December 10 2013 Latest news:
A castle once fit for a queen, Castle Rising’s story is one of conspicuous consumption, a statement of power and wealth – its decline is a warning that all such glory is fleeting.
The next time you visit the Norwich Beer Festival, held every autumn, you would do well to reflect on the history of the magnificent building you are in. For the St Andrew's Hall and Blackfriars Hall building in Norwich is unique and has a fascinating 800 year old story.
In the Middle Ages monasteries and castles dominated the English landscape If you want to step back into this world there is no better place in Norfolk than Castle Acre.
Standing sentinel on a bend of the River Wensum in Norwich, the circular Cow Tower cuts an incongruous figure. Now opposite new luxury housing along the city’s riverside it is a symbol of the medieval past. Yet the tower has had many uses in its long life – and is perhaps not the formidable defensive bulwark it at first appears.
For centuries Norwich has been the undisputed capital of Norfolk. But in Roman times you would have to travel a little further south to find the region’s most important settlement. Caistor St Edmund is the site where the Iceni of Roman Britain flourished for more than three centuries.
In 1995, fire tore through the Assembly House in Norwich. It was a setback for the great Georgian building, but it turned out to be just another chapter in 750 years of triumph and disaster.
“My most favourite work”. So wrote landscape gardener Humphry Repton of his achievements at Sheringham Park.
“The Norfolk parish church par excellence.” Thus architectural historian Nikolaus Pevsner praised St Peter Mancroft Church, Norwich. For 900 years this magnificent building has stood over the city’s market place. In the 21st century, it sits surprisingly harmoniously alongside a far more modern construction.
At the end of a country road, with few neighbours except cattle at a dairy farm, stands the home of a once-great Norfolk family. The shell of Baconsthorpe Castle is the story of the rise and fall of the Heydons.
Two tall towers compete for attention in Wymondham. If the stones could talk they would tell of centuries of rivalry in this Norfolk market town – and of some fascinating human stories.
In its picture-postcard setting, Framlingham Castle was the stage for earls, dukes, kings and queens to play out roles in history.
When film-makers sought a location for an adaptation of 18th century novel The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy they chose a real gem – Felbrigg Hall, near Cromer. But its story, and that of the Windham family, predates the Georgian era.
A lonely romantic setting, a history of scandal and even a ghostly legend. What more could you want?
Here is a mystery story. Just north of Dereham you will see signposts for North Elmham Cathedral. Yet the ruins you see in this quiet spot are those of both a private chapel and a fortified castle – one of many confusing aspects of this intriguingly atmospheric place.
Oxburgh Hall today looks as solid and immovable as a rock. Yet it has survived centuries of upheaval and political turmoil, and twice come close to destruction.
Tucked away by the banks of the River Wensum is probably the oldest dwellings in Norwich. In almost nine centuries it has been a merchant’s house, a sanctuary from violence, a brewery – and now a bar for an adult education centre.
The largest surviving medieval guildhall in England, St George’s owes it creation to the strong community spirit of 14th and 15th century tradesmen.
Appearances can be deceptive – and in the case of Wisbech Castle they hide a story in at least four parts. More like a house than a castle the current building in The Crescent dates from 1816, but the history of the site began nearly a thousand years ago. It has been a Norman fortress, a palace and a prison, Cromwell’s spymaster’s dwelling and the home of an eccentric local-boy-made-good. Today it is an educational centre. At least four different buildings have gone up on the site which, at its inception, covered a far larger site than it does today.
It’s a ruin now, but once Caister Castle was among the most desirable addresses in Norfolk. Back in 1469, 3,000 men wanted to live there at once.
Imposing and sober, Peckover House sits on Wisbech’s North Brink as solid as a bank. Which is appropriate really . . . For well over a century this fine Georgian building was known as Bank House. The name reflected the profession of the Peckover family who settled in Wisbech in the late 18th century and made a huge contribution over several generations. The frontage is deceptive. It hides a wonderful garden spreading way beyond the confines of one house, full of little nooks and crannies and some very human clues as to the nature of the family who lived there.
If ever one building could tell the story of a town, it is the Custom House at King’s Lynn.
When the Romans invaded Britain in 43AD they found a long-settled society. But how did these people live, and where? Archaeologists and historians are gradually piecing together the puzzle – and answers may be found at an open field in the middle of Norfolk.
