Revolutionary Norwich

I’ve referred on several occasions to Norwich’s sense of spirited independence. We caught the briefest glimpse of this in the previous post on Parson Woodforde who, instead of describing a country facing war with revolutionary France, diverted us with a catalogue of entertainments and his meat-rich diet [1]. In late eighteenth century Norwich there was such support for radical, even revolutionary, politics that Prime Minister William Pitt called it a Jacobin city [2,3].

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People. 1830. The Louvre

As a rich and loyal city, Norwich had been given a degree of political independence by several monarchs. In 1194, Richard the Lionheart allowed the royal lion to be shown on the city’s coat of arms – a sign that marked the city’s right to elect its own Reeve in 1194. In 1404 Henry IV increased the number of MPs from two to four and granted the city the special status of a county governed by a sheriff – a status that lasted until the local government reforms of 1974. This allowed for civic matters to be decided in a common assembly composed of freemen whose fathers had been freemen, or who had been apprenticed to a freeman for seven years, or who purchased the right [4]. Granted at a time when few common men had the right to vote, these historic freedoms paved the way for the violent political factions that evolved in the years after Henry VIII altered the relationship between the Church and the Crown. Historian Mark Knights commented that by 1681 the city was polarised between ‘two factions, the Whigs and the Tories, and both contend for their way with the utmost violence’ [3]. In the late eighteenth century the Whigs rallied under the Blue and Buff (or Blue and White) flag, and Tories wore Purple and Orange. [3]. To oversimplify their differences, the Whigs were originally liberal parliamentarians opposed to the absolute monarchy offered by the Catholic James II, while the conservative Tories were high church monarchists – political stances that echoed the earlier divisions between Roundheads and Cavaliers

Rowlandson’s take on the loyalty of the Blues and Buffs. Courtesy the Royal Collection Trust

Norwich then – unlike other big cities such as Exeter and Bristol – enjoyed a remarkably open and popular civic structure. In 1790 there were 2480 electors, 295 of whom were freeholders and the remainder presumably freemen. They could vote three times a year: for the mayor, the sheriff and the common council. In addition, Norwich freeholders could vote for two MPs. The frequency of elections ensured the political pot never went off the boil, perhaps explaining the reports of post-election fights, leading on occasion to the reading of the Riot Act [3].

Chairing the Member. William Hogarth 1755

After the Catholic monarch, James II, attempted to impose absolute rule on the country he was resisted by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which he was displaced – bloodlessly – by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary II. From this time, Norwich Tory sentiment was tinged with Jacobitism – support for the restoration of the Catholic House of Stuart (Jacobus = James). During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-6, Charles Edward Stuart’s army crossed the border, invading as far as Derby. When the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobites at Culloden the Norwich Whigs celebrated with an extravagant feast and erected a triumphal arch in the marketplace. The structure was covered in 96 yards of Persian silk that allowed candles inside to highlight painted patriotic words, such as ‘Religion’ and ‘Liberty’.

The silken triumphal arch erected in the marketplace, with Gentleman’s Walk in the background. Engraving by Paul Fourdrinier, 1746. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Liberty – code for political and religious independence – was the watchword for the Whigs. In 1768, Thomas Beevor stood as a Whig candidate in the Norwich parliamentary election, promising to fight against ‘all attempts upon the liberty of the Subject and every other unconstitutional measure’ [3]. He was unsuccessful, and again in 1786 and 1790. (This would have been Sir Thomas Beevor (1726-1814) of Hethel Hall; Hethel now being the location of Lotus cars, some ten miles south-west of Norwich).

Hatchment of the Beevor family in Hethel church. Note the beaver passant as a crest. Courtesy of Jill Wright [see 5]

To stifle Beevor’s independence, the sitting MP – Harbord Harbord, 1st Lord Suffield of Gunton Hall – was asked to join forces, or make a ‘junction’ with, another candidate, Edmund Bacon. Five hundred Norwich freemen cried out against this chicanery [3].

