Thomas Browne’s World


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Knighted by King Charles II in St Andrew’s Hall, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was probably Norwich’s most famous inhabitant of the seventeenth century. He was born in London, the son of a silk merchant and, after being educated in Oxford, Padua, Montpellier and Leiden, settled in Norwich where he practiced as a physician until he died [1].


Sir Thomas Browne, from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

He was famed as a polymath whose writings reveal an inquisitive mind that explored subjects as diverse as: the fault line between his training as a physician and the Christian faith (in Religio Medici, 1643); his debunking of myths and falsehoods (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646); the incidence of the number five in patterns in nature (The Garden of Cyrus, 1658); and his celebrated and lyrical musings about death, prompted by the discovery of funerary urns in a Norfolk field (Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall, 1658).

This was at a time when modern science was in its infancy. The scientific method, promoted by Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), involved framing hypotheses based on observations viewed through the filter of scepticism.


Sir Francis Bacon 1561-1626. From Gainsborough Old Hall, artist unknown

Browne was appropriately sceptical in his examination of Vulgar Errors (Pseudodoxia Epidemica) like: Does a carbuncle give off light in the dark? and, Do dead kingfishers make good weathervanes? Yet this was the ‘person of great knowledge’ whose testimony, that he had heard of similar cases of witchcraft in Denmark, led to two women being hanged in Bury St Edmunds. But the Enlightenment had barely got going and the proto-scientist Browne found himself straddling two worlds that had yet to drift apart – even Sir Isaac Newton sought the philosopher’s stone that would turn base metal into gold.

My first encounter with Sir Thomas was when I was trying to understand how plant cells and other solid bodies pack together [2]. I had gained some insight from another early scientist, Stephen Hales (1677-1761). By squashing a pot of pea seed then counting the number of flat faces impressed onto each seed by its neighbours, Hales came up with the number 12. You can make a dodecahedron by joining together 12 pentagons, making one of only a handful of ‘ideal’ solid bodies (another is a cube made of six squares). Plato knew this [3].  


Rotating dodecahedron. By André Kjell, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0

But in real life, the shapes of plant cells are far from perfect and don’t pack together neatly like Platonic Lego. Instead,  they tend, on average, to be 14-sided and each side tends, on average, to be a pentagon [3]. Nevertheless, this idea of fiveness took me back a further century to fellow citizen Thomas Browne.


Frontispiece to The Garden of Cyrus (1658). The founder of the first Persian Empire, Cyrus, is believed to have based the optimal spacing lattice for planting trees on the quincunx.

In The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincuncial Lozenge (1658) [4] Browne developed his ideas about the quincunx – the X-shape with four points forming a square or rectangle with a fifth point in the centre.  IMG_2496

Browne saw this pattern throughout nature; he saw the quincunx on the trunk of the ‘Sachell palme’ and in the fruits of pineapple, fir and pine. In ragweed and oak he also noted that successive leaves followed a spiral, with every fifth lined up along the stem. These were, before the word, explorations into phyllotaxis or the pattern in which leaf buds emerge from the shoot tip (paired, alternating, spiral). Now, more than 300 years later, the spiral pattern is known to be far more complex than the quincunx. The number of intersecting left-handed-and right-handed spirals tend to be successive numbers on the Fibonacci series, usually 5 and 8, or 8 and 13. (Fibonacci’s series is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc, where the next number is the sum of the last two). Browne may not have been correct but he was there in the first flush of modern science and deserves credit for offering a mathematical basis for patterns in nature.

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Left- and right-handed spirals in the base of a pine cone. Picture © Paul Garrett [5].

Many of the words from Sir Thomas Browne’s writings have found their way into the  Oxford English Dictionary; indeed, he stands 25th in the list of contributors [1]. Sadly, ‘retromingent’ – for peeing backwards – never made it into the OED but many others did, including:

electricity, pubescent, polarity, prototype, rhomboidal, archetype, flammability, follicle, hallucination, coma, deductive, misconception, botanical, incontrovertible, approximate, and an early example of ‘computer’.

Despite the scepticism required of a follower of Bacon, and ‘the scandal of my profession‘, Browne remained a convinced Christian who examined his spiritual beliefs in his most famous book, Religio Medici [6].


1736 edition of Browne’s Religio Medici. Courtesy of Glasgow University Library

He was surprisingly tolerant for his time. In the first unauthorised edition of Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) in 1642, Browne expressed unorthodox religious ideas including the extension of toleration to infidels and those of other faiths. When the authorised version appeared the following year some of the controversial views had been excised but this didn’t prevent its inclusion on the papal list of prohibited books.

Browne’s major works were written in Norwich, at his house near St Peter Mancroft, close to the Norman marketplace.


Browne’s world. Cole’s map of 1807 shows Thomas Browne’s house (red) and St Peter Mancroft (yellow) with the Haymarket between.


Thomas Browne’s House off the Haymarket, by AW Howlings 1907. This version is changed little from a drawing of 1837 when the pairs of windows either side of the corner pillar were bow-fronted. Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1907.33.2.  

inside house

The fireplace and overmantel from Sir Thomas Browne’s House by Miss Ellen Day and Mrs Luscombe 1841.Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: FAW19.

After posting this article, Wayne Kett of the Museum of Norwich informed me that this overmantel was in storage as part of their collection. One source had indicated that the coat of arms was that of James I but it seems to be that of Charles II, which makes mores sense since – as we will see – it was he who knighted Browne.

Dr Browne’s overmantel ©Norfolk Museums Service

In 1671, the royal court of Charles II came to Norwich. The diarist and gardener John Evelyn was part of the entourage and wrote, “His whole house and garden is a Paradise & Cabinet of rarities, & that of the best collection, especially Medails, books, Plants, natural things” … “amongst other curiosities, a collection of the Eggs of all the foule & birds he could procure … as Cranes, Storkes … & variety of waterfoule” [6]. What Evelyn saw was the first attempt at listing the birds of Norfolk.

The house was demolished in 1842 but we know – because a green plaque tells us so –that it stood approximately where Pret a Manger is now housed in Haymarket Chambers, at the junction with Orford Place. Historian AD Bayne confirms that ‘Sir Thomas Browne is supposed to have lived in the last house of the southern end of the Gentleman’s Walk, where the Savings Bank now stands’ [7]. But the bank stood in the way of progress.

Haymerket chambers norwich ribapix.jpg

Former site of Sir Thomas Browne’s house. Pret a  Manger currently occupies the ground floor of George Skipper’s Haymarket Chambers (1901-2). It was originally home to JH Roofe’s superior grocery store with the Norwich Stock Exchange above. ©RIBApix

To allow the new trams to turn the corner more easily into Orford Place, the Norfolk and Norwich Savings Bank was demolished and replaced with Skipper’s curved design. The corner-cutting is shown on the 1884 OS map that we’ll bear in mind while trying to figure out where Browne’s Garden House lingered on from 1844 to 1961.

Browne's Garden House

Green star = Green’s Outfitters; red Star = Star Inn; yellow line = Livingstone Hotel; purple line = Green’s Orford Place branch; blue circle = approximate site of Browne’s Garden House.  OS map 1884

According to George Plunkett, numbers 3-5 Orford Place (Little Orford Street on above map), which was demolished in 1956, had a stone inscription stating that this was the site (probably the side) of Thomas Browne’s house [8]. But Plunkett placed Browne’s timber-framed garden house a little distance from the main house, between the Livingstone Hotel (yellow line) and Green’s shop (green star). He said, ‘only the peak of its tall attic gable visible above the roof of the adjacent Lamb Inn’. So it couldn’t have been in Lamb Inn yard, adjacent to the former site of Browne’s house.

Orford Hill 16 Livingstone Hotel [1361] 1936-08-30.jpg

The Livingstone Temperance Hotel 1936 ©

Later, Green’s the Outfitters, whose main shop faced the Haymarket, opened a branch next door to the Livingstone in Orford Place and this will furnish us with an eye-witness description of Browne’s Garden House. In 1961, both buildings were demolished to make way for a Littlewoods Department Store, in turn replaced by Primark.


Green’s Orford Place Branch, post 1936. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

On the opposite (Haymarket) side of this block of buildings, Green’s main branch stood adjacent to Skipper’s Haymarket Chambers. The slight bend in the building line marks where, around 1900, Green’s expanded into the former Star Hotel.


Green’s in 1959. The upper floors of Skipper’s Haymarket Chambers are just visible, right, separated from Green’s by the entrance to the Lamb Inn. Photo courtesy of Archant Library.

Browne’s main house disappeared long before modern ideas of conservation, but the loss of his garden house in 1961 now seems an inexcusable loss. His botanical garden had been admired by John Evelyn and ‘Fellows of the Royal Society (thought it) well worthy of a long pilgrimage’ [7]. Our Protestant Dutch refugees – who held annual competitions called Florists’ Feasts [9] – imported a love of plant breeding and it would be surprising if, in such an environment, Browne’s garden was restricted to medicinal plants.

In 1950, Noël Spencer visited Greens when they ‘were using the Livingstone as a shop and, while making a purchase there (i.e., Green’s Orford Place branch), I noticed an ancient building in the yard behind, and obtained permission to draw it [10].’ This places the Garden House in the yard marked with a blue dot on the 1888 map.


Drawing by Noel Spencer, former Head of the Norwich School of Art, of Sir Thomas Browne’s Garden House before its demolition in 1961. From [10] ©Estate of Noel Spencer. 

Further confirmation for the location of Browne’s Garden House came after this article was posted. On Twitter, Bethan Holdridge – Assistant Curator at Strangers’ Hall Museum – replied, mentioning that two of Browne’s Garden House doors in the museum were listed as being given by ‘Messrs Littlewood’ 1961. Also, ‘lying behind former Livingstone Hotel, Castle Street; part of premises of Messrs Green, outfitter 9 and 10 Haymarket.’

To supplement his home garden Sir Thomas leased a plot of land from the Cathedral, known as Browne’s Meadow. In his Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century, Hugh Aldersey-Williams writes that Browne ‘let it go’, to see what would grow if untended [1]. After Browne died, the ground was used to produce vegetables for the Cathedral, then used as allotments for residents of Cathedral Close. Now it is a car park.


‘Browne’s Meadow’ on the south side of the Cathedral Close 

In his book, Urn Burial (1658), Browne explored thoughts prompted by the discovery of funerary urns in a  field some 12 miles north of Norwich: ‘Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us’.


Frontispiece of Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial 1658

This was in the parish of Brampton, near the Pastons’ Oxnead Park where Sir Robert Paston had dug up urns containing ashes and coins (perhaps to pay the ferryman). In the early 1800s the historian Blomefield visited the field where he observed that urns were buried close enough to the surface to have been skimmed by the ploughshare. He observed that this site was near a fortified Roman town and that the Roman name Brantuna meant ‘the place where bodies were burned‘ [11].

Sir Thomas Browne died on the 19th October 1682, having eaten too plentifully of a Venison Feast [12]. He was buried in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft, some 200 yards from his house.


Sir Thomas Browne’s wall monument in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft. The lower panel records that he lies near the foot of this pillar.

In 1905, equidistant between his house and church, the city commemorated an adopted son by unveiling one of its rare statues. From his vantage point above the old hay market, Browne holds the base of a Romano-British funerary urn and meditates on death.

Browne asked,  “… who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracles of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered? … To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations [13].” This turned out to be a premonition.

Sir Thomas Browne lay undisturbed until 1840 when workmen are said to have broken the lid of the lead coffin with a pickaxe while digging the grave of Mrs. Bowman, wife of the then Vicar of St. Peter Mancroft. Mr Fitch, a local antiquarian, was suspiciously at hand and it is not clear whether the desecration was accidental or deliberate. Either way, the sexton, George Potter, removed the skull and some hair. The skull came into the possession of the surgeon, Edward Lubbock, upon whose death it passed to the old Norwich and Norfolk Hospital Museum on St Stephen’s Road (read various explanations of this dubious episode in 12-15). Despite requests from the church, the skull remained on display at the hospital and was only reunited with Browne’s bones in 1922.Screenshot 2020-06-25 at 15.31.29.png

At the time of the reinterral the registrar recorded Browne’s age as 317.Screenshot 2020-06-25 at 15.50.17.png

Sir Thomas’s coffin plate, which had broken in two during attempts to remove it, had also been ‘mislaid’. One half of this 7×6 inch brass plate lies with other Browne memorabilia in a glass case in the St Nicholas Chapel of St Peter Mancroft.

IMG_2477 2

The accompanying text makes interesting reading, stating that it was collector and antiquary Robert Fitch who further disturbed Browne’s peace by removing his skull. 

An impression of the coffin plate revealed an inscription probably composed by his eldest son Edward, physician to Charles II, and President of the College of Physicians [15].


Impression from the coffin plate of Sir Thomas Browne [14].

The inscription ends, ‘With the dust of this alchemical body he converts lead into gold’  –  something denied even the great Sir Isaac Newton.


Thomas Browne’s knighthood: Ambiguity surrounds the circumstances of Thomas Browne’s knighthood. In 1671 King Charles II and his court came to Norwich where he stayed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace off present-day Duke Street (causing the famous indoor tennis court to be converted into kitchens). The corporation paid £900 for a sumptuous banquet at the New Hall (now St Andrew’s Hall) after which the king conferred honours.


The New Hall, where Browne was knighted, once belonged to the Black Friar’s but was bought for the city from Henry VIII. The Duke’s Palace is to the left. From Samuel King’s map, 1766

According to some accounts Browne was unexpectedly knighted when the mayor, variously named as Henry Herne or Thomas Thacker, ‘earnestly begged to be refused’ and so the honour passed along the line. This played into the idea that a promiscuous monarch with several mistresses was as free in conferring honours as he was lax in his private life. Apparent confirmation of the king’s fickleness came within 24 hours when King Charles knighted 13-year-old Henry Hobart at Blickling. But Trevor Hughes picked out inconsistencies between various accounts, such as uncertainty about the name of the reticent mayor [16]. A more sympathetic  interpretation was given by historian Philip Browne who wrote: ‘After dinner his majesty conferred the knighthood on Dr Thomas Browne, one of the most learned and worthy persons of the age. The mayor, Thomas Thacker esq. declined the honour’ [17]. That is, the internationally famed Dr Browne was not accidentally knighted but honoured in his own right.

©2020 Reggie Unthank


Recently reprinted.  ‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’ contains much more about the development of the Golden Triangle than covered in my blog posts, including photographs of the Unthank family. 

Available online. Click Jarrolds Book Store  or City Bookshop


  1. Hugh Aldersey-Williams (2015). The Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century. Pub: Granta. Highly recommended.
  2. Clive Lloyd (1991). How does the cytoskeleton read the laws of geometry in aligning the division plane of plant cells? Development, Supplement 1, pp 55-65.
  3. Peter S Stevens (1976). Patterns in Nature. Pub: Peregrine Books.
  6. Ruth Scurr (2016).
  7. AD Bayne (1869). A Comprehensive History of Norwich.
  10. Noël Spencer (1978). Norwich Drawings. Pub: Noel Spencer and Martlet Studio
  11. Francis Blomefield (1807). An Essay Towards a Topographical History of the County of Norfolk vol 6. Online at:
  16. Trevor Hughes (1999). Sir Thomas Browne’s Knighthood. In, Norfolk Archaeology vol XLIII, part 11, pp 326-331.
  17. Philip Browne (1814). The History of Norwich from the Earliest Records to the Present Time. Pub: Bacon, Kinebrook & Co.

Thanks: I am grateful to Chris Sanham, verger at St Peter Mancroft, for his assistance.


The angel’s bonnet



It started with a Tweet. Something cropped up on Twitter that led me a merry dance through the sub-species of medieval headgear. By the end, I felt I knew how many angels’ bonnets could fit on the head of a pin.

Five years ago, my very first post was on ‘Norfolk’s Stained Glass Angels’. In it I showed one of this county’s most beautiful glass paintings of an angel in a feather suit completed by a feather hat [1].


Harp-playing angel wearing a feather suit. All Saints, East Barsham, Norfolk. Painted by the workshop of John Wighton from c1450.

When I want to know about a Norfolk church my first port of call is Simon Knott’s site for the descriptions of the astonishing 912 churches he has visited in Norfolk [2]. In May, Simon posted a Tweet on this C15 angel from Feering in Essex.

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Simon Knott’s Tweet

The feather hat I’d seen in East Barsham and other Norfolk churches was virtually identical to one that Simon had seen in Essex so I asked him via Twitter if feather bonnets were East Anglian, rather than an exclusively Norfolk thing.

