Occasionally there will be nerdy posts here, and one of my great loves is church architecture. Given that there are nearly 1,000 medieval churches in Norfolk (not all of them in use, and some of them in ruins), I’m immensely privileged.
So yesterday, on the way home from my dental appointment, I walked through the cathedral grounds and into Tombland (aka the original Anglo Saxon marketplace, which Bill the Bastard made us move just to underline that he was The Conqueror). After the cathedral was built, there were a few fights between the monks and the citizens, but the really big one was in 1272. It started right here in St George’s, ended up with the city being excommunicated by the Pope, and Henry III and then Edward I had to come and sort things out. (The citizens were fined, but the Prior – who I happen to think was very culpable and a total thug – was thrown in jail. The citizens had to build the Ethelbert gate as part of the reparations. But that’s for another day.)
There are a lot of things I like about the church, but the two things I want to talk about are Snap and Thomas Anguish’s memorial.
Snap the dragon, who’s used at the Mayor’s Procession every year, lives in this church (well, of course, St George’s – though we have more than one St George’s in Norwich). The original Snap is in the Castle Museum. It’s all linked with mummers and the Mystery Plays (the N-Town Play is the Norwich Grocers’ play); and the dragon was used as part of the ceremonial pomp and pageant around the mayor’s inauguration. Norwich being Norwich, there were also a couple of mock procession days, held from the 18th century onwards, which tended to get a bit riotous and also involved Snap – one was at Pockworth (the area where I had my dental appointment) and one was at Costessey (where I live). Over the years it turned into a fundraiser, and the dragon used to steal hats and demand a penny ransom. The local rhyme about it is: ‘Snap, Snap, steal a boy’s cap, give him a penny and he’ll give it back.’
And this is the monument of Alderman Thomas Anguish, d. 1617, who was a mayor of the city and a mercer (aka merchant). It’s very hard to photograph because it’s tucked beside the organ – moved from its original spot by the altar when the reredos was installed, albeit before the organ arrived.
Thomas left money to establish a children’s hospital (aka school for poor children), and his bequest is still in use today – if you go to certain schools in Norwich and are in financial hardship, you can apply to it for help. I suspect a little bit of rivalry with his fellow mercer and mayor John Symons, d. 1609, who has a much smaller monument at the back of the church. Thomas has *all* his children on his monument, the girls lined up behind their mum and the boys lined up behind him. Those with skulls are the ones who died before their parents, and I was particularly moved by the chrisom children (still in their swaddling, died either at birth or in that first month).
Another echo: the monument was carved by the same mason who carved John Donne’s monument in St Paul’s, aka my favourite poet. Looking at that monument, and thinking of his wife and those babies, the words ‘Batter my heart, three-personed God’, were uppermost in my mind. (I’ll spare you the English graduate spiel about Donne’s religious poetry being full of love and his love poetry being full of religion because I can get very boring about this.) And the lady in the shield? The verger (utterly lovely) told me he wrote to the Guild of Mercers, and she’s apparently the Mercers’ Maiden, their heraldic emblem.