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St Augustine's Norwich | St Augustine's church, 1870s

St Augustine's Church, 1870s
This is the earliest known photograph of St Augustine's church in Norwich. It's precise date is not known but appears to have been taken in the 1870s before the major restoration work that was undertaken in the 1880s. Its exterior walls are still covered in cement rendering and the curious little brick stack is still visible above the south chancel roof. The large urn-shaped object on the east churchyard wall probably marked the position of the communal parish pump. A gentleman in a stovepipe hat can been seen on the left and the innovation of gas street lighting had clearly been introduced to St Augustine's Street.

The 1870s were a time of considerable controversy in St Augustine's. The churchyard wall had collapsed into St Augustine's Street, impeding traffic and, in the words of one reporter, exposing the churchyard to 'the inroads of boys and donkeys'.  In 1874 the church wardens, William Thomas Gilbert and William Delph, rebuilt the wall to allow for the widening of the street. When word of this reached the archdeacon's office at the cathedral, the wardens were ordered to restore the original boundary of the churchyard. When they refused, they were charged with the arcane ecclesiastical offence of 'throwing a portion of the churchyard into the public road', in other words of stealing church property by diminishing the size of the churchyard. After much legal argument the wardens were finally decalred 'contumacious' and warrants for their arrest were issued. For some reason the archdeacon's baliffs only managed to arrest one of the wardens, Gilbert, who stood trial and was sentenced to a term of imprisonment in Norwich Gaol. He was finally released on Christmas Eve 1875 after pressure from the Liberal members of the Norwich Town Council persuaded the Church Court to grant him parole. As far as we know the churchyard's original boundary was never restored.

Photo courtesy Norfolk Library Service

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