Forty Years On   ̶   A Memoir of St Helen’s Costessey 

The first designs for the church were the work of Chris Lambert, the architect of the curate’s house next door.  Chris was understandably put out when I took over, and I later came to understand how he felt when the same thing happened to me at St Elizabeth’s Earlham. Several churches were built on the edge of Norwich after the war, the majority being the brain child of Peter Codling, a Quaker.  Peter designed, among others, St Paul’s Tuckswood, St Matthew’s Thorpe Hamlet, the interdenominational church at Bowthorpe, and the strange extension to St Cuthbert’s Sprowston.  He was also a prolific builder of rectories.  Chris Lambert finally got his chance at St Luke’s on Aylsham Road.

EXTERIOR of St Helen’s

St Helen’s was built with a small labour force  ̶  of no more than half a dozen men at most  ̶  in about five months in the summer of 1972.  The thing I remember more than anything else about it was the cost  ̶  £17,500 all in, including the hymn number board and the pottery flower vases with lettering round the edge that were made by Godfrey Newcomb.  The roof tiles came from a Norfolk barn, and the bricks that form the cross in the gable were from Costessey Old Hall.  Just as work was about to begin I got cold feet about the windows  ̶  large square openings, one on each side.  There wasn’t time to get planning permission.  I just changed them.


I was lucky with the builders who got the job  ̶  Lushers of Sprowston (Bill Lusher lived in Costessey)  ̶   and in the two vicars I worked with  ̶  Canon David Maurice and the Rev Timothy Sedgley, and with their building committee. I was allowed to design everything, including the furniture, the kneelers, frontals and vestments (which were sewn by a group of local needleworkers), the processional cross, the foundation stone with its crossed “h” monogram in the floor, and the coloured glass.  The single-manual organ, made from second-hand parts by Bishops of Ipswich with “Let everything that hath breath praise the Lord” in cut-out plywood lettering on the front, followed in 1973.  The names of the people who donated to the building fund are stencilled on the sides of the roof trusses.


I was keen to incorporate two other features. First, because I was tired of the system in old churches where you have to apply (and often wait months) for written permission to carry out the smallest alteration, everything inside the church was designed to be movable within minutes.  Second, to minimise the cost of maintenance, only two things needed painting  ̶  the flagpole, and the hinges on the outside doors.

I was not so lucky with the hall that was added on the side in 1978, a building which I kept below the height of the church by designing the sloping roofs and high-level windows around a central, flat-roofed well.  They were not a success as the only place for the water to go if the downpipes blocked was the floor inside, and I wasn’t altogether surprised when I made a visit ten or so years ago to find that my design had been replaced by a pyramid-shaped roof with a lantern on top.  It was, I suspect, the reason I wasn’t invited to the 25th anniversary celebrations of the church’s opening.


See Andrew’s web page AA Prints


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: