Minster Church of St Nicholas

The Great Yarmouth Minster Church of St. Nicholas standing at the north end of the Market Place was founded in 1101 by Herbert de Losinga, Bishop of Norwich, as part of a penance. It was consecrated in 1119, the year of his death. As the prosperity and population of the port and town of Great Yarmouth rapidly increased, the church was enlarged three times. It was dedicated to St. Nicholas, the patron saint of sailors. St. Nicholas’s is thought to be the largest parish church in England with a floor area of over 23,000 square feet, and possesses the widest aisles of any church in Europe. It retains its unique, long and narrow Norman ground plan within the later additions of the church. The only Norman work still to be seen is that on the lower stage of the tower, outside, just above the roofs. The upper part of the tower dates from 1200, whilst the parapet and pinnacles are Victorian.

During the Medieval period the church was at its most magnificent with stained glass, tapestries, painted and gilded walls, frescos,19 guild chapels, various relics of the saints and ornate furnishings. At this time, Great Yarmouth was the fourth richest town in England. The interior was destroyed at the Reformation and the Priory dissolved.

In 1649 the church was divided into three parts as the Puritans, who were now in the ascendancy, demanded use of the building as their church. The arches were bricked up (two feet thickness) on the north side of the nave, the eastern side of the transepts and the eastern side of the tower. The three portions of the church were used by the Anglican Church (south aisle), the Puritans led by Rev. Bridge (the chancel, which they fitted up as a church house) and the Presbyterians (the north aisle). A new door to the chancel destroyed the altar tomb of Thomas Crowmer (Bailiff of Yarmouth 1470-97). The mutilation of this tomb was contrary to the Act of Parliament of 1644, which allowed the demolition of monuments of idolatry and superstition, but not monuments to dead people, unless they were deemed to be saints. The windows in the east end were filled up with bricks. The north aisle was used by the local militia as a drill hall when the weather was wet. All the three denominations held their services simultaneously. The alterations to the church were paid out of a rate levied on the townspeople. At the Restoration of the Monarchy in 1660 the Puritans were ejected from the church. The bricked-up arches put up by the Independents and the Presbyterians were not taken down until the restoration of 1859-64 when the church became undivided for the first time in about 200 years.

The church gradually declined, the fabric deteriorated and the chancel collapsed. It was the Victorians who mounted several large and expensive restoration schemes and by 1905 the church had been completely renovated.

The church was gutted by fire-bombs in 1942 leaving only the walls and tower standing. The church was restored in 1957-60 to the designs of Stephen Dykes Bower. The church was designated as a Minster Church in December 2011 by the Bishop of Norwich.

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