Angel redone

C15 painted angel from All Saints, Feering, Essex. Photo credit: Simon Knott 

In my first blog post [1], I found that it was possible to overlay the East Barsham head on top of other Norfolk C15 painted-glass angels. The exactness of the match suggested they were copied from the same template, meaning they were from the same workshop. One stylistic tic uniting glass from various Norfolk churches with the figures drawn in the great east window of Norwich’s St Peter Mancroft (the benchmark for Norfolk painted glass) was the double flap covering the entrance to the ear. I hope regular readers will forgive me banging on but this lug flap is known as the tragus. A double tragus is a developmental rarity, yet both the ‘Essex’ and the Norfolk angels share this distinguishing feature. Simon Knott pointed out that the glass in All Saints, Feering, Essex was a loose collection of English and Continental 15th to 18th century pieces brought together by Father Bundock, who died in 1989 [3]. So, the ‘Essex’ angel may well have been recycled from a Norfolk church and was almost certainly painted in Norwich. 

David King, the authority on Norwich School glass, detected the ‘hand’ of at least three artists responsible for painting the east window of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich [4]. The glass was made in the mid C15 in the Norwich workshop of Alderman John Wighton, who was succeeded by John Moundford of Utrecht (assisted by his wife), followed in turn by Moundford’s son John.


A C15 angel from John Wighton’s Norwich workshop. From the east window, St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

But I digress. What I was really interested in here was the Feering angel’s feather bonnet. Sally Badham, former President of the Church Monuments Society, suggested via Twitter (@SallyBadham), that the headgear was an orle of the kind she had seen on glass and monuments in Yorkshire. I had to look this up. One definition of an orle is a border set in from the edge of a shield, giving a clue to the heraldic origin of the name.


However, there is an alternative definition of orle that gets us closer to the angel’s bonnet. Wiktionary gives it as: ‘the wreath, or chaplet, surmounting or encircling the helmet of a knight and bearing the crest; a torse’.  ‘Torse‘ is an obsolete French word for wreath and appears to be synonymous with ‘orle‘.


Knight with an eagle crest at the Saracen Joust in Arezzo, Tuscany. Wikipedia CC BY-SA 3.0 Cavalieredicasata,  to which I added the arrow pointing to the torse. The knight’s squire also wears one for decoration while the knight himself probably wears one inside the helmet for comfort.

In heraldic terms, the torse – introduced in the late C14 – is described as the cloth circlet  intended to hide the join between the ornate tournament crest and the helmet [5]. The colours in the coil were the same as the wearer’s livery colours except, it seems, when the knight wore a lady’s favour. Such a makeshift torse could be a handkerchief, a ribbon or even the lady’s sleeve, twisted into a rope and worn around the helmet.

This twisted rope – the torse or orle – also applied to something that the knight originally wore in combat. For comfort, he would have worn a padded, circular orle beneath the heavy helm to lift it away from the head and eyes. With the development of lined, padded helmets the orle became redundant but was retained for decorative purposes. Below, on the effigy of Sir Richard Vernon, a highly decorative orle is worn outside the helmet [6]. The sculptor has carefully depicted the roll of fabric studded with beads or even jewels and pearls. So, by this stage, not a utilitarian thing.


The effigy of Sir Richard Vernon, St Bartholomew’s Church, Tong, Shropshire (d.1451) Wikipedia. CC-BY-SA/2.0. Photo credit: Sjwells53

Below, the two celestial beings appear to be wearing stuffed orles around their heads, in which case the material billowing out of the hollow doughnut could be a caul or crespine – a bag-like net  of gold, silver or silk thread.


In the tracery of SS Peter & Paul, East Harling, Norfolk


In the tracery of St Margaret’s, Paston, Norfolk. The doughnut-shaped headdress of this female saint is decorated with bosses. 

Another item – the chaperon – plays a key part in the development of medieval headgear. This gets quite technical but, basically, the chaperon seems to have evolved out of Marty Feldman’s hood from the film, Young Frankenstein.

marty feldman

Marty Feldman as Igor in Mel Brooks’s ‘Young Frankenstein’. He wears a hooded cape with a long tail – the cornette or liripipe – at the back. It ends in a pom-pom glimpsed beneath his left hand.

By wearing the face-opening of the caped hood around the top of the head – not the face – and tying it up with the long tail, the cape evolved into a hat that was worn throughout Europe in the Middle Ages.


Place the face-opening of your wife’s sweater over your head then wrap the loose arms around your head (or, in the case of a medieval hood, the long cornette hanging at the back).

The chaperon became ‘the most commonly worn piece of male headgear in Early Netherlandish painting’ [7]. And it is this form, with the long hood tied up on top, away from messy paint, that is being modelled in this probable self-portrait by Jan van Eyck (d. 1441). Sometimes titled, ‘Man in a Red Turban’ it should really be called ‘Man in a Red Chaperon (tied up with its Cornette or Liripipe)’.


Probably a self-portrait by Jan van Eyck 1433. National Gallery, London. Known to have been in the collection of the 1st Earl of Norfolk ,’The Collector Earl’ (1585-1646), when he was exiled in Antwerp. 

Van Eyck was one of the first (Vasari said the first) artists to paint with oil, using thin translucent oil glazes to build up luminous flesh. In this, the painters of the Northern Renaissance were ahead of the Italians. Based in Bruges, the Italian Giovanni Arnolfini spent most of his life in Flanders; van Eyck painted his portrait wearing another complicated headpiece of red woollen fabric, this time the flaps are down and the loosely-twisted roll is clearly visible.


Portrait of Giovanni di Nicolao Arnolfini by Jan van Eyck c.1435. Gemäldgalerie, Berlin

The earliest of van Eyck’s portraits to survive shows a man in the same three-quarter profile pose. Here, the chaperon appears to have developed into a more formal version, pulled over the head like a mob cap or Scotch bonnet, instead of something wound around the crown.

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Portrait of a Man with Blue Chaperon by Jan van Eyck c1430. Brukenthal National Museum

These examples of men’s headwear suggest how fashions from heraldic dress worked themselves into everyday life. They also transferred to female fashion: a C14 chronicler (quoted in [8]) described how ladies riding to a tournament would affect a masculine appearance by wearing short hoods that were wrapped about their heads by the liripipe. 

Again on Twitter, Sally Badham suggested that the angel’s headpiece could also be based on the bourrelet.  Like chaperons, bourrelets appear to have originated by rolling up a hood around the head but by the mid-C15 they had developed into a more formal, doughnut-shaped padded roll [7].  Now, however, the doughnut-shaped bourrelet had undergone a further transformation into a ring of fabric folded around a framework, possibly made of wire [9].  


The very large bourrelet of Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy c1450. After Rogier van der Weyden

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The doughnut-shaped bourrelets of ‘The Tax Collectors’, late 1520s by Quentin Massys. The Collections of the Prince of Liechenstein, Vaduz-Vienna

Planché [8] suggests that the turban-like headgear worn by European men and women in the mid C15 evolved out of the chaperon – the hooded cape, twisted into fanciful shapes. On the other hand, both the stuffed or hollow bourrelet and the twisted torse have been likened to the turban that crusaders had seen in the Middle East. Separate influences or convergent evolution?

The bride in the Marriage Feast at Cana, from SS Peter & Paul East Harling, was said by Norwich-glass expert Christopher Woodforde to be wearing a good example of a ‘turban head-dress decorated with a large jewelled ornament’ [10]


C15 Norwich School glass by the Wighton workshop. SS Peter & Paul East Harling, Norfolk. 

Clues to the kind of headwear fashionable in mid-to-late C15 Norfolk can also be found in this county’s outstanding painted rood-screens. For instance, St Cecilia is illustrated (below) wearing a wreath of lilies to symbolise her virginity (the purity of which has been sullied by political emblems: the red rose of Lancaster and the white rose of York – two houses united by Henry Tudor in 1485). The copy of the floral wreath she holds in her hand reveals it to be made of two twisted strands. This perhaps tells us more about wreath-making than contemporary fashion but I’ll show this fine portrait of sorrowful Cissy anyway, since it is so different from the usual stereotypes.


St Cecilia with her wreath of virginity, from St Mary’s North Elmham, Norfolk.

The remarkable series of screen paintings in St Michael and All Angels at Barton Turf, painted in the late C15 [11],  illustrates three Saints and nine Orders of Angels. This figure is a protective Principality from the Third Order of Angels. Ignoring the gold crown, this appears to be a twisted bourrelet or turban encircling a conical cap.


One of the Principalities (First Order of Third Hierarchy), incidentally holding a flask of urine. St Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf, Norfolk

Again from Barton Turf, Archangel Michael in late C15 armour (below) wears a hat that encircles the head. This floral headwear, seen against the background of the halo, could be a hollow bourrelet studded with foliage.


 Archangel (Second Order, Third Hierarchy) in late C15 plate armour. St Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf, Norfolk. 

The Cherubim below, from the Second Order of the First Sphere of Angels, wears a crown encircled by a red, doughnut-shaped wreath – the dabs of white suggestive of feathers.


A Cherubim with two pairs of wings, its omniscience symbolised by the all-seeing eyes on the wing feathers; the cap seems to be covered with smaller contour feathers. St Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf, Norfolk

The leader of the Powers, Archangel Raphael, is seen below thrashing the devil. His headgear is comprised of a helmet encircled with overlapping feathers decorated with a central badge.


Archangel Raphael, usually depicted in armour. St Michael and All Angels, Barton Turf, Norfolk

Similar feather hats are depicted on painted glass.


From St Mary’s, Burnham Deepdale, Norfolk

An angel in the tracery of the east window at SS Peter & Paul, East Harling also wears a feather bonnet. If made at the same time as the superb main panels then this glass was painted around 1480 by John Wighton’s successors in his Norwich workshop. Angels were often depicted wearing feather onesies that ended neatly at neck, cuff and ankles, reflecting the outfits worn by actors in medieval mystery plays [12]. In this case, the angel’s feather hat could simply be the natural accompaniment to these outfits. However, there is evidence that by the late fifteenth- early sixteenth century, caps and bonnets were also in great vogue in secular life, ‘ornamented with a profusion of feathers‘[8].


From Saints Peter and Paul, East Harling, Norfolk 


After posting this article, photographer Paul Harley (whose site contains superb images of Norfolk angels ) sent me this photograph of a harp-playing angel from Weston Longville.


From All Saints, Weston Longville, Norfolk. ©Paul Harley

It is a beautiful painting. Not only does the angel wear a very similar bonnet to the one worn by the East Barsham angel, but the overall pose is identical – the angels sharing many details, including that double tragus in the ear.


Left: East Barsham; right: Weston Longville (©Paul Harley)

Paul also sent images of two ‘Powers’ from the Order of Angels, set in the tracery of the east window at Salle. Note the decorative orles worn around their helmets.


The Powers hold chains and bundles of birch to vanquish evil, around their heads are suns representing the heavens. ©Paul Harley

©2020 Reggie Unthank

Thanks: I am grateful to fellow Tweeps: Simon Knott (@last_of_england) and Sally Badham (@SallyBadham), for their readiness to help and for starting me out on this trail, and to Sue Roe (@SueRoeGardener) for the mugshots. Thanks, too, to Paul Harley for sending photos from his collection of Norfolk Angels.


  4. King, D. J. (2006) The Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford.
  5. Arthur Charles Fox-Davies (1909). A Complete Guide to Heraldry. A project Gutenberg e-book (2012).
  7. Paul F Walker (2013). The History of Armour 1100-1700. Pub: The Crowood Press Ltd.
  8. James Robinson Planché (1876). An Illustrated Dictionary of Historic Costume: from the First century BC to c1760. Reprinted by Dover Publications Inc in 2003.
  10. Christopher Woodforde (1950). The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  11. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.

Suleiman the Magnificent by Titian c1530

After the Norwich School


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Influenced by the Dutch Realists, painters of the Norwich Society of Artists depicted Norfolk’s flat land and tall skies in a largely naturalistic way that avoided the religious or mythological themes that had dominated Italian and French landscape painting [1].  Although this society only lasted as a formal entity from 1803 to 1833, the succeeding generations of Cromes, Cotmans, Stannards and their followers ensured that the Norwich School of Painters continued  into the Victorian era. But by the end of the nineteenth century the influences of Impressionism could no longer be resisted and new groupings evolved.

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‘Haddiscoe Church’ by Sir John Arnesby Brown RA. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM 1949.129.5

Sir John Arnesby Brown R.A. (1866-1955), born in Nottingham, was never part of even a late continuation of the Norwich School. After he and the Welsh painter, Mia Edwards, married in 1896, the Arnesby Browns split their time between St Ives, Cornwall, and Haddiscoe to the south-east of Norwich [2]. ‘AB’s’ admiration of Corot’s and Millet’s Impressionist landscapes [3] was reinforced by his visits to Cornwall where the Newlyn School were painting rural scenes in an impressionistic manner. 


‘Cattle on the Marshes’ by Sir JA Arnesby Brown R.A. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM: 1948.99. Brown became known for his painting of cattle, suggested by impressionistic flicks and dabs

Sir Alfred James Munnings (1878-1959), the son of a Suffolk miller, came to Norwich when aged 14. For six years he was an apprentice lithographic artist at Page Brothers printers; he also found time to attend the Norwich School of Art where he painted in the room below.

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‘The Painting Room at the Norwich School of Art’ that won 19-year-old Munnings a National Bronze medal in 1898. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM : L2001.4.1. Elsewhere, this room was called the Antique Room, reflecting the Greco-Romano statues that students were expected to draw ‘from the cast’.

This would have been in the old School of Art, built as a third floor extension of the Free Library formerly at the corner of St Andrews Street and Duke Street.

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The School of Art occupied the third floor of the Norwich Free Library, opened in 1857. It was always an unsatisfactory arrangement: the floor needed reinforcing, the lavatories stank [4]. Photo 1955 ©

In 1901 the School of Art moved into the newly-built Norwich Technical Institute, occupying the upper two of its four floors.


A stone portico fronts the building made from red Gunton Bros’ bricks

We have previously seen young Munnings’ early commercial designs, including the Jolly Brewer for Bullards’ Brewery and the art nouveau-influenced illustrations for Caley’s chocolates and Christmas crackers [see 5].


Munnings’ illustrations c1900 for the Norwich firm of Caley’s, makers of chocolate and Christmas crackers. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections. 

Sir Alfred Munnings took on George Stubbs’ mantle as the country’s leading equestrian painter. He would paint working, hunting and racing horses – even maintaining a studio in Newmarket.  


‘Gravel Pit in Suffolk’ c1911 by Alfred Munnings. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM : 1928.108

President of the Norwich Art Circle 1932-4, Munnings was knighted in 1944, the year he was made President of the Royal Academy. In a notorious retirement speech broadcast by the BBC, a sozzled Munnings lashed out against modernism and accused Cezanne, Matisse and Picasso of adulterating art.

There must have been something in the East Anglian air for, 53 years earlier, similarly reactionary views had been expressed by a critic from the Eastern Daily Press when he attacked Catherine Maude Nichols (1847-1923) for daring to introduce elements of French Impressionism to the Norwich Art Circle. Miss Nichols was well able to fight her corner for she had travelled to Barbizon near Paris, and Newlyn in Cornwall to familiarise herself with painting outside the East Anglian bubble [see previous post on CM Nichols].


‘Lime Pit Cottages, Ipswich Road, Norwich.’ NWHCM: 1917.1

Edward Seago (1910-1974) was born in Norwich, the son of a regional manager of a Norwich coal merchant. From his sixteenth birthday and ten years after, Seago exhibited with the Norwich Art Circle . The Circle had formed in 1885 but Alfred Munnings and Arnesby Brown were still contributing when Seago joined. Although Munnings took a personal interest in the young man’s work [6], and Arnesby Brown is said to have given him tuition [7], Seago is generally thought of a self-taught artist with influences ranging from East Anglian artists like Constable, Cotman and Crome to the Dutch Realists. From 1947 he lived on the Broads at the Dutch House, Ludham, and in the decades that followed he was to enjoy enormous success, with collectors queueing down Old Bond Street to make sure of buying a Seago at one of his annual exhibitions at the Colnaghi Gallery. 


‘Winter Landscape, Norfolk’ by Edward Seago. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM : 1963.253

Despite his enormous popularity with the public, Seago did not achieve enduring critical success, probably because his instincts were derived from East Anglian tradition instead of the avant garde.


‘The Haystack’ by Edward Seago. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM : 1976.77

Mary Newcomb (1922-2008) was born in Harrow-on-the Hill but spent most of her painting life in East Anglia, including farmhouses at Needham, in South Norfolk, and Newton Flotman, ten miles south of Norwich [3]. She exhibited at the Norfolk and Norwich Art Circle from 1951 to 1963, was a member of the Norwich Twenty Group, and  was a visiting tutor at the School of Art in the 1980s. As someone trained in science, Mary Newcomb had a clear idea of how nature worked, yet as a self-taught artist she remained unbothered – perhaps deliberately so – by the traditional spatial concerns of setting down the countryside on canvas. Perspective, depth, recession seem to play little part in her paintings, which can be read as mood boards in which ideas float in a shallow picture plane. These poetical works were often enlivened by descriptive titles: e.g., ‘Lady defying advancing waves and hot driving sand (she is quite safe).’