“I was by birth a gentleman, living neither in any considerable height, nor yet in obscurity.” So wrote Oliver Cromwell of his origins – and you can see exactly how he lived at Ely.
Norwich owes much to the River Wensum. Once its lifeblood, it was the conduit for trade and people, linking the city to its historic European trading partners.
St Nicholas is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, so it is appropriate that an important port should have its parish church named after him.
“The work of giants is crumbling.” So it may have seemed to fifth century Saxon peasants as they looked on the crumbling walls of the mighty Roman forts built along the Norfolk coast.
St Benets Abbey is one of the most recognisable features in the Norfolk landscape. Isolated on an island in the marshes of the Broads, it has a number of claims to fame – as well as more than its fair share of supernatural connections.
Take a drive through the south Lincolnshire fens. The abbey dominates the flat landscape for miles around, a memorable sight silhouetted against the horizon. Croyland Abbey is a landmark that has stood for more than a thousand years.
Fire and plague – two of the medieval world’s greatest threats – put paid to Creake Abbey. A modest little place, it never had the best of luck and could not recover from these natural disasters.
One of the oldest museums and learned bodies in the country is not in London or Cambridge, but in the fenland market town of Spalding.
A castle in the middle of a town, once the lair of a rebel earl, the summerhouse of a romantic novelist – and perhaps the home of a ghostly hound.
She was a woman who succeeded in a man’s world. A pioneer whose ideas have influenced how people live and see the world around them – and you can see where it all began for her in Wisbech.
This is a tale of Saxon princesses, brave resistance fighters, builders of genius, England’s Lord Protector – and the odd saint or two.
Built to protect England’s east coast, Orford Castle fulfilled the role for its royal creator – and repeated it 800 years later.
By the banks of the River Nene in Wisbech stands a memorial to a largely forgotten hero.
Flooding has long been a risk on the Suffolk coast – and Leiston Abbey had to move inland to escape the encroaching sea.
Tucked secretively away down a country lane in picturesque North Norfolk, Oulton Chapel is a hidden gem.
Crime and punishment are always fascinating – and a trip to the Tolhouse shows us how it used to be done.
In 1216 King John’s treasury was lost somewhere in The Wash. But where? It’s time to don our wellies – and set off in search of buried treasure.
Just off the B1149 Corpusty to Norwich road stands a stone urn. It marks the scene of the last duel fought in Norfolk.
A 15th century house with many stories to tell has recently had a new lease of life.
“There are houses on each side, both of which you can touch with the fingertips of each hand by stretching out your arms to their full extent”. So wrote Charles Dickens in 1848 of Yarmouth’s Row houses.
A place of mystery for centuries, the true nature of Grime’s Graves has slowly revealed itself.
Today a quiet nature haven in the heart of Norwich, Mousehold Heath has seen its fair share of strife – as well as acting as inspiration to artists and writers.
The North Norfolk coastline is an area of outstanding natural beauty, popular with nature-lovers and walkers. But why are the former ports of the area set so far back from today’s coastline?The answer comes from both natural and manmade causes, and shows how history can leave a thriving place high and dry.
Norwich city walls are there for all driving around the inner ring road to see. Hard to believe that these strange heaps of rubble left over from the Middle Ages once stood at least 12ft high and were the pride of England’s second city.
Isolated and underpopulated, despised by contemporaries, the marshlands of West Norfolk produced stunning churches during the Middle Ages.
“I have only bought an Acre”, joked Norfolk lawyer Sir Edward Coke. This appalling pun was intended (and failed) to put King James I’s mind at rest about the extent of his Lord Chief Justice’s growing East Anglian estates. Yet at its peak Castle Acre was far more than that – it dominated this part of Norfolk.
Yarmouth’s Elizabethan House has witnessed more than 400 years of history, from alleged plotting of a king’s death to the return of a Norfolk hero.
The East Anglian fens are the bread basket of Britain. Long drained, it is hard to believe this was once untamed land, a watery outlaws’ hideout. Only at Wicken Fen can you now enjoy this walk on the wild side.
Peterborough Cathedral is a very old place set in one of the country’s newest towns.
Today it’s a bridge to nowhere. Trinity Bridge in the heart of Crowland sits at a road junction a long way away from any river. But before it was left high and dry the bridge was a vital crossing point in south Lincolnshire dating back to Anglo-Saxon times.