‘The Junction’, a satirical print by an unknown artist. While the Norwich crowd cries out for Beevor, those inside the room are pressing a red-coated gentleman (Harbord Harbord?) to support a porcine figure (Edmund Bacon). Others at the door are not admitted, ‘This is a private room.’ ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Having only just subdued its own rebellion, England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century faced revolution on three sides: the American War of Independence (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1789-1794) and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Unsurprisingly, Norwich politics split along lines dictated by local reaction to these turbulent events. This was reflected in the career of the city’s most eminent politician of the period, William Windham (1750-1810) who was member of parliament for Norwich from 1789-1802 [6]. The son of William Windham Senior of Felbrigg Hall in North Norfolk, Windham Jr was intellectually gifted, eloquent and charming …

Felbrigg Hall, 1954. ©

… but was chronically indecisive. In 1792, Windham supported the Ministry in calling out the militia, now voting for measures of which he had previously disapproved) [2]. Cruikshank’s parody of the MP as Weathercock Windham has him saying, “Down with the Volunteers !! … They are all Democrats!” To the right the common man says, “Why Master Whirligig … now you want us not to fight that Butcher Boneyparte...”.

‘A Hint for another Statue or a Sketch for a modern weathercock’ by Isaac Cruikshank, 1804. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

In his first public speech in Norwich (1778), Windham had spoken against the American War of Independence but later opposed it [6,7]. Initially he supported the French Revolution but then became a leading anti-Jacobin*, deeply concerned about the spirit of revolution that was spreading through the kingdom. [*The revolutionary and violent left-wing Jacobin Club was so named because it met in a former convent of the Dominicans, known in Paris as Jacobins.]

Windham was an enemy of the slave trade and should have been a favourite of Norwich’s intellectual left, which included abolitionists like Elizabeth Fry and Amelia Opie – the latter having travelled to France to see the revolution for herself [8]. However, his contradictory views on reform and his opposition to peace with France alienated the city’s Whigs. In 1794, this one-time Blue and White executed an about-turn when he became war minister on an Orange and Purple ticket [2]. Two years later, Parson Woodforde wrote, ‘Mr Wyndham very unpopular at present amongst the Revolutionists and which are great numbers at Norwich, especially Dissenters. Knuckle of Veal and boiled tongue for dinner to day.’

Amelia Opie and a display of anti-slavery material at Norwich Castle Museum

By 1802, Windham had come out as a consistent orange-and-purple voter, ensuring that the Norwich radicals would give him an uncomfortable ride when he returned to the city for parliamentary elections. The MP had recently spoken in favour of bull baiting and this satirical cartoon shows Windham as a bull being tormented by local weavers portrayed as dogs wearing their revolutionary red bonnets. Windham lost by 60 votes and this ‘Norwich Bull-Bait’ was claimed ‘a Jacobin triumph’ [6].

The Norwich Bull-Bait’ by Charles William, 1802 ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The dog collars bear the names of materials woven in Norwich: ‘Gauze’, ‘Shawl’, ‘Crape’ and ‘Stuf’, suggesting that the Norwich freemen weavers were suffering yet another downturn.

A separate strand of anti-Establishment feeling can be traced to the religious nonconformity that had been strong in Norwich since the late seventeenth century. The Act of Uniformity (1662) aimed to stifle dissent by requiring ministers to observe the rites and sacraments of the Established Church of England or be ejected for their nonconformity. In 1689, the Act of Toleration allowed Protestant nonconformists to have their own places of worship on condition they made certain oaths of allegiance. The beautiful Old Meeting House in Colegate was one of the first such tolerated places (1693) [9].