‘Moths and Men with Hay, August’ © estate of  Mary Newcomb (1960). Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM: 2002.2.1

Jeffery Camp (1923-2020) was born in Oulton Broad, south of the border, down Lowestoft way. In the 1950s he taught at the Norwich School of Art and it was during this period that he won a competition run by the Eastern Daily Press to paint a reredos above the altar of St Alban’s – a beautifully-detailed interwar church in the Norwich suburb of Lakenham.

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‘Christ in Majesty above Norwich’ by Jeffery Camp 1955

It was in London that Camp made his reputation. In the 1960s he taught first at the Chelsea School of Art then at the Slade. In 1961 he had been  elected a member of The London Group, which had been set up in 1913 by metropolitan artists such as Walter Sickert and Wyndham Lewis to ensure that contemporary art, of the kind not supported by the Royal Academy, would have a voice. In 1984 he became a Royal Academician [8].

In some ways comparable to the London Group (although not composed exclusively of artists), the Norfolk Contemporary Art Society was founded in 1956 to suggest contemporary art to the Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery that would counterbalance its fine collection of Norwich School painting. In 1959, an exhibition that included works by Lucian Freud and Jeffery Camp raised enough money for NCAS to purchase a painting by Camp and to loan it to the museum.


‘Golden Clifftop 1959’ © estate of  Jeffery Camp. NWHCM: 1960.30

In the 1950s, Sheffield-born Derrick Greaves (b. 1927) achieved early fame as one of the four Kitchen Sink painters (along with Ed Middleditch, John Bratby and Jack Smith). In the post-war years their work focused on everyday lives. But by the time Greaves set up the Printmaking Department at the Norwich School of Art (1983-1991) Pop Art had made incursions and his own style had undergone a radical change: ‘I made attempts to form a pictorial language which would be easily accessible to all who cared to look’ [9]. His paintings became highly stylised, involving abstracted outlines of objects often set in intense fields of colour. He still lives and works in rural Norfolk.


‘Irises’ © Derrick Greaves. Courtesy of Mandell’s Gallery, Norwich

The enterprising Mandell’s Gallery of Elm Hill is holding an online exhibition of Derrick Greaves’ recent work. Click here for further details.

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Edward Middleditch R.A. (1923-1987) – another member of the Kitchen Sink School – came to the Norwich School of Art as part-time Head of Fine Art (1964-1984) before becoming Keeper in charge of ‘Schools’ at the Royal Academy.  After the early fascination with social realism his work, too, become more stylised, although he retained his love of flowers and landscape throughout.


‘Cow Parsley'(1956) by Edward Middleditch. ©Estate of Edward Middleditch. Photo credit: Walker Art Gallery

Michael Andrews (1928-1995) was born in what would become known as Norwich’s Golden Triangle. He was born in 142 Glebe Road at a time when older residents could still remember the site as open fields belonging to the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral. His association with the Norwich School of Art began in the Sixth Form, when he attended Saturday morning painting classes held by Lesley Davenport.

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© Estate of Lesley Davenport, self-portrait. Member of the Norwich Twenty Group

In the early 1950s, Andrews was taught at the Slade School of Fine Art by the Principal, William Coldstream; later, he taught at the Slade himself. In 1976, RB Kitaj wrote about ‘The School of London’, conjuring up a loose group of ‘world class’ painters who were adhering to figurative art in the face of abstraction. Michael Andrews was one of this group, along with Lucien Freud, David Hockney, Howard Hodgkin and Francis Bacon.


Taken in Wheeler’s Restaurant Soho 1963, The School of London artists: Tim Behrens, Lucian Freud, Francis Bacon, Frank Auerbach and Michael Andrews CREDIT: JOHN DEAKIN / GETTY

Despite being included in a cohort that represented the human form in a largely figurative way, Andrews himself painted very few portraits [10]. However, his painting showing him teaching his daughter to swim sold for over a million pounds in the 1980s and is one of the favourites hanging in the Tate Gallery.


‘Melanie and me swimming’ by Michael Andrews 1978-9. ©The estate of Michael Andrews

In 1981 he returned to Norfolk to live at Saxlingham Nethergate, about 10 miles south of Norwich. Michael Andrews was a member of the Norwich Twenty Group. 


‘The Lord Mayor’s Reception in Norwich Castle Keep on the eve of the installation of the first Chancellor of the University of East Anglia’ (1996-9), by Michael Andrews. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM: 1968.820

In the second half of the C20, in an age of abstraction, life drawing was increasingly abandoned and Life Rooms closed down. To counteract this loss of essential skills the Head of Fine Art at the Norwich School of Art, Edward Middleditch, recruited the ‘Two Johns’,  John Wonnacott (b.1940) and John Lessore (nephew of Walter Sickert), to develop the Life Room. wonnacott.jpg

 ‘The Life Room (Norwich School of Art)’ © John Wonnacot (1977-1980). Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM : 1981.92. The plaster casts were still there when I attended life drawing classes in the mid-1980s.

Between 1978 and 1986, Wonnacott taught the traditional skills necessary for figurative painting: looking, measuring, seeing the relationships between objects, the negative shapes, looking again. Wonnacott’s own work is characterised by a wide-angle view.

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‘The Norwich School of Art’ (1982-4). © John Wonnacott

Colin Self (b.1941), born in Rackheath and living in Norwich, is firmly rooted in East Anglia and can trace his Norfolk ancestors to the Domesday Book. He studied at the Norwich School of Art where he was encouraged by Michael Andrews, but it was after his time in London, at the Slade School of Fine Art, that he emerged as a major figure in the Pop Art movement [3, 11]. Pop Art took its cues from supposedly ‘low’ culture – movies, pop music, consumerism – but Colin Self’s early work was influenced by Cold War politics and thoughts about the nuclear threat. This work, which depicts a battery of Bloodhound missiles, was influenced by staying on a Norfolk farm near a US airbase [12].


Guard dog on a missile base, No1′ by Colin Self 1965 ©Colin Self. Photo Credit: Tate

‘The landscape in some ways is my visual script’ (Colin Self) [13].


 ‘Large Harvest Field with two Hay Bales at Happisburgh, Norfolk, Wednesday, 19th September’ © Colin Self 1984. NWHCM : 1998.505.9

As far back as 1885, ‘Schools of Art turned out droves of talented academic female artists’ who, at least in Norwich, were winning most of the major annual prizes [4]: women were not to head those departments until a century later. In 1985 (to 89), Brazilian-born Ana Maria Pacheco (b.1943) succeeded Edward Middleditch as Head of Fine Art at the Norwich School of Art, becoming the first female to hold such a post in the UK.


‘Perils of Faith’ © Ana Maria Pacheco 1990. Etching. Photo credit:

Pacheco, also a printmaker and painter, is primarily known for her sculptures. These involve slightly larger than life-sized figures carved from single lime trees. Two main themes in these dark and thought-provoking works are the imposition of power and the tension between the Old World of her birth and the New.


‘Shadows of the Wanderer’  ©Ana Maria Pacheco. Exhibited in Norwich Cathedral (2008). Photo credit: Pratt Contemporary Art

Gerard Stamp (b. 1955), who lives in Norfolk, was educated at Norwich School where he was taught painting in a room above the cathedral’s Ethelbert Gate [14].


‘St Ethelbert’s Gate’ by John Sell Cotman 1817. The upper chamber, where Stamp was taught art, was once a chapel that figured in the riots of 1272. The gatehouse has been restored since Cotman’s day.

Gerard Stamp does paint landscape though he is better known for his ethereal watercolours of Norfolk’s medieval churches. His experience as an illustrator and designer is part of his painting but it never dominates; the overriding impression is of the kind of mystery and stillness that Cotman imparted to his own unpeopled churches. To achieve this, Stamp makes a pencil drawing that he completes in watercolour as a first stage. ‘Then (when it’s bone dry) I wash over the entire painting with copious quantities of water, sometimes with a sponge. That removes pretty well everything (including pencil) but leaves the stained paper (which looks a bit like an image seen through tracing paper). Then I rework the entire painting again.’


‘Salle Choir Stalls, 2005’ © Gerard Stamp

Cotman thought that St Michael Coslany in Norwich-over-the-Water provided one of the nation’s finest examples of flintwork [15]. Here, Stamp captures the beautiful tracery flushwork that echoes the lacework of stone in the upper part of the window.

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‘St Michael Coslany’ by ©Gerard Stamp. 


‘St Michael Coslany’ by John Sell Cotman 1814

The influence of the Norwich School of Painters continued to be felt throughout the C19 but, by the end of that century, Impressionism had arrived and local art became open to the many art movements that followed. As we have read, it wasn’t until the latter part of the C20 that women occupied positions of influence in the art schools and from 2001-2008 Susan Tuckett became Principal of the Norwich School of Art and Design. Of course, many of Norwich’s female artists work outside any formal or academic grouping. Here are two personal favourites:

Zheni Maslarova Warner, born in Bulgaria in 1954, has lived in Norwich since obtaining her degree in Fine Art in her early twenties. At the Norwich School of Art she studied under Ed Middleditch and Derrick Greaves and later taught life drawing at the NSA. Since then she has migrated from the figurative to the abstract, producing canvases reminiscent of the colourist Howard Hodgkin. The titles of her works seem playful rather than descriptive for Warner is motivated largely by colour, building up depth and luminosity with rich layers of paint. After a viewer at a gallery looked at the back of one painting, convinced it was lit from behind, Warner started to use light boxes and neon, embroidering her paintings with illuminated wire as a further play with colour and light.  

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‘Show us the caskets of your rich memories/Those wonderful jewels of stars and stratosphere’ © Zheni Warner (2008). Photo credit:

 Jayne Ivimey’s (b.1946) artistic connection with Norwich runs deep: her great-great-great-grandfather was one-time President of the Norwich Society of Artists, James Stark. Ivimey went to the High School, studied art at The Sorbonne before returning to Norwich for her Master’s degree at Norwich University College of the Arts (one of the Art School’s various incarnations). Like her friend Mary Newcomb, she is fiercely observant of the natural world. She seems as much an investigator as artist with works including: a study of the effect on salt meeting fresh water; the Beaufort wind scale; coastal erosion; and the grim drop in the number of bird species.  

The Red List makes shocking reading for it numbers the endangered bird species that have declined by at least 50% in the last twenty five years. In response, Jayne Ivimey visited Norwich Castle Museum and other collections to see the preserved bird ‘skins.’ These were then sculpted in stoneware clay that was fired to matt bisque, which – in contrast to shiny ceramic – confronts us with the ghostliness of things we are about to lose. In her words, ‘a material that remains a material rather than an art form.


‘The Red List’ 2016 © Jayne Ivimey

This is a personal look at art in Norwich and I am only too aware of the many fine artists I’ve omitted. Apologies.

©Reggie Unthank 2020


  3. Ian Collins (1990). A Broad Canvas. Pub: Parke Sutton Publishing, Norwich.
  4. Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton and John Stevens (1982). A Happy Eye: A School of Art in Norwich 1845-1982.  Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., Norwich.
  8. Adrienne May and Brian Watts (2003) Wide Skies Pub: Halsgrove.
  14. Ian Collins (2010). Watermarks: Art in East Anglia. Pub: Black Dog Books, Norwich.

Thanks. For discussions, I am grateful to Keith Roberts, John Allen, Gerard Stamp and Jayne Ivimey. Ian Collins’ books were invaluable. The Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery was the source of many paintings in this post; explore their treasures on!/home.





A few of my favourite buildings


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This was going to be something quite different but in this fifth week of isolation I haven’t been able to take new photographs, the library and record office are closed, so I’m revisiting a few of my favourite buildings to remind us of life outside this bubble.IMG_1317.jpg

Possibly my favourite building, the Pantheon in Rome was completed around 126AD by the emperor Hadrian. The generous classical portico leads into a rotunda of staggering beauty. The coffered (sunken) panels reduced the weight of the roof, helping it remain the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome for nearly 2000 years. On our visit, no-one seemed to mind when the rain came in.IMG_1927.jpg

Local pride compels me to mention that Norwich had its own Pantheon [1], although with a modest diameter of 74 feet – about half the Pantheon’s – it would have caused proportionately fewer jaws to drop.


The Pantheon in Ranelagh Gardens, just off the St Stephen’s roundabout, became the booking office of Norwich Victoria Station (1913). Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Another stunner is the great dome of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, its diameter only marginally less than that of the Pantheon.


To construct what was, in AD 537, the largest building in the world, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I commissioned a geometer/engineer (Isodore of Miletus) and a mathematician (Anthemius of Tralles). Literally, their task was to square the circle: how to support the circular base of the dome on top of a square base? To make this transition they made innovative use of pendentives – curved triangular segments that allowed the weight of the dome to be spread over the four supporting pillars.


 Image courtesy of


Hagia Sophia at sunset

Another sunset. Approaching Ely from the south, one of the great sights of East Anglia emerges as you crest the brow of a hill and the ‘Ship of the Fens’ rises up.


Ely Cathedral, with the octagonal Lantern at the central crossing. (The taller tower is at the West Front) ©Andrew Sharpe/Geoff Robinson

In 1322 the Norman tower at the central crossing collapsed and when it was realised that it was unfeasible to rebuild in stone the King’s Carpenter, William Hurley, was drafted in [2]. The 70 foot span was beyond the capacity of available timbers so, first, he erected an outer wooden octagon, which was painted to resemble the eight stone piers on which it stood. Then, at the centre of this platform, he constructed a lantern around a vertical octagon of eight timbers. Each a prodigious 63 feet long, these beams were obtained from Chicksands Priory in Bedfordshire [3].


The central light well, the lantern, is based on an outer octagon of wood painted to look like stone. Photo credit: David Ross and Britain Express

King’s College Chapel Cambridge – another East Anglian treasure – also gives joy. John Wastell built the beautiful fan-vaulting, giving the chapel the unified appearance of a building completed in a single campaign, but it was started by a Plantagenet (Henry VI) and completed by a Tudor (Henry VIII), with the Wars of the Roses in between (1446-1515).

The chapel has ‘the largest fan vault in the world’. (‘world’ meaning England, for fan vaulting was a native invention). The skin of the stone fans is surprisingly thin and their radiating ribs largely decorative. The main work of supporting the prodigious vault is performed by the transverse arches and tapering external buttresses topped with heavy stone finials to counteract the outward thrust [4]. This external support – no flying buttresses here – creates the illusion of internal lightness, a single space tented with a delicate lacework of something less than stone.


The world’s largest fan vault, King’s College Chapel Cambridge. Creative Commons Licence BY-SA 4.0 by ‘Cc364’


King’s College Chapel. CC BY-SA 3.0 by Dmitry Tonkonog

Even closer to home is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the UEA campus, a bike-ride away. Here there is no illusion, for the superstructure that supports this vast open space is in plain view. Fascinated by the fibres that wrap around plant cells I remember looking up to the SCVA’s tubes and struts, waiting (unproductively, as it happens) for architectural inspiration.IMG_9854.jpg

All these buildings offer solutions for enclosing and defining large spaces. This negative space is a fundamental element of architecture that Rachel Whiteread captured in her sculpture ‘House’ (1993). She made a concrete cast of the inside of the house in East London then demolished the skin brick by brick. Jonathan Jones of The Guardian said it was: ‘The solid trace of all the air that a room once contained.’


‘House’ by Rachel Whiteread, 1993. It was decided to demolish the sculpture the day she won the Turner Prize. Photo: Apollo Magazine

The first building to make an impression on me was Cardiff Castle, a Gothic fantasy built on the profits from Welsh steam coal.


The Clock Tower, circled with figures representing the planets

The designer William Burgess restored the castle for the Third Marquess of Bute at the height of the Gothic Revival. On his last visit (1881), Burges worked on the Arab Room with its fabulously intricate ceiling lined with gold leaf. ‘Billy’ Burges built this room in homage to the influence of Moorish art on medieval design. It is considered to be his masterpiece [5]. 


The Arab Room, Cardiff Castle. 

If Rachel Whiteread were to cast the space inside this room it would resemble a Victorian jelly.


Victorian jelly mould. Credit:

After the Muslims conquered Spain they used the site of a shared Muslim/Christian church to build and extend (C8-C10) the Grand Mosque in Cordoba. When Christian rule was reestablished a Renaissance cathedral was constructed in the middle of the Muslim complex.

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The Mihrab Dome, Grand Mosque Cordoba. ©José Luiz Bernardes Ribiero/CC BY-SA 3.0

Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the mosque is the enormous space punctuated by 856 columns rescued from Roman buildings. The innovative double arches allowed for a greater ceiling height above the relatively short columns.IMG_1345.jpg

Of the three buildings in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, the one on the left fascinates me most.


The Baptistery, Duomo and Leaning Tower, Pisa

The Baptistery was begun by Duotisalvi in 1153 but wasn’t completed for over 200 years, allowing us to see the transition between the rounded Romanesque and the pointed Gothic.  


The immense interior is surprisingly plain.


Photo: Tango7174. CC BY-SA 4.0

I last saw Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece in 2012, before the disastrous fires of 2014 and 2018.


