A landmark transformation for Yarmouth church

PUBLISHED: 17:00 24 June 2011

Feature on the restoration work being carried out on St Georges chapel, Yarmouth.

Feature on the restoration work being carried out on St Georges chapel, Yarmouth.

Archant © 2011

ENCASED in a cocoon of white and surrounded by head-height fencing, it is a Great Yarmouth landmark that currently couldn’t look much more inaccessible if it tried.

Building a future...

Modelled on the church of St Clement Danes in London and painted in reds and golds, St George’s Chapel fell into disuse in 1971 before being turned into a theatre, which closed around five years ago when it was declared unsafe.

The £4m project to turn St George’s Chapel into a centre, which is led by Great Yarmouth Borough Council, seeks to bring it back to life again.

Working alongside English Heritage and Hopkins Architects, and with grant funding from CABE Seachange programme, the Heritage Lottery Fund, the East of England Development Agency, Norfolk County Council and English Heritage, the project began in November with doors set to open to the public in March next year.

The multi-purpose arts venue will hold about 300 people, with the structure being worked on by RG Carter and particular efforts being made to preserve the original architecture.

Surrounding the project is a mural painted by graffiti artist Silent Hobo depicting the town’s rich history.

But peel back the plastic overcoat and it is evident St George’s Chapel is transforming, and that the project to turn it into an arts and performance space in time for spring 2012 is well under way.

That is no small thanks to the workers, who, equipped with steel toecap boots, hard hats and the tools of their various trades, can be found all over a site that echoes with the sounds of restoration.

Outside the grade one chapel they tend to what is currently a dusty worksite, in the centre of which slowly rises a grey, round-ended building, but will soon be pavilion with cafe and front of house and tree shaded outdoor performance area.

Step inside the main body of the church and the scale of things increases. Skeletal scaffolding rises up several stories, surrounding a central space lit with strip lights and packed with long planks of wood ready to be put to use.

Lining the church is a balcony area. Last seen in the 1970s which will be capable of seating 70 theatre goers, and the subject of one of the church’s many historically-aware touches- flecked pine is used on the structure to look like oak.

It is an example of the care taken to take account both of the St George’s Chapel’s past – it was built in 1715 and designed by Christopher Wren – and its future.

This is also evident once you have climbed the winding temporary metal staircase up into the roof space of the baroque building. Dark oak beams curve their way across the tight space, pegged together in the traditional fashion and threatening a bang on the head for anyone not paying full attention.

Higher again, this time via steep, narrow ladders and gap-filled temporary decking to make those with vertigo shudder, and it’s onto the church’s highest-reaches – and stunning views of Yarmouth sprawling into the distance.

Up here, and as well as a sharp bite of the wind one of the chapel’s many secrets can be found.

While some dates remain hazy in the history of St George’s Chapel, thanks to a bit of graffiti historians can confidently point to when the dome was last restored.

Carved into the wooden structure, to be topped with a weather vane, is the carving “F.Mann October 24, 1933”.

What F. Mann would have thought of today’s goings on is anybody’s guess, but it is safe to say that, like him, those involved with the project will leave an imprint on the chapel likely to last well into the future.

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