Meet one of the most brilliant men Norwich has produced
PUBLISHED: 18:53 08 August 2017 | UPDATED: 18:53 08 August 2017
He sits in a part of Norwich close to where his rather stately home and magnificent garden house stood... today they would be regarded as civic treasures but they have been demolished. The first 175 years ago in 1842, and the second during the 60s when the demolition ball was in full swing.
And now the area of the city where his statue takes pride of place looks very different.
This is the Haymarket and Hay Hill, and the gentleman who has a statue there and a road named after him off Dereham Road is Sir Thomas Browne – one of the most brilliant men ever to have lived in Norwich.
He sits, resting his head on his hand, contemplating a broken urn – or is it a skull? - as the area around him is changing once again, with another building coming down and new one going up to meet the demands of 21st century shoppers.
His home stood on the corner of Orford Place, in front of the Lamb Inn. The Victorians got rid of that and put up the Orford Chambers although they did adorn it with a panel honouring Browne.
The garden house with its fine ornamented ceiling became the property of George Green who ran his large outfitters business in the Haymarket. It was turned into the Livingstone Hotel, a favourite watering hole for commercial travellers.
The building were then demolished in 1960 to make way for more “modern” outlets – and the garden house with its stunning ceiling came tumbling down. No-body bothered about that at the time.
No-wonder Thomas Browne looks so depressed.
He lived in the city from 1636 until his death in 1682 and was a physician, a philosopher, a literary lion and a wonderful character from the Elizabethan era – the most famous man from Norwich in his day.
Born in London in 1605, he studied botany as a boy before going to Pembroke College, Oxford, where he out-paced his tutors. He travelled abroad, studied medicine and learnt several languages.
When he was 31 he was moved to Norwich at a time when it was, after London, the largest city in the realm. He spent the rest of his life here becoming our most prominent and wealthy citizen.
His home was described as having botanical gardens and a zoo. “A paradise and cabinet of rarities” for all kinds of plants, animals and birds – dead and alive.”
Imagine that if it was still in the heart of the city!
Married to Dorothy they had nine daughters as well as a “son or two.” He wrote many important books and most famous book was Religio Medici about faith in relation to his profession as a physician.
It was published in six languages. He was one of the first men to become a real Doctor of Medicine.
King Charles II bestowed a knighthood when he visited Norwich in 1671.
He died 11 years later and was buried in his parish church, St Peter Mancroft, well, most of him was.
Browne had written a book called Urn Burials and he knew all about grave-robbing. He was a victim when his skull was sold to a Norwich doctor and then kept in a hospital museum until it was returned to its proper place in the 1920s.
On his death Lady Dorothy set up a memorial bearing his coat of arms in the chancel of St Peter’s.
Many, many years later, in 1905, it was finally agreed to honour him.
Civic fathers, distinguished visitors gathered on the Hay Hill for the ceremonial unveiling of the statue of Sir Thomas Browne – the one we see today to remind us of him. At the time it was surrounded by a garden, with grass, flower beds and trees.
At the time it was a rural oasis of tranquillity in the heart of the city... no more.