Nairn on Norwich


, , ,

Born in Bedford 1930, dead of cirrhosis of the liver 1983, Ian Nairn wrote about towns not as a trained architect but as an outsider [1,2]. In 1955 he produced a maverick edition of Architectural Review entitled Outrage in which he railed against the homogenising effect of bland postwar development and the blurring of lines between town and country – ‘urban sprawl’. The result was a subtopia (his word) in which “the end of Southampton will look like the beginning of Carlisle.” He also wrote about Norwich … and not in a good way.

Ian Nairn.jpg

Ian Nairn. Photo: Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Nairn was stationed on the outskirts of Norwich at RAF Horsham St Faith, now Norwich Airport. On a personal mission for Architectural Review, Nairn flew his Gloster Meteor jet in search of evidence of John Soane’s 1784 Music Room at Earsham Hall [2].

Soane's Music Room Earsham.jpg

John Soane remodelled the Music Room at Earsham Hall, near Bungay, 1784.  He also designed Shotesham Hall, just outside Norwich, 1785. © Evelyn Simak

Nairn is said not to have been able to separate his private from his professional life so it was probably to the city’s detriment that Norwich was the only one of the 16 ‘Nairn’s Towns’ in which he had actually lived (other than London). The two uneventful years he spent on the celestial Unthank Road with his first wife, Joan Parsons, allowed him far longer to polish his hostility than was possible on the other provincial drive-bys. His 1964 essay on Norwich was “particularly rancid” [2] …

“… the traveller comes on a brand-new building announcing the city centre at the southern end of St Stephens Street, which for crushing banality must have few equals in Britain … to come first in a field as large as this is no joke.” [3]

St Stephens Street was flattened in the war after which it was decided that there was nothing worth saving except – according to Pevsner and Wilson [4] – Marks & Spencer’s 1912 Adam Revival building, formerly Buntings Department Store. In his 1967 postscript, Nairn wrote that the rebuilding of St Stephens Street was “probably the worst thing of its kind I have ever seen in what passes for a cultured city.”


The western side of St Stephens Street – an unconsidered jumble of post-war building

By contrast,  Nairn loved George Skipper’s ‘old’ Norwich Union building (1900-1912) in nearby Surrey Street, calling it “a super-Palladian palace which is as good as anything of its style in the country.” But the adjacent new headquarters were “a completely anonymous slab” [3].


Skipper’s Norwich Union building of 1903-4 next to the 1960-1 building by T P Bennet & Sons ‘without the conviction Skipper wielded in his day” [3].

Like fellow ‘dilettante journalist’ and architectural commentator, John Betjeman, Nairn  approved of our local architect, identifying the Telephone Manager’s Office in St Giles Street as, “another firework by Skipper … smaller but if anything even richer.” Built 1904-6 for the Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association (now St Giles House Hotel) it has been called “the Norwich Union in miniature” [4].

St Giles Hotel.jpg

Nairn loved the unlovable; he was neutral about historic Elm Hill “with its cobbles and antique shops” but he outrightly condemned the decline of Pottergate and King Street. Despite suffering from faceless post-war infill Pottergate manages to thrive as part of a vibrant mix of independent shops in the Norwich Lanes. King Street, however, has changed more dramatically since Nairn’s visit.

King St 125 to 129 1946 #2.jpg

125-129 King Street in 1946. © Compare with below.

After George Plunkett took the above photograph the ground floor of 125-129 was ripped out and the shop fronts replaced with plate glass, the full horror of which can be seen now that the building is derelict. This is adjacent to Dragon Hall (under scaffolding), one of the ‘Norwich 12’ iconic buildings. Further along, behind the hoarding is the new St Anne’s Wharf housing development; the opposite side is now mainly modern housing in ‘traditional’ style and so character developed over centuries has all but evaporated.KingStNorwich.jpg

To the north of the city the spirit of the Coslany ward, said Nairn, had been stifled by “over-zoning and carelessness“. In the first of the Civic Trust’s redecoration schemes (1959) attempts had been made to revive Magdalen Street, as can be seen in a short film [5]. Facades were stripped of unnecessary clutter and painted in pastel shades from a palette of 18 colours and 13 alphabets selected by Coordinating Architect, Misha Black. However, while The Times reported on the Walt Disney effect [6], Nairn – citing one of the ‘malpractices’ from Outrage – wrote that the pastels were “cruelly out of touch with the local colour-range, and after five years it looks as jaded as last year’s fashion.


Before and after: book cover of Civic Trust 1959 project. From the archives of The Royal Windsor Forum

Nairn did manage to extract a few good points, singling out plans by City Architect David Percival for the old people’s flats clustered around the churchyard of St John Ber Street but, sixty years on, it is hard to share the warmth of Nairn’s enthusiasm.


Alderson Place, Finkelgate

Another of Nairn’s bright spots was Denys Lasdun’s University of East Anglia campus. Lasdun designed the campus to face the newly-excavated lake with the ‘teaching wall’ behind; this was separated by an elevated walkway from the ziggurats – the stepped boxes providing student accommodation. In his 1967 postscript, Nairn was evidently minded to approve this icon of New Brutalism on principle since building had only just begun.


Lasdun’s “laudanum dream of Anglicised modern architecture” [7]

Nairn did concede that there were still many marvellous things to see in Norwich, including “one of the great town views of England.” 


He thought the Anglican Cathedral had never received the praise it was due although his own praise was correspondingly muted: “no fireworks”.


“Such a balanced and even-tempered masterpiece”

He did like the Perpendicular vaulting added to the Norman nave after the timber roof was destroyed by fire in 1463; he thought it “a splendid match for the three-storey elevation underneath.”  It is a glorious stone roof, a masterpiece of late medieval craftsmanship, but you would hardly call it a ‘match’ since it is hard to disguise the stylistic chasm between the delicate lacework of lierne ribs and the ponderous Norman piers made of lighter Caen stone.   NorwichCathedralRoof.jpg


Supporting one of the Perpendicular fans is a hart lying on water – the rebus of Bishop Walter Lyhart who initiated the vaulting of the nave roof.

The only other building in Norwich “with the authority of the cathedral” was St James Yarn Mill on the Wensum, built in 1843 to give a boost to our waning textile trade. Nairn’s first wife worked for local printers and booksellers Jarrolds, whose printing works were then in St James Mill; according to Gillian Darley it was Nairn’s intervention that gained the building its Grade I listing in 1954 [8].Jarrolds.jpg

As he wrote words of praise about this temple of industry Nairn was using his other hand to take a swipe at “the intricate antics of the city’s interminable late-Gothic churches. Interminable is about right“. He liked the interior of St George Colegate but then its Gothic fittings had been replaced with unfussy Georgian. StGeorgeColegate.jpg “Good things have to be hunted down piecemeal like … the enchanting toy vault under the tower of St Gregory Pottergate” (below).


The toy vault

At St Peter Mancroft, Nairn said nothing about one of the best angel roofs in the country nor of the outstanding C15 Norwich School glass in the great east window. Instead, he thought the building “one of the most neurotic and inconsistent designs that ever received universal adulation.” But in this he was at odds with Nikolaus Pevsner, with whom he had co-edited the 1960s volumes on Sussex and Surrey for The Buildings of England. Pevsner – who thought Nairn’s contributions too subjective – judged St Peter Mancroft “the Norfolk parish church par excellence”; John Betjeman thought it “superb” [9]; and Simon Jenkins wrote, “Few who enter St Peter’s for the first time can stifle a gasp” [10]. StPeterMancroft.jpg

Within spitting distance of St Peter Mancroft (too close for a dyspeptic critic) is the City Hall. St Peter Mancroft was “old, big and has a lot of carving on it” but the very freedom from fuss that Nairn admired in Jarrolds Paper Mill was positively disliked at City Hall: it was timorous, suffering from a fatal “drawing back from commitment.” IMG_9910.jpg

Nairn summed up City Hall’s personality defects by comparing “the empty bombast of the lions in front … with their C12 prototype in Brunswick.” Both are quite stylised, both things of beauty; the Norwich lion (left) does have a slicker hair-do but this was at a time when Norwich City Council was demolishing hundreds of  medieval slums, looking forward to the streamlined kind of future promised by Swedish Neoclassical architecture [4].

Lion Duo.jpg

In opposition to Nairn’s glumness, Pevsner and Wilson thought Norwich City Hall “must go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars … (an) architectural triumph” [4].

Stockholm Duo.jpg

Pevsner & Wilson [4] noted the influence of Stockholm City Hall by Ragnar Östberg (1923) and Stockholm’s Concert Hall by Ivar Tengbom (1926) on Norwich City Hall (1939)

Below City Hall lies the large marketplace founded by the Normans in their New Borough and joined umbilically to their castle by Davey Place. Nairn was enthusiastic about this little street and thought “This part of Norwich could be nowhere else.”

davey place.jpg

Davey Place below the Castle. © Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, courtesy of Picture Norfolk 

Davey Place is not without charm but is no longer unique, marred by blank-faced intrusions from the C20th.   IMG_9923.jpg

In his 1967 postscript Nairn wrote:

The highlight of 1965 was the approval of a proposal by the City Engineer to build a flyover exactly half-way down that recently famous Magdalen Street; meanwhile, a property company has bought up large chunks of ‘old rubbish’ to the north; the character of Coslany has finally gone.

Lovely old Magdalen Street barely survived the bisection.


The flyover that bisects Magdalen Street. Looming on the left is the Hollywood Cinema, part of the   failed Anglia Square development. 

On Nairn’s ‘chunks of old rubbish’, immediately behind Magdalen Street, the St Augustine’s area was bulldozed so that Norwich could have its own copy of urban revitalisation – the pedestrian precinct. The problem was that pedestrians had a long walk from the city centre to a satellite from which they were notionally excluded by the new inner ring road [see previous posts 11 ,12]. Now, Anglia Square is a collection of downmarket discount stores, the multi-storey carpark is closed, the excessive surface parking around the uncompleted development is tatty, and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office – the love-it-or-hate-it Sovereign House – lies abandoned [13].


The Brutalist Sovereign House, part of the Anglia Square development (1970)

Around the time of his second visit to Norwich, Nairn was falling out of love with ‘new architecture’, using the front of the Observer’s Review to shout: “Stop the architects now. The outstanding and appalling fact about modern architecture is that it is not good enough” [14]. The lesson learned from the last 70 years of post-war town planning is that open urban space needs to be on a human scale and in tune with the historic environment if it is to be loved. It is therefore hard to comprehend why plans have been submitted to redevelop Anglia Square with a 25-storey tower. Whether it is 25 or a concessionary 20 storeys high is immaterial for any tall tower plus three large 12-storey blocks will be cruelly out of scale with the surrounding Conservation Areas [15]. It is essential that the overriding values of retail and property are not allowed to determine the texture of the streetscape for a further 70 years. Click to read the Norwich Society’s response to the revised Anglia Square proposal [16]

©2018 Reggie Unthank

FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS STOCKING  The book of  ‘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.


  1. Ian Nairn (1955). Outrage. Architectural Review 1 June 1955.
  2. Gillian Darley and David McKie (2013). Ian Nairn: Words in Place. Pub: Five Leaves Publications.
  3. Ian Nairn (1964). Norwich: Regional Capital. In, Nairn’s Towns, edited and updated by Owen Hatherley (2013). Pub: Notting Hill Editions Ltd.
  4. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1. Yale University Press.
  6. ‘Norwich’s Skilful Use of Colour’, The Times, 13 April 1959.
  7. Owen Hatherley (2013). In, 2013 postscript to Norwich: Regional Capital  by Ian Nairn. From Nairn’s Towns (Introduced by Owen Hatherley, Pub: Notting Hill Editions).
  8. Gillian Darley (personal communication).
  9. John Betjeman (updated by Richard Surman) (2011). Betjeman’s Best British Churches. Pub: Collins.
  10. Simon Jenkins (1999). England’s Thousand Best Churches. Pub: Penguin Books.

Thanks. For permission to reproduce images I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk and to Roger, editor of The Royal Windsor Forum


The Norwich Way of Death


, , , , , , ,

We have often talked about this city’s proud history of independence that often tripped into dissent and outright opposition against church and state. But after the Reformation the extent to which you disagreed with the Anglican Church would have decided whether or not you could be buried in your local churchyard.


Following the Reformation, Nonconformist factions like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers were discriminated against by the Established Church for, despite having to pay church rates, Dissenters were still refused burial in their local churchyard. An Act of 1836 allowed Nonconformists to conduct their own funeral services but it wasn’t until 1880 [1] that they had the right to be buried in a parish church, using their own rites instead of a Church of England service [2].

After the 2011 census, Norwich was reported to be the country’s most godless city [3] but the 1851 census had already shown that the majority of Norwich citizens attended neither church nor chapel [4] and as far back as the early C18 – when dissent could well have been under-reported – as many as 20% of Norwich population were classed as Dissenters [5].

Nonconformist chapels therefore tended to be built with their own burial grounds. The Octagon Chapel in Colegate, built by Thomas Ivory in 1756 to replace a Presbyterian meeting house of 1686, was ‘the first of its kind in England’ [6].


The chapel, which is octagonal rather than cross-shaped, was called ‘The Devil’s Cucumber Frame’ by others. It is now a Unitarian chapel.

To the left of the portico is a gate into the small garden that was the burial ground until 1821; the significance of this dates comes later.


The garden at the OctagonChapel was once its burial ground 

In Norwich, The Society of Friends (The Quakers) originally met in private houses or in the open air but in 1676 they bought a modest quarter of an acre in Goat Lane on which to build a Meeting House [7].


This building of 1826 replaced the C17 building in Goat Lane

By 1700 their congregation had grown to around 500 [7] so the Friends built a second Meeting House in Gildencroft, in Norwich-Over-the-Water (and now Over-the-Ring-Road), next to an acre of land already used for their burial ground.


Simple headstones at the Quakers’ Burial Ground, Gildencroft

However, access to the burial ground via narrow Gildencroft Lane (now Quakers Lane) was difficult for pall bearers …IMG_9612.jpg

… and so the Quakers rented land between the burial ground and St Martins (or Whores) Lane off Oak Street to allow horse-drawn wagons to bear the coffin [8]. This strip of land with wagon-turning circle can be seen on a map of 1789, long before the ring road.

quakers Map.jpg

The turning circle can be seen below the Friends’ Meeting House (pink), adjacent to their Burial Ground. The amber road at left is now Oak Street. The lane beneath the turning circle is now bisected by the dual carriageway/inner ring road at St Crispin’s Road (red lines). © 2011 Historic Towns Trust 

A ghost of the turning circle remains in the form of the crescent-shaped wall adjoining the burial ground. This ‘second’ meeting house was bombed in WWII and the site is now occupied by a children’s centre.IMG_9616.jpg

A few yards west of Quakers Lane, in Gildencroft, between the inner ring road and Talbot Square, is the site of a small Jewish cemetery established in 1813; it closed when the corporation cemetery was opened at Earlham (1856). Before this, the county’s Hebrew Congregation used a larger C18 cemetery at the top of Horn’s Lane, off Ber Street [9], on the same side of the city as the synagogue on Synagogue Street (bombed in WWII).