The Old Meeting House, off Colegate

Politics and religious freedom were tightly interwoven, making it inevitable that dissenters would have to enter the political sphere if they were to protect their own strand of independence. The Norwich Quakers were prominent dissenters; John Gurney, father of Elizabeth Fry and partner in Gurney’s Bank, is said to have bankrolled the Norwich Blue and Whites (Gurney’s Bank merged into Barclay’s a century later). It is estimated that one seventh of the Norwich population were Protestant dissenters at the beginning of the 1700s. And, “Between 1740 and 1760 half of the serving mayors came from nonconformist backgrounds” [3]. Dissent was prominent in the wards either side of the River Wensum, in Wymer and Norwich-over-the-Water. This was in the heart of the city’s textile industry where Jeremiah Ives and Thomas and Robert Harvey – eighteenth century mayors made rich by the wool trade – had houses on Colegate. Both had country estates in nearby Catton [9] and Ives’ Catton Hall is especially notable for its parkland designed by Humphry Repton.

The parkland surrounding Jeremiah Ives’ Catton Hall, with Norwich in the distance. By Humphry Repton. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1936.32.2

Ives, as a Whig mayor, kept a paternalistic eye on his supporters. In return, the city’s yarn makers presented this portrait for helping their cause. And when he was elected mayor for the second time the parishioners of St Clement erected a triumphal arch spanning the end of the street, to his townhouse at number 1 Colegate [11].

Portrait of Jeremiah Ives, Mayor of Norwich 1769, 1795, by Charles Catton. In the background are the mayor’s mace and sword and what could be the furry Cap of Maintenance worn by the mayor’s Sword-Bearer. The hanging sheep on the book cover depicts the Duke of Burgundy’s Order of the Golden Fleece, referring to wool as the source of Ives’ wealth.

The Harvey family were also known for their support of the weavers and for the distress of the poor. Like Ives, second-time mayor Robert Harvey was the recipient of a triumphal arch covered in evergreens and draped with flowers, its battlements concealing a music gallery [2]. However, Harvey was less of a hero to his religious neighbours who worshipped down the street; in a political handbill he complained about the ‘duplicity of the Quakers and the cant of the Presbyterians’ [3]. Countering this, Edward Crane, son of a Unitarian minister and himself a preacher at the Octagon Chapel, said that the city had for a long time been slave to the Ives and the Harveys who nominated all the members of the city corporation despite the fact that the city’s freemen were entitled by charter to vote in the common assembly [quoted in 3]. In this one Norwich street we see the struggle between the free church and the rich master weavers for the hearts (or votes) of the freemen weavers.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The Octagon Chapel
What may have been the first Presbyterian (government by elected elders, not bishops) meeting house was built here in 1686. It was replaced in 1756 by Thomas Ivory’s Octagon Chapel (above) aka the Devil’s Cucumber Frame.

Norwich had a long history of clubs and societies whose political affiliations were so restrictive that The Loyal Society of Worsted Weavers, for example, would throw out any member who voted Tory. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Artillery Club became the armed front of Whiggism and dissent, cracking heads and giving bloody noses to opponents in the 1716 mayoral elections [3]. Towards the end of that century, the Revolution Society was formed. In CB Jewson’s account [2], the society was formed to celebrate the centenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 but it was likely that its founders had their eyes fixed forwards, on events that would lead to the French Revolution (1789). The Norwich Revolution Society consisted of around 4000 members from forty subsidiary clubs whose delegates met at The Bluebell on Hog Hill (now Orford Hill).

The Blue Bell Inn, before the ironmongers to the left was demolished, allowing the new electric trams to come from Castle Meadow (1900). The inn was known by this name from 1743-1822, after which it became the Bell Inn then The Bell Hotel [11]. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The society was based around a nucleus of well-known dissenters including the Baptist minister Mark Wilks – a party worker for the Whigs. He preached that ‘Jesus Christ was a revolutionist’. On the second anniversary of the French Revolution he gave a sermon on ‘The origin and stability of the French Revolution’, quoting from the bible, ‘If it be of God ye cannot overthrow it’ (Acts V, 39) [2].

