Pre 11th century
norfolk mapNorwich is the major City of Norfolk and of East Anglia.  It is situated along the lower banks of the river Wensum lying in a valley where the Norwich Crag forms gravel terraces along the river banks. It is probably the lowest crossing point on the Yare/ Wensum river system, the river itself being both tidal and navigable. Although Roman roads ran through the present city there is little evidence for intensive occupation before the ninth century. The earliest settlement seems to have occurred in the area north of Fye Bridge, where gravel is on both sides of the river.
norwich contours A handful of our churches may have been founded in this period, but almost certainly all were timber built.

Subsequently, Norwich seems to have rapidly developed in the tenth century, influenced by Scandinavian settlements. Place name evidence, and some objects confirm an Anglo-Scandinavian culture. Some of the early church dedications also belong to this period.

11th  Century
norfolk map By the eleventh century Norwich was a large borough, with defensive ditches.
Domesday Book records 1320 burgesses before the Conquest. This is thought to represent a population of  between 5000 - 10,000, making it one of the largest English towns.  Interestingly it also notes the existence of at least 25 churches/ chapels. The centre of the late Saxon town was South of the river in the area now known as Tombland i.e the site of the market place.

Following the Norman Conquest major changes occurred in Norwich including the establishment of : The Castle, Cathedral, the French Borough and New Market Place. Over the same period new churches were built although others fell victim to the new building programme. In 1086 Domesday records that there were about 50 churches in the City.
Norwich Castle Thus although the exact foundation dates of the various churches are unknown, we can be confident in saying that most of them were founded by the end of the century . We do know that the three churches of Mancroft Ward - St Giles-on-the-Hill, St Peter Mancroft, and St Stephen - were founded to serve the French borough, itself; and it is notable that in comparison with others, their parishes are very large. The two St Georges (Colegate and Tombland) were  probably of later foundations, as it was not a popular dedication until after the first Crusade (1096), and both of them are intruded into the street plan, and cause it to bend out of alignment.

Of the churches lost very early on: Holy Trinity was demolished to make way for the Cathedral around 1094; St Michael Tombland went around the same time.
12th Century
By the twelfth century Norwich was the most important city in East Anglia, economic activity was growing.

More churches may have been founded to serve a growing population. A maximum of about fifty six churches was reached. A total of 61 Church sites are known. The reason for this apparent over-provision is unknown, but other towns that develop around the same time as Norwich have a similar situation. London, only a mile square had over a hundred churches; Lincoln, Winchester also had a very high number. It is probable that all the churches were established by private individuals, and remained the private property of their founders. Apart from an expression of religious piety they may have been built as a status symbol, or even, as tithes were paid to the church, a tax efficient measure.
norwich_1803

Alternatively a church could have been seen as a financial investment, conveying rights and a share of the tithe income. It is possible that churches were also used for commercial uses as well as religious. There may indeed be a whole range of reasons. We are unlikely to ever know.

By the 12th Century church reforms had brought parish churches under control of the Church, and measures had been introduced to stop the proliferation of churches. However it was not until the reformation that there was any real rationalisation of churches in Norwich and a significant reduction in numbers. Even this may have occurred more as a result of the valuable location the churches stood on, or their poor state of repair. However, increasing wealth meant that existing wooden churches were being rebuilt in stone.

Norwich became a city in 1194, when Richard I granted a charter giving rights of self-government

13th – 17th Century
The construction of the City wall, 1297 - 1335, fixed the boundaries of the City which remained with small exceptions until the nineteenth century. There was a medieval suburb in Heigham with its church, and both St Stephens and St Pauls parishes had areas outside the walls.

