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James Minn 'Carver of Norwich'

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The Mapping of Sculpture website [1] gives his full name as James Benjamin Shingles Minns (ca 1828-1904). Minns’ abilities were not confined to wood carving for he is credited with designing the original bull’s head emblem for Colman’s mustard.

James Minns, ‘Carver of Norwich’

The Mapping of Sculpture website [1] gives his full name as James Benjamin Shingles Minns (ca 1828-1904). Minns’ abilities were not confined to wood carving for he is credited with designing the original bull’s head emblem for Colman’s mustard. He also collaborated with the Aesthetic Movement designer Thomas Jeckyll (and designer at the Norwich foundry of Barnard, Bishop and Barnards) by carving the mantelpiece and panelling for the Old Library at Carrow Abbey (1860-1

The church of St Michael and All Angels, Booton , is well known for its ‘enthusiastic’ renovation (1875-1891) by the Reverend Whitwell Elwin (writes COLONEL UNTHANK). Elwin did not employ an architect and altered the medieval structure according to his own designs. The resulting neo-Gothic fantasy is generally regarded as eccentric, notably the twin, diagonally-placed crocketed towers. Pevsner and Wilson [1] refer to the “excess of pinnacles” and Edwin Lutyens thought it was, “Very naughty, but in the right spirit”. The reverend had many young female friends referred to as ‘blessed girls’ (and Lutyens married one of them). Some of them had accompanied him on a tour of cathedrals and one blessed girl sold off land in order to provide the huge sum of £300,00 that allowed Elwin to renovate his church in such lavish style.

Internally, the church is famously gloomy but amongst the darkness it is possible to identify, jutting from the hammerbeams, huge carved angels from which electric lamps were once suspended [Figure 1]. The angels were known to have been made for Elwin by a local carver, James Minns. The Mapping of Sculpture website [1] gives his full name as James Benjamin Shingles Minns (ca 1828-1904). Minns’ abilities were not confined to wood carving for he is credited with designing the original bull’s head emblem for Colman’s mustard. He also collaborated with the Aesthetic Movement designer Thomas Jeckyll (and designer at the Norwich foundry of Barnard, Bishop and Barnards) by carving the mantelpiece and panelling for the Old Library at Carrow Abbey (1860-1). Other collaborations with Jeckyll included a terracotta plaque of the Boileau Memorial Fountain that once stood at the junction of Ipswich and Newmarket Roads, and the carving of two angels at St Peter Ketteringham [2], where Jeckyll is known to have renovated the tower for his sponsor Sir John Boileau of Ketteringham Hall [3]. Minns, then, was a successful artist as further evidenced by having a carving of ‘A Happy Family’ accepted for the 1897 Summer Exhibition of the Royal Academy.

Little else appeared to be known about Minns but in putting names to a pre-1904 photograph of workers at the Guntons Brickyard Costessey, local resident Peter Mann identified his grandfather and great-grandfather; he also identified a white-bearded James Minns and his son John, both labelled as “Carvers of Norwich” [Figure 2]. James is elsewhere referred to as “Carver of Heigham” [4]. The significance of being able to place James Minns at the Costessey Brickyard is that Guntons' decorative bricks and plaques played such a large part in providing the decorative texture of Victorian Norwich [5]. For example, Guntons provided the plaque for architect Edward Boardman’s offices in Bank of England Court and on many other of the city’s buildings. The presence of a skilled carver (and son) at the brickyard helps explain the quality of their sculpted output.

For further images of Guntons’ ‘fancy bricks’ around Norwich see [5].

POST SCRIPT

Peter Mann has further evidence of James Minns’ work from the Gunton papers assembled by HE Gunton but lost in the fire at Norwich Library. Peter’s copies show that Minns also made the red lion panel that decorated The Old Red Lion Beerhouse – the Costessey pub owned by the Gunton family and now a private house. (Pictured below, right)

Further, as part of Thomas Jeckyll’s design for JJ Colman’s Old Library at Carrow House (1860-61) Minns carved an elaborate ‘Four Seasons’ mantelpiece [4]. He also carved a relief on the pediment of the Old Town Hall at Cromer depicting the discovery of Iceland by local mariner, Robert Bacon [7].

Sources

  1. Pevsner, N. and Wilson, B. (1997). The Buildings of England.
  2. Norwich and North-East. Yale.
  3. http://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/vie...
  4. http://colonelunthanksnorwich....
  5. Soros, Susan Weber and Arbuthnott, Catherine (2003). Thomas Jeckyll: Architect and Designer, 1827-1881. Pub: BGC, Yale.
  6. http://colonelunthanksnorwich....
  7. http://colonelunthanksnorwich....
  8. http://racns.co.uk/sculptures....