Rev Mark Wilks, Norwich (1748-1819). He supplemented his income by farming in Heigham.
©The Trustees of the British Museum

John Harvey, who was Tory mayor in 1792, was notable for introducing what was to become the famous Norwich shawl at a time when the city’s textile industry was in a major recession. That year, at a dinner in the King’s Head, he toasted: ‘May the seeds of sedition never take root in British soil. May Pain (Thetford-born Thomas Paine who had just published ‘Rights of Man’) be expelled from every British bosom’ [2]. A week later, Harvey dined at The Maid’s Head where he referred to those who ‘… meant to delude and ensnare the lower classes of the people, from whose labours our manufactures thrive and commerce flourishes‘ [2]. Evidently, men of business feared the effects of seditious propaganda upon their own workers.

Portrait by John Opie RA of John Harvey in his mayoral year, 1792. Harvey chose not to be painted in his mayoral regalia but, as colonel of the local militia, in the uniform of the Norwich Light-Horse Volunteers. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM: Civic Portrait 33.

The secretary of the Norwich Revolution Society was Isaac Saint, landlord of The Pelican [3, 13], a public House at 2 Pitt Street, at the corner of Muspole Street and what – after Pitt Street was bisected by the inner link road – became the northern end of Duke Street.

1-3 Pitt Street 1956, now Duke Street .The white-painted Whip & Nag PH was formerly The Pelican ©

In 1793, at a convention held by the Scottish Societies of Friends of the People, it was decided to correspond with all like-minded societies in the kingdom. The Norwich Revolution Society asked London delegate, Maurice Margarot, to represent them. A few months later, when the society had become had become the British Convention of Friends of the People, its leaders were arrested. Margarot was charged with sedition and transported to Australia for 14 years. While he waited at Spithead for transportation The Norwich Revolution Society sent him £20 [2].

Frontispiece to, The Trial of Maurice Margarot, Delegate from London to the High Court Judiciary at Edinburgh on the 13th and 14th of January 1794 for sedition

To deflect charges of disloyalty, the Norwich Revolution Society declared that class division, riot and disorder played no part in their thinking. The disclaimer proved ineffective. At a time when the country was at war with revolutionary France the government regarded a country-wide network of radical societies with the deepest suspicion and, in April 1794, two King’s Messengers were sent to Norwich to arrest Isaac Saint. The depth of the Establishment’s concern can be judged from the fact that Saint was interrogated next morning by the Privy Council headed by the Lord Chancellor and the Solicitor General. Apparently, Saint was not sentenced but, since the Habeus Corpus Act had been suspended, he was ‘detained’ for two months. The Revolution Society was dissolved soon after.

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  2. Charles Boardman Jewson (1975). The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1788-1802. Pub: Blackie & Son.
  3. Mark Knights (2004). Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 (eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
  4. C Berry (1810). A Concise History and Directory of the City of Norwich for 1811. Available online at:

Thanks For background on revolutionary Norwich I am indebted to two sources. The first is Charles Boardman Jewson’s wonderful book on ‘The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1788-1802 (1975).’ This slim volume is fascinating for its insights into late C18 Norwich. Copies are out there on the web. The second is Mark Knights’ insightful chapter on Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 by Rawcliffe and Wilson (2004). I am grateful to Jill Wright of the Bracon Ash and Hethel website for permissions.

Parson Woodforde and the Learned Pig


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We don’t read Parson Woodforde for the grand sweep of history but for the finer grain of his daily life. His diaries are history slowed. We hear in detail what ails his parishioners and of his small kindnesses but we are left to infer the causes of rural poverty for ourselves. When, in 1781, the American War of Independence depressed the export of Norwich textiles Woodforde noted laconically, ‘Trade at Norwich never worse. Poor no employment.’ It is easy to get the impression that James Woodforde is at the still centre while history crashes about him. He is, however, more forthcoming about the minutiae of his comfortable living as vicar of Weston Longville. From the ten-mile excursions he took into Norwich we learn about the texture of life in a provincial Georgian city.