George Plunkett recorded the Jewish Gildencroft cemetery in 1937, five years before the Luftwaffe bombed the Meeting House, which can be seen in the background.

Oak St Talbot Square Hebrew cemetery [1514] 1937-03-26.jpg

The old Jewish Cemetery at Gildencroft ©

A small stone marking the cemetery is visible from St Crispin’s Road.


Side-stepping some of the difficulties surrounding dissenting burials the Unitarian minister, Thomas Drummond, established in 1819 The Rosary Cemetery in Thorpe [10]. He may have been motivated by his time in Ipswich when a curate refused a funeral service in the parish church for a young child who Drummond himself had baptised [11]. The Rosary was the first cemetery in the country where anyone could be buried irrespective of religion, without having to be supervised by an Anglican minister. The first occupant was Drummond’s wife, Ann, who was disinterred from the Octagon Chapel.

The Rosary became the resting place for some of the city’s prominent mercantile families, such as the Jarrolds and the Colmans [13].


The City Surveyor JS Benest designed the lodge (not shown) in 1860 but this was redesigned in 1879 by Edward Boardman. Boardman also designed the mortuary chapel (above) and its carriage porch [10] in the prevailing Victorian Gothic style.

Boardman (1834-1910), “who had more effect on the appearance of Norwich than perhaps any other architect” [14], was himself buried at The Rosary.Boardman.jpg

Boardman had married Florence, daughter of Jeremiah James Colman (1830-1898) who owned the family mustard business. In 1898, Jeremiah James’ funeral cortège included his firm’s horse-drawn wagons followed by 1200 workers from the Carrow Works [13]. Although Protestant he made point of holding services for his workers on non-denominational lines [15] and in the same spirit the family’s memorial stones are simply worded: factual and secular. Several members of the Colman family are buried in the family plot. Its Celtic Cross – and there are several at The Rosary – might imply  a distancing from Anglican symbolism but inscriptions on the obelisk rectify any such impression with reminders of the Christian afterlife (e.g., ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’).ColmanBurialPlot.jpg

One of the memorial stones unites Jeremiah James and Caroline Colman with their son Alan Cozens-Hardy Colman. Alan died in Egypt and, in his memory, his sisters Ethel and Helen built the pleasure wherry Hathor – the name borrowed from the Nile boat on which he had been convalescing from tuberculosis. Hathor’s interior contains decoration in the Ancient Egyptian style, designed by Boardman.

Hathor Trio2.jpg

With permission of Peter Cox of  ©2018

When Hathor was launched on the Norfolk Broads (1905), Edward and Florence Boardman’s young daughter Joan (three and a half) released doves [16].


Edward Boardman helping daughter Joan to launch Hathor. With permission of © Ludham Community Archive

The many good works that the philanthropic Colmans performed go unsung at The Rosary: you would never guess from the simple inscriptions that in 1923 their daughter Ethel Mary (1863-1948), who campaigned for female suffrage, became the first woman Lord Mayor in Norwich and, indeed, in Great Britain.EthelMaryColman.jpg

As a memorial, Jeremiah Cozens (d. 1849), whose niece married JJ Colman, has the only cast-iron sarcophagus at The Rosary.JeremiahCozens.jpg

One of the first memorials you see when entering through the carriage porch is dedicated to the Jarrold family of Dutch or Huguenot origin [17]. John Jarrold II started out as a printer and bookseller in Woodbridge, Suffolk. At Wickham Market he was drawn into defending the right to public worship since Dissenters attending services could be stoned by unruly mobs. In 1823, he moved to Norwich where Jarrold & Son opened their new business in London Street where it remains – still selling books nearly 200 years later.Jarrold1.jpg

The only mausoleum at The Rosary belongs to Emanuel Cooper, an eminent eye-surgeon (d. 1878). Cooper’s mistress Anne Julia Pearson bore him a daughter – Ada Nemesis – who married John Galsworthy’s cousin Arthur. Ada was not happy in this marriage and entered into a long affair with John, whom she eventually married. Irene in The Forsyte Saga is said to have been modelled on Ada [18].Mausoleum.jpg

The angel gazing heavenwards epitomises Victorian sentimentality; it was carved (1898)  by the Stanley family of stonemasons in St Stephens Street to commemorate a father and his two wives. Angel.jpg

This cast-iron birdbath (below), with Moorish influences, commemorates the Hines family who ran a foundry (est. 1820) in St Margaret’s Street off St Benedict’s Street. HinesMemorial.jpg

The collection of heads is said to represent family members [13].HinesCloseup.jpg

The ornate memorial below tells the story of  John Barker (1837-1897), a Steam Circus Proprietor who, when erecting a railway ride at the Cattlemarket (Plunkett says in Tombland), was fatally crushed between two wagons [13].John Barker.jpg

The simple headstone to George Wilde (1825-1887) recalls a man injured in the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War [13].CplGeoWilde.jpg

The Rosary is a microcosm of Victorian Norwich in which you will encounter figures whose works can still be seen on walks around the city: Robert Tillyard, for instance, whose leather-currying business gave rise to Tillyard and Howlett, later Howlett and White [19]. Edward Boardman designed Howlett and White’s shoe factory in Colegate, which once employed around 2000 workers [14].


Robert Tillyard (1803-1879 ) and Sir George White (1840-1912)

I also came across an obelisk amongst the undergrowth, dedicated to William Stark. The lettering was indistinct but this was surely the master dyer who stained textiles Norwich Red and who – as mentioned in a recent post [20] – made the Wensum run scarlet when he emptied his vats. WmStark.jpg

In 1848-9 Norwich suffered a cholera epidemic and from 1855 the Home Secretary banned burial in the city’s overflowing churchyards [21]. But as far back as 1671 the diarist John Evelyn had written: I observed that most of [Norwich’s] church yards (though some of them large enough) were filled up with earth, or rather the congestion of dead bodies one upon another, for want of earth, even to the very top of the walls, and some above the walls, so as the churches seemed to be built in pits [12].


The raised churchyard of St John Maddermarket

In 1856 the City established a public cemetery at Earlham and from the beginning it had space for unconsecrated as well as consecrated burial. The original Gothic-styled twin chapels for Anglican and Nonconformist burials were lost when the crematorium was built but Roman Catholic and Jewish mortuary chapels remain.

Possibly the most striking monument in the older C19 section marks the grave of the horse dealer, John Abel (1800-1883). JohnAbel.jpg

In several posts I have mentioned the Bullard family of brewers [22]; their plot is outlined by cast-iron railings. Could these have been made by the Barnard Bishop and Barnard foundry just across the river from Bullards’ Anchor Quay Brewery?BullardEarlham.jpg

While the versatile and prolific architect Edward Boardman is buried amongst his wealthy relatives in The Rosary his rival, George Skipper – who designed the city’s pops of Victorian genius, like the Royal Arcade, and the Marble Hall for Norwich Union [23] – is buried in far less prepossessing style at Earlham. Skipper’s (1856-1948) failed investments made for a poor retirement so at the age of 78 was still grinding out plans, like those for the roads and drains of the Christchurch Road extension [24]. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, Skipper married three times, lived to 93, and is buried with his first wife. It took some time for me to find George John Skipper’s grave for, in the five years since Françoise Donovan’s photograph, lead lettering had been lost from his name on the gravestone. “And there, sadly, lie the remains of this visionary architect who left us a unique legacy” [25].skipper1.jpg

©2018 Reggie Unthank


  2. Janet Lister (1993). Nine Nonconformists Burial Grounds 1750-1900. MA thesis UEA.
  4. Clyde Binfield (2004). Church and Chapel p412. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’, edited by Carole Rawcliffe. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  5. Kathleen Wilson (1995). The sense of the people: politics, culture and imperialism in England, 17-15-1785. Pub: Cambridge University Press
  8. and
  9. See also:
  11. Nick Williams (2012). Buried at the Rosary. Pub: Nick Williams.
  12. John Evelyn. (1818) The Diary of John Evelyn vol 2 (1665-1702). Ed Wm Bray. Online:
  13. Nick Williams, Jim Marriage and June Marriage (2005). The Rosary Cemetery, Norwich: A Place of Decent Interment. Pub: Friends of the Rosary.
  15. Jeremiah James Colman, a Memoir by One of his Daughters (1905). Available online as:
  17. The House of Jarrolds, 1823-1923 (established 1770). Pub 1924 by The Empire Press, Norwich. Online:
  24. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. See:
  25. Françoise Donovan (2013). Norwich Lives: Selected Graves from Earlham Cemetery. Pub: Elysé Publications.

Thanks to: Alan Theobald, my guide around The Rosary and Earlham cemeteries; Stuart McClaren local historian in the St Augustine’s/Gildencroft area; Peter Cox of Broadsnet; Nigel Pope of the Ludham Community Archive ; Jonathan Plunkett of; and the staff of the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

Norwich: City of Trees


, , , ,

On his ‘tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain’, 1724-6 Daniel Defoe came to Norwich and wrote: The walls of this city are reckoned three miles in circumference, taking in more ground than the city of London; but much of that ground lying open in pasture-fields and gardens [1].”


Daniel Defoe, novelist and journalist, on Norfolk Daily Standard Offices (now ‘Fired Earth’) by George Skipper

As well as open spaces the walled city was characterised by its trees for in 1662 the historian Thomas Fuller described Norwich as, “either a city in an orchard, or an orchard in a city, so equal are houses and trees blended in it”. The city was still jam-packed with trees nearly a century later …


From, South-East Prospect of the City of Norwich. Samuel and Nathaniel Buck 1741. NWHCM: 1922.135.4:M 

Identifying trees from such illustrations is, however, not easy for they are often drawn in artistic shorthand. Even John Sell Cotman – who produced countless studies of trees – was criticised for making them, as unintelligible to the virtuosi as to the public.” [2]

We can only guess what trees Defoe saw but he is likely to have seen the eponymous tree in Elm Hill.

Elm Hill elm tree prior to felling [5925] 1978-07-25.jpg

An elm in Elm Hill photographed in 1978, six months before it was felled due to Dutch Elm Disease. Courtesy of  

The diseased elm cut down in the 1970s is unlikely to have been alive during Defoe’s visit. What we now see is a London Plane – a species that features prominently in the city’s urban landscape.

elm hill.jpg

The London Plane planted in Elm Hill 1978

We know from a map of 1559 that Chapelfield Gardens was at one time an archery ground.


Chapel Field, used for archery practice. From Cuningham’s perspectival map of Norwich 1559.

In 1746, the gardens were leased by one-time mayor Thomas Churchman [3] whose mansion was to become the C20 Register Office in nearby Bethel Street.ChurchmanHse.jpg

He enclosed the gardens and planted three avenues of elms that would eventually be replaced with native limes and plane trees [4,5].

Samuel King'sMapInset.jpg

Three avenues of elm planted as a triangular walk in Chapel Field by Thomas Churchman. From Samuel King’s 1766 map NWHCM:1997.550.81:M

A century later, the waterworks company had a reservoir in the garden but after an outbreak of cholera they surrendered their interest to the Corporation on the condition that the gardens were to be, “Laid out in the style of London parks”. This was funded by public subscription and in 1880 Mayor Harry Bullard of the city’s brewing family formally opened Chapelfield as a public park [4,5].

By the early C20 there were few other public parks in Norwich but this was to change under the guidance of Parks Superintendent Captain Arnold Sandys-Winsch who, between 1919 and 1956, oversaw the creation of 600 acres of parks and open spaces [6].

Pr 2 of Wales arriving1928 cr.jpg

Sandys-Winsch (second left) in lock-step with future abdicant Edward VIII at the opening of Eaton Park 1928. ©

‘The Captain’ planted 20,000 trees and is perhaps best known for the goblet-pruned London Plane trees that line some of the city’s major avenues.

earlham road.jpg

Goblet-pruned London Plane trees along Earlham Road, planted by Sandys-Winsch

The London Plane – the most common tree in London – became an even more common sight in Paris [7,8]. The secret of its success in an urban environment seems to be its habit of discarding pollutants as it sheds large flakes of bark.P orientalis.jpg

One idea is that the London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia) originated around 1650 as a cross between the Oriental Plane (P. orientalis) and the American Sycamore (P. occidentalis) in Southern France or Spain [8]. A more romantic suggestion is that the famous botanist and gardener John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) – who took three voyages to Virginia in 1637 – found it as an accidental hybrid in his nursery garden at Vauxhall, London [9]. Tradescant, like his father John Tradescant the Elder, was Keeper of Silkworms for Charles I – the importance of silkworms to the Norwich economy comes later.

Two examples of the parent species, the Oriental Plane, can be seen on Guildhall Hill [8]. IMG_9379.jpg

According to the historian Herodotus, the Persian king Xerxes came upon an Oriental Plane that he admired so much he adorned it with chains of gold and set someone to guard the tree. In Handel’s opera Xerxes the king stands in the shade of the plane and sings to it the aria Ombra mai fu (Never was a shade) [10]. [Click link to hear Beniamino Gigli sing this courtesy of YouTube:]

I remember the devastation caused by The Great Storm of 1987 to the city in general and Chapelfield Gardens in particular.

Damage ChapelfieldRoad.jpg

Balcony in Chapelfield Road damaged by a falling tree in the Great Storm of 1987

With 190 trees Chapelfield Gardens is a significant arboretum, comprised of 45 native and foreign species [5]. Below, the trunk of this London Plane, which occupies a prominent site in the centre of the Gardens, was split down the middle by the Great Storm …


… it was rescued by binding the trunk with metal bands (now removed) and bolting hawsers (still there) through the upper branches to draw them together. IMG_9348.jpg

Chestnut trees also provide avenues, as here on Newmarket Road.IMG_9398.jpg

But since the beginning of the millennium, browning foliage in the second part of summer shows the damage caused by a leaf-mining moth.