Glasgow School of Art, 1896. The compositional asymmetry of the Renfrew Street entrance, pictured here in 2012


Photo: Robert Perry/TPSL/Camera Press

Mackintosh’s unique buildings were filtered through a range of influences.  For example, the parade of window frames on the north front are reminiscent of Elizabethan ‘prodigy houses’ with their runs of rectlinear windows …


Hardwick House, Derbyshire, 1590-7. Photo: chachu207. Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 3.0

… while the sheer planes on the east and west elevations echo the high defensive walls of the Scottish Baronial Style [6].

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Mackintosh made sketches of this baronial tower-house, Maybole Castle, Ayrshire. ©South Ayrshire Libraries

Mackintosh’s reputation was highest in Austria. When he and his wife Margaret Macdonald were invited to design a room for display at the 8th Secessionist Exhibition of 1900 [7] students paraded them through Vienna on a cart garlanded with flowers, and architect and designer Josef Hoffman– co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte – described Mackintosh as the leader of the modern movement. This high point contrasted starkly with the latter part of his career when commissions declined and he descended into alcoholism.


The Secession Building designed by Josef Maria Olbrich, Vienna, 1898. Locals refer to the dome as the golden cabbage.

Back in Norfolk, King’s Lynn possesses ‘one of the finest late C17 buildings in provincial England’ [8].  The beautifully proportioned Customs House was commissioned by a local wine merchant, Sir John Turner MP, and designed by local architect, Henry Bell. It was built as a merchants’ exchange at a time when the town was one of the nation’s busiest ports and a hub for trade with Europe.


The Customs House, 1683

On the opposite side of the county, the ‘only one remarkable building’ of Great Yarmouth, (according to Pevsner and Wilson [9]) is Fastolff’s House. I have written about it previously [10] but it is a neglected gem, one of few buildings in the art nouveau style in this country, and I have been back a few times since.


Fastolff’s House, Great Yarmouth. Designed by RS Cockrill 1908

The building is made of red brick but what transforms it is the facade of white faience. Fastolff’s House is elevated by its applied decoration just as the exterior of Norwich’s Royal Arcade was transformed by WJ Neatby’s Carraraware tiles. Carraraware was developed in Doulton’s Lambeth factory by the head of their architectural department, Neatby, as a weatherproof facade resembling marble. It is not known who made the Yarmouth tiles but the panels of leaves and fruit are in the restrained form of art nouveau – as opposed to the sinuous variety favoured on the Continent – illustrated on the front cover of The Studio around the end of the nineteenth century.

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Above, the art nouveau frieze in white faience (red rectangle) echoes, below, the cover design of The Studio from a dozen years earlier.

To lose one spire may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose two looks like carelessness. In 1362, the wooden spire of Norwich Cathedral was blown down in a gale; in 1463, its replacement was struck by lightning. The ferocity of the resulting fire destroyed the wooden roof of the nave and turned the Caen stone pillars pink. Bishop Walter Lyhart – whose rebus of a hart lying on water is dotted around the nave – replaced the roof with a stone vault decorated with short lierne ribs. Completed in 1472, the result was a remarkable 14-bay-long vault designed by Reginald Ely not long after he had finished working on King’s College Chapel. Where ribs intersected he placed 255 stone bosses depicting biblical scenes, from the Creation to Doomsday [11].


The lierne vault of the nave. Beneath it, the massive Norman piers had been turned a pinkish colour by the fire


Norwich Cathedral from the cloisters

©2020 Reggie Unthank


  2. John Harvey (1988). Cathedrals of England and Wales. Pub: Batsford
  3. EC Wade and J Heyman (1985). The timber octagon of Ely Cathedral. Proc. Instn. Civ. Engrs, vol 8, part 1: 1421-1436.
  5. Rosemary Hannah (2012). The Grand Designer: Third Marquess of Bute. Pub: Birlinn Ltd.
  6. James Macaulay (1993). Glasgow School of Art: Charles Rennie Mackintosh. Pub: Phaidon Press Ltd.
  7. Jackie Cooper (ed) (1984). Mackintosh Architecture. Academy Editions, London.
  8. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1999). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 2: North-West and South. Pub: Yale University Press.
  10. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1999). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  11. Paul Hurst (2013). Norwich Cathedral Nave Bosses. Pub: Medieval Media, Norwich

James Minns, carver


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I’ve mentioned James Minns, ‘Carver’, a few times in these pages, always as an appendage to well-known local architects like George Skipper, Thomas Jeckyll or Edward Boardman, but I keep stumbling across his work and felt it was time that ‘Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons’ [1] had a post of his own. 


James Minns. From the East Anglian Magazine [1]

James Benjamin Shingles Minns – son of Sarah Shingles and James William Minns, cabinetmaker – was born in Lakenham, Norwich, at the beginning of 1825. ‘Minns’ is not uncommon in East Anglia and can be traced back to the Protestant Dutch ‘Strangers’ who brought the name here in the C16 , when it was Mins [2]. The 1841 census shows that James had two sisters; he also had two brothers, both of whom shared their father’s trade as cabinetmaker. Young James had woodworking in his blood.

E.C. LeGrice tells us that Minns lived in a house on Westlegate [1]. This house was ‘demolished – with several others – to make room for a modern block of shops’ but an old shop in that cluster ‘still remains … under the very shadow of the tower of All Saints Church’ [1]. That remaining building sounds very much like the thatched building below. 

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Westlegate 1939, under the shadow of All Saints tower. The thatched building was once The Barking Dicky PH, now Waring’s Lifestore. The adjacent building (left) was demolished to make way for Westlegate Tower. ©

(Just after this article was posted, David Vincent sent this photograph of Westlegate in 1890, as Minns would have known it before the street widening)

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Westlegate 1890, courtesy of David Vincent. Minns’ house is top left, beneath the church tower.

The census gives no clue to when Minns lived here but in 1851 he was living as a ‘visitor’ in the house of dressmaker Frances Scales (widow) at 180 Kensington Place, near the junction of Queens Road and City Road. Genealogical records show that Minns married Elizabeth Emily Thompson in 1858 and, according to the 1861 census, was living at The Steam Packet public house. Confusingly, three Norwich pubs shared the name of the Steam Packet (a small boat regularly plying between ports) but, since a William John Shingles Thompson is listed as a proprietor of The Steam Packet in King Street [3], it would appear that this is where James Minns was living with his Thompson in-laws.

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The Ferry Boat Inn (1936), formerly The Steam Packet. 191 King Street ©

Papers at the Record Office indicate that in 1864, James Minns – listed as ‘wood and stone carver’ – bought two ‘recently erected cottages, part of a row of eight’, for £150 from the builder Edward Burton [4] . Numbers 9 and 11 were in Arthur Street, a cul-de-sac off Mariner’s Lane, which at that time connected Ber Street on the high ridge down to King Street on the riverside. So Minns moved up the hill from his in-laws’ riverside pub

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Mariners Lane once connected Ber Street (red) with King Street on which the Steam Packet is marked with a star. Minns lived in a block of 8 new houses on Arthur Street (purple). 1907 OS map courtesy of

Amongst Minns’ conveyances in the Norfolk Record Office there is an interesting aside: in 1876, the Norwich and Norfolk Provident Permanent Benefit Building Society turned out not to be so permanent and went into liquidation. Minns was allowed by the liquidator, Samuel Gulley, to redeem his mortgage for £20-8s-5d.

From 1851 to 1901 Minns described himself in public records with the plain English word ‘carver’: ‘carver in wood’, ‘wood carver’ and ‘wood and stone carver’. In 1881 there was a lapse when he used the Frenchified ‘sculptor’ but by 1891 and 1901 he was a  ‘carver’ once more. This down-to-earth description of his profession was consistent with E.C. LeGrice’s description of a ‘shy and diffident woodcarver (who) had great difficulty in courteously excusing himself from being presented to his royal admirer, King Edward the Seventh’ [1].


Minn’s unflowing signature. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service [4]

James Minns was evidently no scholar, his only formal instruction being ‘a little general training which he received at the old (Norwich) School of Art when he was a youth’ [1]. An article in the Eastern Daily Press of 1904 confirmed, ‘He was no laborious school-product.’ [5]. It must have given him deep satisfaction, therefore, to have returned in his mid-sixties as Instructor in Wood Carving [6]. This was about 1890, at a time when the School of Art had rooms in the Free Library on St Andrew’s Street. In 1857 an extra storey had been added to accommodate the School: ‘On the third floor are two large rooms for the School of Art, with domed roofs and ample skylights, and four smaller apartments for classes are also provided [6].’

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The Norwich Free Library at the junction of St Andrew’s Street and Duke Street. James Minns gave instruction on the third floor. (From ref [7])

This arrangement proved unsatisfactory, for a few decades later a student committee of six men and four women petitioned for a  separate School of Art. One of the petitioners was J.W. Minns. This was James’ son John William who, like his father, became a Norwich Freeman in his twenties; he also described himself as ‘carver’ (1887) [8].

Despite his retiring nature James Minns was confident enough to instruct students in technical matters – after all, he had about 50 years of experience to pass on. He also had sufficient belief in the artistic merit of his work to submit – successfully – a carved panel to the Royal Academy’s 1897 Summer Exhibition.


11 Mariner’s Lane is suggested to have been his workshop [9]. (2017 is the catalogue number)

The Royal Academy has no photograph of this entry and for some time I had no idea of the delicacy of his work until I came across this example in LeGrice’s brief essay on Minns [1].


James Minns’ Bullfinch panel, undated. © 1958 E.C.LeGrice. 

Could this be the same bullfinch panel listed in the Norfolk Museums Collections? There is no image of that panel on the site but Samantha Johns generously tracked it down and photographed it for me, revealing this to be quite a different bunch of bullfinches (for which the collective noun is, surprisingly, a ‘bellowing’).


Bullfinch Panel by James Minns. NWHCM 1897.55. Photo courtesy of Sam Johns.

In 1958 LeGrice [1] mentioned that several Minns panels were in the possession of the Colman family. Several still are and I was kindly shown the following three panels of intricate, deeply undercut birds and foliage (although the curved glass posed problems for this amateur photographer). Amongst them was the superb bullfinch panel featured in LeGrice’s article [1]. 

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Birds nesting amongst the larch. The Bullfinch Panel. Courtesy of James Colman

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Bird panel, courtesy of James Colman

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Woodcock, courtesy of Matthew Colman

Norwich Castle Museum holds a further Minns bird carving under glass.

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‘Pigeon’ by James Minns 1877. Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1924.9

Minns’ success at the Royal Academy was not an isolated one for, as an obituary noted, ‘In competitions both at home and on the Continent he carried off some of the chief trophies of his time’ [5]. The carvings under glass quite likely represent his exhibition pieces. These high points of his artistic output contrasted with his bread-and-butter work at Gunton’s brickyard in Old Costessey. Over a long period – perhaps decades – he made moulds for decorative bricks that were turned out in their hundreds (see previous post on ‘Fancy Bricks’ [10]). 


Cosseyware chimney bricks. The rose and shamrock are from the Patriotic range. Provided by Andy Maule.

However, one-off terracotta panels, like those at  St Bennet’s – a private house in Cromer (1893) – gave Minns the opportunity to be more creative.IMG_4152.jpg

James Minns’ best known panels decorate the red brick building, part of Jarrold Department Store on London Street. Until 1946 this housed the offices of the architect, George Skipper. Although Skipper wasn’t supposed to advertise his architectural practice he installed a panel illustrating himself with three of his Norwich buildings in the background: The Daily Standard Office of 1899 in St Giles Street; The Norwich Union Building of 1904; and Commercial Chambers in Red Lion Street, 1901 [11].Skipper.jpg

In this tableau, a top-hatted Skipper points to a shield presented by a bearded workman in a dust coat, with younger carvers to the rear. The older man presenting the shield would have been the senior craftsman and, as such, is likely to be James Minns himself.

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The head craftsman (left) and James Minns (see below)

Richard Barnes informs me that the terracotta panels on the front of Skipper’s office were being completed around the time (1904 [12]) that work was starting on another of Skipper’s projects – the building of Jarrold Department Store, literally next door. Because James Minns died in 1904, Richard wonders if much of the work might have been done by Minns’ son John. We cannot know for sure but it could explain the rare sighting of this shy carver.

As we saw in a previous post, father and son were both associated with the Costessey brickyard [10].


Workers at Gunton’s brickyard ca 1900 named by Peter Mann. James Minns (red dot) and John Minns (white dot) were labelled ‘Carvers of Norwich’,  Photo courtesy of Paul Cooper

In his capacity as builder, George Gunton renovated the church at St Michael the Archangel, Booton, about six miles from Costessey. Minns carved the huge whirring wooden angels flying in the nave.IMG_2207.jpg

I haven’t been able to find objects sculpted by Minns in bronze although the St Michael over the door at Booton church is tentatively assigned to him. One specialist suggested that the sculptor was uncomfortable working with bronze [13] – perhaps someone like Minns, more used to subtractive carving than building up a maquette for casting?


Minns’ relationship with Guntons was sufficiently accommodating that he could work on his own projects for local architects and designers in materials other than baked clay. For example, Minns worked with Thomas Jeckyll [14] on the Norfolk Gates – an exhibition piece by the Norwich foundry of Barnard Bishop and Barnards (1862) that was then given as a wedding gift by the people of Norfolk to the Prince (later, King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales at Sandringham [15]. Hand-wrought ironwork dominates but the piers and their base panels were cast and this is where Minns made his contribution, bringing him to the attention of the future king. 

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Left: The Norwich coat of arms, cast iron, from the Norfolk Gates. Image © Right: carved wooden panel being sold by A similar wood carving of the Norwich coat of arms, labelled “pattern for cast iron”, which is held in the Norfolk Museums Collections (NWHCM: 1969.59.1), is attributed to James Minns. 

Over the years, Jeckyll worked extensively for the Boileau family at Ketteringham, including house, church, farmhouses and the estate in general. Minns is known to have carved the figures on the church tower [17] and he is likely to have provided other touches around the village.

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About 1850, Jeckyll designed the well outside ‘Wellgate’ in Low Street, Ketteringham; it bears the Boileau arms. 

James Minns also designed this logo for Colman’s mustard.Colmans Duo.001.jpeg

 The bull’s head, from LeGrice’s article on Minns [1]. ©E.C.LeGrice

He also did much of the carving in the Colman’s home at Carrow House. Helen C. Colman reminisced:

“My Father and Mother returned to Carrow House on June 7th 1861 though it was still more or less in the hands of workmen … but the wood carving in oak in the Library … was for the most part done during the ‘sixties … it was nearly all carved locally, and much of it by James Minns.” [16].

Dated 1862, the fireplace in the Old Library at Carrow House is richly carved with birds, flowers and foliage. The four human heads, however, were said by Helen Colman to be ‘carved by someone from a distance’ [16]); i.e., not Minns.

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Mantelpiece in the Old Library at Carrow House carved by James Minns, except the four small heads. Photos courtesy of Sam Johns, Norfolk Museums Service

The remodelling of Carrow House is thought to have been carried out by Edward Boardman [17] (whose son was to marry into the Colman family) and he would have been familiar with James Minns. Indeed, a footnote on Boardman’s plans for the 1891 renovation of the Manor House at Catton specifically names the Minns family of carvers [18, 19].

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The cat and tun (barrel) rebus, carved by the Minns family, on the south door at Catton Manor House, copies the older carving on the east side. Courtesy of Robert Radford. Photo: Ray Jones, Old Catton Society

Although the Colman family were Nonconformist they supported church-going amongst their workers; at St Andrew’s Trowse – a short walk from Colman’s Carrow Works – they donated a reredos of the Last Supper. It is said to be ‘a copy of an Italian masterpiece, carved by James Minns of Lakenham’ and was dedicated in 1905, a year after Minns died [20].


The Last Supper is often depicted with all figures aligned on the far side of the table, school-photograph style. Here, a second row of figures at front increases the depth. I can only find similar versions in Northern European panels. Can you identify the original?

George Skipper’s masterwork was Surrey House, headquarters of Norwich Union (now Aviva) in Surrey Street, and was completed in 1904. A 2008 conservation plan for Aviva states that H.H. Martyn & Co of Cheltenham, who specialised in woodwork and panelling, were assisted by James Minns of 11 Arthur Street, Norwich, “including the carved figures over the main doorway” [21]. The use of Minns’ correct address lends credibility although large carvings of women lolling on the pediment aren’t the usual Minns territory.IMG_2116.jpg

More in keeping with the skilfully carved foliage we saw in his bird panels are the baroque swags of  fruit and flowers hanging on the mahogany panelling. These are reminiscent of Grinling Gibbons’ work and Le Grice did, after all, confer the title of ‘Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons’ on Minns. On the other hand, reproductions of Grinling Gibbons carvings were a speciality of Martyn’s of Cheltenham [22] so we await corroboration that James Minns was the actual carver. 