A major change in ecclesiastical building occurred from  1226 when  the Dominicans (or Blackfriars) first arrived in Norwich and were given the old parish church of St John Baptist over the Water. Subsequently three further friaries where built in Norwich (by different orders).St Andrew's Hall norwichThe Black Death came to Norwich in 1349 when as many as two-fifths of the population may have perished. A large proportion of the clergy died, and some parish churches fell into disuse from a lack of priests and parishioners.
The Black Death depopulated the parishes of St John Colegate, St Margaret Newbridge, and St Matthew-at-Palace, and these churches were closed. The 1530s saw a good deal of rationalization, with amalgamation of parishes and demolition of the redundant churches, such as St Mary-in-the­Marsh, St Crowches, and St Clement-at-the-Well.

Despite problem times such as the Peasants Revolt and the Wars of the Roses, Norwich recovered and its merchants continued to grow in prosperity throughout the rest of the medieval period. There were frequent bouts of church rebuilding and many of the churches were enlarged, the reformation however brought about an end to major church building. As in most cities the Norwich medieval churches suffered a lot during the various purges of anything considered popish or superstitious. There were also some amalgamations of parishes and churches demolished. There was little new building until the 1689 Act of Toleration, which leads to the development of independent churches, of which there are many early examples in Norwich.
18th    to 19th Century
Peter HungateNorwich Continued to grow so that in the eighteenth century it was the second largest city in England, surpassing Bristol. Even though there were a large number of independent churches and chapels built in the eighteenth and nineteenth century, the medieval churches continued in use by the Church of England. It is clear that many were neglected and fell into ruin. So chancels were sometimes demolished or towers truncated only for a new incumbent to bring about rebuilding and restoration. Most of Norwich's churches were subject to the Victorian zeal in returning the churches to the appearance the Victorians thought they should have had (even if they hadn’t).
victorian sweeping up in Peter Hungate Luckily, unlike the city of London  the “zeal” did not leave to destruction  indeed only one medieval church was lost in 19th century Norwich i.e. St Peter Southgate. At the start of the nineteenth century the majority of the population still lived within the medieval city walls. However the increase in population, from about 36,000 to over 65,000 by 1850 and exceeding 110,000 at the turn of the century resulted in extensive house building outside the city walls, whilst large areas within the walls were gradually redeveloped for factories and other commercial uses.
20th Century

St Benedict war damageNorwich city centre steadily lost population for most of the 20th century. Slum clearance started early in Norwich. The central area became more and more commercial, and less and less residential.

Enemy action in the Second World War destroyed areas of the city centre, and many others suffered extensive damage.

The 1960's saw further clearance of old terraced streets in Norwich, replaced in some cases by a much lower density of housing. All this together with a much smaller proportion of the population attending church resulted in there being no need for the majority of the city centre medieval churches. Many of those that continue in use do so, at least in part, by specialising, such as the strong Anglo-Catholic element. Norwich lost twenty-one churches during or just after the Middle Ages, one was demolished in 1884 and three bombed in 1942. Despite this thirty-one medieval churches survived within Norwich City walls serving an area of a square mile-and­a-half.
Change of use in the 20th century
In the 1960s there was a major review of the needs of the Church of England for churches. With dwindling population in the City centre and declining churchgoing there was no need for so many churches. So in the early 1970's schemes of redundancy were drawn up, and many of the churches closed for worship. Later saw a further round of closures, leaving only eleven churches open for worship: St Andrew, St Augustine, St George Colegate, St George Tombland, St Giles, St Helen, St John Madderrmarket, St John de Sepulchre, St John Timberhill, St Julian, and St Peter Parmentergate. Of these, St Augustine, St John Maddermarket, St Peter Parmentergate and St John de Sepulchre have since also been made redundant.

Of the redundant churches, eighteen are under the care of Norwich Historic Churches Trust, three that of Churches Conservation Trust, and one is in private hands.
norwich churches panaramaToday the townscape of Norwich remains dominated by its churches. More medieval churches than any city north of the Alps. The NHCT strive to retain this priceless heritage.
Churches managed by NHCT are highlighted in in bold below. Click to visit a church.
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