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Wednesday, April 14, 2010
In the 13th century an army of stonemasons was at work on building Norwich Cathedral. 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. Since then generations of drinkers have stepped into this characterful little gem of a pub in Norwich, probably, as the sign outside tell us, the citys oldest pub.
Probably longer. It seems that in Saxon times there was a well beneath what is now the lower bar, the oldest part of the pub. Its recorded history though begins in 1249 when those cathedral workers were the first recorded customers where they were paid in bread and ale. Monks from the Great Hospital, just down the road, were the first owners. They were known as great brewers, for medicinal purposes of course. In those days before we had drinks like tea and coffee, water being home to harmful bacteria was often too dangerous to drink. So people drank diluted small beer for their health particularly children. It was the monks who added living accommodation and the familiar Flemish-style gables. In 1578, during Queen Elizabeth Is grand visit to Norfolk, she passed by the pub during a procession to a torch-lit pageant on the river its not recorded if she popped in for a pint. Since those days the Adam and Eve has been home to an assortment of characters; from monks to smugglers, from cathedral choristers to a notorious murderer or two. It even has two recorded ghosts.
In medieval times it was always brewed on the premises. Many women had the job, for example the famous religious traveller Margery Kempe of Kings Lynn was that towns biggest brewer in the early 15th century. Until fairly modern times the tradition of the ale wife was maintained. Norwich was always known for its pubs; at one time the saying was a pub for every day of the week and a church for every week of the year. Those heady days are long gone; now there are about 200 pubs in the city.
The spectre of one of the medieval French-speaking monks supposedly buried beneath the floorboards in the downstairs bar has been glimpsed. Far more famous is Sam. This apparently friendly ghost is said to be that of Lord Sheffield. In 1549 Norwich erupted into violence when Wymondham landowner Robert Ketts rebels stormed the city. The fighting raged from the Bishop Bridge into Norwich, where Sheffield, an officer in the royal army, was mortally wounded. His men carried him into the Adam and Eve, where he died. Regulars to this day claim he occasionally makes off with a coat or scarf which is usually returned the next day or taps you on the shoulder. Either way, theres no cause for alarm. Today the pub is the starting and finishing point for the popular city ghost walk.
Coming towards the modern day, mid- 19th century landlady Elizabeth Howes owned a wherry which bore her name in which she brought in sacks of sand from Yarmouth. She sold this to pubs for their floors and spitoons, but the sand reputedly also contained illicit liquor. In those days of high import duty, many people avoided paying by this kind of smuggling; Elizabeth reputedly did a roaring trade in contraband. One of her customers may well have been George Borrow, the renowned Norwich writer and notoriously heavy drinker who coined the phrase A Fine City for Norwich as well as writing such works as Romany Rye and Lavengro. Murderers rubbed shoulders with the literati; in 1849 James Rush, supposedly an Adam and Eve regular, brutally murdered the recorder of Norwich, Isaac Jeremy, and his son. It was said he planned the deed over a beer in the pub. After his capture, a crowd of several thousand watched him hanged in front of Norwich Castle. It wasnt the first such brush with death; in 1800 a killing was committed near the pub in the grounds of the Great Hospital; after confessing the killer was also executed.
As society became more ordered in the latter part of the 19th century, the police began to ask some awkward questions. Large locked gates prevented them from supervising the pub in the early hours, and the Chief Constable of Norwich opposed the renewal of the Adams licence at the 1905 court sessions. Only by agreeing not to lock the gates were the licensees allowed to carry on serving. During the first world war, the 1915 Defence of the Realm Act introduced the strict licensing regime that was only altered late last year. Two licensees of the Adam John and Sophia Andrews were convicted in 1915 and 1920 of allowing consumption out of hours; the punishment was a 1 fine or 13 days detention.
Certainly not. The Adam was said to be the last pub in Norwich to serve from the wood. It was not until 1973 that the first bar was installed. Today it is a popular spot. Its position near the law courts ensures a colourful lunchtime clientele, from the legal profession and their clients as well as the local media. It is also very much on the tourist trail as well as a magnet for loyal regulars. Current licensee Rita McCluskey, who has been at the pub since 2000, is well aware of the pubs history. She sees everyone, staff and customers, as just a continuation of the long line of characters who from generation to generation make every pub the heart of its community.
Now thats something to drink to.
Adam and Eve, Bishopgate, Norwich. Telephone 01603 667423;