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The Little Book of Norwich
By Neil R. Storey
The History PressCopyright © 2015 Neil R. Storey
All rights reserved.
ABOUT THE CITY
NORWICH IS BORN
Archaeological finds, dating back to the eighth century AD, were discovered in Fishergate and suggest that the first settlement that could be thought of as Norwich – known then as Northwic or Norvic – existed there.
The first definite record of the place name Norvic appears on coins minted between AD 920 and AD 939 during the reign of King Athelstan of England.
Norwich would become a city in 1194, during the reign of Richard I.
The old hamlets within the county of the City of Norwich were places where the inhabitants were entitled to the same municipal privileges as those residing within the walls of the city, namely Earlham, Eaton, Heigham, Hellesdon, Lakenham, Pockthorpe, Thorpe, Trowse Millgate, Old Catton and Sprowston.
Tombland does not refer to a burial ground. The first syllable comes from the Old English tom, meaning empty or open, thus Tombland means empty or open space – exactly what was needed to accommodate the market that was regularly here during the late Saxon period.
Construction of Norwich Castle started shortly after the Norman Conquest of 1066. An area of land was cleared, defensive ditches were dug and a wooden fort was erected. In 1094, the reign of King William Rufus saw work begin on a stone keep and, after Rufus' death, his brother Henry I continued with the construction. The castle was completed by 1121.
Designed more as a symbol of power than as a necessary fortification, it is possible that the castle was intended to serve as a royal residence, although no Norman king ever lived there. In fact, it has spent the majority of its existence as the county gaol, a role it served from the fourteenth century until 1887, when the last prisoners were removed to a new prison off Plumstead Road and work began to convert the ancient castle into a museum which was opened in 1894.
GROWTH OF THE CITY
The old boundaries of the City of Norwich spread between St Clement's Hill in the north to Harford Bridge in the south, a distance of 4.25 miles. Following a zigzag boundary, it was around 17 miles in circumference and comprised 6,630 acres of land.
In 1066, Norwich was one of the largest towns in England, with an Anglo-Dutch population of around 5,500.
In 1377, a census taken of some of the great towns of England recorded that Norwich contained 5,300 people.
By the sixteenth century, Norwich had grown to become the second-largest city in England and continued to vie with Bristol as the 'second city' of England until the Industrial Revolution.
The oldest dwelling place in Norwich is the Music House on King Street, which was built in about 1175 by the Jurnets, one of the wealthiest Jewish families in England. It became known as the Music House after its time as the headquarters for the Norwich waits and minstrels during the reign of Elizabeth I.
The oldest surviving pub in the city is the Adam and Eve in Bishopsgate. It was built in 1249 as a brewhouse for the workers building the cathedral.
The oldest remaining bridge in Norwich is the medieval Bishop Bridge, built in 1295.
BRIDGING THE GAP
By 1300 there were five bridges over the Wensum in Norwich, making it the city with the most bridges in England.
The city walls were started in 1294 and took around fifty years to complete due to complaints about the cost being levied for their construction. In the end they were completed by a single patriotic individual, Norwich tradesman Richard Spynk, who in 1343 was rewarded by the grateful Corporation by being 'quit all tallages, tasks and costs' for both he and his heirs forever. Once completed the walls had twelve gates, they were:
Ber Street Gate, taken down in 1807
Bishop's Gate, taken down in 1791
Brazen Doors or Newgate, taken down in 1793
Conisford Gate, at the south end of King Street, taken down in 1793
Heigham Gate or Hell Gate, fell down in the eighteenth century
Magdalen Gate, taken down in 1808
Pockthorpe Gate, taken down in 1792
St Augustine's Gate, taken down in 1794
St Giles' Gate, taken down in 1792
St Martin's or Coslany Gate, taken down in 1793
St Stephen's or Nedham Gate, taken down in 1793
Westwick or St Benedict's Gate, taken down in 1793
CHAPEL FIELD GARDENS
The Field takes its name from the chapel of St Mary in the Fields. Founded in the thirteenth century by John le Brun, St Mary in the Fields had such numerous and generous benefactors that it soon became a college, complete with a dean, chancellor, precentor, treasurer and seven other prebendaries, and the premises were expanded. At the time of the Dissolution, the extensive premises were granted to Miles Spencer LL.D, the last dean. The 'chapel' stood on the site of today's Assembly Rooms.