For more than 800 years Norwich’s first hospital has been helping the sick and needy. Its role has changed throughout the centuries, but it has remained constant.
For 900 years Norwich Cathedral has been at the heart of the city – but it has sometimes been a fraught relationship.
In a region where the balance between land and water has been measured in inches, Denver Sluice in West Norfolk helps maintain the equilibrium.
In the ultra-modern Riverside area of Norwich stands two oddly striking pillars – a memorial to an almost forgotten piece of industrial history .
This celebrated chapel, along with another in the same street, helps tell the long story of religious dissent in Norwich.
Artists, city fathers, dead criminals and the founders of the Eastern Daily Press have played a part in the colourful story of this Norwich church .
“Mr Lely, I desire you would use all your skill to paint your picture truly like me, and not flatter me at all; but remark all these roughness, pimples, warts, and everything as you see me; otherwise I will never pay a farthing for it.”. So said Oliver Cromwell when, at the height of his fame and power, his portrait was made by painter Sir Peter Lely...
Many a saint of God has breathed his last beneath that white precipice, midst flame and pitch; many a grisly procession has advanced… across the old bridge towards the Lollards hole…”
In 866AD a ‘Great Heathen Army’ arrived in Norfolk. It was the beginning of East Anglia’s Viking Age.
A medieval chapel, a rebel’s ‘castle’, a gasworks manager’s garden and a piggery. The place in Norwich known as Kett’s Heights has been all these things and more in the space of 900 years.
A sprawling mass of rubble and masonry – who would have thought it was one of the most important places in medieval East Anglia?
A farm gatehouse and some striking ruins in a field mark the spot where miracles were once performed.
As wind power becomes more important in 21st century East Anglia, we can see a working example of how our ancestors used it at Denver.
If you want to taste bread like the Romans made it, head to north Norfolk.
Another castle! Surely East Anglia was full of them… Weeting in south Norfolk is not actually a castle, but a fortified manor house. It may look like a crumbling ruin, but in its time there would have been few more pleasant places to live in the county.
Five centuries of civic pride are embodied in Norwich Guildhall. From the 15th to the 20th centuries the it has housed courts, a prison, council hall, a tourist information centre and now a cafe and the headquarters of an organisation devoted to safeguarding the city’s heritage. Many of the prominent characters in the history of Norwich have been involved in its story.
Thetford’s best-known son has had a mixed reputation in his home town.
A planned new town and a castle that was once a state-of-the-art installation. It’s all in the unassuming Norfolk village of New Buckenham. A planned town.
“May the fathers long tell the children about the tale.” Winston Churchill By the side of a road running through Thetford Forest stands a lone second world war tank. It’s hard to believe that this quiet spot was once temporary home to 14,000 men preparing for the greatest battle in British history.
An ancient forest with a dark tale – and a nature reserve loved by ramblers and conservationists. That is the mixed legacy of Wayland Wood.
In medieval times, it was the business to be in. All you needed was a lodge, a piece of clear land – and some rabbits.
A church that can truly be said to be on the side of the angels, St Wendreda’s can trace its history from an Anglo-Saxon princess through to an Australian war hero.
Peddars Way is popular with ramblers and cyclists. It is part of a national trail of long-distance paths that those who want to leave the modern world of speedy communications behind them for a while enjoy. But for what was it really built?
An abbey that looks like a farmhouse, and has been substantially altered over the years. It owes its survival to an aristocratic patroness, and included among its many tenants is a man who famously refused to give customers a choice.
It’s heaven for boaters, nature-lovers and walkers now, but once the Yare valley was Norfolk’s trade superhighway.
“When I am in the tennis court of my palace in Norwich,” said the Duke of Norfolk, “I think myself as great as the king”.
“More like a town in itself.” That was how 17th century writer John Leland described Bury St Edmunds Abbey. It’s a ruin now – but it takes little imagination to sense its former greatness.
Aristocratic excess and architectural boldness combine in the Suffolk countryside.
A monument to Victorian enthusiasm and eccentricity, Booton Church is often known as the Cathedral of the Fields.
Markets were the historical lifeblood of many Norfolk towns – and in Wymondham this tradition is illustrated by the town’s market cross.