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Left: Intricate carving from the boardroom, Surrey House. Right: Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) Hampton Court Palace (by Camster2, Wikipedia, Creative Commons licence).

James Minns died on the 6th of August 1904. His death certificate gives the cause of death as cardiac syncope; he also had senile decay, which makes one wonder if this affected the quality of his work in the latter years and whether his son had to do work on his behalf. James Benjamin Shingles Minns left £200 to his son John  plus ‘effects’ – perhaps his tools. A few days later, the Eastern Daily Press wrote this tribute: “There passed away this week in Norwich a brilliant practitioner of a delightful form of art. As a wood carver Mr Minns was in the utmost sense of that term a genius [5].” 

©2020 Reggie Unthank

If you know anything about the life and works of James Minns, especially previously unrecorded carvings, please get in touch via the Contact link. Comments will not be published without your approval.


  1. E.C.LeGrice (1958). James Minns: Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons. East Anglian Magazine vol 18, No2, December.
  4. Norfolk Record Office: N/TC/D1/100/5-12
  5. Under ‘Local Topics’, an article written in the week of Minn’s death. Eastern Daily Press 12th August 1904.
  6. Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton with John Steven (1982). ‘A Happy Eye’: A School of Art in Norwich 1845-1982. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich.
  7. George A. Stephen (1917). Three Centuries of a City Library.
  12. David Bussey and Eleanor Martin (2012).The Architects of Norwich: George John Skipper, 1856-1948. Norwich Society publication.
  16. Helen C. Colman (1922) “Carrow House Past and Present”. In, Carrow Works Magazine pp51-54.
  17. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  18. Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society, personal communication.
  21. 2008 Aviva Conservation Management Plan mentions ‘H.H. Martyn & Co. Ltd., of Cheltenham – specialist woodwork and panelling, assisted by James Minns of 11 Arthur Street, Norwich (boardroom and committee rooms woodwork including the carved figures over the main doorway)’. Courtesy of Aviva Archivist Thomas Barnes.

Thanks. I am grateful to: Peter Mann, Paul Cooper and Brian Gage who provided  information on the Costessey brickyard; Richard Barnes for information on Jeckyll; Thomas Barnes, Archivist at Aviva for access and information; Robert Radford, owner of Catton Old Hall and Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society; Sue Roe for genealogy; Hill House Antiques & Decorative Arts Ltd; Byron Cooke and Mary Perrott for access to Carrow House; Samantha Johns of Norfolk Museums Service, for photographing Minns’ work; and Matthew Colman and James Colman for allowing me to photograph three superb examples of Minns’ framed bird carvings. Evelyn Simak provided James Minns’ death certificate.

The Norwich Banking Circle


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From the C16 onwards, when an influx of religious refugees from the Low Countries swelled the population by up to third, Norwich became a crowded city and those who had grown rich on the worsted industry began to move out. By moving to their grand houses in the country the wealthy not only marked their new social status but also escaped the epidemics of cholera, smallpox and typhoid that swept the city. They left behind urban space that became colonised by the poor who lived in hundreds of speculative shanties. These insanitary ‘yards’ or ‘courts’, accessed down an alleyway, were a defining feature of this city that lasted until the slum clearances of the C20 [1].

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In the heart of the former textile industry, Burrell’s Yard, off Colegate, 1937. ©

To see where the rich had fled I drew a circle around the city with a radius of a comfortable 30-minute carriage ride. In doing this I found I was merely following David Clarke who, in his third volume of The Country Houses of Norfolk, catalogued the mansions ringing Norwich, most of which are now being subsumed by the urban sprawl [2]. I had expected to see a greater diversity of trades but what we will see is a circle of wealth maintained by families who had become rich from weaving. ‘Master weavers’ managing dozens of looms made money directly from the woollen trade but the more successful made money by handling funds and extending credit to their fellow weavers. The most successful – like the Gurney and Harvey families – formed ‘country banks’ [3].

Old Catton was convenient for those who had business north of the river in Norwich-over-the-Water and what was once an agricultural village had, by the early C20, become ‘the best residential suburb adjoining Norwich’ [4]. This gentrification had begun in the mid-1700s when wool merchant Robert Rogers (Sheriff 1743, Mayor 1758) built Catton Place [4]. In 1816 this was to become the home of Samuel Bignold, son of the founder of Norwich Union. 

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‘The Firs’, formerly Catton Place, in 1935. ©

Probably the most important house in the village was Catton Hall, built on a rise that afforded a view of Norwich Cathedral now challenged by the Anglia Square development. The wealthy worsted weaver Jeremiah Ives, moved here from No.1 Colegate [5]. In the city he had lived within hailing distance of his relatives, the Harveys, and he joined them in Catton as a fellow landowner. Here is Ives, portrayed by an artist with the improbably apt name of Catton. 


Portrait of Jeremiah Ives, Mayor of Norwich 1769, 1795, by Charles Catton. Presented by the yarn-makers of Norwich in gratitude for his opposition to an Act allowing the export of English wool [5].

It isn’t clear whether Ives purchased Catton Hall or whether it was inherited by his wife; either way, it was more than just ‘a house in the country’ for in 1778 Ives gave Humphry Repton his first paid commission to transform the surrounding 45 hectares into Catton Park [2,6].

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‘Park Scene – View of Norwich – View in Catton Park’ by Humphry Repton (1752-1818). The cathedral spire can be seen between the trees. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1936.32.2

The Harveys had a considerable presence in Old Catton: Thomas Harvey built Catton House but there was also Robert Harvey at The Grange and Jeremiah Ives Harvey at Eastwood [4].

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To the north of Norwich on Faden’s map of 1797 ©Andrew Macnair. The land of J Ives Esquire is underlined in yellow. Mr T Harvey’s house in parkland is starred while Mr R Harvey and Mr Harvey owned land to the east (underlined). 

But the Harvey who built Catton House was the one who married Ann Twiss – daughter of an English merchant from Rotterdam – and whose collection of Dutch paintings had a formative influence on the co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome (see recent post [7]). 

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Catton House post-1945. Courtesy of the Old Catton Society

The Gurneys also had a presence in Catton: in 1854 Catton Hall was bought by the seriously rich John Henry Gurney Snr who had inherited the bulk of the fortune accumulated by Hudson Gurney (1775-1864) of Keswick Hall (see below). The Gurneys were Quaker weavers who, through an ‘extended cousinhood’ of alliances and partnerships, formed the country’s largest banking network outside London [3,8]. 

Financial intermediaries in the Norwich woollen trade, John and Henry Gurney established Gurney’s Norwich Bank in 1770. In 1778, Henry’s son Bartlett inherited the bank that he ran with the help of  two cousins, Richard and Joseph Gurney. Their premises were in a former wine merchant’s whose cellars proved useful for housing the safes, protected by a mastiff and a blunderbuss. Gurneys Bank was near the red well on Redwell Plain, which was renamed Bank Plain. 

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Gurneys, Birkbeck, Barclay and Buxton Bank on Bank Plain Norwich in the 1920s, here re-badged as Barclays Bank. ©Barclays Group Archives. Astonishingly, the same ornate lamp-post on the left still stands in the same spot  (see right). 

In 1896 the bank became amalgamated under the Barclays name and the present grand banking hall was built on the site in 1927 [8]. In the C19, their London branch became ‘the world’s greatest bill-discounting house’, allowing a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to sing, ‘I became as rich as the Gurneys‘. Nevertheless, in 1866 they went bust with £11,000,000 liabilities. Although this ruined several Gurneys the Norwich branch escaped significant damage [3,8].


The ‘new’ Barclays Bank built 1927, now housing ‘Open’ Youth Trust

Influenced by the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace, Gurney extended Catton Hall with a cast-iron Camellia House designed by local architect Edward Boardman and manufactured in Boulton & Paul’s Norwich factory. The fine cupola was removed in WWII to prevent enemy planes using it as a landmark on the way to RAF St Faith’s (now Norwich Airport) [2,4].


Catton Hall. The original cupola on the Camellia House is illustrated in the old postcard below, courtesy of the Old Catton Society.

John Henry Gurney Snr was married to Mary Jary who ran off with one of the grooms.

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Courtesy of ‘Hethersett Heritage’ by the Hethersett Society

… and, to compound JH Gurney’s woes, the bank in which he was a major shareholder (Overend, Gurney & Co.) went bust in May 1866. This triggered ‘Black Friday’ in the City and led to him selling the Hall to his cousin, Samuel Gurney Buxton, a banker at Barclays [3,4]. In 1896, Gurneys Bank was to join 10 other private banks controlled by Quakers, to form Barclays Bank. 

Mary Jary Gurney had come from Thickthorn Hall, a few miles south of Norwich at Hethersett. She had lived in this early C19 house that passed to Richard Hanbury Gurney when the owner defaulted on his mortgage. It stayed in the Gurney family until the 1930s when Alan Rees Colman, director of Colmans and second son of Russell Colman of Crown Point, bought the hall.

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Thickthorn Hall. Courtesy of Cathie Piccolo

In addition to Catton and Thickthorn the wider Gurney family also had country houses ringing the city – at Colney, Earlham, Easton, Keswick Hall and Sprowston.


Clockwise from Catton Hall (Gurney) at 12 o’clock, banking families were associated with: Sprowston Hall (Gurney), Whitlingham Hall (Harvey), Crown Point (Harvey), Keswick Hall (Gurney), Eaton Hall (mistakenly labelled Easton Hall by Faden; Easton Lodge was briefly owned by a Gurney but is actually a few miles west), Earlham Hall (Gurney) and Colney Hall (Barclay). From Faden’s Map of 1797 ©Andrew Macnair.

The mid-C16 Sprowston Hall was acquired by the Gurneys in 1869 – bought by John Gurney, the eldest son of John Gurney of Earlham Hall (see below) [2]. Gurney employed Wymondham architect Thomas Jeckyll to re-design it in an Elizabethan Revival style. Jeckyll, however, could not resist inserting an of-the-moment gate in the Aesthetic Style that he helped champion.

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Jeckyll’s ‘japonaise’ gate at Sprowston Manor. See previous post.

But if we’re following the money it’s impossible to avoid the gravitational pull of Keswick, south of Norwich. The worsted weaver Joseph Gurney came to Keswick Old Hall in 1747 but when the fabulously wealthy Hudson Gurney (who inherited brewing as well as banking money) took over the estate in 1811 he built a new Keswick Hall in the Regency style [2].

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The ‘dashing smart’ Hudson Gurney in an etching by Mrs Dawson Turner from a painting by John Opie RA. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1832.39.1

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Keswick Hall, south front in 1990. ©

When Hudson Gurney died in 1864 his estate passed to his nephew John Henry Gurney of Earlham who had been tainted by the collapse of Overend, Gurney & Co Ltd. Much later, Keswick Hall was to become the new home of trainee teachers who had been displaced from their training college in Norwich’s College Road when it was bombed in the Baedeker Raids of 1942.


The 1892 Diocesan training college for school mistresses on College Road, Norwich, was bombed in WWII and the students moved to Keswick Hall

Earlham Hall, just west of the city,  is another Gurney residence now associated with education [2]. For over a century the house was rented from the Bacon family during which time it was occupied by the banker John Gurney (1749-1809) and his family. Not all of his 13 children survived but Samuel, Daniel and Joseph John lived on to become bankers. Joseph John Gurney was also a Quaker minister and, like his sister Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), was active in social and prison reform.


Earlham Hall as it was in the early C19. Now, much changed, it houses the UEA Law School. Courtesy landscape.uea

The easternmost house I underlined on Faden’s map is Whitlingham Hall on the Crown Point Estate. The Hall was built for Sir Robert Harvey Harvey 1st Baronet by architect H E Coe, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. The local practice of Edward Boardman and Son supervised the building of this large Elizabethan-Revival mansion with its spectacular ornamental conservatory [9]. 


Whitlingham Hall, which superseded  Crown Point Hall. ©Rightmove

Five years later, as one of the proprietors of what began as Hudson and Hatfield’s Bank, Harvey was to build the grand Corinthian-style Norwich Crown Bank; this was on Agricultural Hall Plain, within sight of Gurneys’ (later, Barclays) Bank on Bank Plain [10]. Unfortunately, Sir Robert had been speculating on the stock exchange and tried to disguise his heavy losses as debts owed by fictitious customers. When the scandal broke in 1870 Harvey shot himself. Somewhat ironically, in view of their own recent financial uncertainty, Gurneys Bank bought the goodwill of the Crown Bank in order to quell local panic [3]. The Crown Point Estate was sold to JJ Colman and in 1955 it became Whitlingham Hospital, now private apartments.

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Norwich Crown Bank

The name ‘crown’ associated with this building is sometimes thought to be associated with its later use as the city’s Head Post Office (until 1969).  IMG_1918.jpg

The name, however, traces back to Major John Money who built Crown Point Hall, which was torn down when Sir Robert Harvey built Whitlingham Hall [2]. Money served in the Army during the North American Campaign [2] where he was based at Fort Crown Point –  “the greatest British military installation ever raised in North America.” [11]. You may remember Major Money from a previous post [12] that describes his perilous balloon flight of 1785 when he took off from Quantrell’s Pleasure Garden (near Sainsbury’s on Queens Road); he landed in the sea off Yarmouth from which he was rescued several hours later. 1024px-Major_Mony's_Perilous_Situation_When_he_fell_into_the_Sea_July,_23,_1785,_off_the_Coast_of_Yarmouth_NASM-745A8AFD32D22_001.jpg

Bonus track: The Harvey family portrait [13]

You know that dream where you meet all your ancestors in some celestial picnic spot; you know, grandparents, distant aunts and uncles and a posse of strangely familiar faces? Well, here it is, several blog posts rolled into one. There’s Robert Harvey who founded the family bank (#3 in the portrait). And there’s John Harvey (#5) from the Street Names post [14] who gave his name to Harvey Lane; he also appeared in the Norwich School of Painters post in Stannard’s painting, Thorpe Water Frolic [7]. There’s even Charles Harvey MP (#6) who took the surname of his uncle Savill Onley in order to secure an inheritance, as we saw in Street Names [14], together with his son Onley Savill Onley. (#7) And don’t forget that Onley became an Unthank name (hence, Onley Street) through marriage [15]. These are just some of the connections implicit in the portrait by Norwich School artist Joseph Clover – a friend of Amelia Opie’s husband John who we encountered  in the previous post, Behind Mrs Opie’s Medallion [16].

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The Harvey Family of Norwich, by Joseph Clover c 1821. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and At Gallery  NWHCM: 1985.435. 1= Robert Harvey ‘Father of the City’ (1679-1773); 2= Sir Robert Harvey Harvey; 3=Genl Sir Robert Harvey b.1785, founder of Harvey’s Bank; 4=Robert Harvey of Catton and St Clements ?1730-1816;  5= John Harvey of Thorpe Lodge 1775-1842; 6= Charles Harvey who took the name of Savill Onley 1756-1843; 7= Onley Savill Onley d.1890; 8= Roger Kerrison of Brooke House, Norfolk. Father-in-law of John Harvey (#5) and bank owner 1740-1808.

©Reggie Unthank 2020


  1. Frances and Michael Holmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  2. David Clarke (2011). The Country Houses of Norfolk. Part Three: The City and Suburbs. Pub: Geo R Reeve Ltd, Wymondham.
  3. Roger Ryan (2004). Banking and Insurance. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550’ by Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  4. Old Catton Society (2010). Historic Houses of Old Catton. Pub: Catton Print, Norwich.
  10. AD Bayne (1869). A Comprehensive History of Norwich. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich. Now available online:
  13. Andrew Moore and Charlotte Crawley (1992). Family and Friends: A Regional Survey of British Portraiture. Pub: London: HMSO and Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service.

Thanks to David Clarke of City Bookshop, Norwich, for his advice; his Country Houses of Norfolk is the standard work. I am grateful to Dr Giorgia Bottinelli and Jo Warr of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery for providing the information on the Harvey portrait. Thanks also to Ray Jones, archivist to the Old Catton Society for providing images and to Cathy Piccolo for information on, and the photo of, Thickthorn Hall.

Behind Mrs Opie’s medallion


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Few women in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century were able to achieve national celebrity, but Amelia Opie did [1]. As a young Norwich woman she became a well-known author, publishing several novels and works of poetry. Her luminous friends included Lady Caroline Lamb, Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), Sir Joshua Reynolds, JMW Turner, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Fry; and in later life, when she became a Quaker, her name headed the list of 187,000 women petitioning for the abolition of slavery [2].

On a recent visit to Norwich School I was shown a medallion of Amelia Opie in her high Quaker bonnet. I wrote briefly about her in Three Norwich Women [1] but I’m revisiting because the medallion – or at least the back of the medallion –  opens a small window on Norwich in Amelia’s time. I call her Amelia because that’s what her biographer, Ann Farrant [2], called her but, still, I hesitate since she was a stickler about forms of address:

… do not call me Mrs Amelia Opie. I am not Mrs Amelia Opie but Mrs Opie or among friends Amelia Opie … Mrs Opie, Norwich is my lawful and proper designation’ [2].