The effects of the horse-chestnut leaf miner, Cameraria ohridella

The oak (Quercus robur), which assumes the status of a national emblem, is said to spend ‘300 years growing, 300 resting and 300 declining’. It can achieve prodigious size: the ancient oak in Earlham Park, just behind UEA Porters’ Lodge, is about 22 feet in circumference [8]. According to The Woodland Trust’s ready-reckoner [11] it might have been an acorn when Henry VII was born (1491), 200 years before Charles I had need of a royal oak in which to hide.


The oldest living thing in Norwich, probably

In 1549, in order to meet the demands for wool for Norwich’s thriving weaving industry, some wealthy landowners from Wymondham – ten miles south-west of Norwich – began to enclose common land on which to graze their sheep. Rebels tore down the fences and so began the uprising led by Robert Kett – a ‘tanner of Windham’ [12]. The rebel army is said to have assembled at Kett’s Oak between Wymondham and Norwich [13].


Kett’s Oak, near Hethersett

But Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson [14] noted that when measured in 1829 the oak’s girth was only seven feet seven inches. That is, just a third of the circumference of the ancient oak in Earlham Park. According to The Woodland Trust’s ready reckoner [11] it was only about 100 years old at that time, still in its growth phase. In 1933 the hollow tree was painted with bitumen, filled with concrete and corseted with iron bands [14]. Although this survivor commemorates Kett and his followers it seems unlikely to be the original Kett’s Oak.IMG_9417.jpg

Kett is also associated with another oak. By the time his army encamped on Mousehold Heath overlooking Norwich, their numbers had swelled to about 16,000. According to C18 historian Francis Blomefield [12] this is where Kett set up court, dispensing the king’s justice beneath the Oak of Reformation.


‘Robert Kett sitting under the Oak of Reformation assuming Regal Authority’ by Wale 1778. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd5.Norwich.193

After skirmishes in and around the city the rebel army was drawn eastward into the Battle of Dussindale (near Boundary Lane, Thorpe St Andrews) where they were defeated by a superior army of 14,000 reinforced by German mercenaries [13]. Nine of Kett’s men were hanged from the Oak of Reformation [12]; Kett himself was hanged in chains from the walls of Norwich Castle but the same walls now bear a plaque declaring him a local hero.

In 1549 AD Robert Kett yeoman farmer of Wymondham was executed by hanging in this castle after the defeat of the Norfolk Rebellion of which he was the leader
In 1949 AD – four hundred years later – this memorial was placed here by the citizens of Norwich in reparation and honour to a notable and courageous leader in the long struggle of the common people of England to escape from a servile life into the freedom of just conditions.


Oak Street in Norwich seems to have derived its name from the C15 church, St Martin at Oak. According to Blomefield [12] the church was named after, ” a famous image of the Virgin Mary, placed in the oak, which grew in the churchyard…” , making it a site of pilgrimage. The church was badly damaged in the Blitz and from 1976-2002 was in the care of St Martins Housing Trust – a charity for the homeless.

church duo2.jpg

St Martin’s at Oak 1931, and after restoration in 1955. ©

Norwich takes pride in having the greatest density of medieval churches “north of the Alps” (for those who might confuse us with Rome). Of the 58 pre-Reformation churches built within its city walls, more than 30 still stand [15]. In the Heavenly Gardens project, George Ishmael and colleagues plan to interconnect the often underused churchyards into a publicly accessible botanical garden[16]. Trails involving 28 medieval churchyards are covered in the first five (of six) downloadable PDFs (

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 12.jpg

On my visit to one of George’s churchyards, St Stephens, this rare Himalayan Euodia fraxinifolia was in flower.


Chiming with the Heavenly Gardens project, a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) grows outside St Peter Hungate at the top of Elm Hill. This is the church where, in 1466, John Paston’s body rested for one night before his grandiose funeral in Bromholm Priory [17]. The Tree of Heaven was introduced into Britain from Western China in 1751. Its leaves are used in silkworm culture although I can find no record of it being used for that purpose in Norwich. IMG_9447.jpg

The Stuarts, like the Elizabethans before them, were often portrayed in fine silk clothing. Not long after coming to the English throne (1609) King James I tried to invigorate the domestic silk trade, and to compete with the French, by offering mulberry saplings to his Lord Lieutenants at ‘six shillings the hundred‘. These were not, however, the preferred White Mulberry (Morus alba) grown in China but the Persian Black Mulberry (Morus nigra). Silkworms can feed on the Black Mulberry but – in a surprising example of ‘you are what you eat’ – the larvae then produce coarser silk and less of it, causing King James’ experiment to fail [18]. Over two centuries later, Norwich silk mills (e.g., St Mary’s Silk Mills in Oak Street and the Albion Yarn Mills in King Street) were using raw silk imported from China. Once more, there was an attempt to produce English silk: a “silk company established in 1835 planted upwards of 1500 mulberry trees on two acres of land in Thorpe Hamlet, stocked with 40,000 silkworms” [19] but this, too, failed.

The mulberry tree growing in St Augustine’s churchyard has a particular relevance since it celebrates the life and work of silk weaver Thomas Clabburn, buried in its shadow.


Mulberry in St Augustine’s churchyard; left, the Clabburn family burial plot

Norwich shawls were hugely popular in the mid-C19, due largely to Queen Victoria’s patronage [20]. The firm of Clabburn, Sons and Crisp were prominent members of this industry; they patented a method for producing the same pattern on both sides and sent examples to the royal family. Thomas was evidently a benevolent employer: upwards of 600 Norwich weavers and assistants subscribed to a memorial plaque inside the church extolling him as, “a kind good man.

Clabburn silk shawl.jpg

Jacquard silk shawl c1850 woven by Clabburn, Sons and Crisp

Norwich and the Tree of Life. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is famed for his method of classifying plants and animals in hierarchical groups according to shared family characteristics. This paved the way for Darwin’s Tree of Life in which such groupings are not seen as fixed but related through time by evolution. When Linnaeus died, James Edward Smith (1759-1828), the son of a wool merchant and Norwich mayor, used his father’s wealth to buy the Linnean collection of books and – more importantly – his herbarium of dried plants containing examples of ‘standard types’ (see a previous post [21]). When this collection came to Norwich it was visited by naturalists from around the scientific world. Smith’s wonderful garden once contained many rare species but now lies beneath the Surrey Street bus station. He is commemorated by the West Himalayan Spruce, Picea smithiana, named after “the late immortal President of the Linnean Society.


Picea smithiana, the Morinda Spruce, named for Norwich naturalist Sir James Edward Smith ©Vyacheslav Argenberg


©2018 Reggie Unthank


  1. Daniel Defoe (1722). A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. Tour through the Eastern Counties of England, 1722, available as an e-book:
  2. From, The Norwich Mercury. Quoted by Josephine Walpole (1993) in ‘Leonard Squirrell: The Last of the Norwich School?’  Pub. Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk.
  4. /
  8. Rex Hancey (2005). Notable Trees of Norwich. Pub: Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society.
  12. Francis Blomefield (1806).
  14. Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson (2011). Ancient Trees in the Landscape: Norfolk’s Arboreal Heritage. Pub: Windgather Press.
  19. William White (1836). History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk, and the City  and County of Norwich. Pub: William White, Sheffield.
  20. Caroline Goldthorpe (1989). From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837-1877. Pub: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thank you: George Ishmael of Heavenly Gardens (and Olly Ishmael); James Emerson, Secretary, Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society; Clare Haynes of UEA History; Hazel Harrison of the Chapel Field Society; Kerrie Jenkins of The Woodland Trust; Paris Agar, Norfolk Museums Service; Lesley Cunneen, garden historian; Joy Evitt, Norwich silk historian.


The Bridges of Norwich Part 2: Around the bend


, ,

In this second part of the river walk we turn 1800 around Cow Tower at the edge of deceptively tranquil meadowland before descending into Victorian industry south of Station Bridge.

New King 2.jpg

Continuing the river walk, I travelled from Whitefriars’ Bridge (green star) to Carrow Bridge (yellow star). Plan of Norwich 1776 by Daniel King. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1996.550.81.M

Downstream from Whitefriars’ Bridge and the former home of Jarrolds Printing Works, the John Jarrold Bridge (2011) connects the cathedral precinct (and the Adam and Eve pub) with the St James Place Business Quarter and to Mousehold Heath beyond. The curving box girder, clad in weathered steel with a hardwood deck, seems the most welcoming of the later bridges.  IMG_8735.jpg

On the south bank, not far from this bridge, you will walk over a sluice that connects the river with the country’s last surviving swan pit where the Master of the Great Hospital fattened cygnets for feasts. This pit, in the grounds of the Great Hospital, was built in the late C18 by William, son of Thomas Ivory who designed the Octagon Chapel and Assembly Rooms [1].


Half-hidden, a swan-shaped sign marking the sluice to the Swan Pit in the Great Hospital

The Bishop of Norwich also owned swans [2] but whether he feasted on them is not recorded.

Swan beak markings.jpg

The Bishop of Norwich marked the beaks of his swans with four nicks. ©[15]

Fifty-foot-high Cow Tower (rebuilt late C14) was strategically placed to fire upon the higher ground across the river. It is an early example of Norwich brickwork into which, for nine shillings each, stonemason Snape inserted cross-loops that could have accommodated  longbows, crossbows and hand-held artillery [3]. Still, this didn’t deter Robert Kett’s rebels – during their righteous uprising against land enclosures – from firing down from Mousehold Heath and damaging the battlements.



Tapered embrasures allowed a wide range of fire

Next, Bishop Bridge – the only surviving medieval bridge (c 1340)  [3]. From here you would have seen followers of John Wycliffe (d.1384) and later heretics burned just over the bridge in Lollards’ Pit. And in 1549, from what we now know as Kett’s Heights, you would have seen Robert Kett’s followers fire down upon, then storm, the fortified bridge. IMG_8760.jpg

On the opposite side of the bridge, to the right of the Lollards’ Pit pub, is the superstructure that guided the rise and fall of the Gas Hill gasometer. Built in 1880, at the foot of the steepest hill in Norfolk, it stored town gas released by burning coal. But coal became increasingly redundant from the late 1960s when domestic appliances were adapted to use natural gas from under the North Sea.gasometer.jpg

Downstream, a ferry once ran across to the cathedral watergate. In 1807, Cole referred to it on his Norwich plan as Sandling’s Ferry (after its C17 operator) although by then the ferry was being run by John Pull (active 1796 to 1841) [4]. Evidently, he managed to make a living despite the proximity of toll-free Bishop Bridge.

1807 Plan of Norwich by G Cole A.jpg

The Sandling Ferry on the 1807 Plan of Norwich by G Cole. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd5.Norwich.19

Every piece of Norman sandstone for the building of Norwich Cathedral (from 1096) would have come across the Channel and up the Wensum to the mason’s yard via a canal that remained open until c.1780.


Pull’s Ferry. C15 watergate and C17 ferry house, restored in 1948/9 by Cecil Upcher [3]

In 1811 a toll bridge was built across the Wensum near the present day Thorpe Rail Station, taking its name from the iron foundry on the city-side bank.


Foundry Bridge on the 1819 Longman map, courtesy

In 1844, the railway arrived from Yarmouth to the east. To make that next step across the river towards the city centre a wooden bridge was replaced by this iron one seen in the painting by John Sell Cotman’s son, John Joseph.

JJ Cotman.jpg
John Joseph Cotman’s Old Foundry Bridge. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1916.41.1

The Victorian solution to encroaching modernity was to build Prince of Wales Road (1850s/1860s) on rubble from the old city wall at Chapelfield [5]. This provided a wide direct route, connecting the station to the city centre and market [3]; in 1888 Foundry Bridge/Station Bridge was made correspondingly wider.


Foundry Bridge, looking up Prince of Wales Road from the station side. Note the arrow pointing down the steps.

A diversion. Do not do as I did and follow the seductive  arrow on the side of Norwich Nelson Premier Inn for it leads to a dead end, not a riverside walk. Ploughing on, I walked up Prince of Wales Road, left on Rose Lane and left on Mountergate. A sign on the side of the new Rose Lane Car Park states that this was the site of the Norwich Fish Market that moved here in 1913.


Before this, the fish market had been in the Norman marketplace for over 800 years [6]. In 1860 the shambolic stalls were replaced with a neoclassical building at the back of the present-day market but this was demolished in 1938 [7].


The Old Fish Market (1860-1938) on St Peter’s Street, roughly where the Memorial Gardens are today. Top left, the battlements of the medieval Guildhall grin through the mist. Courtesy Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk

On the opposite side of Mountergate is an old weavers’ building with one of the last remaining weavers’ or through-light windows.


As Mountergate constricts to an alleyway, a tall wall screening Parmentergate Court is all that remains of the once-thriving Co-op Shoe Factory that had, itself, moved into premises vacated by Boulton and Paul. coop-factory.jpg

The real object of my diversion was to check on the progress of the restoration of Howard House, derelict so long its scaffolding is said to have gained listed status. Now, Orbit Homes are restoring the house as part of the residential St Anne’s Quarter. IMG_8637.jpg

Howard House was built in 1660 by Henry Howard 6th Duke of Norfolk on land seized by Henry VIII from the Austin Friars [3]. The duke laid out a pleasure garden that was still referred to on C19 maps as ‘My Lords Gardens’. The garden wall peeping over the hoarding on King Street is probably the original boundary wall of the friary [8]. IMG_8635.jpg

Instead of continuing down King Street, which I’ll save for another day, I retraced my steps, crossed Foundry Bridge and walked along the station side of the river. On the east bank the contrast between now and then couldn’t be more stark: modern leisure vs Victorian industry. From 1999 the Riverside leisure complex (gym, cinema, bowling, pub, restaurants) replaced the engineering works of Boulton and Paul, which moved here from the other side of the river during the First World War [9].

Boulton and Paul1939.jpg

Boulton and Paul’s Riverside Works 1939, just before it was bombed in the Blitz. The stadium of Norwich City FC can be seen to the right. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk. 

Like their great rivals Barnard Bishop and Barnards, several bridges upstream, Boulton and Paul produced wire netting amongst an enormous range of products for farm, estate and garden. During World War I they were asked by the government to produce aeroplanes, making more Sopwith Camels than any other company.1024px-Sopwith_F-1_Camel_USAF.jpg

After WWI they were to produce light bombers to their own design, including the Norfolk-named Sidestrand and Overstrand. B&P also produced the ‘Daffy’ Defiant night fighter as well as a night-fighter named after that well-camouflaged bird of the Norfolk Broads – the Bittern [9].


Boulton and Paul exhibited the world’s first all-metal plane, the P10, in Paris 1919. ©Boulton and Paul. From [9].