In 1406, the citizens of Norwich claimed 4.5 acres of ground that belonged to the Chapel in the Field. During the sixteenth century, what was know as Chapel Field was leased, complete with cherry yard and dove house, to notable citizens. Then, under a proclamation of 1578, it was used as an open area for mustering the trained bands, archers or the artillery and the 'fit place' to charge guns with shot and powder for the exercise of shooting. It was also the place where the 'City Tent' was set up for the Lord Lieutenant on the occasions of the general musters and where yearly reviews of the city regiment took place in the seventeenth century.
Chapel Field was first railed with fencing in 1707 and tree planting began when Sir Thomas Churchman leased The Field and laid out the main walks in 1746. In 1792, part of The Field was leased to become a large water reservoir for the city. Standing around 300yds in circumference with a high red-brick crenated water tower, it served this purpose until 1851 when the new Waterworks Company was established and reservoirs were built at Lakenham. In 1854, the old water basin was filled in and the people of the city lost a popular spot for skating. The Field then declined into a rough and uncared for place where washerwomen hung out their linen, children played and sheep were occasionally put out to graze.
After the Norfolk Agricultural Association held its annual meeting on The Field, attempts to improve it were made and new iron palisadings were erected in 1866 when their Royal Highnesses, the Prince and Princess of Wales, accompanied by the Queen of Denmark, were received there. But it was over ten years later, in 1877, that the Corporation realised that the shabby field could be made into a beauty spot and the landscape gardener got to work. The newly laid out gardens were opened by the mayor, Harry Bullard, with much festivity in 1880. The cost of the complete transformation was about £1,400.
The flint Guildhall was built between 1407 and 1413, and when complete it was the largest and most elaborate city hall outside London. It primarily functioned as a place for meetings of the city's council, but gets its name from the Guild of St George who also used the building. The Guildhall remained the seat of the city council until it was replaced by City Hall in 1938.
The Guildhall once had a tower, built in 1435, but it collapsed in 1511 and was never rebuilt.
The ancient trading rows and markets of Norwich (listed before the reign of Richard II) consisted of Glover's Row, Mercer's Row, Spicer's Row, Needler's Row, Tawer's Row, Ironmoner's Row, the Apothecary's Market, the Herb Market, the Poultry Market, the Bread Market, the Flesh Market, the Wool and Sheep Market, the Fish Market, the Hay Market, the Wood Market, the Cheese Market, the Leather Market, the Cloth-cutter's Market and the White-ware Market.
The Market Cross that once stood in the Market Place was constructed between 1501–03 by Mayor John Rightwise. A commodious and handsome building, it stood for over 200 years until it fell into decay. In 1732 it was sold by the Tonnage Committee for £125 and was taken down soon after.
THE CITY'S COAT OF ARMS
The city's arms consist of a ruby shield featuring a triple-towered castle in pearl above a royal lion, a symbol that was granted to the city by Edward III. The blazon of the arms is: 'Gules, a castle triple-towered and domed Argent; in base a lion passant guardant Or.'
This design appeared on a fifteenth-century seal and was confirmed during a heraldic visitation in 1562 by William Harvey, Clarenceux King of Arms. The arms are supported by two angels with their wings expanded (not included in the image below) and is surmounted by a fur winter cap of maintenance as its crest. The lower part was often shown embellished with sword and maces. The earliest depiction of the arms, including additions, to survive is in the form of a carving, was created in around 1534 and built into the outside wall of the Guildhall.
NEAR MISS FOR PULL'S FERRY
The picturesque fifteenth-century riverside watergate, Pull's Ferry, is today one of the city's most famous landmarks. It was, however, very nearly lost forever.
