Part of my childhood – and indeed a good chunk of my adulthood – has been wiped from the map of Norwich. Not, for once, by the council shutting yet another road, but by a simple name change.
Surrey Chapel, the free church whose most recent location is within a stone’s throw of Anglia Square, has changed its name to CityGates Church, arguing that the old name doesn’t mean much to Norwich citizens nowadays.
Maybe. It means a lot to me, though. I was brought up there, was baptised there, and for a while as a teenager operated the rather stone-age sound system. My parents were married there. With my friend David Green I helped to found the football team which played twice yearly against Park Church and eventually mushroomed into the now vibrant Norwich Christian Football League.
I used to walk home my first girl friend from Surrey Chapel – quite a long walk, but worth it. Sadly she died a couple of weeks ago; she lived in North-East Norfolk, an even longer walk.
Why Surrey Chapel? Largely because it was situated just off Surrey Street near the centre of the city, and was accessible via Chapel Loke, along which it was just possible to drive a car. Maybe it still is. It was eventually crowded out, first by the ugly Norfolk Tower, which might have been built deliberately to obscure it, and then by the construction of the John Lewis car park, which necessitated its demolition.
As a result the church congregation moved to Botolph Street, where I preached on one occasion, just after my mother died. They didn’t ask me back.
Oddly my church is now St Augustine’s, within a couple of hundred yards of the CityGates building.
Surrey Chapel was founded in 1854 by Robert Govett, an Anglican who had one or two problems with Church of England ideas at the time. He was a prolific evangelical author, as was his successor, D M Panton. Their graves can be found in the Rosary Cemetery off Rosary Road, as can that of their most famous successor, David Middleton, a basically shy man whose preaching from the 1960s onwards was compelling. He introduced me to Lord of the Rings, among other things.
It’s a strange experience to walk through the graves at the top of the Rosary and see that so many of them are former Surrey Chapel members – people I can picture very easily but who slipped away while my attention was distracted.
I guess I can understand the name change. But I wonder what they think.