Mrs Opie’s medallion. Courtesy of Norwich School

The name ‘David’ is inscribed beneath the sitter’s shoulder. Napoleon was known by the single name but the only artist with sufficient celebrity to be known by a single name was Jacques-Louis David, the foremost painter in revolutionary France. The ‘Opie’ David, however, refers to the sculptor Pierre-Jean David, from the town of Angers, who made medallions of more than 500 well-known figures. When Pierre-Jean entered the studio of Jacques-Louis David he differentiated himself from his patron by adopting the name of David D’Angers.

After Britain and France declared peace in 1802 Amelia travelled to France. As the granddaughter of a Dissenting minister, daughter of a doctor with radical sympathies, and travelling with companions who supported the French Revolution, there seems little doubt that Amelia intended to see France’s new society for herself. In the group was her husband, John Opie RA, one of whose attractions as a suitor was that he’d agreed to live in the Opie household if Amelia proved averse to leaving her beloved father [2].


John Opie self-portrait 1789. His wife was to outlive him by 46 years

Amelia had been taught French by her great friend, the Reverend John Bruckner from Leiden in The Netherlands, who was pastor to the city’s French-speaking Protestants at St Mary-the-Less in Queen Street (and, later, to the Dutch Strangers in Blackfriars’ Hall). She is said to have insisted that John Opie paint a portrait of Bruckner as a condition of their marriage. 

Amelia had an ‘almost obsessive interest in Napoleon’ and once, when she contrived to see him passing by, ‘saw him very near us, and in full face again.’ But two years later Amelia became an unbeliever when Napoleon snatched the crown from the Pope, placed it on his own head and declared himself Emperor; as she said, ‘the bubble burst’ [2]. 


Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David (1801)

It had been thought that Amelia met David D’Angers on this visit but her biographer, Ann Farrant, makes it clear that it wasn’t until 1829, when Amelia was a widow and a Quaker with a high Quaker bonnet, that she first met David D’Angers in person [2].

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Portrait of David d’Angers ©British Museum. 1006,U.2424

When Amelia revisited France she formed a strong friendship with David D’Angers. She was pleased her portrait on the medallion was ‘like’; she also noted that he’d managed to make the Quaker bonnet look a little like the classical Phrygian cap that the French revolutionaries wore as their bonnets rouges [2].

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Left: the Phrygian cap worn by Attis, second century AD. Right: a French revolutionary with bonnet rouge, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. The Phrygian cap is said to have been worn by liberated slaves in Greece and Rome. 

The back of the frame is equally interesting. IMG_2012.jpg

Freeman’s of London Street was founded by Jeremiah Freeman but the Freeman in the time of the Opie medallion would have been his son William (1783-1877). He is listed as proprietor of a ‘General Furnishing Warehouse and Repository of Arts’ at Number Two London Street.

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William Freeman, Mayor Norwich 1843-4, Sheriff 1842. By Frederick Sandys, dated 1848. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1949.102

Describing Freeman as a proprietor of a general furnishing warehouse seriously underplayed his business for he employed 63 men, women and apprentices producing  furniture and gilt frames of the highest quality. As a frame-maker he would have been in competition with Norwich School artist James Thirtle who also made picture frames, notably for his brother-in-law, John Sell Cotman [3].


Early C19 Rococo Revival composition mirror by William Freeman of Norwich ca 1825. Courtesy Farrelly Antiques, Oxon


The label on the mirror gives Freeman’s address as ‘London and Swan Lane’. The wording implies the existence of a London branch but may simply mean his London Lane shop not the capital. Swan Lane is off present-day London Street. Courtesy Farrelly Antiques, Oxon

Freeman made furniture for Norfolk’s grand country houses, including Felbrigg  Hall and Blickling Hall.

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Gilt and gesso console table with an Italian marble top, by Freemans of Norwich 1825-1850.  ©BlicklingHall@National Trust/Sue James

Three generations of Freemans were embedded in the artistic life of the city. Jeremiah (1763-1823) was President of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1818 – a post held by William himself two years later. William’s son, William Philip Barnes Freeman (1813-1897), went to Norwich School with John Crome’s son and was taught drawing by John Sell Cotman. In 1854 the first meeting of the Norwich Photographic Society was held on their premises [4].

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The River at Thorpe Reach by William Philip Barnes Freeman (1813-1897), a late member of the Norwich School of Painters. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1969. 301.3

In addition to Freeman’s label on the reverse of the medallion, a faded inscription has been preserved: Amelia Opie cast from a macet (i.e., maquette or preliminary model) by David of Paris during her visit in April (and here the original paper is torn). Presented by Wm Freeman Magistrate to the N …” but this and the following tangle of letters are difficult to decipher. The final line has just the date,“1851”, two years before Amelia’s death.



My first impression was that the difficult-to-decipher word beginning with ‘N’ was ‘Noverre’. This turns out to be incorrect but, as my old maths master insisted, I’ll show my workings, if only for the glimpse they give into contemporary Norwich society.


The Noverres were a Swiss-French Protestant family who lived in The Chantry adjacent to the Assembly House. Augustin had been ballet master at Drury Lane Theatre London, with David Garrick while brother Jean-George, back in France, had been dancing master to Marie-Antionette. One evening, just as he left the stage, Augustin was caught up in an anti-French fight. He mistakenly thought he had run an assailant through with a sword and fled to Norwich where he is said to have been sheltered by French Huguenot silk weavers [5].

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Augustin Noverre (1779-1854) by Norwich School artist, Joseph Clover. Norwich Assembly House

Augustin’s son Francis (1773-1840) – who had been born in Britain – came to Norwich to teach dance, deportment and aspects of cultural refinement required in polite society. He built the west wing of the Assembly House for his ballroom. Long before she became a Quaker, the adolescent Amelia was an enthusiastic dancer; a friend recalls dancing ‘from seven to eleven’ at a reception for Prince William Frederick held at Amelia’s father’s house [2]. Amelia certainly knew of the Noverres since her husband John painted a portrait of the two Noverre children.

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Augustin and Harriet, children of Francis and Harriet Noverre. Painted by John Opie ca 1805.

Public assemblies in the Assembly Rooms weren’t all stately minuets and cotillions for at the end of the evening the ladies would retire to remove the hoops from their skirts in readiness for country dancing. ‘At Assize Week in Norwich, the double doors between ballroom, card-room, and tea-room were opened up, and country dances danced along the length of the three rooms’ [6].

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Country Dance, by William Hogarth. From, The Analysis of Beauty Plate 2. Wikimedia Commons

At some stage, the original inscription on the reverse of the medallion was glued to a new backing without closing the horizontal tear that runs along the penultimate line. On a print, I cut out the tear and joined the original edges. What I’d unconfidently construed as ‘Noverre’ can now be seen to be part of ‘Norwich’; however, the short final word (4-5 letters, florid italic capital) defeats my crossword-solving app and leaves Mr Freeman’s intention opaque.

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After excising the gap (above) the two halves of ‘Norwi-ch’ could be rejoined (below).

The Norwich School medallion resembles the bronze plaque by David D’Angers in the National Portrait Gallery. The profile reappears on the marble bust by David D’Angers  that forms the centrepiece of a display of anti-slavery artefacts in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Amelia’s support for the abolitionist cause originated with her mother who, after her parents had died, became very attached to her black nurse [2].

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Left: The Opie medallion ©National Portrait Gallery, London. Right: Marble bust of Amelia Opie by Jean-Pierre David D’Angers, Paris 1836. When the bust was delivered to Amelia from Paris she didn’t dare open it for three weeks in case it was frightful [2].  Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

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In 1825, in her mid-fifties with both husband and father dead, Amelia joined the Society of Friends. Now, she worshipped in the Friends’ Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane instead of her father’s chapel, the Octagon in Colegate [1]. Her high Quaker bonnet made Amelia a distinctive figure amongst those who attended the 1840 Anti-Slavery Society Convention.

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A key to ‘The Anti-Slavery Society Convention 1840’ by JA Vintner, based on the painting by BR Haydon. ©National Portrait Gallery

There is a description of a lost photograph of Amelia: ‘in her Quaker dress, in old age, dim, and changed, and sunken, from which it is very difficult to realise all the brightness, and life, and animation which must have belonged to the earlier part of her life…’ [7].  Some of this youthful spark was captured by John Opie just after he and Amelia were married.


Amelia Opie 1798, painted by John Opie RA. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons Licence.

This was the painting on which Mrs Dawson Turner based her etching of Amelia in 1822. Mary Turner was the wife of Dawson Turner FRS (1775-1855) – banker, botanist, art collector – who had employed JS Cotman as drawing master to his family in Yarmouth. This etching of Amelia, which prettifies the Opie portrait, was made towards the end of Cotman’s time at Yarmouth by which time Mrs Dawson Turner would have been familiar with his etching techniques [3]. 

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Mrs Opie, 1822. Etching by Mrs Dawson Turner from John Opie’s painting (above). Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Long before she renounced fashion and adopted plain Quaker garb the 21-year-old Amelia had published an anonymous work on the Dangers of Coquetry. It therefore comes as a surprise to learn that she asked the Norwich School painter Joseph Clover to ask Mrs Turner to modify the likeness. To achieve this to Amelia’s satisfaction Mary Turner went through five iterations [2]. 

With its emphasis on the elaborate hair style the Turner etching may well have been the model for Amelia Opie on a new mural in Norwich Market. One hundred and sixty six years after her death it is this image of a vibrant, unbonneted woman that endures.

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From a mural on the shutters of a stall in Norwich Market, by Lucie Knights for Norwich Norwich Business Improvement District (BID)

©Reggie Unthank 2020

This post is respectfully dedicated to Amelia Opie’s biographer Ann Farrant, who died in 2019.


  2. Ann Farrant (2014). Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity. Pub: JJG Publishing, Hindringham, Norfolk.
  3. Josephine Walpole (1997). Art and Artists of the Norwich School. Pub: Antique Collectors’ Club
  5. Tom Roast (2018). Ten Musical Families from Norwich. Pub: Gateway Music Norwich.
  6. Marc Girouard (1990). The English Town: A History of Urban Life. Pub: Yale University Press.
  7. Miss Thackeray (1883). A Book of Sibyls. Pub: Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig. Mentioned in Anne Farrants biography.

Thanks to Cheryl Wood, archivist Norwich School, for showing me the Opie medallion. I am grateful to Victoria Nieto Felipe of Norwich BIDS for information on the mural of Amelia Opie in Norwich Market







Norwich: shaped by fire


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Fire has been a potent force in shaping where we live – a lick here, a conflagration there – especially when buildings were made of timber and thatch. In the period before the Conquest, near a low river crossing, a defended Anglo-Scandinavian settlement evolved on the north bank of the River Wensum. This was the North Wic whose name is recorded on coins minted there during the reign of the first English king, Athelstan (925-939). But in 1004 the Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard, took vengeance for the death of his sister during the St Brice’s Day Massacre by burning the northern settlement [1].

“This year came Sweyne with his fleet to Norwich, plundering and burning the whole town.”  (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles).


From the bronze doors of Norwich City Hall. James Woodford 1938

Two ‘lost’ churches on the north bank, in the Magdalen Street area of Norwich, had suffixes referring to fire: St Mary’s Unbrent (unburnt) and St Margaret’s in Combusto or, in Combusto Loco. The qualifier, ‘in combusto loco’, identifies them as survivors of a conflagration but by the Reformation both had disappeared. The local historian Blomefield [1] avoided blaming the Danes for this fire; instead he suggested it was ‘in the time of the Conqueror’, although it is hard to get a definitive answer. Whether the north wic was too devastated to be rebuilt as a regional capital or whether they preferred to be inside the protective loop of the Wensum, the Normans radically transformed the topography by re-settling Northwic on the south of the river. Here, they built their cathedral, castle and marketplace from which the new French Borough pushed westward.


Sr Mary Unbrent (red star) and St Margaret In Combusto (yellow) were in the part of Norwich-over-the-Water ravaged by fire. The new French Borough changed the city’s north-south axis by expanding westwards from the new Castle. Map: ‘How the city of Norwich grew into shape’ by Wm Hudson 1896. Courtesy Norfolk Museums NWHCM:1997.550.50:M

In August 1272 a quarrel erupted at the annual Tombland Fair over whether stall-holders should pay fees to the city or the priory. The prior’s armed men claimed that the old Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace outside the cathedral gates was under their jurisdiction, not the city’s, and in the ensuing fight a citizen was killed with a crossbow [1]. The belligerent prior, William de Brunham, fled to Yarmouth and returned with barges of armed men who ‘fell upon citizens with fire and sword’ [1]. While the priory men  barred the monastery gates and fired crossbows at passing citizens, citizens on the tower of St George Tombland shot slings of fire that set the monastery ablaze, destroying much, including the library.


The tower of St George Tombland, in Princes Street, from which the townsmen hurled fire towards the cathedral spire.

Thirteen priory men were killed [2]. When he heard about this, King Henry III – who was attending his parliament at Bury St Edmunds – condemned 34 young townsmen to be drawn by horses around the city until dead. Others were hanged, drawn and quartered and their bodies burned, according to the old Anglo-Saxon penalty for arson. The woman who set fire to the gates was burned alive. Though the prior was acknowledged to have instigated the riot he got off lightly: he was committed to the bishop’s prison and the priory’s manors were seized by the Crown. 

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For burning the old Saxon church of St Ethelbert the king ordered the citizens to build the Ethelbert Gate (restored in the C19) to the cathedral precinct. While the presence of St George in the left-hand spandrel could be fulfilling a traditional protective (apotropaic) role it can’t help reminding us of the Tombland Riot.

A century and a half before the Great Fire of London, much of Norwich was to be devastated by its own Great Fires. First,  in 1505, “was grete part of the cyte of Norwich brent” [1]. Two years later, two more fires consumed the city centre, helping to explain why so few timber-framed and thatched medieval buildings survived into the modern period [2]. The first of the 1507 fires started on Easter Tuesday and, over four days, 718 buildings burned: Norwich was ‘almost utterly defaced’ [1].  

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The 1507 fire map. Redrawn from ©BS Veriod 1986 [3]

The fire is said to have started at The Popinjay Inn on Tombland, home to the Popinjay or Papingay family (popinjay = parrot) [1, 4]. 

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Site of the Popinjay Inn 1962, Number 27 on the SE corner of Tombland. The corner building was demolished to make way for an unsympathetic modern structure now occupied by All-Bar-One.  ©

On Ascension Day – the fourth of June 1507 – a second fire started in the house of a French surgeon in the Colegate area; it raged for two days and a night, destroying a further 360 houses. Stone-built churches survived but very few timber-framed and thatched houses did (the city’s remaining thatched buildings are shown at the end). Almost half the city’s houses were destroyed. In Elm Hill, the Britons Arms stood alone [2]. IMG_1995.jpg

Britons Arms of 1347 [5] was originally a beguinage that housed lay sisters associated with St Peter Hungate (in the background). Now it is a coffee house and restaurant.

After the fires, Augustine Steward – sheriff, mayor and wealthy wool merchant, whose wonky house is around the corner in Tombland – rebuilt much of Elm Hill. This included Paston House, now home to the Strangers’ Club (see previous post [6]). 

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Paston House in Elm Hill, rebuilt by Augustine Steward after the 1507 fires. Blackfriars’ Hall is glimpsed at the end of the street.

Blackfriars’ Hall itself had been ravaged by fire in 1413 and was rebuilt over a 30 year period (1440-70) [7]. The family of Sir Thomas Erpingham – whose kneeling effigy still supervises entry through the cathedral’s Erpingham Gate – paid generously towards the restoration of the Blackfriars’ buildings while the Paston family paid for the hammer-beam roof in the nave now known as St Andrew’s Hall [6]. After the Reformation, Augustine Steward bought St Andrew’s Hall on behalf of the city and it comes down to us as ‘the most complete English friars’ church’ [7].

In 1509 the city authorities eventually decreed that all new buildings should have roofs of thaktyle (tile) and not thakke (thatch) [3,2]. Curiously, this ordinance was repealed in 1532, allowing houses to be roofed in ‘slatte, tyle or reeyd’ but sense prevailed and in 1570 Norfolk-reed thatch was again forbidden, changing the roofscape of Norwich at the stroke of a pen [3]. In The Netherlands and Flanders, thatch had already been banned in favour of pantiles that were now being imported all along the east coast of England and Scotland [8].

‘Pan’ is Dutch  for ’tile’ but it also refers to the pan you put on the stove, so ‘roof tile’ in Dutch is ‘dakpan’.

Another survivor of the 1507 fires was the C14 Suckling House, named after the mayor of 1564. In 1923 it was bought by Ethel and Caroline Colman. They added Stuart Hall as a cinema (to the left) and presented a renovated Suckling House to the City of Norwich, “for the advancement of education … in its widest sense” [9]. Cinema City is now an arts cinema with bar and restaurant.

