Drawing in the Archive- Free art display showing Norwich’s churches over the last 300 years

02 August 2017

A free exhibition exploring the visual records of Norwich churches over the last 300 years is going on display at Norfolk Record Office. 

Drawings from artists, archaeologists and antiquarians offer a rich visual record of the city’s medieval churches from 1700 – 2017.

The display shows different interpretations of the iconic buildings through the eyes of people drawing and studying them during the last 300 years. It will be officially opened by the former Chief Executive of English Heritage, Simon Thurley.

The exhibition is the result of research undertaken by the Norwich Medieval Churches: City, Community and Architecture project at UEA and the drawings and paintings on display come from the collections of Norfolk Museums Service, Norfolk County Council’s Record office and private individuals.

The exhibition also features short films, medieval objects and drawing materials will be provided for visitors wanting to have a go at creating their own artwork. 

Project curator Dr Clare Haynes said: “We have been investigating the history of Norwich’s medieval parish churches, which haven’t been explored in depth as a group since the 1700s. Everyone of them is a Grade one listed building. Norwich boasts the most medieval churches in any city north of the Alps which is remarkable.

"There were 58 medieval churches in Norwich and now there are only 31 left. It’s great to have a visual record of some of those lost churches and to see how some of the others have changed. This exhibition is an opportunity to tell a new story about these remarkable buildings and their place in the city’s landscape."

Councillor Margaret Dewsbury, Chairman of Norfolk County Council’s Communities Committee, said: “This is a unique opportunity to view Norwich’s past through the eyes of many different artists. Some of our city’s churches have been lost forever, but these visual records provide an interesting insight into how they looked and what people thought of them.” 

Some of the churches were destroyed by the 1942 Baedeker Raids. As well as images of the churches, the display will also include photographs showing the bomb damage. A catalogue giving more information about all the exhibits will also be available. 

Among the items on display is work by John Sell Cotman, John Kirkpatrick, Gerard Stamp and Stanley J. Wearing. 

Gerard Stamp’s painting in oil, Flint Flushwork, St Michael Coslany (2017) is the newest work in the exhibition, a gorgeous study of the play of light on the walls of the church. 

John Kirkpatrick was a Norwich linen draper in the early eighteenth century.  He was a part-time historian whose work is still essential to our understanding of the city. He deserves to be better known.  With his brother, Kirkpatrick published the famous prospect of Norwich in 1724, which will be on display, alongside preparatory drawings and a number of other sketches. They are very basic sketches but they contain lots of valuable information about the buildings.

John Sell Cotman’s antiquarian studies are well known.  In the exhibition we explore Cotman’s approach to drawing, showing how he left some things out and changed others a little to make a better picture, according to his taste. 

Stanley J. Wearing was a Norwich architect who became concerned at the outbreak of the Second World War about the fate of Norfolk’s ancient buildings and he set out to record them.  He drew painstakingly detailed sketches, some of which he published in 1944 as Beautiful Norfolk Buildings.  Each of the churches he included had escaped serious damage and so the book was a celebration of survival, not a record of loss.

The display opens to the public on 21 August and runs until 17 November. It is at Norfolk Record Office in Norwich (next to County Hall) and is open Mon/Wed/Fri 9-5, Tues 9.30-5 and Thurs 9-7. 

There are also plans to host free school workshops for Key Stage 2 and 3 pupils from across Norfolk. They can visit the exhibition and work with a local artist to create their own sketches and final artwork inspired by one of the items on display. School holiday activities are also planned for October half-term.

A virtual reality workshop, exploring how technology can help reconstruct the past, will take place on 1 September.

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