The watergate is named after John Pull, who ran the ferry across the Wensum from 1796 to 1841. It continued to operate until the 1930s (its last full year of operation being 1929), but after a number of years of disuse it became derelict and dilapidated. The structure was only saved after the Girl Guides lost their old local headquarters in an air raid during the Second World War. They subsequently raised and were given grants to the value of £2,000 to restore the historic building as their new headquarters in 1949.
IT'S PLAIN TO SEE
One of many reasons why Norwich is distinctive from other cities is its number of 'plains' – local dialect for an open space or square in the city. The word is derived from the Dutch and Flemish settlers who came to the city in the sixteenth century and used the word plein to describe such places.
THE POPULATION OF NORWICH SINCE 1693
A HOLE IN THE KING'S HEAD
In 1813, Alderman Jonathan Davey shocked the Guildhall Council Chamber by declaring, 'Gentlemen, I mean to put a hole in the King's Head!' His refusal to withdraw or explain his comment caused such great concern that local constables were ordered to observe his movements. The following week, an inn was sold on The Walk and the next day a huge hole appeared in the facade of the King's Head pub. It was turned into a shopper's foot street and, to this day, Davey Place remains a testimony to his sense of humour or perhaps his flair for publicity.
THE CORN HALL
The first brick of the new Norwich Corn Hall, otherwise known as the Corn Exchange, was laid on 1 May 1861 and opened for business on 9 November that same year. The contractors for the building were Messrs Ling and Balls of Norwich, and Messrs Barnard, Bishop, and Barnard for the roof. The total cost was about £8,000 and the work was executed from the designs of Mr Barry, of Norwich, and Mr H. Butcher, of No. 37 Bedford Row, London. It was used for public events, entertainments and sporting matches such as boxing and wrestling, but sadly it was demolished in 1964.
THE LOST PAGODA
There was once a fine ornamented pavilion or pagoda that stood near the centre of Chapel Field. Designed by Thomas Jeckyll of London, it was made by Messrs Barnard, Bishop and Barnard in cast and wrought iron at their Norfolk Ironworks in the city. It originally cost £2,000, weighed 40 tons, measured 35ft long by 18ft wide and stood 35ft high with two floors, the upper of which was reached by a spiral staircase. The pagoda was used as a showpiece for various exhibitions, the first being at the Philadelphia Centennial Exhibition in 1876, and at exhibitions in Paris, Vienna, Buenos Aires and London before the Norwich Corporation bought it in 1880 for the nominal sum of £250, another £250 being required for foundations, erection and painting. It was erected the following year and the first band played there on 24 May 1881. The pagoda stood on Chapel Field through the two world wars, when it could well have been lost to scrap salvage. It was eventually declared 'unsafe' and taken down in 1949.
One of the features that stood out on arrival into Norwich from the late nineteenth and well into the twentieth century, was the Boileau drinking fountain for horses and their drivers at the junction of Newmarket and Ipswich Roads. Sir John Boileau had bequeathed the sum of £1,000 to pay for the fountain in memory of his wife, Lady Catherine.
Designed by Thomas Jeckyll of London, Sir Joseph Boehm executed the statuary – entitled Charity – in bronze, while the tall uprights and the canopy were constructed by Mr Hubbard of East Dereham. It was inaugurated on 30 October 1876 and Sir Francis Boileau performed the ceremony of asking the city to accept the fountain before being thanked by the mayor, Mr J.H. Tillett, in the name of the citizens. After being declared unstable, the structure was taken down in 1965 and the statue moved a short distance away. Today it stands in the redeveloped grounds of the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
A TERRIBLE DAY
The most serious and destructive fire to take place in Norwich during the nineteenth century occurred on 1 August 1898. At an early hour in the morning, the premises of Daniel Hurn, a rope maker who lived on Dove Street, were found on fire. The flames spread southwards to Messrs Chamberlin and Sons' wholesale warehouse, northwards towards Pottergate Street and westward to the public library. The premises in which the fire originated, the warehouse, and a portion of the property on the north were all speedily destroyed, and ultimately the main library building was consumed along with its 60,000 volumes and the valuable Norton Library.