Looking across the river is the newly-coined St Anne’s Quarter – a seething building site whose name is explained on the 1884 OS map. Not only does it lie upon C17 ducal gardens but on the St Ann’s Ironworks (1847-1883) belonging to Thomas Smithdale & Son [10]. St Ann’s Works, where the Smithdales cast the iron required for their business as millwrights, was named for St Ann’s Chapel once on this site. The former foundry is now part of a larger site comprised of the Old Norwich Brewery on King Street, several maltings and the only-named Synagogue Street in the country (bombed in WWII).


St Ann’s Foundry, opposite the Riverside complex. The zoomable 1884 OS map is courtesy of Frances and Michael Holmes [11].

Connecting the two sides of the river is the Lady Julian Bridge (2009) that commemorates Julian of Norwich, the anchoress (c1342-c1416) whose Revelations of Divine Love is said to be the first English book written by a woman [12]. If you were to cross her bridge, turn left on King Street then right on St Julian’s Alley you would come to her eponymous Anglo-Norman church and her cell, largely rebuilt after the Blitz. LadyJulianBridge.jpg

Along this stretch of the river is a building that lists as an old grain warehouse. The ownership is unclear but whoever owns the corrugated building occupies one of the last undeveloped sites on the river margin.old grain warehouse.jpg

Connecting the profusion of riverside apartments around the Old Flour Mill with the railway station is the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge, built by May Gurney (2001) to mark the twinning of Norwich with the Serbian city.


The Old Flour Mill started life in 1837 as the Albion Yarn Mill for making worsted, silk and mohair thread to be used in our weaving industry but by the time of the 1884 OS survey it had become a ‘Confectionery’. In the 1930s, the building was taken over by RJ Read of Horstead Water Mill. Latterly, known as the Read Woodrow flour mill it closed in 1993 and was converted to apartments from 2005 [13].


The redbrick buildings of the former flour mill 

King St 237 Read's flour mills across river [6597] 1990-03-18 (1).jpg

King Street Flour Mill 1990. Courtesy

Carrow Bridge, the final pedestrian bridge inside the old city.CarrowBridge3.jpg

Within living memory the Wensum would have been alive with ships, some much larger than picturesque Norfolk wherries. Below, the movable section of this bascule bridge is being raised to allow a sea-going ship through.

Wensum Carrow bascule bridge open for ship [4765] 1964-05-09.jpg

Carrow Bridge opening for a ship in 1964. Courtesy

River trade was also regulated by the paired boom towers near Carrow Bridge, part of the early C14 walled defences. A boom – originally a beam but in this case chains of Spanish iron – was strung across the river to regulate access and extract tolls [14]. The chains were raised by a windlass in the twin tower on the west/city side.

Boom Tower.jpg

The eastern boom tower – the Devil’s Tower – downstream of Carrow Bridge

This two-part walk around the river underlines the richness of the city’s industrial past. Once, Norwich made things. Its pre-eminent textile trade survived into the C19 to be replaced by a variety of trades of the Industrial Revolution: shoe-making, iron-working, brewing, general engineering, aeronautical engineering and other light manufacturing industries. But, in the later stages of this riverside walk especially, there is now little to show of those old trades as all traces of productive industry are being erased in favour of  housing and leisure. We stopped at the last road bridge, just short of Colman’s mustard factory that was synonymous with this city for a century and half. After the business closes next year the future of the site is unclear but what price riverside apartments?

©2018 Reggie Unthank


Wensum body loves you. Frank Sinatra

Blood Red River Blues. Josh White (to accompany the previous post on Norwich Red dye). Click

Red River Blues. Henry Thomas (1928)

Moody River. Pat Boone

Down by the River. Neil Young

Down by the Riverside. Traditional

Time and the River. Nat King Cole

Take me to the River. Al Green

Cry me a River. Julie London

Moon River. Andy Williams

Ol’ Man River. Paul Robeson

Down to the River to Pray. Alison Krauss

Travelling Riverside Blues. Robert Johnson

River. Joni Mitchell

The River. Bruce Springsteen

Up a Lazy River. Louis Armstrong

River Deep Mountain High. Ike and Tina Turner. Not for Norfolk


  2. Ticehurst, N.F. (1936). On Swan-Marks. British Birds vol 29, p266.
  3. Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1962). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  5. Meeres, Frank (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore.
  9. The Leaf and the Tree: The Story of Boulton and Paul 1797-1947 (1947). Author: Anon. Pub: Boulton and Paul Ltd.
  11. Do visit the Holmes’ exciting new site on Norwich history

Thanks: Frances and Michael Holmes; Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk; and members of the Dragon Hall Local History Group (Sheila Fiddes, Richard Matthew and Barbara Roberts).



The Bridges of Norwich 1: The blood red river


, , , ,

The leg-of-mutton shape of ancient Norwich is defined by the city walls and by the River Wensum that runs across the city, providing a natural barrier on its eastern flank. To walk along the river is to retrace the fortunes of the city’s industrial past. I did this in two unequal stages, the first from New Mills to St James’ Mill.

New King 2.jpg

The city walls are in blue, the river Wensum in red. I walked Part 1 from New Mills (blue star) to Whitefriars’ Bridge (green star). Plan of Norwich 1776 by Daniel King. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1997.550.81:M. 

I started at the head of navigation by turning into New Mills Yard off Westwick Street. The water gauge in the colour photograph shows how the tidal waters have inundated the city over the years.

Gauge Duo1.jpg
Norwich flood levels 1570-1912. Right, Jonthan Plunkett in 1961 standing next to cast and carved flood level gauges (Courtesy

The current building, erected 1897, straddles the river between the tidal waters to the east and the river to the west where the level is maintained by sluice gates.

Pumping station.jpg
The Compression House at New Mills, built by the council in 1897 to pump sewage to Trowse.

During the Industrial Revolution the Norwich textile industry was outpaced by mills in the North of England that had better access to coal and fast-flowing water for running the new steam-powered looms. However,  there was a sufficient head of water at New Mills to drive the compressed air system from 1897 to 1972, pumping sewage down to Trowse [1,2]; it also powered machinery in the Norwich Technical Institute (now Norwich University of the Arts) a few hundred yards downstream.

This pneumatic excursion replaced the original New Mills, built in 1710 for grinding corn and supplying the city with water. In turn, New Mills had replaced an older mill of 1410 [1].

New Mills 1880.jpg
New Mills in 1880 by A. Coldham. Courtesy Norfolk County Council

Continuing clockwise on the north bank of the river the next bridge, decorated with the City of Norwich coat of arms and dated 1804, is St Miles’ or Coslany Bridge [2]. It is the city’s first iron bridge built 25 years after the world’s first major iron bridge at Ironbridge, Shropshire.

IMG_8690 1.jpg
Coslany Bridge designed by James Frost. The cast iron sign to the far right marks the water level in August 1912.

St Miles Bridge in the 1912 flood …

St Miles Bridge.jpg
Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Standing on St Miles’ Bridge connects you with three of the industries that formerly sustained this city (while polluting its river). First, on the north bank, the present-day public housing in Barnard’s Yard is named for the Norfolk Iron Works of Barnard Bishop and Barnards [see 3 for a fuller story]. On the south side is Anchor Quay, now private housing, but once the home of Bullard and Sons’ Brewery that supplied the city’s countless drinkers (‘one pub for every day of the year‘) [see 4].

The courtyard of the Anchor Quay Brewery in 1912. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk
Bullards Sign.jpg

The Bullards sign can be glimpsed on the Westwick Street wall across the river

And third, the rose madder colour of the Anchor Quay development is a reminder of the dyeing industry that grew, hand in glove, with the city’s textile industry. The Maddermarket – where dye from dried madder roots was sold – was just a few hundred yards to the south (see [5] for a fascinating article on making madder dye).

Continuing along the north side of the river we can see across to the site of the old Duke’s Palace Ironworks off Duke Street, which was replaced in 1892 by the Norwich Electric Light Company whose buildings were designed by Edward Boardman and his son Edward Thomas Boardman. At one time, the river would have provided water for the steam engines but after the Thorpe Power Station was opened in 1920s the Duke Street site was used for offices and storage [6].

Looking downriver from the St Miles’/Coslany Bridge, past the rose madder houses of Anchor Quay, we see the curved building containing the derelict offices of Eastern Electricity.

Sandwiched between the former brewery and the five-storeyed offices of the Norwich Corporation Electricity Department is a smaller building owned by the electricity board. In 2006, as part of the Eastinternational exhibition, artist Rory Macbeth used this as a canvas on which to paint the entire 40,000 words of Thomas More’s Utopia [7]. Due to be demolished in 2007, the structure still stands. IMG_8693.jpg

In 2006, another exhibition played imaginatively with the derelict riverside buildings. In the windows of the adjacent, curved office building a group of artists hung dyed fabric whose reflections once again ‘made the river run red’ [8]. The reason for the red river comes a little downstream, for the story follows the course of the river.



This stretch of the river forms the river frontage of what was once the Duke of Norfolk’s palace.

1766 A New Plan Norwich by Samuel King 5.jpg
According to Samuel King’s 1766 map the Duke’s Palace (circled) on the south bank once occupied most of a block between Coslany Bridge (modern day Anchor Quay) and St George’s Bridge Street (St Andrew’s and Blackfriars’ Hall, named here New Hall and Dutch Church). Courtesy of the Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1997.550.81:M.

The Dukes of Norfolk built two palaces on the site, in 1561 and 1672, but proximity to the river caused problems. According to Thomas Baskerville in 1681:

“In this passage where the city encloses both sides of the river, we roved under five or six bridges, and then landed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, a sumptuous new-built house not yet finished within but seated in a dung-hole place, though it has cost the Duke already 30 thousand pounds in building, as the gentleman as shewed it told us, for it hath but little room for gardens, and is pent up on all sides both on this and the other side of the river, with tradesmen’s and dyers’ houses, who foul the water by their constant washing and cleaning their cloth, whereas had it been built adjoining to the afor said garden it had stood in a delicate place.” (Quoted in [9]).

Proximity to the water meant that the cellars were always wet, which affected the foundations [10]. The fate of the palace was sealed when the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Havers, refused the duke permission to process into the city with his Company of Comedians: in 1711 the duke ordered the palace be pulled down [9, 10]. When the duke vacated his palace there was no road through his estate and across the  Wensum as there is today. The present – but not the first – bridge to bisect the ducal waterfront was built when Duke Street was widened in 1972 to take traffic out of the city onto the inner ring road [2].

Duke St.jpg

Duke’s Palace Bridge 1972. Regrettably, there is no continuous river walk around the city, either because developers have been allowed to build up to the river’s edge or, where there is a walkway, it is generally not possible to walk under the bridge, as here.

This utilitarian bridge of 1972 replaced the first and much more elegant cast-iron bridge of 1822, which would be lost were it not for the Norwich Society who bought and stored the bridge until it could be re-used at the entrance to the Castle Mall car park [11].


The old Duke’s Palace Bridge (1822-1972) now at Castle Mall

Near the original site of this bridge we come to the dyeworks run by Michael Stark in the early C19, drawn below by his son James – the Norwich School artist. Stark Senior developed a way of staining the silk warp the exact same shade of red as the wool or worsted weft. This involved madder, a tin mordant and the fortuitously chalky waters of the Wensum, yielding a deep, true scarlet [12]. It seems safe to assume that it was the emptying of Stark’s dye vats that made the river run red.

James Stark.jpg

Michael Stark’s dyeworks adjacent to the Duke’s Palace Bridge. By James Stark 1887 [from 13]

I managed to preview the next bridge by walking along a gangway on a building at the rear of the Duke Street Car Park. St George’s/Blackfriars’ Bridge was built of Portland stone by Sir John Soane (1783-4) before he became Surveyor of the Bank of England [2].

Soane’s bridge meets the south bank between the grey-painted Gunton and Havers building (1914) and the red brick Norwich Technical Institute (1899) – both now part of Norwich University of the Arts. 

There is, however, no direct route for the riverside walker who must take a detour left down Duke Street, right along Colegate then right again onto St George’s Street before meeting the bridge. This diversion takes you past Howlett and White’s Norvic shoe factory built by Edward Boardman in 1876 and 1895. Around the end of the C19 it was the largest shoe factory in the country, employing a fraction of the outworkers employed in the textile trade a century before [2]. Norvic.jpg

St George’s Bridge from the south bank …

To the left, the former Gunton and Havers builders’ merchant (Havers is a relative of actor Nigel Havers); to the right, the stone portico of the former Norwich Technical Institute (1899). Both are now part of Norwich University of the Arts. Damien Hirst’s flayed and dissected man gives an unconscious nod to Norwich Red.

I continued via the north bank to Fye Bridge, its name perhaps derived from ‘fye‘, to clean the river [10]. The first recorded bridge-proper dates from 1153 but excavations in 1896 indicate this was predated by a wooden walkway that connected the south side to the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement in Norwich-over-the-Water [14]. The present bridge, whose double arches are based on downstream Bishop Bridge, was built in 1933. Just before the bridge is the residential development of Friars Quay, built on Jewson’s Victorian timber yard [15]. This 1970s housing has assimilated well despite Pevsner and Wilson’s deathless judgement, “It falls only just short of being memorable” [2].


Fye Bridge from the west with Anchor Quay housing just visible to the left

Crossing Fye Bridge then looking back from Quayside on the south bank this photograph shows the reconstruction of the bridge in 1931. Allen & Page animal feed mill (now houses) can be seen on the left and ‘Jewson’ marks their timber yard beyond the bridge.

1931-08 Reconstruction crane at Quayside [B075] 1931-08-03.jpg

Reconstruction of Fye Bridge 1931. ©

Quayside today …


Continuing eastward on the south bank: There was a wooden bridge at Whitefriars as far back as 1106 but what was known as St Martin’s Bridge was destroyed by the Earl of Warwick when he tried to deny Kett’s rebels access to the city in 1549. In 1591 this was replaced by a stone bridge that limped on until the City Engineer constructed the present Whitefriars Bridge (1924/5) [14].


Old WhiWhitefriars’ Bridge 1924, before its replacement. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Adjacent to the bridge is St James Mill, built by the Norwich Yarn Company (1836-9) in an attempt to revive the city’s textile industry. Ian Nairn – the acerbic architectural commentator – thought this ‘the noblest of all English Industrial Revolution Mills’ [2]. Until a few years ago the mill housed Jarrold’s Printing Works; the John Jarrold Printing Museum is in an adjacent building.IMG_8722.jpg

Willett & Nephew had 50 power looms on the third floor of the mill and are believed to have produced the shawl below. Members of the Yarn Company could now produce the famous ‘Norwich Red’ shawls on their power looms but, by the time the Company had begun production in 1839, factories in Yorkshire and Paisley were already mass-producing shawls in large factories, contributing to the market’s slow decline.


