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13 places in Norwich that hold the secrets to its history

New book 'Norwich at Work' celebrates the city’s history and people and how its trades have transformed over the centuries Credit: Tony Scheuregger

New book 'Norwich at Work' celebrates the city's history and people and how its trades have transformed over the centuries Credit: Tony Scheuregger

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From the fish trade to footwear, around Norwich there are nods to the city's trade and industry over the centuries and how it has changed.

New book 'Norwich at Work: People And Industries Through The Years' by history writer and researcher Sarah E. Doig, who grew up in Bury St Edmunds, celebrates the city's history and people.

The book takes readers on a journey from prosperous Norwich in the Middle Ages and charts the growth and decline of trades such as textiles, brewing and footwear to the present day, with the rise of theatre and media.

A lot of Norwich's success is to do with its geographical setting, with its excellent connections by land and water, which allowed the city to develop from a small collection of Saxon farmsteads into the second largest city in medieval England, a rank it held until the Industrial Revolution.

Here are 13 places around the city which hold the secrets to the city's vibrant past...

Norwich’s Guildhall was the centre of city government from the early fifteenth century until 1938. The Assembly Chamber was designed for meetings of the full medieval council. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Norwich’s Guildhall was the centre of city government from the early fifteenth century until 1938. The Assembly Chamber was designed for meetings of the full medieval council. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

1. Norwich Guildhall

By the beginning of the fifteenth century, when a royal charter of 1404 established a merchant guild, all trades and occupations in Norwich were controlled by an elected council of freemen.

Construction of Norwich Guildhall, which still stands today, began in 1407 and this was used by the officials to govern the city and remained the commercial and administrative hub until the new City Hall was completed in 1938.

In total around 150 different crafts and trades were carried out in medieval Norwich, with around half the working population of the city engaged in manufacture of some kind, with the leather and cloth trades dominating.

The remains of one of the Boom Towers, near Carrow Bridge, between which a barrier could be lowered.
(Photo by Tony Scheuregger)The remains of one of the Boom Towers, near Carrow Bridge, between which a barrier could be lowered. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

2. Carrow Bridge

Fish was a vital part of the medieval diet for rich and poor alike. Church rules forbade the eating of meat on certain days of the year, including during Lent, and so fish was always in demand.

Norwich was an important centre for the herring trade in the early Middle Ages and the fish was caught off the east coast and brought into Great Yarmouth, where they were transported by river into Norwich.

Access to the wharves and quays in the centre were strictly controlled by Boom Towers, which allowed a barrier to be lowered between them,

St Peter Mancroft towers over the marketplace, providing spiritual support for the traders as it has done for centuries. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)St Peter Mancroft towers over the marketplace, providing spiritual support for the traders as it has done for centuries. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

3. Norwich Market

The market in Norwich has been the centre of both trade and administration for centuries and before the Norman Conquest it was in Tombland.

When the Normans built the castle, the market was moved to its present site, where those in the castle could keep a closer eye on commercial transactions.

This Great Market soon covered a huge area with rows of permanent stalls and each set of stalls was designated for certain trades with the fishmongers rubbing shoulders with the butchers and the skinners with the drapers.

The Strangers Hall Museum which was once at the centre of the textile industry. Credit: Denise BradleyThe Strangers Hall Museum which was once at the centre of the textile industry. Credit: Denise Bradley

4. Strangers Hall'

The continued success of the textile industry in Norwich can, to a large extent, be attributed to the arrival of the 'Strangers'.

Norwich had suffered an economic downturn in the mid-sixteenth century and on factor was the success of lighter, foreign fabrics known as New Draperies, including lace, ribbons and stockings. Local leaders, including the Duke of Norfolk and the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Sotherton, came up with an idea to invite master weavers from the Low Countries to settle in Norwich.

So, in 1566, 24 Dutch and six French-speaking weavers arrived in Norwich with their families, apprentices and servants. Strangers' Hall in Charing Cross was where Mayor Sotherton lived and its present-day name comes from the fact that some of the foreign newcomers to the city may well have lodged with him.

No. 18 Colegate is a grand Georgian town house built by the wealthy Harvey family of textile merchants. It is where they lived and did business. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)No. 18 Colegate is a grand Georgian town house built by the wealthy Harvey family of textile merchants. It is where they lived and did business. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

5. No. 18 Colegate

The Norwich worsted trade grew rapidly in the eighteenth century and it was this wool trade that kept the city's economy so strong. A range of new fabrics were developed, some of which were made from pure worsted and some from a worsted and silk mix.

Norwich cloths had powerful champions such as Robert Walpole, Britain's first prime minister, who ensured that court mourning dress was made from Norwich crepes.

The Harvey family were textile merchants who needed a home which doubled-up as a showroom, workshop and warehouse and lived at No.18 Colegate, whilst they exported their cloths across Europe, the Far East and South America.

The Assembly House has provided a venue for concerts, balls, exhibitions and plays for nearly 300 years. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)The Assembly House has provided a venue for concerts, balls, exhibitions and plays for nearly 300 years. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

6. The Assembly House

By the start of the eighteenth century, Norwich society had a sizeable group of individuals who considered themselves the so-called 'middling sort'.

They comprised tenant farmers, tradesmen and shopkeepers and they had both money and leisure time with which they wanted to enjoy themselves.

Norwich therefore became one of the foremost entertainment venues in the country and in 1754, architect Thomas Ivory redesigned an existing building for use as an entertainment centre for assemblies, concerts and dances, called The Assembly House.

