Like the market place where St Peter Mancroft stands, the Church was a Norman foundation built by Ralph de Guader, Earl of Norfolk, in 1075. The Normans tried to suppress the old market, held in Tombland, by building their Cathedral and monastery enclosure over it and set up a new market place in the great field below the Castle where they could keep an eye on it.
Not long after, Earl Ralph lost everything in rebellion against William the Conqueror. Ralph had bestowed the church on one of his chaplains, Wala, who in turn passed it to the Abbey of St Peter in Gloucester where he fled after the Rebellion. For 300 years it was known as St Peter of Gloucester in Norwich. In 1388, after local pressure, it passed to the Benedictine community of St Mary-in-the-Fields whose Church stood on the site of the present day Assembly House and Theatre Royal.
The Dean and Chapter of St Mary’s found the old Church of St Peter in a poor condition and in 1390 they decided to rebuild it. However, it was not until 1430, with gifts and legacies from wealthy citizens, and donations from merchant and craft guilds, that the first stone was laid. The church was consecrated 25 years later. The present building owes much of its unity of style to a single phase of construction.
During the Reformation the College of St Mary-in-the-Fields was suppressed and the patronage of St Peter Mancroft passed through several families until, from 1581 it was acquired by trustees on behalf of the parishioners. Today the incumbent is styled Vicar, and they are still appointed by their parishioners. The importance of St Peter Mancroft was greatly increased after the Reformation when the religious communities which had overshadowed it were swept away and the religious life of the city became concentrated on the parish churches. It remains the most important church of the civic community as the many memorials on its walls to mayors and merchants testify.
In the twentieth century, the number of people resident in the parish decreased as the population moved from the cramped courts and yards of the city centre to the new suburbs. In 1982 the parish was joined with the neighbouring Parish of St John Maddermarket when that church was made redundant – St John Maddermarket it now cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust. Despite recent residential developments within the parish, the resident population of this city centre parish remains relatively small and the congregation of St Peter Mancroft continues to be drawn from across Norwich as well as the surrounding towns and villages.
So who was St Peter Mancroft? There is fact no such saint – the church was originally dedicated to the common joint dedication of St Peter and St Paul, later shortened to St Peter. Mancroft may derive from the Old English ġemǣne croft (common field), from the Latin magna crofta (Great field), or may be named after a one-time owner of the land by the name of Mann or Manne. The truth has been lost in the mists of time!