City of Norwich, chapter 41: Of the Cathedral Precinct, St. Ethelbert's, or St. Albert's

Pages 53-55

An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 4, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part II. Originally published by W Miller, London, 1806.

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ST. Ethelbert's, or St. Albert's

Parochial chapel, was founded before the cathedral, as is evident by its parish being divided part within, and part without the Precinct; it was a rectory, of which,

John was rector in 1256, and was succeeded about 1260, by Mr. Simon de Skerning, in whose time,
The chapel, which stood near the left hand as you go out of the monastery gate, at the south end of Tombland, was burned down by the citizens in the grand insurrection in 1272, as is before observed in Pt. I. p. 54. Upon which, by consent of the prior and convent, patrons thereof, and of Simon de Skerning, then rector; (fn. 1) Roger de Skerning, then Bishop, perpetually united it to the church of St Mary in the Marsh, to which the said Simon was then instituted, and all the parishioners both within and without the Precinct were united to St. Mary's, and were obliged to hear divine service, and receive the sacraments there; and those within the Precinct were to pay all their tithes and oblations to the rector there; and be, as formerly, exempt from all archidiaconal jurisdiction: but those without the Precinct were to pay their tithes to the rector of the church of St Cuthbert, and his successours for ever; and be subject to Master Tho. de Skerning, Archdeacon of Norwich, and his successours.

After the insurrection was appeased, the citizens, in part of recompense for the injury done to the convent, built the present gate, in the same place where the old one stood, that they had destroyed; and over it a large handsome chapel, which was dedicated to St. Ethelbert or Albert; in which, the rector of St. Mary in the Marsh at first officiated, to such parishioners of St. Albert's parish as lived without the Precinct; but afterwards withdrawing his service wholly to St. Mary's, as he had power to do, this chapel was served by a priest, who had only what voluntary offerings were made there by strangers, for his labour; which after some time becoming small, the cellerer took it; in whose hands it remained many years, till at last it was let out for a dwelling; and in 1519, the cellerer accounted for the profits of the house or chapel of St. Ethelbert over the great gates of the monastery; it is now divided into three rooms, in which the registers and wills belonging to the Bishop are reposited, whose office is kept close by the gate, on its north side.

Besides this great gate, there were four others entering the Precinct, one of which, though now demolished, entered into St. Vast's-lane; another called the Hospital-gate, because it leads to St. Giles's hospital, is still standing; another opens on St. Martin's Plain, and is called the Bishop's Great-gate, for which see Pt. I. p. 531: and the other called Erpingham's, or the Lower-gate, in the Close, opens against the west end of the cathedral, and was built as a penance for Lollardy by Sir Thomas Erpingham, as is already observed in Pt. I. p. 524.

There is a cut of it at p. 24, in the Repertorium, dedicated to Charles Lord Vicount Townsend, but the effigies of Sir Thomas on his knees, which is now in the niche, was not then found and placed there, as it hath since been, so that it doth not occur in the plate.

On the summit, stands a cross of stone, and the emblems of the four Evangelists are placed on pedestals, two on each side. On the top sits an effigies of a secular priest with a book in his hand, teaching a youth standing by him; and opposite, on the southern pillar, sits a monk with a book in his hand also, surveying those that pass by; designed, I presume, by the founder to signify, that the secular clergy not only laboured themselves in the word, but diligently taught the growing youth, to the benefit of the world; when the idle regular, who by his books also pretends to learning, did neither instruct any, nor improve himself; by which, he covertly lashed those that obliged him to this penance; and praised those that had given him instruction in the way of truth.

On one side of the niche are the arms of the see; and on the other, those of the church. Right over the arch is a shield of the five wounds of Christ, represented by a heart between two hands cooped in chief, and two feet cooped in base, our Blessed Lord being wounded on the cross, with the nails that went through his hands and feet, and with the spear that pierced his heart.

On the north side of this, are three shields; the largest hath on it a triangle, to represent the blessed Trinity; the lowest hath our Saviour on the cross; and the uppermost, three chalices and wafers thereon, to represent the blessed sacrament: opposite also, are three shields, the largest hath the arms of Sir Thomas, impaling those of Joan Clopton, his second wife; the uppermost hath the arms of Joan Walton, his first wife, and the lowest, hath the arms of Clopton single. The pillars and arch are adorned with many well carved images, and the word pena often under them: they are the effigies of divers saints, martyrs, kings, and confessors; those on the north side being most, if not all, men; and those on the south side most, if not all, women; by which we may learn, that his last wife was concerned in this penance, as being a Lollard, or follower of Wickliff, as well as himself; the arms of the Erpinghams, Waltons, Cloptons, &c. are scattered all over the building; which hath its beauty entirely spoiled by a chamber of wood fixed in the arch for a dwelling, which not only stops up great part of it, but renders the sight altogether disagreeable; the loss of the rent of which, could be no great thing, if the dean and chapter, to whom it belongs, should, for decency sake, take it away.

The eastern part of the Precinct is bounded by the river, over which there is, and immemorially hath been, a ferry; the keeper of which is appointed by patent from the dean and chapter: it is now called Sandlin's Ferry, from one of that name who was keeper of it, and most probable from Mr. John Sandlin, mentioned in the Repertorium at p. 1, who lived 89 years, and was a chorister in the reign of Queen Elizabeth; near this ferry was a large canal, that formerly conveyed all things brought by water, into the Lower-Close; besides fish-ponds, &c. for the convent's use.


  • 1. Regr. IV. Pr. Norw. fo. 132, 311.