Norwich Station opened in 1886 Credit: Lesley BuckleyNorwich Station opened in 1886 Credit: Lesley Buckley

7. Norwich Station

The coming of the railway to Norwich was an obvious godsend to industry and commerce in the city.

The first station, situated in the then village of Thorpe, was opened in April 1844 with regular passenger services running between Norwich and Great Yarmouth. This was quickly followed by a route to London via Cambridge and Bishop's Stortford.

With traffic growing, it was apparent a new station was required in Norwich and so one was built at a cost of £60,000 to the north of the original station, opening in 1886, which is the only one remaining.

In 1849, Norwich Victoria station opened at the southern end of St Stephen's Street, which allowed passengers to travel to and from London via Ipswich. This continued until 1916 when it operated goods services only until its demolition in the 1970s.

Off Kilderkin Way, once the site of Morgan’s brewery, is this war memorial commemorating employees of the breweries who lost their lives in various conflicts. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Off Kilderkin Way, once the site of Morgan’s brewery, is this war memorial commemorating employees of the breweries who lost their lives in various conflicts. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

8. Norwich Breweries War Memorial (Off Kilderkin Way)

Brewing in Norwich has a long and distinguished history, but it was in the Victorian era that the industry boomed. In 1783, there had been nine breweries in the city but in 1836 there were 27.

The Conisford Brewery, later known as the Old Brewery, in King Street had probably existed in some form for some three centuries before brothers John and Walter Morgan bought it, along with 54 public houses. Morgan's subsequently took over a number of other breweries in Norfolk, resulting in a portfolio of over 600 tied houses by the early 1900s.

Various takeovers and mergers in the twentieth century resulted in Watney Mann emerging as the only major brewer in the city. In 1985 it closed, bringing to an end a long tradition of large-scale brewing in Norwich.

The Adam and Eve pub is the oldest in Norwich (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)The Adam and Eve pub is the oldest in Norwich (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

9. Adam and Eve pub

Present-day visitors to Norwich are often told that there used to be one pub for every day in the year.

This was certainly true in the early 1800s. However, by the end of the nineteenth century this had risen to well over 600 licensed premises, including beer and refreshment houses, although today probably only a couple of hundred remain.

The Adam and Eve in Bishopsgate, close to the cathedral, is widely acknowledged to be the oldest pub in the city and earliest references date back to 1249 when it was used as a brewhouse for the monks at the nearby Great Hospital.

Many of Colman'’s buildings still line the river. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Many of Colman'’s buildings still line the river. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

10. Carrow Works Factory

The names of Colman's and Norwich are synonymous to most people across the country.

It is therefore sad that the last jar of the firm's iconic mustard rolled off the production line in July 2019 to be followed shortly afterwards by its employees.

J. & J. Colman started life as a milling firm in the nearby village of Stoke Holy Cross and there Jeremiah Colman took over a fledgling mustard business in 1814, improving the quality of production and machinery.

Crystal House was damaged by wartime bombing but was later repaired. Recent uses have been as a furniture warehouse and as a toy and model shop. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Crystal House was damaged by wartime bombing but was later repaired. Recent uses have been as a furniture warehouse and as a toy and model shop. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

In the late 1850s, Colman moved his business to a site in Carrow, Norwich, which was convenient for both river and rail transportation and it received a royal warrant in 1866 to supply mustard to Queen Victoria.

11. Crystal House

Crystal House in Cattle Market Street was built in 1862 and was inspired by its namesake, the Crystal Palace in London, which was constructed to house the Great Exhibition.

The Crystal House was built for Holmes & Sons, a firm of machine engineers, who stayed in the building until the company ceased trading in 1905.

Now put to very different use as the home of Jane Austen College, the old Norvic Shoe Company Ltd – formerly Howlett & White – factory premises. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Now put to very different use as the home of Jane Austen College, the old Norvic Shoe Company Ltd – formerly Howlett & White – factory premises. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

The unusual front of the building uses metal columns and metal-framed windows, allowing natural light to flood in.

12. Jane Austen College

In the first half of the twentieth century, a new industry dominated the economic life of Norwich.

The textile trade had all but disappeared and had been replaced by shoe and boot making and in the 1930s when there were nearly 11,000 employees involved in the manufacture of boots and shoes in Norwich.

Archant can trace its roots back to 1845, with the founding of the weekly Norfolk News by four free-thinking Norfolk businessmen. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)Archant can trace its roots back to 1845, with the founding of the weekly Norfolk News by four free-thinking Norfolk businessmen. (Photo by Tony Scheuregger)

There were several firms that were major producers with national reputations, such as Haldensteins, Sextons and Norvic, the latter which has now seen its former premises become the home of Jane Austen College.

13. Prospect House

The eighteenth century had witnessed the introduction of regional newspapers in the country; in fact, in 1701 the Norwich Post became England's first provincial newspaper.

In Norfolk, other prominent early newspapers were the Norwich Mercury, Norfolk Chronicle and the Norfolk News. Then, in 1870, the Eastern Daily Press was launched.

Norwich At Work: People And Industries Through The Years by Sarah E. Doig, with photographs by Tony Scheuregger Credit: Amberley BooksNorwich At Work: People And Industries Through The Years by Sarah E. Doig, with photographs by Tony Scheuregger Credit: Amberley Books

In the following 130 years, mergers and acquisitions of various regional news organisations resulted in the large media company Archant, which has its headquarters in Norwich and produces over 140 newspapers and lifestyle magazines covering the whole of the country.

READ MORE: 11 secrets to Norwich's past hidden in plain sight

Norwich At Work: People And Industries Through The Years by Sarah E. Doig, with photographs by Tony Scheuregger, and is available from all Norwich bookshops and online at amberley-books.com



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