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The pantiled great hall of Suckling House is at centre. Stuart Hall (left) was given to the city by the Colman sisters in memory of their sister Laura Elizabeth Stuart (see previous post). 

Decades later, the city still hadn’t risen from the ashes. To hasten the resurrection an Act of Parliament in 1534 declared that if the properties were not rebuilt or at least enclosed within two years: ‘the chief lords of the fees (or ‘the mayor &c’) may enter upon them, and rebuild or enclose them in one year’s time’ [1]. In 1578, in readiness for the visit of Queen Elizabeth, the mayor repaired and beautified the streets although this didn’t stop the monarch from commenting on the number of derelict properties.

The city ordinance of 1570 that specified tiled roofs represented an important turning point for it also outlined steps to fight fires. For instance, every carrier and brewer had to be prepared to convey vessels of water until a fire had been extinguished. 

For a fire alert the carriers and brewers were to be called by a peal of bells rung ‘auk’ or ‘auker’ [4].  ‘Auker’ is an elusive word (awkward?) but an inscription on the 7th bell at St Ives, Cambs provides an explanation: ” When backwards rung we tell of fire/Think how the world shall thus expire” [11]. That is, the call to action was a peal rung backwards.

There was also an inspection regime to ensure that church wardens and aldermen maintained sufficient buckets and tall ladders, or else be fined [4]. The thatched St Augustine’s church had to have six buckets and a ladder, while St Peter Mancroft was a 30-bucketer [10]. 

In 1577 the city had its first supply of pumped water, from New Mills, although it took until 1742 for the entire city to have access to water from cisterns. In 1720 a mechanism was installed that raised water into a cistern known as ‘The Tombland Waterhouse’ [3].


The Tombland Obelisk (and water fountain), erected in 1860 by JH Gurney on the site of the water cistern.

In 1668, just two years after the Great Fire of London, Norwich had its first fire engine, kept in St Andrew’s Hall; by 1750 the other city parishes had these manual appliances [3]. After the Great Fire, insurance companies sprang up as a hedge against financial loss but it wasn’t until 1797 that Thomas Bignold was to set up the ‘Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire’, later the ‘Norwich Union Fire Insurance Company’.

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Norwich Union fire mark of the early 1800s. Such plaques marked which houses were to be rescued by the company’s own fire brigade

At that time, the insurance companies’ own trained fire brigades probably offered better fire-fighting than the parish.

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Note the fire engine and the Norwich City arms. Norwich Union header of the late 1700s. Courtesy: Aviva

The ‘fire timeline’ [3] for Norwich in the C19 presents a catalogue of fires in commercial premises: Hubbard’s the cabinet makers (1815); Neal’s coachmakers (1820); St James factory (later Jarrolds’ print works, 1846); the Steam Flour Mills (1855); Tilyard and Howlett’s Shoe Factory (1862); JJ Colman’s Carrow Works (1881) etc etc. In 1829, there was a major fire at Squire & Hills Vinegar Brewery on the Wensum – a large factory of 125,000 square feet (11,600 sq metres).

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The Vinegar Works. Ordnance Survey map 1905/8

The presence of a gin distillery made for an explosive mixture and this was captured in a sketch by John Sell Cotman.


Fire at the Vinegar Works on the River Wensum by John Sell Cotman. Courtesy of The British Museum 1905,0520.2

Where Norwich goes, London follows: five years later JMW Turner had his own Vinegar Works.

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The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by JMW Turner ca 1834-5. Tate Britain, Creative Commons

In 1835 Norwich City Council was allowed to levy a rate to pay for combatting fire, and in 1840 they formed their own fire brigade. Norwich Union’s fire brigade disbanded in 1858 and passed on their equipment to the city [3]. 

But large companies still maintained their own fire brigades. In 1876, by the time the City Fire Brigade arrived at a fire in Albion Mills (now apartments) in King Street, JJ Colman’s fire brigade were already in attendance. Later that year they were again first attenders when a large fire devastated Boulton & Paul’s factory, further upriver at Rose Lane [3]. 


Colman’s Carrow Works Fire Brigade at work on the Wensum. Jets of water from the steam engine could be used to propel the fire team along the river. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk 


A horse-drawn steam engine of ca 1881 used by Colman’s Carrow Works Fire Brigade until 1945. Now in The Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell

The city’s fire station had originally been in the medieval Guildhall but in September 1898 a new station was opened in Pottergate. It may have been financially favourable to convert council-owned property but it meant that horse-drawn (and later, motor) fire engines had to negotiate their way through narrow medieval lanes. 

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The 1898 fire station in a yard off Pottergate. The Old Norfolk and Norwich Library is marked with a star. Ordnance Survey map 1905/7

The new fire station yard was accessed through an archway.

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The fire station sign marks the archway into the yard of 12-16 Pottergate. The firemen’s quarters were in a fine Georgian-fronted building opposite (No 17). The shop at the end of the street was a fish restaurant in 1933 and remains as such today – the Grosvenor Fish Bar. The near left side of the street was rebuilt after WWII. ©

One month before the Pottergate station was opened, a fire broke out in the premises of Hurn the rope and sail maker in nearby Dove Street (see map above). The municipal fire brigade was assisted by brigades maintained by two of the city’s big four breweries (Bullards and Steward & Patteson) but they were unable to prevent the spread of fire to the warehouse of Chamberlin’s the drapers, which occupied most of the block, nor to the Norwich Public Library. (For the history of Norwich libraries, and their fires, see [12]).


The Norfolk and Norwich Public Library in 1955. It was rebuilt following the major fire of 1898 and was until recently The Library restaurant. ©

In 1935 the fire station moved to Bethel Street, in purpose-built premises designed by Stanley Livock of London Street. Its style is akin to the ‘Post-Office Georgian’ employed on public buildings of the inter-war years. Its subdued decoration complements the Scandinavian-influenced City Hall, designed in 1931 but not completed until 1938.  

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The new fire station in Bethel Street, six months before the official opening. The chimney pots to the left are in Lacey & Lincoln’s builders’ yard, once the Old Skating Rink, and now Country & Eastern. Far right are houses at the corner of Bethel and St Peter’s Street that were soon to be demolished to make way for the City Hall, opened in 1938. ©

Other cities may have had separate fire brigades but in Norwich, the Chief Constable remained in charge of ‘police/firemen’ until the late 1940s [3]. This explains the presence of both police and fire helmets carved above the original entrance to the police station in Norwich City Hall. 


A fireman’s and a policeman’s helmet mark the old entrance to the police station in City Hall (1938) before it was moved to the SW corner. Designer: H Wilson Parker.

In 1994, with a horrible symmetry that recalled the 1892 library fire, the new Central Library (1960-2) burned down, one hundred yards from the fire station [see 13].


St Peter Mancroft (far left) separated by a car park from the Central Library – a part of which is glimpsed extreme right. Circa 1969. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Housed in The Forum the new Millennium Library (2001), designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, is claimed to be the most visited in the country. This building relates to St Peter Mancroft, across a piazza, far more successfully than its predecessor did across that cheerless car park.


The piazza forms a successful pedestrian space, shared between St Peter Mancroft and The Forum.

In 2013 the fire station became Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form and the city was served by three stations, not in the historic centre but on the perimeter at Carrow, Sprowston and North Earlham.

Bonus track: the six remaining thatched buildings

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Top row: Pykerell’s House C15, rebuilt after WWII, St Mary’s Plain; Thatched cottage C17, formerly the Hampshire Hog, St Swithin’s Alley off St Benedict’s Street; The Hermitage, 52-54 Bishopgate, dating from the C15. Bottom row:  Britons Arms C14, Elm Hill; 2-4 Lion and Castle Yard, C17, Timberhill; Waring’s Lifestore, late C16, formerly The Barking Dickey (Braying Donkey) Inn, Westlegate. Read more about these thatched buildings on the web page by Evelyn Simak, assiduous photographer of Norwich and Norfolk [13].

©2019 Reggie Unthank

A suggestion for the Christmas stocking: some copies of the fourth – and probably final – printing of the Unthank book remain. They can be bought from Jarrolds Book Department or the City Bookshop in Davey Place.  (“An ideal companion for the fireside”. The Norwich Mardler).


  1. Francis Blomefield (1806). An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I. Originally published by W Miller, London. Online:
  2. Frank Meeres(2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore.
  3. Bryan S Veriod (1986). A History of the Norwich City Fire Brigade. Pub: BS Veriod, Norwich
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  9. Ethel M Colman and Helen C Colman (1961). Suckling House and Stuart Hall Norwich. Pub: Trustees of the Laura Elizabeth Stuart Memorial Trust, Suckling House.
  11. Thomas North (1878). The Church Bells of Northamptonshire. Online:

Thanks: to Eva Kleiweg for correcting my Dutch for ‘pantile’; Jim Mearing for the booklet on Suckling House; Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk ( and Jonathan Plunkett ( for permissions.



Street Names #2


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Valpy Avenue NR3

The founders of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke, both sent sons to Norwich Grammar School (now Norwich School, in the Cathedral Close). Crome’s son, John Berney Crome, was a distinguished pupil – a classicist – and in 1813 he became School Captain and delivered a Latin oration to the Mayor of Norwich on Guild Day [1].


From [2]

This was during the headship of Reverend Edward Valpy, author of a Latin text book, who oversaw a rapid rise in pupil numbers from four or five until ‘he got nearly 300‘ [1,3]. The unusual name ‘Valpy’ is said to trace back to a family named Vulpi who emigrated to Jersey from Lucca in the C16, ‘Vulpi’ deriving from the Italian word for fox [1].


In the absence of a portrait of Reverend Valpy, an Italian fox. Courtesy The Telegraph

George Borrow Road NR4

The novelist and traveller George Borrow (1803-1881) was also a student at Norwich Grammar School during Valpy’s headship. As a sixteen-year-old he would go to the Romani encampment on Mousehold Heath, visit fairs and Tombland Market with them and he even learned the Romani language. In recognition of his linguistic skills the gypsies called him Lav-engro, or Word Master. They also called him Cooro-mengro for his pugilistic skills learned from a fighter, John Thurtell, who was hanged for murder [4].


Portrait of George Borrow, 1843, by Henry Wyndham Phillips. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery.

Perhaps as a result of his disaffection with school and immersion in Romani life, Borrow is said to have stained his face to darken it, prompting Reverend Valpy to ask, “Is that jaundice or only dirt, Borrow?”[4]. George Borrow’s fame derived from novels based on his wide travels through Europe. Evidently, Borrow was not a star pupil (no prize orations for him) yet he went on to gain a working knowledge of 100 languages, including a passion for Welsh [5]. Despite his rackety life, Borrow’s name is included on a school memorial naming Valpy’s pupils who made good [3].

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An early photographic portrait of George Borrow by Henry Pulley, Norwich 1848. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Binyon Gardens NR8


Laurence Binyon by William Strang 1901

Binyon is a surprising name to be found in the luminous company of Shakespeare, Byron, Keats and Dryden on a late C20 estate in the Norwich suburb of Taverham. Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) wrote a poem about The Blitz during WWII, The Burning of the Leaves, but it is for the war (or, rather, peace) poem he wrote in World War I that he is best known: he wrote For the Fallen in response to the high number of casualties already apparent in 1914 [6]. For the Fallen was one of three of Binyon’s poems on which Edward Elgar based his choral work, The Spirit of England. The fourth stanza is read on Remembrance Sunday:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. 

But we previously came across Binyon – then unnamed – in September’s post on the Norwich School of Painters when he was cited as the Keeper of Prints at the British Museum who thought John Sell Cotman’s Yorkshire paintings, ‘the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe’ [7].


‘Castle in Yorkshire’ by John Sell Cotman. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM : 1951.235.138

Waldeck Road NR4

Unthank Road, like the rest of England, is divided in two: the city end, from Tesco Express to the ring road, and the posh end from the ring road down to Waitrose. Waldeck Road is off the second half, although it looks much like the terraces nearer the city. Robert Webb contacted me about the derivation of ‘Waldeck’ and between us we came up with an explanation. Pim Waldeck – a recent Dutch Ambassador to Great Britain, who visited Norwich – arrived a century too late to receive the accolade but the Germanic-sounding name does provide a clue. Princess Helena of Waldeck (a German principality) was married to Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria [8].


Princess Helena on her wedding day in 1882. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Leopold inherited his mother’s gene for haemophilia and died of a fall two years after his marriage, ensuring that ‘Waldeck’, ‘Leopold’ and ‘Albany’ would linger in the minds of those distributing patriotic street-names. However, an 1898 edition of the Norfolk Chronicle contains a record of a council meeting in which over-zealous street-naming had to be corrected.

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Norfolk Chronicle 28-5-1898

It appears that the road originally named Avenue Road was changed to Waldeck Road because it clashed with Avenue Road off Park Lane. The names of Albany Road and Leopold Road also appear in this piece, clearly grouping the street names with Queen Victoria’s unfortunate son and his wife. Royalty provided a favourite riff for naming streets: another of Queen Victoria’s sons (Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught who was stationed in Norwich with his regiment, the 7th Hussars) was commemorated in Connaught Road, off Dereham Road, next door to Helena Road named after his German sister-in-law.  

An interesting postscript is that Harry Barnes, who developed most of Waldeck Road, lived in Brunswick Road [9] named after the German Duchy. Barnes applied to build his own house on Brunswick Road in 1906, not long before WWI when the Royal Family changed its own name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor. 

Trafford Road NR1 (and 5 others)

Next time The Canaries play Manchester United at Old Trafford, remember the connection with a Norwich street name, based on the estate developed by the Trafford family.


Spotted in the window of Bowhill & Elliott in London Street, Canary Yellow co-respondent shoes – a must for all Norwich City supporters (called The Canaries after the birds kept in the windows by immigrant Dutch weavers).

The Trafford family can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon royalty and are said to have taken their name from the village of Trafford, now part of Greater Manchester [10]. The great Norwich historian, Walter Rye [11], suggests that the real name of the family is Boehm after a male Boehm married a female Trafford in the C17. In the C18, however, the marriage of Sir Clement Boehm Trafford of Swaffham and his wife Anne was dissolved by an Act of Parliament. Anne reverted to her maiden name of Southwell, their son Sigismund adopted the name of Trafford Southwell and it is he who bought the estate at Wroxham where the family still live. Sigismund died in 1827 and his splendid Gothic Revival mausoleum can be seen in the churchyard of St Mary’s Wroxham.


The Trafford Mausoleum, designed by Anthony Savin

The family lived in Wroxham House. It was erected in 1781 re-using stairs from the Great Tower at Caister Castle, built by Sir John Fastolf, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff [11]. Wroxham House was demolished in the 1960s. 


Wroxham House ca 1890. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The Trafford family owned land in the parish of Lakenham, to the east of Ipswich Road. In the mid-1890s the surveyor George Fitt drew up plans on behalf of Edward Southwell Trafford for laying out roads on the Trafford building estate. In 1919 his son, Major William Joseph Trafford, continued development by extending Trafford and Eleanor Roads.

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‘The Trafford Building Estate’ of Edward Southwell Trafford with the suggested road layout of 1893, updated (red) in 1906. Newmarket Rd (dotted black line); Ipswich Rd (dotted yellow); Cecil Rd (dotted blue). The star marks Southwell Lodge. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office N/EN/24/62

Edward Southwell Trafford and his wife the Honourable Eleanor Mary Petre had 12 children, one of whom was Cecil Edward Trafford; another was Sigismund who married Lady Elizabeth Constance Mary Bertie, known as Betty; another was Eleanor Mary Josephine Southwell Trafford. And there, in addition to Trafford Road, we have Southwell Road,  Sigismund Road, Lady Betty Road, Lady Mary Road and Cecil Road.

A diversion around Southwell Lodge

On the map above, Southwell Lodge appears at the corner of Ipswich and Cecil Roads, now subsumed under City College.

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Demolition of Southwell Lodge (date unknown). This was to give way to City College’s Southwell Building, itself demolished in 1972 to make way for student accommodation, also known as Southwell Lodge. Photo George Swain, courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Southwell Lodge became the home of John Willis JP. In 1870 he married Mary Esther Colman whose brother was Jeremiah James Colman, manufacturer of English mustard, philanthropist and the man whose art collection forms the basis of the Norwich School galleries in the Castle Museum.

In the next generation the Colman women were active in campaigning for women to get the vote: in 1909 John Willis’ daughter Edith was Honorary Secretary  of the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society while her cousin Laura Elizabeth – JJ Colman’s eldest daughter – was President [12]. And as Mayor of Norwich, JJ Colman’s second daughter, Ethel Mary, became the first woman to hold such a post in this country.

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Edith Willis of Southwell Lodge. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

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Campaigners for female emancipation on Prince of Wales Road

Stuart Road NR1

The Colmans were an influential family whose presence is still strong around the city (despite the recent closure of their mustard factory, Carrow Works). Laura Colman married James Stuart (1843-1913) whose name is commemorated in a row of workers’ cottages a few hundred yards from Carrow Works.

