OPINION: Seventy years on from my first visit, Norwich still impresses

So many rewards arise for you from Norwich, says Paul Thomas, who first visited from London in the early 1950s

So many rewards arise for you from Norwich, says Paul Thomas, who first visited from London in the early 1950s - Credit: Getty Images

So what is the image of the city of Norwich, Paul Burall asked us on this site on March 22?

And next day’s government news that Covid restrictions may continue to keep us mainly in this country only for years – what indeed for our great Norwich, and Norfolk?

Oh what a challenge, a heart-stirring question – and as “just a Londoner” I relish giving you my answers, for they are so so important as I speak of the medieval ages’ second most important city in England and now where it is today… potentially hereafter!

I grew up in London, with East End streets and industry, a few parks and greens, as my setting.

My first decade of life was good, thanks to my parents – but then at 11 years old, a special treat awaited me. I passed my Eleven-plus exam, back in the early 1950s giving me a free passage into a public school.

My parents asked me what I’d like as a prize – and I said a boating holiday on the Norfolk Broads and visiting Norwich, which my history teacher had told me about.

That started it all.

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I fell for Norfolk, boats, the Broads, Norwich and the coast in a big way.

My parents had virtually no knowledge of “here” – but as they always did, honoured their promise and Norfolk and its wonderful city became so important to us.

Happily they subsequently retired to Gorleston-on-Sea and passed away there.

Norfolk enabled me to flourish workwise… and I even became accepted by lots of Norfolk folk, even my Norfolk-born wife bless her. We produced two Norfolk-born daughters, one delivering a Norfolk granddaughter for us. As a long-term visitor I shall be happy to pass on here too.

Norwich is so many things… today only a two-hour drive, or train journey, from my London – but Norwich’s charm, easy access, variety of attractions – and history – shape its unique image.

A majestic cathedral towering above it, the River Wensum flowing through the centre, plus being a city reputed to have a church for every week and a pub for every day of the year - which subsequently I discovered was an understatement on pubs, so well used! What more could you ask?

Norwich has always had a connection with visitors. It started in the fifth century when Anglo-Saxons moved in to a little town, growing it fast - in 1004 Danes invaded and burned it down.

True to its life ever since, it grew again, to 6,000 population and more than a century later, in 1194, King Richard I of England granted Norwich city status. It went on to become a centre of trade in many products, especially wool, contributing to the growth of its economy.

In the 1600s it became England’s second largest city – with a population of 25,000 – today it is nearing 200,000, eight times that.

Over the centuries Norwich has had it tough, the Bubonic plague, food starvation, civil unrest, major unemployment, cheap imports. But it seems always to win, I say! Even at football, though that too is an up and down life! Yes – and so to today.

Its character has grown and changed… with artistic, cultural and intellectual input rising, some industries, shoe-making included, fading.

But much has flourished, including tourism and hospitality. Delivered under a wonderful wide sky, often blue and sunny. Plus to its ultimate University of East Anglia.

For me, having learned journalistic skills in East London and Fleet St, but partly here too – it led me into starting a publicity business which boomed – because of great-to-become Norwich and Norfolk businesses we helped to grow nationally, even worldwide.

It’s a very social county and city with lots of friendly and ambitious people who welcome we 'outsiders', lots of my fellow 'foreigners' living here confirm.

During the pandemic, if you live outside Norwich, a treat for me has been rare, a couple of 'must for work' trips into the city.

Yes, so many rewards arise for you from Norwich. And with the recent news on no foreign holidays, it will become even more vital, welcoming.

But, finally I must just re-state my “first” city, is London.

Until the pandemic, often I used to go and spend two or three days there… but then, that was enough – I longed to drive back to Norwich and Norfolk, not for two or three days, but two or three weeks before my next London visit.

Now, my passport at the ready (ha ha) I await a London visit.

Before, after a couple of days, wanting to head back – and yes that is to Norwich and Norfolk.

My real home? Perhaps.