It was known as the ‘rich’ and the ‘golden’. It was the fourth richest monastery in England, a centre of learning and an island of tranquillity. All that remains is a gatehouse.
Kingdom, the recent ITV series starring Stephen Fry, put Swaffham firmly on the tourist trail. But this attractive Norfolk town has a long way to go before it matches its 18th century appeal, when life was centred on its large market place.
There are many legends from the past of people who stumbled as if by magic upon fantastic riches. Few of these stories have much basis in fact – but in the case of the Pedlar of Swaffham we have a real man who helped build one of the finest churches in East Anglia.
Once it was southern England’s largest inland lake. Today, that water has long been drained for agriculture – but it may be about to make a partial comback.
An isolated remnant of a church tower in a field surrounded by sheep beneath a big Norfolk sky. What – and why?
Thousands of people leaving Norwich bus station in Surrey Street every day probably get an inkling of the splendours of Norwich Union’s headquarters. But its marble marvels have to be seen inside to be believed.
“It is a little paradise, delightsome as heaven itself”. So wrote William of Malmesbury in the 12th century after a visit to Thorney Abbey. This institution was founded by Anglo-Saxon hermits more than 1,300 years ago, but the church has since echoed to the sounds of French and German.
Elm Hill in Norwich recently took a role as a backdrop for Hollywood film, Stardust, starring Michelle Pfeiffer. It’s a new twist in a riches-to-rag-to-riches tale.
Probably the oldest part of Norwich, Tombland has been at the centre of dramatic events.
Just south of North Walsham, on the Norwich road, are three weathered stone crosses. They mark the spot where Norfolk’s Peasants’ Revolt came to a bloody end in 1381.
The opening in 2005 of Chapelfield shopping mall has helped put Norwich in the top retail bracket in the country. But the area has a long history, and has served the people of Norwich for centuries.
One of the longest streets in Norwich, the story of King Street begins before the city even existed.
The castle has been at the heart of Norwich for more than 900 years. Norwich Castle has played a number of roles in its history. Built by Norman invaders to cow the English, it helped make Norwich the capital of Norfolk, and became in turn a symbol of royal authority, a prison and finally a museum and art gallery.
At a time when mental illness was treated with inhumane brutality, in Norwich an enlightened woman had ideas ahead of her time.
Take a tour through our region’s magical, mysterious and quirky history with your guide, Peter Sargent.
You’ll meet historical figures and discover the secrets of our castles and churches. From ancient Grimes Graves to 20th century war memorials, you’ll find a wealth of interest
Which castle was used by Mary Tudor in 1553 as a base to rally support
against Jane Grey?
2. Which church was known for a time as St Peter of Gloucester?
3. Where could you spot a lone second world war tank, a tribute to the
4. Who encouraged the creation of small open spaces in cities to bring
“the healthy gift of air and joy of plants and flowers”?
5. Where could you find 1,000 species of moth and butterfly?
6. A farm gatehouse and some striking ruins in a field mark the spot
where miracles were once performed… but where?
Who was the Count of the Saxon Shore?
8. Where in 1871 would you have found the Rope and Atkins families hard
9. Where can you find a warreners’ lodge? And what is it?
10. Who was excommunicated by the pope for maintaining a mistress in
These thirsty, hungry men needed a place to drink some
ale and eat some bread in congenial surroundings. And the Adam and Eve
public house sprang up where they could do just that.
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As wind power becomes more important in 21st century East Anglia, we can see a working example of how our ancestors used it at Denver.
Modern wind turbines seem to be sprouting up every day across the region, producing sometimes controversial ‘green’ energy. But harnessing the power of the wind for industry is nothing new.
A mill has stood on the site at Denver, near Downham Market on the edge of the fens, since at least the early 19th century.
For almost half of its 850-year history, Denny Abbey was just that. But appearances are misleading. Its story is like a historical jigsaw puzzle, for the building has had many different inhabitants and uses.
As with so many historical buildings you have to imagine how it once was. What looks like a roofless hulk now was, in its heyday, richly-decorated and furnished – and designed to impress friend and foe.
Tile remains indicate the Romans were the first to settle at this West Norfolk coastal site, probably beginning the process of reclaiming land from the sea. It is close to modern King’s Lynn, but Lynn did not exist until the 11th century.