St Stephens Gate by John Moray-Smith from an engraving by Henry Ninham. Displayed on the nearby Coachmakers Arms. The gate, also known as Needham gate, was demolished in 1793. Image: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

In April 1775, when he and his companions arrived in Norwich at night, Woodforde had to rouse the gatekeeper to let them through St Stephens Gate and on to their accommodation at the King’s Head in the marketplace [1]. For their journey from London they had arisen early and hired a post chaise and four through Epping Forest. This was not without peril for this is where a coachman, who shot three out of seven highwaymen, was killed by the gang. Woodforde’s party changed coach and horses at ‘The Bull-Faced Stagg’ then proceeded to Harlow; onwards to Stanstead, then to Bourne Bridge with fresh chaises to Newmarket where they dined. In fresh chaises they drove to Barton Mills (where they changed yet again) and on to Thetford, Attleborough and Norwich. I mention this to underline the effort and expense to get from the capital to what – a century ago – had been the nation’s second city. The journey cost the party eleven pounds, fourteen shillings and fourpence, of which he paid half – little more than what he was to pay a young servant maid per annum (five guineas).

The Norfolk Hotel. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

 The slowness of travel made vilages more isolated than they are today. In the days before the standardising effects of railway timetables, communities were necessarily more self-sustaining to the extent that cities across the country kept their own times. Woodforde evidently required more than Weston Longville could offer and was willing to drive his horse and cart the ten miles to Norwich.

In 1791, Woodforde replaced his ‘old little cart’ with ‘a new little Curricle painted a deep Green and without Springs – 9 guineas’ like it much.’ [1]. There were five coachmakers listed in the city around that time but it was from Adams and Bacon of 3 St Stephens Road that Woodforde made his purchase. Their premises were near the St Stephens Gate that had barred him from entering the city in 1775. The gate was demolished in 1793 but the nearby Coachmakers Arms survives – its name derived, no doubt, from the coachmaking business.

John Cordrey – A Gentleman with His Pair of Bays Harnessed to a Curricle. 1806. Wikipedia. A curricle was a light two-wheeled cart drawn by a pair of horses. 

Woodforde is known to have stabled his horse at the Woolpack (he calls it the Wool-pocket) in St Giles [1]. The Norfolk Pubs site gives the address as 25 St Giles Street from 1814, after which it became known as the Norfolk Hotel [2]. The photograph above shows its appearance in the late nineteenth century but the building was demolished in 1904 to make way for the Grand Opera House, which then became a theatre and cinema – The Hippodrome.

The Hippodrome, St Giles, in 1934. ©

George Plunkett’s photograph illustrates The Hippodrome at a time when it was showing ‘The film that London was afraid to show’. This was Morgenrot (Dawn), directed by Gustav Ucicky (which he had changed from Gustav Klimt) and approved by the Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The film depicts the lives of German sailors trapped in a U-boat during World War I. In World War II, The Hippodrome took a direct hit from a German bomb, which killed the theatre manager, his wife and a sea lion trainer. From 1966, the site was to become the St Giles car park.

The hotel on St Giles Street was only a few yards from a wine shop and druggists where Woodforde was a frequent visitor. Peck’s Norwich Directory of 1802 gives this as ‘Priest, John Fox, Chymist and Druggist, 1, St. Giles’ Broad str’. The building was approximately opposite where the City Hall (1939) now stands [3].

Etching of JF Priest Chymist and Druggist (1825-50) by his son Alfred Priest. ©The British Museum

James Woodforde was friendly with the Priest family. When in the city, he would call in for tea or dine with them (when ‘dining’ meant a meal at 3pm). Once he stayed after election night and, on another occasion, paid for John Priest’s ticket when visiting the theatre. The parson was a good customer of Priests’s wine business where, in preparation for the arrival of his relatives from Somerset, Woodforde, ‘tasted some Wine and ordered a Quarter of a Pipe [a pipe of port is 60 gallons], –with 3 gallons of Rum and 3 gallons of the best Holland Geneva [gin]’ [1]. These are staggering quantities but then Woodforde would drink a pint of port with a meal [4].

Parson Woodforde had befriended Old Mr Priest who was evidently succeeded by John Fox Priest. John had hoped that his son Alfred (b.1810) would follow him in his profession but Alfred left home. He returned to study with local artists Henry Ninham and James Stark and, like them, became a member of the Norwich School of painters [5].

