20th May, 2019
Our village short-mat bowls team turned out for a match against a City side last night and on a beautiful mellow evening, Hubby and I arrived early in the car-park just as a striking young woman popped through the hedge of the vicarage next door and walked gingerly across the gravel in odd stripy socks and no shoes, carrying before her a tray of drinks. With her smiley, carefree approach, she was about to quench the thirst of a group of people busily tidying the grounds of St. Catherine's Church, Mile Cross. As they stopped to take their break, and with a little time in hand before the match, I seized the opportunity to ask to see inside the opened church from which their electric lawn-mower flex was trailing.
We have played at the venue several times before in the impressively large church hall, a separate building standing beside the monumental church that I had never before seen inside. Wow! what a treat was in store for me!
Anyone who has driven through the northern suburbs of Norwich towards the airport, must be familiar with the massive greyish-brick building that sits on a triangular junction between two main roads. It comes as something of a shock to the senses after the traditional medieval flint churches of the inner city. Years ago I confess to thinking it their ugly cousin but now I appreciate the statement and grandeur of its strong, modern lines. It was built, after all to minister to the needs of Britain's first large council estate of Mile Cross which housed some 8,000 people and had outgrown the red-brick Victorian church which stood nearby.
The foundation stone was laid by Queen Mary in February 1935 and amazingly the church was consecrated the following year in November, 1936. Enormous effort had gone into raising money for the construction and in response to a request from the Bishop of Norwich, Miss Violet Edith Wills of the fabulously wealthy tobacco family, generously donated funds to cover the whole of the building project of church, church hall and vicarage. What I didn't get to see were the bells which are, in fact, some of the oldest in Norwich, formerly hung at the church of St. Mary the Virgin, Coslany, the earliest of the four cast in 1424.
So thank you Miss Wills and everybody else for my necessarily brief eye-opener yesterday onto a stunning interior bathed in soft evening light. White walls reared up into soaring Romanesque arches, their undersides painted peacock-blue while either side, impressive art nouveau-style lanterns drew the eye towards the simple oak communion table and stone reredos beyond. Personally, I found the traditional design of the stonework and its frame carved from Beer-stone and polyphant stone from Cornwall, rather out of keeping with the clean, sharp, majestic lines of the inside. I'd have preferred a massive, striking painting instead!
The rear end of the church was more intimate with a series of stained glass windows set into a gentle curve around the font and with gallery above that sported not one but two Royal Coats of Arms.
Sadly my elation at getting a sneaky view of the inside of St. Catherine's did not translate into a bowls victory for my team. We lost by a measly two points but it was a lovely friendly game on a balmy evening in Norwich.