A Norwich Red Shawl courtesy of Joy Evitt

© 2018 Reggie Unthank


  2. Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1962). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  10. Meeres, Frank. (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co.
  14. and for the reconstruction of this bridge see

Thanks: to Joy Evitt and Jenny Daniels for background on Norwich shawls; to Clare Everitt for permission to use the Picture Norfolk images; to Paris Agar of Norwich Castle Museum for access to the maps; and to the Plunkett archive for their images.

Norwich knowledge (libraries)



One of Norwich’s well-rehearsed claims is that it was first (1608) to establish a library in a building owned by a corporation and not by church or school [1,2].

Before this, most libraries were monastic. Norwich Cathedral Library was destroyed twice: first by citizens in the Tombland Riot of 1272 then again during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (1538) [3].

Ethellred Gate.jpg

The Ethelred Gate to the Cathedral was rebuilt by the citizens in compensation for the riots (restored C19). The armed man and dragon in the spandrels, a common symbol for warding off evil spirits from gatehouses, may also allude to the Tombland Riot.

Before the advent of printing (ca 1450), the volumes would have been manuscripts, hand-written on parchment. From the original cataloguing marks, Ker [4] estimated that 120 of about 1350 pre-Dissolution books remain in the Cathedral Library. Other Norwich books ended up in Oxford and Cambridge including the spectacularly illustrated Psalter given to the Priory in the 1330s by the Norwich monk, Robert of Ormsby .

Ormsby Psalter.jpg

In the margin a cat stalks a rat in a hole. Ormesby Psalter ca 1310. Bodleian Library Oxford (

Another Norfolk treasure of the C14 is the Gorleston Psalter, once in Norwich Cathedral Priory now in the British Library.


A strangulated ‘queck’. Gorleston Psalter, British Library

cathedral library.jpg

Norwich Cathedral Library today

After the Dissolution, the city assembly agreed in 1608 that three rooms in the ‘New Hall’, which were rented to its sword-bearer, Jerrom Goodwyne, should be converted into “a lybrary for the use of preachers, and for a lodging chamber for such preachers as come to this cittie”[1]. This stood at the south porch of St Andrew’s Hall – part of the medieval Blackfriars complex that passed into the city’s hands after the Dissolution.

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Norwich 1.jpg

‘South Prospect of Blackfriers Church’ by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677). We know this – minus the tower – as St Andrew’s Hall (left) and Blackfriars’ Hall (right), comprising ‘The Halls’. The City Library was housed in the adjoining building, hard by the porch; lower left.

The donors’ book gives the founder of the library as Sir John Pettus (c1549-1614), the Mayor in 1608 [5].

Pettus 1608.jpg

Sir John Pettus Mayor 1608. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections

Although he bequeathed a small collection of books to the library Pettus left no funds for its further development. This seems to have set the pattern for the piecemeal acquisition of books down the years for there is little evidence that the Assembly paid for anything other than the occasional volume [2].

Sir John Pettus monument.jpg

Sir John Pettus Monument. SS Simon and Jude, Elm Hill, Norwich. Courtesy of [5]

Post-Reformation, the foundation of a City Library could be viewed as part of the transfer of knowledge and power from Church to local government but this was no secular enlightenment for the library was set up to provide lodging for itinerant Puritan preachers. At the invitation of the city administration, preachers delivered the Word at the ‘green yard’ in the Cathedral precinct [1, 2], their sermonising assisted by the wide range of sectarian tracts at the lodging place [2].

After some years of neglect the Old City Library was re-founded in 1657 by which time its scope had broadened to include secular topics such as philosophy, law, mathematics, maps, county guides etc. Donations were evidently eclectic: the library did not possess Newton’s  monumental Principia (gravity, laws of motion) but it did have Galileo’s System of the World [2] in which he supported Copernicus’ observation that the earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa. For expounding this heretical idea Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition in his home near Florence – the presence of Galileo’s System in the Norwich City Library illustrates a more liberal climate in Protestant Europe.

Sci Duo.jpg

No works by Newton but the City Library contained a revolutionary volume by Galileo. (Newton, after Godfrey Kneller, 1689; Galileo by Justus Sustermans, 1636)

The extraordinary degree of self-government granted to the City of Norwich over the years by the crown generated a sense of independence and radicalism. Political nonconformity was accompanied by a rise in dissent against the established church and by the early C18th 20% of the city’s population were Protestant dissenters [6]. Prominent among these was the surgeon, Philip Meadows Martineau – uncle of Harriet Martineau [7] – who worshipped in the Octagon Chapel in Colegate.


In 1756, local architect Thomas Ivory designed the Octagon Chapel, one of the first Methodist chapels in the world [7].

In 1784 Philip Martineau proposed the founding of a subscription library, possibly in reaction to the increasing Anglicanism of the City Library over the preceding century. This was a new departure with only five clergymen on a committee of 24, and of the 140 original subscribers 26% were women [1]. Subscribers had the keys to the Old City Library and the two libraries soon merged. Despite being supported by private subscription the new institution was rather confusingly named the Norwich Public Library [1] (claims to represent ‘Norwich’ or the ‘Public’ in the subsequent offshoots make the head spin). In 1794 the expanding library moved 150 metres to the disused Catholic Chapel of the Duke of Norfolk on St Andrew’s Street where it remained until replaced in 1835 by the building below [8, 9].

St Andrew St 11 Public Assistance Office [1121] 1936-07-13.jpg

The Norwich Public Library on St Andrew’s Street. Photo 1936 ©

Some years before the move there had been complaints about the running of Norwich Public Library (e.g., absence of standard works, lack of new titles, failure to raise the annual subscription, and a librarian with a disobliging manner) and in 1822 a break-away faction suggested setting up their own library. The Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution – of which William Unthank was a shareholder – opened at Haymarket Hill on New Year’s Day 1823 [1, 8, 9, 10]. These two subscription libraries were to run in parallel for over half a century.

Plunkett Haymarket Picture House latterly Gaumont [4505] 1959-07-26.jpg

Hay Hill 1959. The N&N Literary Institution once occupied the site on which the Haymarket Picture House (latterly Gaumont Cinema) stood from 1911 to 1958. (Marks and Spencer can be glimpsed at the end of the street). ©

In the meantime, in 1838, the Literary Institution’s former partner, the Norwich Public Library, moved to new premises on the site of the old city gaol on Guildhall Hill [9]. The building is now occupied by The Library Restaurant.

Guildhall Hill Subscription Library [4368] 1955-08-24.jpg

The Library in 1955.   © 

The Library.jpg

The Library set back amongst fashionable shops on Guildhall Hill. Courtesy Picture Norfolk. (

For a time this Public Library had custody of books from the old City Library but they were poorly kept and the council threatened to move them to the rival Literary Institution [1]. The problem was eventually solved when a third library – and this time a truly public, non-subscription library – was built in 1857. The 1850 Libraries Act allowed larger boroughs to add up to half a penny in the pound to the rates to pay for library facilities and staff. Norwich Council was first to adopt the Act, Winchester was first to form a library under the Act but Norwich was first to construct its own Free Library. This opened in 1857 at the corner of St Andrew’s (Broad) Street and Duke Street [8, 9, 10]. The Act did not allow for the purchase of books so the volumes inherited from the old City Library were to provide an important nucleus for the embryonic library.


The new Free Public Library (1857) built under the 1850 Libraries Act. The smaller building in its shadows was erected (1835) on the site of the Duke of Norfolk’s Catholic Chapel and housed the ‘Martineau’ Norwich Public Library. To increase confusion the latter rented rooms in the new Free Public Library. Courtesy Picture Norfolk. (

George Plunkett’s archive of C20th  photographs shows the Public Library in 1955 [12], the name ‘Free’ having been changed by the council in 1911.

St Andrew St Free Library [4366] 1955-08-24.jpg

The Public Library at the Duke Street/St Andrew’s Street junction (1955). ©

Towards the end of its life, the Free/Public Library was used as a shoe factory and in 1963 it was demolished to give way to the new Central Library in Bethel Street. Demolition allowed the widening of St Andrew’s Street and the corner site is currently occupied by a British Telecom telephone exchange.


And what of the two subscription libraries? The bookplate below records that the  libraries that had uncoupled in 1822 decided to come together again. In 1886 the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution joined the ‘Martineau’ Norwich Public Library at their site on Guildhall Hill to form the Norfolk and Norwich Library.


Bookplate. Courtesy of Picture Norfolk. (

Twelve years after this merger a fire started in the premises of Daniel Hurn, ropemaker, on nearby Dove Street [13]. The blaze spread to the warehouse of Chamberlin and Sons’ department store on Guildhall Hill and gutted the adjacent library. Most of the library’s 60,000 volumes were destroyed, including collections held by law, naturalist and archaeological societies. The restored library was reopened in 1914 and closed in 1976, when many of its books were given to Norwich School.

Chamb w arrow.jpg

Chamberlins department store on Guildhall Hill, facing the market. The building far left is now a Tesco Metro and further left (arrow) is the recessed entrance to the N&N Library (not shown) gutted in the 1898 blaze. Image ca 1910 [14].

Fire also plays a part in the continuing story of the City Library. The Free/ Public Library built by the council at the corner of Duke/Exchange Street in the mid C19 was demolished in 1963 when the new Central Library – designed by City Architect David Percival – was opened on a site between City Hall and the Theatre Royal.


Norwich Central Library, Bethel Street. Photo George Swain. Courtesy of Picture Norfolk (

The Central Library was destroyed by fire in August 1994, much as the subscription library on Guildhall had been destroyed nearly a hundred years before. Over 150,000 books were burned along with irreplaceable historical documents from the Record Office.

ITV Anglia.jpg

The 1994 library fire. © ITV News Anglia

In 2001 The Forum, designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners, arose from the site of the damaged library, facing St Peter Mancroft. The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, which is housed in The Forum, has been cited as the busiest library in the UK [15]. The Forum2.jpg

The city’s first branch library, the Lazar House in Sprowston, was in a Norman chapel and leper hospital founded by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga (d 1119) [16]. After local antiquarian Walter Rye had rescued the building from destruction in the early C20 it was presented to the city by Sir Eustace Gurney  and served as a branch library from 1923 to 2003 [17].

Lazar House.jpg

The C12 Lazar House, off Sprowston Road

Earlham Branch Library (1929), one of the 47 local libraries in Norfolk … another opportunity to show its fine  calligraphy.

Earlham Library2.jpg

In addition to subscription libraries and public free libraries readers could, for a small fee, rent popular books from commercial circulating libraries. WH Smith and Boots the Chemist had hundreds, Harrods of Knightsbridge had one, Jarrolds of Norwich* had one – even Edmund Smith’s stationery and tobacconist shop on Unthank Road housed a circulating library.

Circ Lib Unthk Rd.jpg

ER Smith’s circulating library at 139 Unthank Road ca 1931. Now PW Sears’ newsagents. Courtesy Picture Norfolk

Bonus track*

After posting this article, Caroline Jarrold kindly sent this image of the circulating library on the second floor of Jarrolds Department Store.


Courtesy Caroline Jarrold

© 2018 Reggie Unthank


  1. Kelly, Thomas (1969). Norwich, Pioneer of Public Libraries. Norfolk Archaeology vol xxxiv pp 215-222.
  2. Wilkins-Jones, Clive (ed). (2008). Norwich City Library 1608-1737. Pub: Norfolk Record Society.
  3. Beck, A.J. (1986). Norwich Cathedral Library: its foundation, destructions and recoveries. Pub: Dean and Chapter of Norwich 1986.
  4. Ker, N.R. (ed) (1964). Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving books. Pub: Offices of the Royal Historical Society.
  6. Wilson, Kathleen (1995). The sense of the people: politics, culture and imperialism in England, 1715-1785. Pub: Cambridge University Press.
  7. ‎
  8. Nowell, Charles (1920). The Libraries of Norwich. Pub: The Library Association.
  9. Loveday, Michael (2011). Norwich Knowledge: An A-Z of Norwich – The Superlative City. Pub: Michael Loveday. ISBN 9780957088306.
  10. Fawcett, Trevor (1967). The Founding of the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution. Library History vol 1, pp 46-53.
  13. Mackie, Charles (1901). Norfolk Annals vol 2. See:
  14. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold and Sons, London and Norwich.
  17. Hepworth, Philip and Alexander, Mary (1965). Norwich Public Libraries. Pub: Norwich Libraries Committee.

Thanks. I am grateful to Gudrun Warren, Librarian and Curator, Norwich Cathedral for her kind assistance. Thanks also to Clare Everitt for permission to use images from Picture Norfolk that, along with the Plunkett archive, provides a superb record of Norwich and Norfolk life.

Street furniture: palimpsests


, , ,

I’m fascinated by the idea of the city as a palimpsest – a parchment scraped down to be used again with signs of previous lives grinning through.


On the 1000-year-old Archimedes Palimpsest, previously unknown works by the Greek mathematician were poorly erased then overwritten with religious texts (

Old street furniture illustrates this perfectly: usually it will be discarded if it doesn’t fit the current style guide but where it is allowed to remain it can tell us much about the layering of time.

Gybson’s Conduit on the boundary wall of Bullards Anchor Quay Brewery in Westwick Street once faced the road but when the brewing hall was converted into apartments in the 1980s the pump was restored [1] and re-sited to face into the development. This early Renaissance monument was built by Norwich Sheriff and brewer, Robert Gybson. It appears to be a philanthropic gesture (‘for the ease of the common people’) but it was actually a condition of buying the site on which St Lawrence’s Well had stood since at least the time of Edward the Confessor [2, 3]. Gybson seems to have been an angry man and for ‘failing to be buxom to the mayor‘ he was deprived of the freedom of the city and condemned ‘forever henceforth to be a foreigner‘ [2]. Coo!


In 1860, John Henry Gurney erected this drinking fountain and obelisk to mark the site of an earlier wellhead (ca 1700-1850) that had raised water to be stored for the higher parts of the city [3].


The Gurney Drinking Fountain and Obelisk (1860) in Tombland

Sewell Park – the triangle of land between Constitution Hill and St. Clement’s Hill –was given to the city in 1908 by the Sewell family. Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty when she lived about a mile away at Old Catton. The triangular horse trough – now a flower bed – that guards the park entrance is doubly appropriate.


Black Beauty was published by local printing firm Jarrolds and Anna Sewell’s name is commemorated on one of the shields decorating the first floor of Jarrolds department store in London Street.