Road by the churchyard ‘by Alfred Priest 1834. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM: 1940.118.12

The next street north of St Giles Street is Pottergate where St John Maddermarket is situated. This church was in the gift of New College Oxford, where Woodforde and his friend Henry Bathurst (1744-1837) had been undergraduates. Bathurst didn’t serve this Norwich church but he received the living, presumably leaving the day-to-day business to a curate. We previously encountered Bathurst: first, as the Bishop of Norwich who gave name to Bathurst Road, off Unthank Road [6]; and as the recipient of an order for £137 drawn on Kerrisons Norwich Bank [7]. This large sum had been sent through the post by Woodforde who, on behalf of his friend, had collected the tithes* from Great Witchingham, a parish three miles from his own. The diary records that when he was at Oxford in 1775, Woodforde himself received a Norwich Bank bill from his curate for £150, ‘being part of money for Tithes received for me at Weston.’ In 1777, on his ‘Frolic Day’, when he received money for ‘tithe and glebe’, he entertained about 20 of his parishioners and fed and watered them handsomely. He received two hundred and four pounds, seventeen shillings [8]. (*Tithes represented one tenth of the produce raised on church-owned land. Later, the monetary equivalent was paid to the Pope but when Henry VIII became head of the Church of England he fixed the cash value of tithes. When the Crown sold church land to secular institutions the tithes came with it. After 1836 tithes became replaced with the tithe rentcharge).

Statue of Bishop Bathurst in Norwich Cathedral

The Church – or more specifically the living from the parish of All Saints, Weston Longville – afforded James Woodforde the life of a gentleman and a respectable position in a hierarchical society.

All Saints, Weston Longville ©Simon Knott

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first Norwich house he visited after arriving in Norfolk in 1776 was Number 3 Surrey Street. This was the address of Robert Francis and Son, attorneys, who administered New College’s Norfolk livings, and where Woodforde, ‘called on Mr Francis Junr and talked with him a good deal.‘ Surrey Street is a fine Georgian thoroughfare, part of which was designed by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory. However, the street was badly damaged by the Baedeker Raids of 1942 and by insensitive twentieth century additions (making an exception for George Skipper’s Marble Hall for Norwich Union). We must thank George Plunkett for recording Number 3 in 1936.

Number 3 Surrey Street in 1936 (no longer extant) ©

After the religious upheavals of earlier centuries the late 1700s were a time of relative stability; Norwich emerged into an Age of Reason in which its polite society, with time to spare, would meet in coffee houses, promenade along Gentleman’s Walk and in Chapelfield Gardens, which had been laid out for walks since 1746. In addition to the theatre (built by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory), there were lectures, pleasure gardens, subscription to an increasing number of libraries and – the centre of gravity for the city’s fashionable – assemblies held at Chapelfield House (renovated by Thomas Ivory) [9]. It would probably have been unseemly for the parson to attend public dances but in the evening of December 1785, Woodforde went to an ‘excellent lecture on Astronomy etc.‘ at the Assembly House. This is said to have been delivered by Adam Walker (c1731-1821) – a well-known scholar whose lectures at Syon House Academy and Eton had instilled in the poet Shelley a love of science [9]. To instruct enlightened Norwich on the motions of the planets, Walker was aided by his eidouranion – a large mechanical orrery, some fifteen feet square, that seems to have been back-projected onto a screen. The device was still in service in the early nineteenth century when one of Walker’s sons, Deane Franklin Walker, carried on the family tradition.

Walker’s eidouranion at the English Opera House in The Strand, 1817. By Edward Burney. The lecturer is probably Deane Franklin Walker. Note the predominance of women in the audience. Image: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

The Norwich lecture may, however, have been given by Walker’s son William [10].