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Between Carrow Hill (green) and King Street (blue) lie the cul-de-sacs, Stuart Road (underlined in red) and Alan Road (purple). Colman’s Carrow Works are starred. OS map of Norwich 1905/1907. Courtesy National Library of Scotland

Stuart was the first Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics (now Engineering) at Cambridge. His support of extension courses for adults, especially women, did not find favour with the university and he left to become  Liberal MP for Hackney and then Hoxton in London. But when his father-in-law died in 1898 Stuart became a director of Colman’s. Like JJ Colman, Stuart was an enlightened employer; in addition to adult education he supported female suffrage and established a pension scheme for Colman’s employees.

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James Stuart MP drawn by Harold Wright for Vanity Fair 1899

James Stuart and Laura Colman married at the Princes’ Street Congregational Chapel designed by one of its deacons, the Norwich architect Edward Boardman. It was in this Nonconformist chapel that Boardman’s son, Edward Thomas Boardman (also an architect) was to marry Laura’s sister, Florence Esther Colman [14].

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The marriage of Edward Thomas Boardman to Florence Esther Colman in 1898. Courtesy of

The Colman family burial plot is in The Rosary, the country’s first non-denominational cemetery [15]. In 1915, the Colman family commissioned Boardman and Son architects to design the Stuart Court apartments on Recorder Road in remembrance of Stuart. James Stuart had been concerned about the quality of housing for the elderly and this, according to Pevsner and Wilson [16], explains the almshouse feel of the apartments. They thought the Dutch-style gables slightly outdated but although late in terms of Arts & Crafts style (e.g., the ‘Pont Street Dutch’ of the 1880s) these features are entirely consistent with the Dutch gables brought to this city from the C16 onwards by religious refugees from the Low Countries [17]. See examples in nearby Cathedral Close.


Stuart Court almshouses in Recorder Road. They were built around reinforced concrete, one of the first such examples in the city.


The initials EMC and HCC recognise Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman’s initiative in this project


Opening of the James Stuart Garden (1922) on Recorder Road was delayed by the Great War

Alan Road NR1

JJ Colman’s wife Caroline was born a Cozens-Hardy and she passed these names on to their son Alan. Sadly, Alan Cozens-Hardy Colman (1867-1897) was to die young on a Nile boat near Luxor while convalescing from TB. Eight years on, Ethel and Helen Colman arranged for Daniel Hall of Reedham, on the Norfolk Broads, to build the pleasure wherry ‘Hathor’ in memory of the boat on which their brother had died. It is still available for hire [18].

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The interior of Hathor, decorated in an Egyptian style designed by ET Boardman. ©2018 Courtesy of Peter Cox.

© 2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. The Graphic. January 21, 1922 No. 272 vol CV. The Dynasty of Dominies/The Valpys by One of Them (available in the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norwich).
  2. Richard Harries, Paul Cattermole and Peter Mackintosh (1991). A History of Norwich School. Pub: Friends of Norwich School.
  3. HW Saunders (1932). A History of the Norwich Grammar School. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., Norwich.
  4. Edward Thomas (1912). George Borrow: the Man and his Books. From:
  9. Norfolk Record Office  NROCAT N/EN 12/1/6223
  10. The Trafford Family in, EA Handbook (1808). Norfolk Millennium Library CTRA 048.
  14. James Stuart Reminiscences (1911). Privately printed by the Chiswick Press, London.
  16. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.


I am grateful to Robert Webb for providing information on Waldeck Road. For permissions, I thank Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Nigel Pope of the Ludham Community Archive Group and Peter Cox of Broadsnet.



Street names


In a city as old as Norwich some of the more interesting glimpses into its past are to be found in the historically significant names given to streets.

Hotblack Road NR2  (off Dereham Road)

The uncommon name, Hotblack, which conjures up images for me of road-laying, tar, and snooker on the telly, commemorates the family of John Hotblack who was a boot and shoe manufacturer in the C19 when Norwich was still one of the country’s major shoe producers. Hotblack’s factory was in Mountergate, off Rose Lane, not far from the large Co-op shoe factory.


At top, one of the very few weavers’ windows remaining in the city

The Hotblack family lived next door in St Faith’s House. 

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St Faith’s House in Mountergate 1936, home to the Hotblacks around the 1890s ©

John Hotblack’s son, Major-General Frederick Elliott ‘Boots’ Hotblack was decorated six times in the First World War and mentioned in despatches five times. ‘Boots’ was in charge of the Reconnaissance Department of the Tank Corps and had laid a trail of tape for the tanks to follow the next day. However, the trail was obscured by overnight snow so, under fire, he walked across the battlefield, showing the tanks the way [1]. Since Hotblack Road is given on the 1907 OS map it would appear that the street was named for the shoe-making family rather than the war-hero son.


‘Boots’ by Sir William Orpen 1917. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Lyhart Road NR4

In 1463, lightning struck the central tower of Norwich Cathedral, setting fire to the roof in the crossing, causing the spire to crash down into the nave. In the 1470s the Bishop of Norwich, Walter Lyhart, replaced the wooden roof with a vaulted roof of stone, using some of his own money to employ stonemason Reginald Ely, who had worked on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge [2]. Lyhart’s contribution is commemorated in his rebus of a hart lying on wa(l)ter.


Another lying hart can be seen amongst the wonderful collection of roof bosses in the cloisters. The cloisters were damaged in the riots of 1272 and the restoration, which was halted by the Black Death, stretched over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. lyhart cloisters.jpeg

Bishop Lyhart also oversaw the installation in the nave of 255 stone bosses that mark the intersection of short lierne ribs with the main ribs of the vault. The bosses represent biblical scenes, from the Creation to the Last Judgement. A favourite of mine is the overthrow of the Pharaoh in the Red Sea; it shows the Pharaoh’s chariot – looking more like a farm cart – in a literally red sea.IMG_6445.jpg

There was a time when Lyhart’s rebus could be seen in the tower screen at Yaxley, Suffolk [3]. In the same screen was another piece of stained glass depicting the head of a bishop. Could this have been Walter Lyhart himself?

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From ref [3]. 1932

Lound Road NR4

Major figures of the Norwich School of Painters (see previous post [4]) are well represented on road signs – for example, Cotman Road NR1, Crome Road NR3, Ladbrooke Place NR1 – but each time I travel clockwise around the ring road I am reminded of a less-well-known artist, Thomas Lound.


Early collodion positive of Thomas Lound 1850s

Lound (1802-1861) was a painter and etcher of local landscape but instead of scrabbling for a living, as many members of the Norwich Society of Artists did, he worked as a manager in the family brewing business and actually died with money in the bank. He was employed by the brewery of Tompson, Stackhouse & Co on King Street [5]. In 1844, Tompson’s was sold to the Morgan brothers, one of whom, Walter, drowned in a brewery vat [6]. Morgan’s was one of the ‘Big Four’ Norwich breweries in the first half of the C20.

Lound was taught by John Sell Cotman, whose influence can be seen in Lound’s paintings, though he probably followed more in the footsteps of Thirtle, whose work he collected avidly [7]. 


View from Old Barge Yard by Thomas Lound (1850) shows the back of  what is now called Dragon Hall, near his home in King Street. The open door (centre) is part of the original C14 doorway within the larger C15 ‘blind’ door-surround installed by Robert Toppes when the building was used as his wool-trading hall.

In 1839, six years after the demise of the Norwich Society of Artists, Lound became  co-founding President of the Norwich Art Union [8] that – if it was anything like the Art Union of London – used subscriptions to buy works of art to be distributed amongst members by lottery. Lound was also involved in the Norwich School of Design (1846), a predecessor of the Norwich Technical Institute (1899) on St George’s Street, which is now part of the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). In its first year the Art Union held an exhibition in its gallery at The Bazaar on the corner of Bridewell Alley and St Andrew’s Street [8].

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The Great Hall of the Polytechnic Institution, The Bazaar, Norwich. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

(Added 5/10/2019) The Classical façade of The Bazaar is highlighted on this mid-Victorian  photograph.


St Andrew’s Street with The Bazaar, arrowed. The tombstones are in the churchyard of St Andrew’s. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

The Bazaar is long gone but by one of those pleasing circularities its former site on the corner of Bridewell Alley and St Andrew’s Street is now occupied by NUA’s East Gallery.

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East Gallery, site of former Royal Bazaar. Courtesy of NUA

Thomas Lound was also on the committee of the Norwich Photographic Society. In 1856 he exhibited five of his own photographs including one of Norwich Fish Market [8].


The Fish Market, Norwich by Thomas Lound, reissued as a postcard by AE Coe Opticians and Photographers. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Bathhurst Road NR2 

Bathurst Road at the city end of Unthank Road was built on the Heigham Lodge Estate that once belonged to Timothy Steward of Steward & Patteson’s Brewery. In 1877 architect Edward Boardman divided Steward’s former land into lots for sale. Three roads were laid around the estate, one of which – temporarily named Grove Street North – was renamed Bathurst Road after Bishop of Norwich, Henry Bathurst (1744-1837).

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Bathurst Road (red) runs parallel to Unthank Road (yellow). Ordnance Survey 1883

As described in Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle [9], Heigham Lodge was mistakenly thought to have been the home of William Unthank, who had bought 60 or so acres in Heigham to establish the Unthank Estate. William Unthank and Bishop Bathurst both died in 1837.


Memorial statue to Bishop Bathurst in north transept of Norwich Cathedral

After the Reformation, Dissenters were banned by the Church of England from burial in their parish church. But in 1821, Bathhurst licensed Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery as the first non-denominational burial ground in the country (see [10] for The Norwich Way of Death). This chimes with the Henry Bathurst’s reputation as the only liberal bishop in the House of Lords and as someone who supported Catholic Emancipation.

Since their Oxford days, Henry Bathurst had been friends with Parson James Woodforde (1740-1803) of Weston Longville, about seven miles north-west of Norwich. When Bathurst was non-resident Rector of nearby Great Witchingham, Woodforde would collect surprisingly large tithes on his behalf. In his absorbing Diary of a Country Parson, Woodforde wrote:

About noon took a ride to Norwich … and dined, supped and slept at the King’s Head. As soon as I got to Norwich I went to Kerrison’s Bank and there recd. for cash etc a Note of £137 (about £8,000 today) which I immediately inclosed in a letter to Dr Bathurst, Oxford. I walked to the Post Office, and put the letter into the Post which sets for London this evening at 10 o’clock. I then went to the King’s Head and eat a Mutton Chop and before I had quite dined Mr Hall came to me, and we smoked a pipe and drank a Bottle of Wine [11].

Harvey Lane NR7

… named after Colonel John Harvey (1755-1842) who moved from the city centre to Thorpe, a few miles east of the city [12]. Harvey came from a long line of wealthy Norwich textile merchants who had turned to banking: he himself was a leading partner of Harvey & Hudson’s Bank. Like nine of his relatives, Harvey became Mayor of Norwich (1792) but in his mayoral portrait he chose to be portrayed as colonel of the local militia.

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Colonel John Harvey 1792, painted by John Opie RA, fashionable portrait artist and husband of  Norwich abolitionist, Amelia Opie. Presented by the Norwich Light-Horse Volunteers. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: Civic Portrait 33

We encountered Colonel Harvey last month in the large oil painting he commissioned from Joseph Stannard: ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’ (1825) [4]. Harvey instigated The Frolic in 1821, largely as a sporting event for the gentry, but opened it up to the working population two years later when city weavers were given a day’s holiday. 10,000 are said to have attended: polite society on the Thorpe side, workers on the opposite bank [12]. Last time, I focussed in on Stannard on the right bank, peering across to the gentry but here we see Harvey peering back from the left. 


A fragment of ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’ by Joseph Stannard, showing the white-haired colonel in his Venetian gondola. Courtesy Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Harvey did not live on the riverside in Old Thorpe Hall – only parts of which remain – but at Thorpe Lodge, a five-bayed house that he built on the other side of the highway, re-routing the Yarmouth Road in the process [12]. In the 1930s the central third storey was removed and the east wing demolished; it now houses the Broadland District Council.

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Thorpe Lodge 1974 © In the 1930s the curved east wing was removed along with the third storey of the central bay.

Colonel Harvey is thought to have brought old doors from family properties in Norwich to install in the garden wall of Thorpe Lodge [12]. Two plaques – one dedicated to Robert Harvey (1696-1773) the other to Thomas Harvey (1710-1772) – mark fine Georgian houses in Colegate, in the heart of the Norwich weaving quarter, but the Tudor door below comes from neither of these. The garden-wall doors at Thorpe seem to have disappeared in the 1970s but, fortunately, Arnold Kent photographed this door at Thorpe Lodge in 1948 [13]. The flat-arched Tudor oak door came from Mayor George Cocke’s home (1613) at Bacon’s House in Colegate.


Photographed in the garden wall of Thorpe Lodge 1948, a Tudor door from the home of Mayor George Cocke (1613) at Bacon’s House, Colegate.  The left-hand spandrel contains the Grocers’ arms, the right contains Cocke’s initials as part of his merchant mark. From [13].

Towards the end of the C18 a downturn in the  Norwich textile trade brought increasing unemployment [14]. But business took an upturn when Harvey started making highly patterned silk ‘fillover’ shawls that could now be woven-in instead of having to be filled-in/embroidered by hand. These expensive items (12-20 guineas each) were the height of fashion and a counterpane shawl, twelve feet square and woven on Harvey’s looms, was presented to George III and his wife Queen Charlotte [14].

In 1792 the Royal Mint was unable to obtain sufficient silver for coinage. Harvey responded by minting Norwich trade tokens from base metal, their value no doubt backed by the Harvey & Hudson bank. This can be seen as a philanthropic way of keeping the city’s trade flowing although the loom on the reverse of the coin would also have served to advertise Colonel Harvey’s role in the local economy during his mayoral year [15].

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The reverse of a Harvey token shows a hand-loom, the obverse shows the Norwich City coat of arms, the rim is impressed with Harvey’s name. Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM : 2006.79.1

Onley Street NR2

The Harveys were related to the Unthanks but to understand the origins of this street name we have to untwist the limbs of the Harvey family tree.

Colonel Harvey’s brother Charles (1757-1843) dropped the surname Harvey when he inherited Stisted Hall in Essex from his uncle, the Reverend Onley. The Reverend had himself adopted his wife’s family name, Savill, making him a Savill-Onley. Double-barrelled names were often adopted to preserve a family name that would otherwise have died out due to lack of male heirs or, in the case of Reverend Savill-Onley, ‘in appreciation of the fortune (£33,000) his wife had brought with her’ [16].

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Charles Harvey, MP for Norwich, later Savill-Onley. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections THEHM:DS.25

When Charles Savill-Onley died his son adopted the name of Onley Savill-Onley [17].


Onley Savill-Onley Esq 1795-1890. From [16].

Onley Savill-Onley had a daughter, Judith Sarah, and it is she who connects us with the Unthanks by marrying Colonel Clement William Joseph Unthank of Intwood Hall [9]. Their eldest son was Clement William Onley Unthank (1874-1900). Sadly, when only in his twenties, he died of a polo accident while serving in India.


Clement William Onley Unthank ca 1900. From [9].

When Colonel CWJ Unthank and his wife moved to her family house at Intwood Hall, CWJ started selling off the Unthank estate in what is now Norwich’s Golden Triangle. Over the years the estate was developed from Trinity Street down to Mount Pleasant and, in memory of their son, one of the later side-roads off Unthank Road was named Onley Street [9].

To be continued …

©Reggie Unthank 2019


‘An excellent Christmas-stocking filler’. The book Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle, which contains more about the Unthank family and describes the development of the the streets either side of Unthank Road, is still available from: Jarrolds’ Book Department (; or City Bookshop in Davey Place (; or direct from me via the contact form (


  2. Paul Hurst (2013). Norwich Cathedral Nave Bosses. Pub: Medieval Media, Norwich.
  3. Christopher Woodforde (1932). The Medieval Glass in Yaxley Church. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History vol XXI pt 2.
  7. Josephine Walpole (1997). Art and Artists of the Norwich School. Pub: Antique Collectors’ Club.
  9. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. ISBN 978-1-5272-1576-4
  12. Trevor Nuthall (2014). Thorpe St Andrew: A Revised History. Pub: Trevor Nuthall ISBN 978-0-9543359-1-5.
  13. Arnold Kent and Andrew Stephenson (1948). Norwich Inheritance. Pub: Jarrolds and Sons Ltd.
  14. Walter R Rudd (1923). The Norfolk and Norwich Silk Industry. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXI, pp245-282.
  15. Katy Barrett. Eighteenth Century ‘Hand-Loom’ Token. Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum.
  16. Reverend A J Nixseaman (1972). The Intwood Story. Printed in Norwich by RR Robertson.

Thanks. I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Ken Skipper of Cork Brick Gallery Bungay and the George Plunkett archive (