The church of St Martin at Palace is one of the oldest in Norwich. It stands close to a stretch of the riverbank where, on the site of the present Law Courts, traces of some of the earliest settlement have been found.
The church is referred to in Domesday Book (1086) and excavations made during the conversion of the church in the 1980s revealed foundations of a Norman church as well as evidence of one, if not two, earlier Anglo-Saxon timber churches. The Norman Bishop's Palace and the remains of a Norman house (beneath the Law Courts) are testimony to the high status of this part of the City at that time.
This church is now let to the Norfolk Association for the Care and Resettlement of Offenders (Norfolk ACRO).
The building we see today dates in general from the 15th century, though it is much overlaid by Victorian work. Documentary evidence shows that money was left in 1490 for 'the new aisle off the south side of the choir'. Most of the windows are in the Perpendicular style, typical of the mid 14th to early 16th centuries.
In 1783 a large part of the tower fell and it was not until 1874 that the two upper stages were rebuilt and the lower part refaced. Notice the unusual appearance of the quoins to the tower: they are long and narrow and their white stone contrasts with the dark flintwork. In 1851 the North Chancel Aisle and most of the Chancel itself collapsed. They were rebuilt in 1853-4, when a thorough 'restoration' of the whole building was undertaken. As a result it is sometimes hard to tell what is Medieval and what is Victorian. The two storey South Porch appears to be a 19th century rebuild.
Now enter the churchyard and walk round to the east end of the church. Notice the corner stones (quoins) of the Chancel. They are built 'long and short', the long sides of the stones alternately vertical and horizontal. This technique is normally associated with Saxon work, so it may well be that part of the earlier building is incorporated in the present structure.
To go inside the church continue round to the modern stone doorway on the north side.
Inside you are at once aware of the modern structures which have been inserted in the building. In the late 1980s the church was converted for use as a Day Centre for the Probation Service. Because their offices are just north of the church, it was decided to form a new entrance on this side. The conversion allows for a mix of open and screened-off spaces, but the way in which these have been provided is unconventional.
The Nave and Chancel remain open, but within them have been 'suspended' three decks at different levels, connected by the stairs. The highest is level with the first floor of the tower, into which a kitchen has been slotted. Underneath, the original floor has in part been lowered to form a snug sitting area. Its excavation doubled as an archaeological dig. Cabinets, combining heating and storage partly separate Nave from Aisles, a mezzanine floor has been inserted in the North Nave Aisle and both Chancel Aisles and the Tower have been screened off. The conversion has changed the character of the building. But old and new are clearly distinct from one another: the old can still be appreciated while the new has an architectural integrity of its own.
There are some fine monuments in the church. In particular, see in the North Chancel Aisle the chest tomb of Elizabeth Calthorpe (died 1578). In the South Chancel aisle is a good 18th-century wall memorial above the small doorway. Notice the many fine slate memorial slabs in the floor dating from the 17th and 18th centuries. There are also several older paving slabs that once held brasses, including one very large one at the west end of the Nave.
Many of the windows hold good Victorian stained glass by the William Morris workshop and by Heaton, Butler and Bayne: unfortunately their ornate decorative backgrounds have been removed, leaving the figures 'floating' in large areas of clear glass. A panel of fragments of Medieval glass has been set in one of the North Aisle windows.
A tiny fragment of wall painting can be seen beside the east window. There may be more concealed behind the later plaster. In the North Aisle mezzanine there is a panel of black letter text with strap work ornament from the 17th-century, discovered when a wall memorial was removed. Only two texts remain of what must have been an ambitious scheme of Victorian wall decoration over the east window and over the south door. The latter reads 'How dreadful is this place. This is none other than the House of God and this is the Gate of Heaven'.
|All Saints Westlegate||St. George Tombland||St. Julian||St. Michael at Plea|
|St. Andrew||St. Giles||St. Lawrence||St. Peter Hungate|
|St. Augustine||St. Gregory||St. Margaret||St. Peter Mancroft|
|St. Benedict||St. Helen||St. Martin at Oak||St. Peter Parmentergate|
|St. Clement||St. James Pockthorpe||St. Martin at Palace Plain||St. Saviour|
|St. Edmund Fishergate||St. John de Sepulchre||St. Mary Coslany||St. Simon & St. Jude|
|St. Etheldreda||St. John Maddermarket||St. Mary the Less||St. Stephen|
|St. George Colegate||St. John Timberhill||St. Michael(Miles) Coslany||St. Swithin|