The trough on Castle Meadow, commemorating the popular Dr Darrell, was moved from outside his practice at All Saints Green [4]. It is reminiscent of a time when water troughs were placed along the road between the railway station and the old cattle market, beneath which Castle Mall now stands.


Following John Snow’s pioneering example of epidemiology in 1854, when he mapped an outbreak of cholera to a particular pump in London’s Soho [5], the importance of clean public water was foremost in the Victorian mind. Erected in 1860, this Portland Stone fountain outside St George Colegate was for public consumption: the marble basin for people and the troughs beneath for dogs.


Presented by Mr JC Barnham, designed by architects Messrs Benest and Newton, and sculpted by Mr. Joseph Stanley of Norwich

Bearing in mind John Snow’s findings about the source of water, this parish pump – patented by Shalder of nearby Redwell Street – is worryingly situated next to the raised burying ground of St John Maddermarket. The water was once described as ‘pure essence of churchyard’ [2].


At a time when potable water was only just being piped into some homes, the need for fresh drinking water for the poor was often met by philanthropic commissions. Charles Pierre Melly had already provided many drinking fountains in Liverpool and in 1859 he presented Norwich with this fountain situated at the east end of the Guildhall [6].


FH fire hydrant signs are everyday parts of the streetscene but this FP sign in Unthank Road refers to an earlier ‘fire plug’. The small stretch of railings to which it is attached only survived because of the fire hydrant sign – most other railings and gates having been removed in WWII in a morale-boosting bid to make guns. However, the inferior quality of the metal was such that it was likely used for other purposes, if not dumped in the Thames [7].


Near Bay Cottage, 14 Unthank Road

… and to round off the water theme, what is thought to be the earliest example of a concrete pissoir is now closed [2].


St Crispins Road near Barn Road roundabout

Due to that programme of scrappage in WWII there are precious few examples of locally-sourced ironwork on our streets. These curvaceous Art Nouveau-like railings around St Giles on the Hill reflect the flowing tracery of the beautiful east window from the Curvilinear Decorated period of the early C14 [8]


Some domestic gates have survived; Mill Hill Road has several examples, some refurbished. The gate below, with inverted curve, is a common pattern still copied when gates are replaced.


From a time, pre-Ocado, when tradesmen brought your orders to your (back) door …


Mount Pleasant

Clarendon Road has some of the best examples of Victorian ironwork.


Clarendon Road

Again on Clarendon Road, these cast-iron railings and gates separate two fine Victorian houses from the roadway. But further examples of street furniture can just be glimpsed in the side alley: a bollard and a puzzling pipe.

Clarendon Rd.jpg

Another fine set of cast-iron railings on Clarendon Road. Just creeping into shot is a bollard (bottom left) and a curious pipe (top left).

First, the bollards. The Norwich City Council’s Streetscape Manual (2006) [10] mentions two designs: a plain octagonal post – generally painted dark green – used in the city centre, and a more ornate cast-iron bollard that was photographed by George Plunkett in 1931 and is probably Victorian [11]. Here, just outside the city walls, in the Heigham Grove Conservation Area, two of these latter bollards guard the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. Two years ago I wrote about the bollards when local residents campaigned against the council’s plan to remove them to allow access for a mechanical street sweeper [11].

bollards2.jpgIt’s worth repeating the message that vestiges of a previous age are a vital part of the feel, the texture, of the streetscape. This design of bollard is entirely appropriate to one of the city’s finest late Victorian streets – as recognised in the council’s own planning appraisal:

“Several surviving cast iron railings along Clarendon Road are particularly fine and rare examples of once common Victorian ironwork found in Norwich cast by local firms such as Barnard, Bishop and Barnard(s)” [9].

This more ornate version can be found around churchyards, such as St Peter Mancroft and St Gregory’s but it can also be found at secular locations like Bishop Bridge (below) and the steps to the Castle at Davey Place.

A convocation of traditional cast-iron bollards on Bishop Bridge. (Note the electric ‘gas’ lamp).

The historic Norwich Lanes [12] have been delineated by painting the modern octagonal bollards red instead of the more usual green. This references the colour of the plant dye, madder, that was so important to the city’s once-thriving cloth industry. Twenty-one of these bollards are crowned with bronze sculptures designed by Oliver Creed [13].


Oliver Creed’s bronze capitals to red bollards in Lobster Lane (L) and Swan Lane (R).

Within the jurisdiction of Norwich Cathedral, distinctive canon-style, cast-iron bollards are used. Since the partnership of Norwich ironfounders, John Francis & Thomas Blyth, was dissolved in 1840 the bollards must be at least 178 years old [14].

cathedral duo.jpg

Back in the alleyway on Clarendon Road we glimpsed what was a tall, cast-iron stench pipe. If we think of such pipes at all we probably think of vent pipes that extend above the eaves. However, the pipe belonging to Anglia Water is part of the public sewerage system, its function being to regulate the pressure in the sewer when waste passes through.

stench pipe trio.jpg

Stench or stink pipe in the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. The cast iron pipe bears the city’s coat of arms and was made by Barnards Ltd, who superseded Barnard Bishop and Barnards Norwich Ironworks in 1907. 

I did wonder whether a column at the junction of Newmarket and Christchurch Roads might have been left over from the electric tramways or electric lighting of the early C20 but it is identical to the Clarendon Road example and the wire balloon on top confirms it to be another stench pipe.


Newmarket Road at Christchurch Road 

Another such pipe, by another of the city’s famous foundries – Boulton and Paul, is on Waverley Road. Listing stench pipes may sound train-spotterish except these are living reminders of our industrial history that should not be airbrushed from view in search of a uniform modern look. Only a year ago, the Cambridge News reported that residents on Hills Road/Queen Edith’s Way, Cambridge were – in their words, not mine – ‘kicking up a stink’ about plans to remove a tall, cast iron, Victorian stench pipe [15]. And last September the Eastern Daily Press reported that a tram standard had been removed for ‘safety reasons’ (Pah!) from the junction of West Pottergate and Heigham Road [16]. This matters because it was the very last post belonging to the Norwich Electric Tramways that had replaced horse-drawn omnibuses in 1900. The post that once carried its electricity was sturdy enough a century later when George Plunkett photographed it reincarnated as an electric lamp post. Now that link is lost.

Heigham Rd former tram standard [7787] 2000-11-24.jpg

The last relic of the Norwich Electric Tramways 1900-1935 ©

On Bank Plain is a fine cast iron lamp post base ca 1900, updated with an electric lamp.

Lampost trio.jpg

In the early C19 the city was lit by oil lamps but the fuel was replaced by coal gas from about 1825-30. Although a few electric lamps had begun to appear at the end of the C19 it wasn’t until 1910-13 that the gas lamps were converted to electricity, except for a few in unadopted streets. This may explain the survival of the old gas lamp in St Giles Terrace, photographed by George Plunkett in 1955 [2]. It has been converted to electricity but retains its original lantern.

gas lampost.jpg

St Giles Terrace off Bethel Street

Walking the streets of Georgian or Victorian Norwich would undoubtedly leave mud on your boots and before entering the house this had to be removed with a boot scraper. The French are more direct in naming their scrapers decrottoirs, acknowledging that excrement (crotte) is a major component of ‘mud’ from streets populated by horses and dogs. A walk past the rich merchants’ houses in St Giles Street reveals several examples of cast-iron scrapers, either free-standing or (usually paired) set into the walls.

boot scraper.jpg

Now that most of us carry a mobile phone we can only wonder when phone boxes will become obsolete. The iconic model below, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, went into production in 1936 although modern ‘heritage’ versions are still made in the official colour, currant red [17].


At the corner of St Saviour’s churchyard in Magdalen Street

There are several styles of red post box in the city. Left, is a Victorian ‘Penfold’ with an acanthus bud on top, designed by architect John Penfold. I remember a Penfold post box at the bottom of Guildhall Hill; the present one outside the City Hall is probably a replica made in the 1980s [17]. The modern post box derives from the version made in the reign of Victoria’s son, Edward VII (centre); the advantage was that the post slot was integral to the door so that no letters could skulk in the top of the box [17].  The current Elizabethan ERII box is virtually identical.

Postbox Trio.jpg

(L) Penfold-type, St Peter’s Street/City Hall. (C) Edward VII, Opie Street. (R) Elizabeth II, Unthank Road.

A personal favourite is the original Victorian wall box in Upper St Giles. This now fronts The Post Room antiques and interiors shop but I first encountered it when it belonged to the Upper St Giles sub-post office. Remember post offices?


Bonus track


Villagers of Mellis, Suffolk, converted this £1 postbox to a colour therapy room


  2. An excellent resource for old Norwich street furniture.
  10. (see page 25).

Thanks to: Lesley Kant-Cunneen for information about ironwork in Clarendon Road and Alan Theobald for discussions about street furniture.







Putting Norwich on the map


Maps make sense of the world and of our place in it. We have a fundamental sense of place that turns out to be hard-wired; there actually is a mental map, composed of a grid-like arrangement of cells in the brain [1]. If the hippocampus of a London taxi driver can be changed by learning ‘The Knowledge’ [2], imagine what happens to Norwich residents over a lifetime of following byzantine routes around medieval streets.

Norwich road map.jpg

The Norwich brain ©Norwich City Council. 

The Anglo-Saxon settlement seems to have been around Fye Bridge and the presence of ‘Northwic’ on early C10 coins indicates the importance of the north bank of the river in that development. The conjectural map (below) shows that by the C10-11 the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement was aligned north-south, with Ber Street leading south down the old Roman road to Caister St Edmunds.

1895 Conjectural Map of Norwich in the Time of King Edward the Confessor c.jpg

Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

The developing town was, however, razed to the ground by the Vikings in 1004. When the Normans arrived in the second half of the century their monumental Cathedral and Castle – made from stone imported from Normandy – were considerably larger and more awe-inspiring than the predominantly wooden buildings of their predecessors. Importantly, these buildings were on the south bank. In addition, the old marketplace was moved from Tombland to its present position under the gaze of the Castle, from where the new French Borough extended westwards.

City of Norwich grew.jpg

How the city of Norwich grew into shape. William Hudson 1896. NWHCM: 1997.550.50:M

Even though the centre of gravity had shifted, the old Anglo-Scandinavian settlement on the north side of the river was still an important part of the Old Borough and, indeed, ‘Norwich-over-the-Water’ remained one of the city’s four wards until the electoral reforms of the early C19th.


Norwich wards until 1835 [3]

This now familiar leg-of-mutton shape of the city had been set in stone by the building of the city walls; this took place from about 1294 to the middle of the following century [4], enclosing an administrative area larger than the City of London. The walls were built for the city’s protection at a time when the country was at war with France but they also served the civil function of controlling the passage of taxable goods through the 12 city gates.

‘Norwich’, however, was not simply the area within the city walls for the 1556 charter of Queen Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain specified that the hamlets of Earlham, Eaton, Catton, Thorpe, Trowse Millgate and Lakenham should be considered to be within the city’s wider boundary [5].


The County of the City of Norwich [5]. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

Reminiscent of Roman maps showing that ‘All roads lead to Rome’, William Ionn’s map of 1836 shows the roads radiating out of Norwich into the surrounding county. By this time all gates had been demolished – the last disappearing in 1808 [4].

Norwich Routes.jpg

Routes from the city of Norwich through the County of Norfolk (1836). William Ionn. NWHCM: 1922.135.2:M

The lists on the plan recall a time when the traveller might need a strip map to confirm the sequence of, and the distance between, towns and villages encountered along the journey – all this supported by milestones and fingerposts on the ground.

The first authentic map of Norwich was made in 1558 by William Cuningham, a citizen of Norwich; it is notable for being the earliest surviving printed map of any English town or city outside London. The word ‘civitas’ on the banner recognises the city’s status as a self-governing body. In 1404, the second charter from King Henry IV proclaimed that the city should be considered a county in its own right, separate from the county of Norfolk. The words, The County of the City of Norwich, appeared on maps  until the local government reorganisation of 1974 [5].


Cuningham 1558. Courtesy British Library

Cuningham’s map seems to counter perspective by tilting the distant ground towards us without quite providing the bird’s eye view that would allow us to float above the city and look down upon it in scale [5]. ‘Prospects’ like this could therefore be taken from a viewpoint outside the city; here, the cartographers at the lower edge seem to be pointing across to the windmills on Mousehold Heath.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenburg’s plan of 1581 is closely based on Cuningham’s, even reproducing the archers practicing in Chapelfield (clear area of the walled city, lower right). On the reverse was a poem delivered to Queen Elizabeth I during her visit to the city in 1578 [5]. The poem refers to ‘Belgic friends’, i.e., the Strangers recently arrived from The Netherlands who were to revitalise our weaving industry.

Georg Braun Map 2.jpg

Elizabethans surveying the City of Norwich. Braun & Hogenburg 1581 NWHCM : 1997.550.75

Cuningham’s was to provide the model for most of the maps over the next 150 years. For example, the inset below of Norwich on John Speed’s map of Norfolk of 1676 adopts Cuningham’s way of looking at the city (and, again, the archery practice). The ditch outside the city walls to the west is wrongly depicted as a moat.


Inset of Norwich from John Speed’s map of Norfolk NWHCM:1951.219:M 1676

The two prospects below by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, one from the south-east one from the north-east, show something of the city in the mid C18, when the city walls were just about intact. We are struck by how much unbuilt space was present – something that Daniel Defoe noticed when he made his tour of the country 1724-1726:

“The walls of this city are reckoned three miles in circumference, taking in more ground than the city of London; but much of that ground lying open in pasture-fields and gardens; nor does it seem to be, like some ancient places, a decayed declining town, and that the walls mark out its ancient dimensions; but the walls seem to be paced, as if they expected that the city would in time increase sufficiently to fill them up with buildings”[6]. 

Buck Duo.jpg

Upper: South-east prospect of the city of Norwich 1741 by S&N Buck NWHCM: 1922.135.4:M. Lower: North-east prospect 1743 NWHCM: 1922.135.7:M.

In 1696 the professional surveyor Thomas Cleer broke away from Cuningham’s template by publishing a plan of Norwich that did provide a bird’s eye view and, more importantly, was the first to be printed to scale [5]. (Note the old Market Cross to the left of the Castle, red star).


