Occupying the most important historic square in Great Yarmouth, St George’s Chapel forms a significant piece of Georgian town planning, a testament to the civic pride of the community in the eighteenth century. At the town’s heart lies King Street, an area of outstanding though neglected vernacular architecture that was once a major commercial thoroughfare within the town.
This Grade I-listed building was constructed in 1714 of a load-bearing brick shell with a timber structure and lead roof and timber interior. It is considered an important example of a monumental Baroque church, embracing principles defined by Sir Christopher Wren. In the 1970s, it was converted into a theatre and had remained empty for the five years prior to the project’s start, falling into disrepair.
Working to a tight budget, the architect has very carefully restored and rejuvenated the Chapel as a versatile space for the performing arts and placed alongside it a new café and box office position. Together, the two create a vibrant cultural centre within the quarter and restore the surrounding urban space in the centre of the town.
Capitalising on the size and orientation of the existing main nave and converting it into a flexible performance space, the architect has sensitively repaired and restored the Chapel’s oak interior. The historic details have been retained and also the associated patination of historic repairs. These have been supplemented with select new timber additions (to replace 162 St Georges Chapel Page 4 of 5 unsympathetic interventions from the 1970s), which provide necessary dressing rooms and other support spaces. These additions are in the form of two enclosed sections at the north and south of the building under the gallery level, constructed of vertical oak boards and recessed from the lines of internal columns to allow the superb original freestanding structure to be delineated. A new oak strip floor has been laid above which movable seating for 240 can be arranged in a flexibile and adaptable manner. The space can thus be utilised for everything from tea dances and Battle-of-the-Bands (accommodating 400 standing guests) to full function theatre (a new permanent stage has been constructed in the Chapel’s eastern apse).
The first floor gallery contains two rows of seating accommodating an additional 60 people; the second and higher row is new, elevated off the floor to enhance viewing angles and also constructed in oak. The intricate timber roof has been left entirely exposed from the inside, resting on ten solid oak columns rising up from the ground floor.
To the Chapel’s south, a new brick and timber pavilion has been designed to specifically complement and reflect the Chapel itself, enhancing the setting and function of the renovated building and containing break-out space for the theatre including a café and bar together with further toilets. It responds to the geometry of the Chapel and has an oak-lined interior that reflects the finish of the chapel and which is inherently modern yet respectful of the site’s history and context.