George's, Tombland and Alley, Norwich, Norfolk, England: a brooding, 15th century presence

Updated on March 23, 2015
Flag of England
Flag of England | Source
St George's, Tombland, Norwich - corner
St George's, Tombland, Norwich - corner | Source
Princes Street looking down to the Church of St George Tombland.
Princes Street looking down to the Church of St George Tombland. | Source
Tombland Alley, Norwich
Tombland Alley, Norwich | Source

It feels very old

St. George's Church, Tombland, Norwich, has a certain atmosphere to its surrounding, built environment.

Tombland properly refers to the wider district surrounding St. George's, including the Erpingham and Ethelbert Gates which lead to Norwich Cathedral Close. It is a popular venue for diners at its restaurants; and for antique seekers and bookworms.

The stone building dates from the 15th century, and is typical of many, similar parish churches in East Anglia. The top of the square tower dates from the 17th century.

A good proportion of stone, window tracery has been preserved. The interior of the church has some interesting memorials dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, as does also the pulpit. The font predates the building itself, having been made in the 13th century.

In recent years, 180,000 British pounds were allocated for restoration of the building.

The main door of the building is sometimes kept open, and the interior can seem rather dark. There is also at least subjectively a very enclosed feeling to the church, unlike Norwich Cathedral which is well lit and airy (1).

Visitors to Norwich, aware that the entrance to the City's fine, massive Cathedral is literally just over the road from St. George's, Tombland, might well wonder why Norwich needed to have so many churches in close proximity? (2) The answer to this is somewhat nuanced and many faceted. Firstly, the slightly humorous response: it has been said that Norwich had 365 licensed establishments and 52 churches: a drinking place for every day of the year and a church for every Sunday of the year. This may be apocryphal; however, it is probably not far short of the truth. Also, centuries back, Norwich was a very prosperous place, with its many merchants vying for opportunities to exercise patronage at an ecclesiastical, as well as trading, level.

The plain fact is that, centuries back, life in England was far more religious than Western humanity sometimes seems capable of grasping. If Oxford, England, is known as the City of Dreaming Spires, then a similar accolade could probably be given to a city such as Norwich, because of the effect of church towers on its skyline.

As I have walked through nearby Tombland Alley, and considered the dark interior of St. George's Church, and imbibed something of the stillness of Tombland, away from the bustle of the city's traffic and pedestrians, I have sensed a connection with Medieval England, and it would not be surprising if a clerical figure in a habit from the Dark Ages were to loom up from among the tombs...except that all this is an illusion: Tombland does not refer to tombs! the word refers to an open space! (3)

Oh, well! Why spoil a good story with facts?

However, it cannot be denied that one salient fact about St. George's, Tombland, is that it feels very old!

February 14, 2015


(1) At least subjectively, St. George's, Tombland reminds me of the Chapel of Peterhouse, Cambridge in that it is relatively small and dark: as if generations of Reverend Gentlemen have made an effort to recreate a Medieval atmosphere. This observation would probably be met with a polite but firm rebuttal on the part of the parish's incumbent, but I am certain that I am not the only person to have been forcibly struck by such an impression.

(2) Both Elm Hill, and Norwich Cathedral are located very closely to St George's, Tombland, and these two sites form among Norwich's top visitor attractions. It is very possible that many visitors to the City will pass St. George's, Tombland, and give it scarcely a thought because both Elm Hill and Norwich Cathedral traditionally receive much coverage in guide books (and deservedly so).

(3) See also:

Also worth seeing

In Norwich itself, the Cathedral, the Castle, the City Hall and the Guildhall attract many visitors, as does picturesque Elm Hill. Pull's Ferry, at the end of the Cathedral Close and beside the Wensum River, was a Medieval hub of river traffic; Cow Tower and Bishop's Bridge are noted sights not far from Pull's Ferry; and many others.


How to get there: United Airlines flies to London Heathrow Airport, where car rental is available. Norwich is served by rail from London Liverpool Street Station. Norwich is 233 kilometers from Heathrow Airport. Some facilities may be withdrawn, without notice. You are advised to 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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