A school, an air raid shelter and a vault to store the bones of ancestors: the fascinating 700-year history of the Norwich School chapel

Norwich School chapel exhibition. The chapel interior, with names carved into a wooden banister.Pict

Norwich School chapel exhibition. The chapel interior, with names carved into a wooden banister.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

The chapel at the Norwich School has been used for many purposes over its long history - a school, an air raid shelter and a vault to store the bones of ancestors, while families awaited their resurrection.

Norwich School chapel exhibition. Pupils Grace Pank, 11, and Herbie Hilyer-Ziegler, 11, looking at t

Norwich School chapel exhibition. Pupils Grace Pank, 11, and Herbie Hilyer-Ziegler, 11, looking at the exhibition.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

And while in recent years it returned to the more humble purpose of worship, its history has been celebrated in an enlightening exhibition.

Put together by school archivist, John Walker, the collection shows the chapel through the ages, and its fascinating past.

In a video produced about the chapel, Mr Walker said the school was founded over 900 years ago by Bishop de Losinga - the first Bishop of Norwich - at the same time as the cathedral.

'We can date the schoolmasters back as to 1200,' Mr Walker said.

Norwich School chapel exhibition. The chapel interior.Picture: ANTONY KELLY

Norwich School chapel exhibition. The chapel interior.Picture: ANTONY KELLY - Credit: Archant

'The chapel was constructed by Bishop Salmon. He was a rich bishop and actually paid for all of his out of his own money.'

Bishop Salmon designed and had built a number of important buildings but the most notable remaining today is his Chantry Chapel and Carnary College which was opened in 1316. Since 1551 these have been the main buildings of Norwich Grammar School and now Norwich School.

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The Carnary College would have been where the monks came to say their prayers.

Mr Walker said: 'The building then continued as a chapel for 200 years until Henry VIII dissolved the monasteries. At that point the closed.'

When the chapel was used as an air raid shelter during WW2, American servicemen walking past

When the chapel was used as an air raid shelter during WW2, American servicemen walking past - Credit: Norwich School

It wasn't until 1547 that the school, among others, was reopened by King Edward VI when the nation found itself short of schools.

The City Fathers actually purchased The Carnary College from speculators whose aim was to sell the stones of the buildings as material for new building projects.

'It opened in 1551,' Mr Walker said. And for the next 350 years the chapel would be the main school room.

'Sometimes they had 300 children here being taught. The learning would be by rote and it was quite severe - you had to learn Latin literature and the next day if you could not recite them you were caned.'

Schoolboys and schoolmaster on the steps of the Norwich School chapel in 1855.

Schoolboys and schoolmaster on the steps of the Norwich School chapel in 1855. - Credit: Norwich School

The building only became a chapel again when the headmaster in 1908 was able to construct new buildings. But by the time the chapel was ready to be reopened, the Second World War had broken out.

'There were many air raids and the crypt below was an air raid shelter and this building was difficult to use. In the First World War because of the zeppelin raids and the large windows - they let so much light in - that having services after dark was banned.'

Today, the structure is the chapel of Norwich School and is used for small groups as it's capacity of 350 would not accommodate the whole school, which has around 1000 students.

The exhibition into the chapel's history is being held in a gallery in the crypt.

The schoolroom in the Norwich School chapel in 1908.

The schoolroom in the Norwich School chapel in 1908. - Credit: Norwich School

The crypt below the Chapel was first used as a Charnel House, a vault to receive human bones from the City of Norwich where citizens wished to store the bones of their ancestors to await their resurrection.

And it also houses the tomb of John Wodehous, described by Henry V as his 'beloved esquire'. He is famed at the Battle of Agincourt for giving the rallying signal at a crucial point at the battle.

The school has used the crypt as a woodworking workshop, a gym, sixth form common room, a library, a music practice room and now artist studio and gallery space.

But reminders of the past remain around the chapel and the crypt, as the names of school pupils from years gone by can be seen carved into both the porch and the organ loft.

Norwich School archivist, John Walker during filming for a BBC series called Blitz Cities. Picture:

Norwich School archivist, John Walker during filming for a BBC series called Blitz Cities. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: Copyright: Archant 2015

Mr Walker added: 'Now is the chance to see the history of these buildings erected in a unique exhibition in the Crypt itself from the archives of Norwich School. These buildings became Norwich Grammar School in 1551 so this is the chance to walk in the footsteps of Nelson and Coke of Norfolk.'

The exhibition began on September 20 will next be open from Tuesday, September 27 to Thursday, September 29, 10.30am to 4.00pm.

Timeline

1316

The Chantry Chapel and Carnary College are complete. Built on the site of an earlier monastic burial ground. A Charnel House in the crypt is used to place some of the bones and this is administered by the cathedral and not the college.

1420

After victory at Agincourt in 1415 the heroic Norfolk knights build the Erpingham Gateway 1420, the gate keeper's lodge and The Charnel House becomes a chantry chapel to Sir John Wodehoue who is still buried in the crypt. At some point Sir Thomas Erpingham's tomb moved from the cathedral and was partially rebuilt as a shrine in the crypt. This was then later removed and the statue was placed on the Erpingham gateway.

1485

The College is given a rebuild and update by Ralph Pulvertoft in 1485. He builds the Chapel Porch and a parlour on the ground floor with a medieval hall above. These join the chapel to the college and destroy the large west window of the chapel. A new entrance and corridor join the college front to the chaplain's quarters and the cloister beyond. The hall above the parlour becomes a chained library. An ante-chapel is built in the first bay of the chapel to serve both the chapel and library above the parlour.

1547

The college and chapel are closed as religious institutions under the Dissolution of the Monasteries.

The buildings fall into disrepair and are targeted by developers as stone quarries.

1551

Re-founded in 1547 by King Edward VI Norwich Grammar school moves to The Carnary College sponsored by The Great Hospital (to which the school was once affiliated) and purchased by the city Aldermen of The Guildhall. This is principally a non – religious free school. The Head Master is given lodgings in School House and these were still lived in until 1961. Boarders lived in the hall above and other rooms in the old college until the arrival of girls and the closing of boarding houses in the 1980s. The Chapel Porch is the main entrance to the school until 1900.

Over the centuries the school room in the former chapel is patched up as parts fall in and windows become unstable.

1778

Medieval Hall divided into two floors and dormer windows added. The chapel windows on the South side are partially bricked up and wooden window frames inserted. By this time the school starts to use the Crypt. (see graffiti)

1782

East windows replaced with wood.

1852

The upper levels of the hall above the parlour were enlarged and extended to give the appearance School House has today from The Close.

1853

The round crypt windows were restored and re-glazed.

1862

A Victorian Boarding House is added to the North of the Chapel and the bell tower is also built by Architect James Benest.

1867-1874

All four south windows were restored to former 1316 pattern. Paid for by boy's concerts, ON donations and other funds.

1885-87

The school's ties with the city and the Great Hospital are served and an independent board of governors set up. The school becomes more of an independent school and not just the Free Grammar school.

1908

New Buildings opens as a class room block and the old chapel school room makes a slow return to being a chapel.

After WWI a scheme is planned to rebuild the wooden east window as a memorial to those who died in the war. Not enough money was raised but the design exists.

1940

After over 20 years of fundraising and donations The School Chapel is re-constructed as a religious building and the organ is installed.

1970s

Restoration of the North windows

1980s

Restoration of windows and buttresses on south side. The old wooden east window is replaced with a stone exact replica but not with the original 1316 style tracery to much disappointment.

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