Detail from the map of Thomas Cleer 1696. NWHCM :1999: 71.49. Only two copies are known [5]


Old Market Cross, Norwich (undated) by Thomas Hearne (1744-1817). Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1903,36

Map piracy. In 1727, the land surveyor James Corbridge published a fine plan of the city. Subscribers paid two shillings down and 3s on delivery, while anyone wanting their houses or arms to appear in the margins had to pay 7s down and 3s on delivery [5]. Next, he advertised for subscriptions to allow him to make a new full-scale survey of Norfolk but before the county map could emerge two Norwich booksellers, William Chase and Thomas Goddard, planned to undercut him with a pirated version. To cast doubt on Corbridge’s work the booksellers got one of his employees – the improbably named Thermometer Elinett – to send a letter to the local paper stating, incorrectly, that the new map would be a copy of previous maps with all their imperfections. Corbridge’s reply in a rival paper settled the matter, accusing Elinett of not knowing the ‘South End of the Needle for the North.’ [7].


Corbridge’s map of Norwich 1727. NWHCM: 1936.5

Maps are not neutral, objective things: they can be influenced by those commissioning them. We would also do well to question the topological relationships between features on a map. On a globe, the vertical lines (meridians) converge at the poles but to convey them as parallel lines on his flat map – his famous projection of 1569 – Gerardus Mercator had to do some mathematical finessing. He also pulled the horizontal lines of latitude further apart as they approached the poles. As a result, land masses become seriously distorted the further you go from the equator, so that Greenland appears bigger than South America or Australia. Even so, Mercator’s Projection still appears to be the favourite way of representing the world and is the one adopted by Google Maps [8].

But Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, himself an Oxford mathematician, had the measure of Mercator and produced his own perfect map in The Hunting of the Snark [9].


The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits. Lewis Carroll (1876). Pub: Macmillan & Co.

He had bought a large map representing the sea/Without the least vestige of land:/ And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be/ A map they could all understand.

What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators/ Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”/ So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply/”They are merely conventional signs!”

With the exception of the small suburbs of Heigham and Pockthorpe, there was little development of Norwich beyond the city walls until the late C18 [5]. When the walls and gates were pulled down, development did begin to creep outwards but, as the 1842 Heigham tithe map shows, there was still much open land, including fields and market gardens.

1842tithe map.jpg

1842 Heigham tithe map. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office NRO BR276/1/0051. Open Government Licence. The octagonal building is the Gaol at the junction of Unthank and Earlham Roads, now the site of the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

This was just before the sale of Unthank and Steward land that would lead to the explosion in terraced-house building across Heigham [10]. Workers from the expanding suburbs were brought into the city centre – where much of its industry was still concentrated – by a new form of transport. Between 1900 and 1935, the Norwich Electric Tramways provided routes around the city using electricity generated by the power station on Duke Street. The NET depot was on Silver Road and the central hub was in Orford Place. In 1933 the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company bought the tramways with the view to replacing them with petrol-driven buses [11].


Norwich Electric Tramways Map. By Andrew Abbott, Creative Commons Licence.  

Norwich tram.jpg

No 10 electric tram on the Earlham Road ca 1900, outside the Black Horse PH. Andrew R Abbot, Creative Commons Licence

By the late 1920s the radial development hadn’t quite enveloped the land around the south-western part of the ring road that was to define another boundary around the city. The gold standard for mapping in the UK was the Ordnance Survey, which had begun to map Norwich as far back as 1817 [5]. In this 1928 OS map, Christchurch Road (green) had yet to be built from Unthank Road to Earlham Road (completed 1935 [10]) and there was still much open land west of Colman Road and around the newly-completed Eaton Park (blue star).

Colman RdFinal.jpg

©Ordnance Survey 1928. Norfolk LXIII.14 showing the Colman Road stretch of the outer ring road (red) and the proposal to extend Christchurch Road across allotments to Earlham Road (green) [10]. Blue star= Eaton Park.

Captain Arnold Edward Sandys-Winsch had drawn the plan for Eaton Park as part of a job creation scheme following the First World War [12]; he also designed Wensum, Heigham and Waterloo Parks plus Mile Cross Gardens. Sandys-Winsch is credited with planting 20,000 trees in the city, of which his goblet-pruned London plane trees along Earlham Road and parts of the ring road are the most easily recognisable [10].


Sandys-Winsch’s plan for Eaton Park, opened 1928. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office. (See the fascinating history pages of friendsofeatonpark [12]).

In retaliation for the RAF bombing Lübeck in March 1942 the Luftwaffe said they would bomb every English city with three stars in Baedeker’s Travel Guide. These cities were to include Norwich, York, Bath, Exeter and Canterbury – all of cultural and historical importance. (This map also reminds us of a time when the city had three railway stations: Thorpe, Victoria and City).

Baedeker map of Norwich.jpg

Norwich in the 1906 (6th) edition of the Baedeker Guide. Map by Wagner and Debes of Leipzig. From my own collection. 

Norwich suffered badly in the 1942 Baedeker Raids. In the first raid the Luftwaffe dropped 185 bombs bigger than 50 tons, resulting in 258 deaths and 784 injured [13]. The six-foot-square Norwich Bomb Map, now restored at the Norfolk Record Office, recorded 679 bombs that fell on the city between 1940 and 1945 [14].

Norwich bomb map.jpg

Detail of the restored Norwich Bomb Map, kindly provided by County Archivist Gary Tuson. CDs of the full map are available from the NRO. 

But even before the war had ended, the City Engineer HC Rowley – together with consultants CH James and S Rowland Pierce who had recently designed Norwich City Hall (1938) – were preparing the new City of Norwich Plan [15]. In this, they took a fresh look at the flow of traffic around a bomb-damaged medieval city. No longer do the contours follow the leg of mutton-shaped medieval city.


The inner and outer ring roads shown on the City of Norwich Plan dated 1944 [17].

The sedimentation of an unimaginably large number of marine organisms onto the seabed, some 60-95 million years ago, formed the deep layer of chalk interspersed with flints upon which this low-lying county is based. Much later, the mining for lime and flints for building purposes gave rise to the tunnels that run beneath the city. One extensive network runs beneath Earlham Road near St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, forming a street plan unrelated to the world above.

Chalk mines.jpg

Chalk tunnels beneath Earlham Road. Eastern Daily Press 1939. More precise mapping shows that the tunnel system was actually smaller and situated to the top left of this plan, away from the Catholic Cathedral (see Matthews Williams’ ‘Subterannean Norwich’ (2017) Lasse Press.

On the third of March 1988 the roof of one of these medieval chalk workings collapsed and an Eastern Counties bus, which had been slowly crawling up the hill, started to sink into a deep hole. Cadbury’s quickly adapted their advert for one of their chocolate bars, writing “Nothing fills a hole like a Double Decker.”

Bus in Hole.jpg

Bruce Adam, courtesy of Plantation Garden Trust

A postscript: The Ordnance Survey was originally motivated by the Jacobite Rebellion to make a military survey of Scotland but, when Napoleon threatened invasion, the survey was extended to the rest of the UK. In the decades following the last war the Soviets prepared their own detailed maps for similar purposes [16]. I never thought I would see Russian tanks roll down Unthank Road but there it is, targeted in Cyrillic script, АНТЕНК-РОД. Fortunately, there’s an Anderson shelter in our garden from World War II.

Soviet map.jpg

The city end of Unthank Road (АНТЕНК-РОД) from a Soviet map [16].

©2018 Reggie Unthank

Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle‘ is still available from Jarrolds, City Bookshop and Waterstones.

Colonel Unthank AD.jpg


  3. Hudson, W. and Tingey, J.C. (1906). The Records of the City of Norwich vol 1. Pub: Jarrolds.
  5. Frostick, Raymond (2002). The Printed Plans of Norwich 1558-1840: A carto-bibliography. Pub: Witley Press Ltd, Hunstanton.
  6. Defoe quoted in:
  8. Garfield, Simon (2012). On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does.
  9. Carroll, Lewis. (1876)  The Hunting of the Snark. Pub: Macmillan.
  10. Lloyd, Clive (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. (see ‘Unthank Book’ button at top of the blog page).
  15. James, CH, Pierce, SR and Rowley, HC. (1945) City of Norwich Plan. Pub: The City of Norwich Corporation.
  16. Davies, John and Kent, Alexander J (2017). The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World. Pub: University of Chicago Press.

Thanks I am indebted to Paris Agar (Project Curator, Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England), for allowing me to photograph the collection of maps held at Norwich Castle Study Centre. I am also grateful to Dr Clare Haynes UEA for her help. I thank the County Archivist Gary Tuson for permission to use the Norwich Bomb Map and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permission to use Thomas Hearne image. John Davies kindly allowed me to use part of the Soviet map and Roger Hannah of the Plantation Garden gave permission for me to use the images on the wonderful Plantation Garden website. And to Anya Zouirova, thank you for the Cyrillic script.





Imagine a time before clocks, when the working day was divided according to the passage of the sun: the sun comes up, the sun goes down and somewhere in the middle is a ploughman’s lunch.


The Creation of Light. C15 roof boss Norwich Cathedral

The Babylonians marked the passage of the sun by following the shadow of a stick known as the gnomon – ‘one who knows’. On Norwich’s ‘parish church’, St Peter Mancroft, there is no clock tower but there is, on the south transept, a sundial whose gnomon is in the shape of crossed keys: Saint Peter’s keys to the kingdom of heaven.


On St Andrew’s Church the X-shaped cross – the psaltire on which the saint was crucified – provides the gnomon.


St Andrew’s was re-built in Perpendicular style 1499-1518 on the site of a previous church, making it one of the last (late) medieval churches in Norwich. This large hall church, squeezed between two alleyways, is second only in size to St Peter Mancroft.

St Andrews possesses a clock as well as a sundial. The first mechanical clocks, driven by a weight whose fall was regulated by an escapement movement, appeared in the 1200s. The world’s oldest working clock (1386) in Salisbury Cathedral has no face since it was designed solely for striking the hour, as once required for the monastic Liturgy of the Hours – the daily routine of communal prayer at seven set hours of the day [1]. The striking of a bell to mark the hours was therefore originally religious: either private (in churches and monasteries) or public (the call to worship).

Once, Norwich Cathedral had an astronomical clock (1321-5), built by Roger de Stoke [2], that preceded Salisbury’s but was probably destroyed in the C16. The heavy weight in such clocks could also drive accompanying automata of which Norwich had 59, “including a procession of choir monks and figures representing the days of the month, lunar and solar models, and an astronomical dial” [3]. Imagine.


The Jacobean clock-jacks, or Jacks o’ the clock, were made to ring bells c1620; the clock above them is Victorian. South transept  Norwich Cathedral [2].

Probably the most famous clock-jack in East Anglia is in St Edmund’s Southwold, which provided the logo for Adnams Brewery.


Left: St Edmund’s Southwold; right, © Adnams Brewery

As we recently saw in the Paston Treasure, displayed in the Castle Museum [4], the steady ticking of a clock offers an easy metaphor for the span of human life. In this vanity painting the hourglass, the guttering candle and the clock, all remind us of the fleeting nature of time and the worthlessness of human goods: “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity”.

The Paston Treasure (1660s). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM: 1947.170

In measuring the passing of time, clocks confront us with our own mortality. From their town hall clock, the city fathers of Manchester exhorted their citizens with: ‘Teach us to number our days’. Similar mottos include: ‘Time and tide wait for no man‘ or ‘Tempus fugit’. [Pathetically, I can no longer read tempus fugit without thinking of, ‘Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana‘, which Wikipedia [5] offers as an example of antanaclasis (me neither)].

Voysey clock.jpg

‘Tempus fugit’, designed by CFA Voysey (1903) ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Norwich does possess the ‘Forget me not‘ clock on the tower of St Michael-at-Plea. The previous ‘useless’ mechanism was replaced in 1889 by William Redgrave Bullen who, according to the Norwich Mercury, had the dial plate repainted ‘a deep chocolate’ [2].


The date of 1827 suggests that an earlier dial was retained. There was once a sundial on the porch but this was replaced in 1887 by the statue above the door [6].

Bullen is an alternative spelling of Boleyn and clock-restorer WR Bullen is said to be a descendant of Queen Anne Boleyn [7] who was born at Blickling. In the C17, Sir Henry Hobart built Blickling Hall on the ruins of the Boleyn’s manor house; the heraldic bulls on the Hobart crest [8] seem to be a punning allusion to the previous occupants.


Bulls and the Hobart crest above the doorway to the Jacobean Blickling Hall. Courtesy of 

WR Bullen’s business in London Street recently celebrated its 130th anniversary.


Other jewellers are available …


Aleks, London Street; Dipples, Swan Lane; H Samuel, The Walk

Clocks also remind us of the mortality of others, as in this tribute to the employees of Laurence, Scott & Co who died in the First World War.

Laurence Scott.jpg

Laurence, Scott & Co, founded in 1883, provided Norwich with its first electric lighting then grew their business by producing variations of the electric motor. The factory can be found in the hinterland behind the Canaries’ football stadium at Carrow Road. This clock, plus a plaque listing the fallen, commemorates those who died in WW1.

The clock on the tower of St Clement’s Colegate was restored in 2004 in memory of those who died in the Second World War.

St ClemDuo.jpg

St Clement’s Church at the junction of Colegate and Fye Bridge Street

As a military building, Britannia Barracks on Mousehold Heath is unusual in that it was built in the Queen Anne Revival style of the Arts and Crafts Movement, or as Pevsner and Wilson have it, ‘the Norman Shaw style’ [6]. It was built in 1886-7; the army moved out in 1959 to be replaced by prisoners in the 1970s. There are clock faces on all sides of the clock tower although the dials facing into the prison probably carry the extra layer of meaning of time as punishment: ‘serving time’ or ‘doing time’.


When time was estimated by sundial, different towns often kept different times, each based on local noon. As the Earth rotates relative to the sun, a town one degree longitude west of another will experience solar noon four minutes later [9]. The prime meridian of 0 degrees longitude is at Greenwich, UK (although the stainless steel strip marking 0° has been shown by GPS to be 102 metres east of this). On the day this post was published, solar noon in Norwich was at 12.03:34 Greenwich Mean Time while on the other side of the UK, in Aberystwyth, it was 12.25:05. When travelling across the country,  stage coaches had to allow a generous leeway to accommodate different local mean times [9,10]. With the coming of trains and the complexity of making timetables something had to be done to standardise time so in 1847 the Railway Clearing House recommended that every rail company adopt Greenwich Mean Time as the standard ‘railway time’.

Norwich station.jpg

Of the city’s three stations Norwich Thorpe is the only one remaining. It was opened by the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway in 1844 [11]

Until pocket watches stopped being luxury items – probably around the early C19 – the public depended on the church clock to tell time. From Guildhall Hill, at the top of the marketplace, you only had to look down St Giles Street to read the time from the ten-foot-diameter dial of St Giles Church whose single clock face was directed straight down the street. To increase visibility the hour-hand was supplemented in 1865-6 by a six and a half foot/two-metre-long minute hand [2].