By some terrible coincidence, Norwich Central Library caught fire almost 100 years later on 1 August 1994, with extensive damage caused. It was also on 1 August – this time in 1970 – that the popular department store Garlands, on London Street, was discovered on fire.
COURTS AND YARDS
In 1900, there were 749 courts and yards in Norwich, many of which have since disappeared through slum clearance, bombing during the war years and redevelopment. Here is a nostalgic list of some of them; many were named after the pubs that they once served:
Bath House Yard, Oak Street
Bird-in-Hand Yard, Barrack Street
Boarded Entry Yard, Ber Street
Cardinal's Cap Yard, St Benedict's Street
Cattermoul's Yard, Pitt Street
Cock and Pie Yard, Quayside
Cock Yard, St Giles Street
Crawfoot's Yard, Ber Street
Crown Court Yard, Elm Hill
Flower-in-Hand Yard, Heigham Street
Gaffer's Yard, St Benedict's Street
Greenland Fishery Yard, Oak Street
Grimmer's Court, St Andrew's Broad Street
Little Cow Yard, Cow Hill
Loyalty Court, St Stephen's Street
Museum Court, St Andrew's Broad Street
Oby's Yard, King Street
Pipe Burner's Yard, Pottergate Street
Ratcatcher's Yard, Ber Street
Rock Yard, Barrack Street
Seven Stars Yard, Barrack Street
Sultzer's Court, Botolph Street
Thoroughfare Yard, Magdalen Street
Tiger Yard, Fishgate Street
Two Quarts Court, Bridge Street
Wrestler's Yard, Barrack Street
SOME UNUSUAL STREET NAMES IN NORWICH PAST
Winkle's Row, King Street
Bull Close Road
St Laurence Little Steps, St Benedict's Street
Back of the Inns
Cockey Lane (now London Street)
Gropekunte Lane (now Opie Street)
Curson's Opening, Philadelphia Lane
Pig Lane, Palace Street
Rampant Horse Street
Weed's Square, Bishop's Bridge Road
Hangman's Lane (now Heigham Street)
Fuller's Hole, St Martin's Road
World's End Lane
Upper Goat Lane
Twenty-One Row (New Lakenham)
Zipfel's Court, Magdalen Street
LAST AND FIRST
The last Mayor of Norwich was the antiquarian Walter Rye who served 1908–09. The title then changed to Lord Mayor and Dr E.E. Blyth was the first to take this post that same year (1909–10). Rye always maintained: 'The old plain Mayoralty of Norwich was more honourable than a later-given Lord Mayorship.'
DEATH BELL NELLIE
When the mighty bell of the clock atop the 206ft tower of City Hall was heard sonorously striking the hours for the first time in 1938, it was dubbed 'Death Bell Nellie' – it is thought to be one of the deepest-sounding clock bells in the country and it is certainly the largest. For some, City Hall has never had much aesthetic appeal. When Norman Long, a popular comedian of the day, lampooned City Hall as a 'marmalade factory' during a show at the Norwich Hippodrome, the nom de plume stuck for years after.
City Hall also has the longest balcony in England, at 365ft long (111m). It was suggested among the people of Norwich that the City Hall, which remained remarkably unscathed through the blitz on the city during the Second World War, had been deliberately missed on the orders of the Führer himself as he wanted the building intact so it could become his headquarters in the east.
Excerpted from The Little Book of Norwich by Neil R. Storey. Copyright © 2015 Neil R. Storey. Excerpted by permission of The History Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
1 About the City,
2 Uprisings, the Military and War,
3 Royal Norwich,
4 Crime and Punishment,
5 Norwich People, Famous and Not So,
6 Norwich at Work,
7 That's Entertainment,
8 Sporting Times,
10 Death and Religion,
11 In Sickness and in Health,
12 Food and Drink,
13 Sense of Place,
14 On this Day,
About the Author,