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Norwich, or better known as the City of Norwich, has always fascinated me ever since I landed in the UK to live and work. It’s a medieval city right down to the very core. I was waiting for the right time to actually visit the city and spend a day exploring. The opportunity came when my friend and fellow member for SFC East Anglia, Fred, invited me and my housemate Aubrey to visit the city.

Everyone in my circle knows how I am fascinated with the medieval era and its colorful, albeit dark history. It is something that had been catching my interest even when I was young. There is so much to learn from the lessons of the past to help us navigate the future better. When we arrived in Norwich, we were met by Fred, and we started our adventure in the hot, sunny weather that greeted us.

Norwich, a place of soaring spires, pub fires. Of rebels and rebellions, of sanctuary and faith. Its pie and mash on the 900-year old market and strangers becoming friends. Norwich is the most complete medieval city in England.

Going To Norwich

So, together with my housemate Aubrey, we got our tickets from Trainline / Greater Anglia Express and embarked on our journey via Stowmarket from Bury St Edmunds. We had changed platforms and then when we had arrived, I was so in awe of the architecture of the train station itself. It was as if I was transported to a different realm.

As we had arrived, we decided to grab some bite at the nearest food stop we can find, this time, Wetherspoons The Queen of Iceni. Hmm, the name itself got me a bit curious as to who this woman is.


How Norwich Came About

Iron Age

During the Roman conquest of Britain, the Celtic Iceni tribe occupied East Anglia. Boudicca, a fiercely strong, independent woman led an uprising against the Romans which sadly failed. The Romans established the regional capital of Venta Icenorum on the River Tas (a few miles south of Norwich). The ruins of this site can be explored at Caistor St. Edmund, which forms part of the Boudicca Way – a 36-mile footpath from Norwich to Diss.

A few hundred years later, Anglo-Saxon ‘Norvic’ had formed around the confluence of the Rivers Wensum and Yare. By 575AD King, Uffa had made Norvic a royal city and capital of East Anglia with its own mint. Saxon Norvic centered around Tombland, meaning ‘open space’ which is where the marketplace was located. Today this area is called The Cathedral Quarter. The Danes arrived on our eastern shores and in 869AD killed Edmund, the last King of the Angles. The Danes settled in large numbers and grew further through marriage. Their influence remains today in place names such as Pottergate and Finkelgate in the Norwich Lanes. Across Norfolk, you can find place names of Viking origin.

The Normans

The Norman Conquest of 1066 saw the invading forces establish their authority by building a Royal castle, clearing the original Saxon area of housing in the center of the city to construct a mound. The original castle was made of wood, although it was replaced by a stone building in around 1100. It was held on behalf of William the Conqueror by the Earl of Norwich. Under the Normans, Norwich steadily grew to become an important medieval city. In 1345 the King gave the castle to the city and it became the county gaol, with regular hangings outside. In 1549 Robert Kett, leader of a rebellion against the enclosure of common lands, was hung in chains from the walls.

In 1894 the newly converted Castle Museum & Art Gallery opened and remains to this day.

The construction of Norwich Cathedral began around the same time as the Norwich Castle and was an enormous undertaking. A canal was dug from the River Wensum at Pull’s Ferry to bring in limestone from Caen in Normandy. It took 200 years to complete the build. Norwich Cathedral boasts a glorious 96m high spire (second only to Salisbury) and also has the largest monastic cloisters in the country, housing more than 1,000 beautiful medieval roof boss sculptures.

It was the Normans who moved the Saxon marketplace in 1075 to the Mancroft area, where it has endured in the heart of the city for 900 years. Norwich Market is one of the largest and oldest open-air markets in the country with nearly 200 diverse stalls. It recently won the accolade ‘Best Outdoor Market’ in the UK for 2019.

Medieval Norwich

Medieval Norwich thrived, becoming the second city in the UK only to London. A wealth of medieval buildings were constructed such as the Guildhall, Dragon Hall, Strangers’ Hall, and St.Andrew’s Hall. The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell was originally a merchant’s house in 1345 and later became the Bridewell – a ‘house of correction’ for women and vagrants. Today, as a museum, it tells the story of the city and its people. Find housing exhibits of local industries from the textile trade, shoes, chocolate, and most famously – Colman’s mustard.

The medieval city walls were begun in 1297 and encircled 2.5 miles of the city, with 12 defensive gates fortified with great catapults. The ruins of the walls can still be seen today.

Norwich has long had ancient bonds with the Netherlands, which flourished through trade and cultural exchange during the sixteenth century. The persecution of Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands led to the Norwich authorities endorsing immigration to Norwich. These refugees from Europe were known as ‘Strangers’ and were mostly weavers bringing their valuable skills with them. They also brought us the infamous yellow canaries.

Check more about Norwich’s history HERE.

City of Stories

As it is known as the City of Stories, Norwich has captivated my inquisitive self. Walking along the streets of the old town, I had been able to see the famed Norwich Cathedral.

Norwich’s magnificent Romanesque Cathedral is open to visitors of all faiths and none. Set in 44 acres of beautiful grounds (known locally as the ‘village within the city) it’s an awe-inspiring, welcoming building with spectacular architecture, magnificent art, and fascinating history.

One of the finest complete Romanesque cathedrals in Europe, with the second tallest spire and largest monastic cloisters in England, the cathedral houses more than a thousand beautiful medieval roof boss sculptures. Take time to look up and explore them.

But the cathedral also has its secrets.

Look out for medieval graffiti which was uncovered in 2013 during a Norfolk Medieval Graffiti Survey. Some of the graffiti etched into stone depicts ships and ‘daisywheels’ however the messages found upside down could be a form of curse wishing bad fortune on unlucky individuals.

The cathedral offers a plethora of art with one of its star pieces being the c.1382 Despenser Retable – a wooden panel painting designed to stand at the back of an altar. The retable is one of the most magnificent surviving examples of late fourteenth-century church art anywhere in Europe.

The story goes that at the end of a meeting (around 1847), one of the clergies dropped a pencil. Bending down to pick it up, he noticed that the underside of the table was decorated. On closer inspection, the Despenser Retable was discovered, having been turned upside down probably at the Reformation or during the Civil War to be used as a tabletop to protect it from destruction. Make your way to the altarpiece in St Luke’s Chapel, situated at the southeast end of the cathedral to see it.

Norwich was once a big manufacturer of chocolate. Visit the cathedral copper font which was made from two copper bowls donated by Rowntree Mackintosh in 1994 after the closure of their Norwich factory.

Check out more about the Cathedral, HERE.

All these and more for the famed City of Stories. This is just a glimpse of what I had been able to experience in about 5 hours walking around the area. Next stop, I will then share my discoveries with the other spots that are a must-visit #WhenInNorwich.


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