But in the C19 – in what has been called the democratisation of time – clocks started to appear more frequently on secular buildings [10]. Just before the restoration of St Giles, Norwich Guildhall received a clock and clock turret, presented in 1850 by the mayor, Henry Woodcock [2].


The Victorian clock turret was added to the east end of the Guildhall by the mayor on the understanding that the ceiling of the council chamber would be taken down to expose the original ornate ceiling [2]. 

The clock on the tall tower of City Hall has superseded the Guildhall clock, presently stuck at noon.


Who could fail to feel a glow of civic pride on reading that, ‘The City Hallmust go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars‘ [6]? Norwich had missed the campaign of Victorian civic building seen in our northern cities and this allowed its City Hall (1938) to be built in a fresh, modern style. Architects, James & Pierce, therefore used a pared-down Scandinavian style with an interior that showed the influence of Art Deco. Consistent with this, the mace-like hour hand on the clock tower (top left) is surrounded by symbols instead of the Roman numerals that usually marked the hours on public clocks. The pattern is repeated in the Council Chamber (top right) and the Mancroft Room (bottom left). However, editorial control was not exerted over the clock above the lift (bottom right), which seems out of place in this Art Deco palace.


The City Hall and St Giles Church clocks feature in the mural on the side of the Virgin Money Lounge on Castle Street.


Mural by Derek Jackson for Norwich Business Improvement District (BID)

Throughout the C19, commercial enterprises like banks and insurance companies increasingly displayed public clocks. While advertising their sense of public duty (and their name) it also allowed them to borrow prestige and respectability from the church and civic authorities who had previously been the guardians of time.


Advertising Norwich Union outside Bignold House No 9 Surrey Street, once the home of Norwich Union Fire Office

Opposite this clock at No 8 Surrey Street is the Norwich Union (now Aviva) building designed by George Skipper in 1904-5, looking as solid and durable as any bank. Inside, is the famous Marble Hall made from stone surplus to requirements at London’s Westminster Cathedral [6].


Norwich Union’s Marble Hall

A century later, large public buildings maintain the tradition of displaying clocks to the public.

Intu Norwich.jpg

intu Chapelfield shopping mall, opened 2005

The earlier Castle Mall (1993) has a clock tower, shown here on the right.


The clock on the left, in the Back of the Inns, is a relic from an ironmongery business that disappeared from the city some time ago. The company’s internet-unfriendly name appears on the other side.


One-time sellers of door furniture

©2018 Reggie Unthank

Thanks to those of you who bought the book. I’m delighted to say it is in its third print run since Christmas.

Colonel Unthank AD.jpg

Also available from Waterstones

Bonus track

About an hour after posting this article, reader Jeremy Whigham mentioned the clock on West Acre All Saints, Norfolk, that had the letters of ‘Watch and Pray’ instead of numerals. Too good to miss.


  2. Houseago, J. and Houseago, A. (1996). Clockmaking in Norfolk. Part I: Up to 1900. In, Norfolk and Norwich Clocks and Clockmakers, Eds C. and Y. Bird. Pub: Phillimore. 
  3. Pruitt, E.R. (2016). Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art. Pub: Phillimore. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  6. Pevsner, N. and Wilson, W. (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1. Pub: Yale University Press.
  10. Peters, Rosemary A. (2013). Stealing Things: Theft and the Author in Nineteenth-Century France. Pub: Lexington Books

Thanks. I am grateful to Sarah Cocke of for supplying the Blickling image.



, , , , ,

The face is the most important part of one’s identity. It conveys a visible expression of  personality and can used in art to evoke a range of emotions. But at a time when faces were not universally recognised other symbols could be used to underline identity.

“The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.” (Cicero)

I was reminded of this by the painted rood screen from St Mary’s North Elmham. Despite having their faces scratched in the reign (probably) of Edward VI the rather mournful saints, Barbara, Cecilia and Dorothy (Babs, Cissy and Dot) can still be recognised to be portraits of the same woman. But likeness to long-departed saints is hardly the point here; instead, beauteous Barbara is identified by the tower in which she was hidden from the world, Cecilia’s virginity is signified by her wreath of lilies, and Dorothy (patron of gardeners, amongst others) holds a bunch of flowers. The face is incidental to the virtue signified.


Rood screen, St Mary’s North Elmham, Norfolk (ca 1474) saved from destruction by being used as floorboards. SS Barbara, Cecilia and Dorothy

In the late medieval period Norwich was a major centre for glass painting and the often stereotypical faces of saints and angel can be recognised throughout East Anglia [2, 3]. The same faces appear in various guises suggesting they were drawn from the same cartoon. For example, the angel from the Toppes-sponsored windows in St Peter Mancroft can be overlaid pretty faithfully upon the saint from the ‘Toppes’ window in Norwich Guildhall. Both were painted ca 1450 by the workshop of John Wighton, in which his wife and son also worked [4].

Angel TrioFinal.jpg

Left, St Peter Mancroft; right, Guildhall; centre, overlay

A wonderful sequence of images from the late C15 is to be found in the chantry chapel of St Helen’s in the Great Hospital, Norwich. These roof bosses may have escaped desecration because Henry VIII’s zealously Protestant and iconoclastic son, Edward VI, handed over control of the chapel to the mayor, sheriff and citizens of Norwich [1].


Two faces are reputed to be of Queen Anne of Bohemia and her husband King Richard II, but the evidence is slender. The woman does wear a hard-to-see crown: the man does not, but then he was usurped [1].


Reputedly, Queen Anne of Bohemia and King Richard II

Queen Anne and her husband visited Norwich in 1383 but by the time Bishop Goldwell (rebus, a golden well) …


… had this vaulted ceiling built (ca 1472-1499) the couple had been dead a century. In the glorious Wilton Diptych, Richard II kneels clean-shaven before the Virgin. So if the boss of the hirsute man is meant to represent Richard then it may not be a likeness but a representation of deposed majesty, wearing a headband instead of a crown.


The Wilton Diptych 1395-9. National Gallery

Norwich Cathedral has over 1000 bosses carved into the keystones of its roof vaults – more than any other religious building in the world. In the cloisters are several of the Green Man – a pagan figure representing, perhaps, the rebirth of nature. However … just as the term ‘ploughman’s lunch’ seems to have been a fiction concocted by The Cheese Bureau (surely a Philadelphia soul group?) as recently as the 1950s, so – it is claimed – the term  ‘Green Man’ as applied to church roof bosses can only be traced back to an article by Lady Raglan in 1939 [quoted in 5]. Can this be right? Anyway, the faces can be classified as: a ‘leaf mask’ made from a single leaf; a ‘foliate face’ made from several leaves; ‘disgorgers’, with leaves or vines exiting mouth, ears, nose; this one seems to be a ‘peeper’ or ‘watcher’.


A face peeps out behind the leaves in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral (1316-19)

Roof bosses also decorate the vaulting inside St Ethelbert’s Gate to the Cathedral. The present gate was built ca 1316 (restored in 1815 and 1964), incorporating the remains of the Norman gate burnt in the riots of 1272 [6]. The conflict centred on a jousting target (quintain) in Tombland at which two priory men were detained. The prior replied by bringing in armed men from Yarmouth who went on the rampage; the citizens, in turn, attacked the priory, set fire to St Ethelbert’s Gate and parts of the cathedral itself were set ablaze. Thirteen of the prior’s men were killed but King Henry III, who came from Bury St Edmunds to restore order, put 35 citizens to death: by dragging some behind a cart; by hanging, drawing and quartering others; and by burning alive a woman who set fire to the gate. To compensate the priory the citizens were required to fund the rebuilding of the gate. The naturalistic head on the boss looks down with distaste.


The Despenser Retable survived the Reformation by being inverted as a table top. Now, this altarpiece can be seen in St Luke’s Chapel in Norwich Cathedral. One intriguing hypothesis is that this late medieval treasure was commissioned by Henry le Despenser, the ‘Fighting Bishop’ (1370-1406), to mark the suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt by Richard II and perhaps his own part in the East Anglian skirmishes [7]. Incidentally, the rich red colour in the painting was known as ‘Norwich Red’ and was later used in the city’s famous C18 shawls [7].


The Despenser Retable, Norwich Cathedral

The first panel depicts the Scourging of Jesus. Pilate’s representative handles Jesus’ hair while the face of the man holding the scourge is “contorted with the effort” [7] of delivering the punishment (out of shot, both his feet spring off the ground).


On Agricultural Hall Plain, between the Hall (‘Anglia TV’) and Shirehall, is George Wade’s memorial. Unveiled in 1904, ‘Peace’ records the 300 Norfolk men who served in the Boer War. The mood, subdued rather than victorious, is conveyed by the angel’s neutral expression as she sheathes her sword [8].


‘Peace’, George Wade’s Boer War memorial on Agricultural Hall Plain (1904)

In St Martin-at-Palace Plain, next to the Wig and Pen pub, is Cotman House. One of the city’s favourite sons, the painter John Sell Cotman, lived here from 1823 to 1834. If he had been born in London rather than the provinces an artist of Cotman’s stature would surely have been commemorated in Westminster Abbey.


JS Cotman by Hubert Miller 1914 [8]

cotman house.jpg

Cotman House, where John Sell Cotman opened his ‘School for Drawing and Painting in Water-colours’ [9]


Magdalen Street and nearby Colegate have a good number of late medieval and Georgian doorways [see 10, 11]. Pevsner and Wilson judged No. 44 to be the climax of Magdalen Street, with “one of the most ornate Georgian façades in Norwich.” [12]. George Plunkett wondered if the doorway might have been constructed to designs by Thomas Ivory, architect of The Assembly Rooms and the Octagon Chapel [13]. The keystone on the arch is decorated with a classically-influenced head.


The closed eyes of the head suggest a death mask: the ostrich feathers in the figure’s hair  signify a woman of fashion [14].


At the beginning of the C20, Norwich architect George Skipper played with a variety of influences, including Art Nouveau [15], but for the city’s banks and insurance companies he used a Neo-Classical Palladian style, adding seriousness with borrowed classical motifs. Above the door of the London and Provincial Bank in London Street (now The Ivy) is a female head [8]. The mild erosion makes it difficult to confirm whether she wears a garland, synonymous with Flora the Roman goddess of flowers and Spring. However, the swags of fruit at the putti’s feet convey the required air of prosperity.


The same year (1906), Skipper commissioned similar stone sculpture for the Norwich and London Accident Assurance in St Giles Street (currently St Giles Hotel). Once more, a sense of prosperity is conveyed by the swags of fruit and flowers.


Although the androgynous head bears a laurel wreath, rather than flowers, the festoons of fruit and flowers again are indicative of Flora.StGiles2.jpgFor the later (1928-30) Lloyds Bank on Gentleman’s Walk by HM Cautley, a similar head was used, decorated with a mini-swag of finely carved flowers. Richard Cocke suggests this is a direct tribute to Skipper’s London and Provincial Bank around the corner [8].



Nearby, on Red Lion Street is another Skipper building, Commercial Chambers built in 1903 [15]. The facade is almost riotously decorated in buff terracotta (probably Doulton). The first floor cornice is supported by two boys and a girl, almost certainly sculpted from life, making a change from the usual putti.

Fig Trio.jpg

Crowning the building is a cowled figure making entries into a ledger with a quill. This might reasonably be thought to represent the owner, the accountant Charles Larking; but as we saw previously it is clearly modelled on the architect himself [15].


At about the time that Skipper was designing these buildings, his pupil J. Owen Bond – who was responsible for some of the few Modernist buildings in the city – designed the Burlington Buildings in Orford Place (1904). Instead of female heads, the building was decorated with three pairs of full-length, reclining women: one of each pair reading a book, the other holding a cornucopia.


‘Burlington Buildings’ was built for offices rather than for a bank or insurance company. Unfortunately, this fine Renaissance-style building is hard to appreciate, being rather hemmed in at the back of Debenhams.

The Horn of Plenty is not especially associated with Flora and could just as well refer to Concordia (goddess of Peace and Harmony), Abundantia (Abundance personified) and Fortuna (Luck and Fortune). In architecture it seems that the symbolism of plenty may be more important than adherence to any particular goddess.

This can be seen on the bases that James Woodford sculpted for the flagpoles in the memorial gardens outside the City Hall [16]. Each base shows an Assyrian-influenced priestess holding an overflowing basket. Woodford’s references to the two-dimensional  paintings and reliefs from the Assyrian and Ancient Egyptian empires are entirely fitting outside a City Hall that shunned Gothic and Classical motifs in favour of Modernism. As in Egyptian art, the figure presents a combination of frontal and profile views. With the head in profile it is difficult to express emotion; it is the associated animals and plants that bear the symbolic load, celebrating the region’s agricultural abundance.


A celebration of Agriculture by James Woodford (1938), who also sculpted the 18 roundels celebrating Industry on the City Hall’s bronze doors [8].

cheeky face.jpg

©2018 Reggie Unthank



  1. Rose, Martial. (2006). A Crowning Glory: the vaulted bosses in the chantry of St Helen’s, the Great Hospital, Norwich. Pub: Lark’s Press, Dereham.
  2. Woodforde, C. (1950) The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub, Oxford University Press
  4. King, D. J. (2006) The Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford.
  6. Meeres, Frank (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore and Co Ltd. (A highly readable account of the city’s history).
  7. McFadyen, Phillip (2015). Norwich Cathedral Despenser Retable. Pub: Medieval Media, Cromer.
  8. Cocke, Richard (with photography by Sarah Cocke) (2013). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk. Pub; Liverpool University Press. (An essential source for anyone interested in East Anglian sculpture).
  9. Kent, Arnold and Stephenson, Andrew (1949). Norwich Inheritance. Pub: Jarrold and Sons Ltd
  12. Pevsner, Nikloaus and Wilson, Bill (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I, Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.

Thanks. Chris Walton writes the very informative Company of the Green Man website [5] and I am grateful to him for information on foliate faces. I thank Revd Dr Peter Doll, Canon Librarian of Norwich Cathedral for permission to photograph the Despenser Retable and Dr Roland Harris, Cathedral Archaeologist for information on the cathedral bosses and the Ethelbert Gate.

Bonus track


Nelson with his favourite alpenhorn

Unfortunately, the surface on this statue of Admiral Lord Nelson by Thomas Milnes (1852) – which is situated in the Upper Cathedral Close – is now quite worn and has lost much of its detail [8].  This, combined with its north-facing aspect, doesn’t favour photography but I couldn’t omit Norfolk’s most famous son, albeit ‘below the line’.