PRESS RELEASE: Leading archaeologists and historians back listing bid for Norwich Church

14th June, 2022

Leading historians and archaeologists have thrown their weight behind the campaign to list the remains of ancient St Olave’s Church in Norwich.

The consultant archaeologist to Westminster Abbey, the president of the British Archaeological Association and the acting dean of Norwich Cathedral are among those who have written to Historic England. A dossier of compelling new evidence has also been submitted by an internationally respected researcher.

Remains of the 11th century church – named after Norway’s beatified “eternal king” who spent time in Britain – have only recently been identified, sparking huge interest among academics and heritage enthusiasts.

As SAVE revealed in May, local conservation experts recently uncovered coursed flintwork within an old stable on the exact site of the medieval parish church of St Olave’s. Evidence including historic maps and land title deeds show that a church had existed here since around the time of King Olave II’s death and canonisation around 1030 when an Anglo-Scandinavian community is known to have existed in this part of Norwich.

Yet just as the medieval remains have re-emerged they are in peril of being lost forever as redevelopment plans have been submitted for 14 over-scaled blocks of flats, shops and offices on Anglia Square in the centre of Norwich.

SAVE Britain’s Heritage has been fighting the plans and now leading figures have lined up to support the application to Historic England to list the remains of St Olave’s Church and a number of other historic buildings at the south-western edge of the site.

Dr Amanda Bevan, head of legal records at the National Archives, who is working in a personal capacity, compiled a detailed dossier after examining historical records relating to the site. She concluded that St Olave’s was still standing decades after its supposed demolition in the 1540s. She concluded: “I have 40 years of experience of working with the kinds of records discussed here – it is an unusual and fascinating case.”

She said: “In researching this plot of land it has become apparent to me quite how much has been lost in this part of the city. This building and the historic churchyard plot are of great interest and significance to the city: the site is a demonstration of the huge changes that have taken place over the last 500 years. Its adaptation and survival amid all of this is remarkable.”

Dr Bevan’s work was praised by Professor Warwick James Rodwell OBE, the noted academic and author who is consultant archaeologist at Westminster Abbey.

He said: “In the light of the new information, I have no hesitation in urging that the stable be listed, and any proposal to demolish it should be vigorously rebutted.” He said there was no doubt the remains occupy the site of St Olave’s Church and graveyard.

He added: “It would be a dereliction of duty by the Local Planning Authority to grant any form of development consent on this site without first securing firm archaeological evidence for the precise location and plan of the church, and the extent of its graveyard. In a city as historically important as Norwich, archaeology must always be embraced as a 'material consideration' in planning matters.”

Historic England, which is the government’s heritage advisor, recently warned that the scale of the plans submitted by Weston Homes for Anglia Square would harm the historic character of “one of England’s great historic cities” and were a “missed opportunity” to repair the damage caused to Norwich by the 1960s redevelopment of the area.

Historic England is currently considering the listing application for St Olave’s with a decision expected imminently.

Notes to editors: 

1. For more information and images contact Elizabeth Hopkirk: / 020 7253 3500.

2. See here for our recent press release on our objection to the plans for Anglia Square.

3. See here for our press release on the listing applications for three buildings on the site. 

4. SAVE Britain's Heritage is a strong, independent voice in conservation that fights for threatened historic buildings and sustainable reuses. We stand apart from other organisations by bringing together architects, engineers, planners and investors to offer viable alternative proposals. Where necessary, and with expert advice, we take legal action to prevent major and needless losses.