Adam Walker (right) and Family, by George Romney ca 1800. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Adam Walker was sufficiently famous to have had his portrait painted by the most fashionable artist of the day, George Romney, and to be portrayed by the great caricaturist, James Gillray. In the background of Gillray’s cartoon we see a portrait of Joseph Priestley FRS, top left, while Adam Walker delivers a lecture at his house in Conduit Street, London. Priestley was a natural philosopher (nowadays, a scientist) famed for his writings on electricity and his experimental chemistry.

‘A Philosopher – Conduit Street’ by James Gillray 1796. Does the cockle shell – the emblem of St James (St Jacques) indicate Jacobin sympathies? Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Walker and Priestley agreed upon the importance of dispelling ignorance by educating the public about the composition of the world and its place in the universe. Walker’s lectures on planetary motion inspired Romantics with a sense of the sublime – that they were part of something greater. Woodforde’s terse comment was that he ‘was highly pleased with it’, but beneath his anodyne words darker forces ran. The toleration of Nonconformity and the rise of Evangelism – all quite alien to an Anglican parson – had created a climate of intellectual and political Dissent such that, ‘Norwich was the most active intellectual hotbed outside London in the 1790s’ [11]. Contemporary events in France were dividing loyalties between the wealthy and the industrious poor; there was fear of revolution and Norwich was known as the Jacobin city – the city of radical republicanism [12]. Epitomising the city’s radical spirit, Amelia Opie went to see the results of the French Revolution for herself. This mixture of discovery and political ferment threatened this country’s established order. The same cartoonist who drew Adam Walker (with Priestley in the background) was also caricaturing the sans culottes of the French Revolution and there was fear that the disease could spread. Priestley publicly supported the revolution and in response his house in Birmingham was burned down by the mob, leading him to escape to the United States.

Joseph Priestley FRS (1794) by Ellen Sharples. The English Quaker artist, Sharples, emigrated to the United States in 1774. Could she have made this portrait there? Courtesy The National Portrait Gallery.

Parson Woodforde’s diary is not entirely silent about the mob. On the evening of June 9th 1778 he witnessed ‘a great Riot upon the Castle Hill between the officers of the Western Battalion of the Norfolk Militia and the common soldiers and Mob.’ The officers had refused to pay the men a guinea each; some of the soldiers had refused to take up arms and were put into the guard room. When the mob insisted on hauling them out a great riot ensued: the mob threw stones, some were wounded by bayonets but no-one was killed. Woodforde left around 11 o’clock. Next morning, a great riot was expected when the mob reassembled but Woodforde saw the militia march out of town, peaceably enough.

The Norfolk Militia musket training, probably on Mousehold Heath. Source: Wikipedia

Circling back to the St Stephens Gate, Woodforde’s port of entry to the city, we know that the parson visited a pleasure garden on what is now the south-west side of the roundabout. Before Marsh Insurance, and before that the Victoria railway station, the site was occupied by Quantrell’s pleasure gardens that we saw in a previous post [11], and which the parson helps brings alive for us. It was here on June 20 1780 that Woodforde:

near 6 o’clock ...walked to Quantrells Gardens by myself, heard a sad Concert and saw the Fireworks which were very good and worth seeing gave on going [one shilling] for which you have 6d worth of anything at the Bar. I supped and spent the evening there 
and stayed till 12 o’clock. For my Supper and Liquor pd [one shilling and sixpence] A very heavy Storm fell about 9 o’clock. A prodigious number of common girls [i.e., prostitutes] there and dressed. The Fire Works began about 11 o’clock and lasted about an hour. In it, a representation of the Engagement between the English and French 
Fleet under Sir George Rodney.

The owner, Quantrell, was originally employed as a fireworks engineer so the pyrotechnics are likely to have been spectacular. This was part of the competition between the city’s various pleasure gardens that tried to ape the post-Restoration venues in London. In Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, Becky Sharpe visited the capital’s fashionable Vauxhall Gardens but Norwich had its own Vauxhall; also, Quantrell’s Gardens were at one time named Ranelagh Gardens after the London venue [13]. Woodforde’s visit was in 1780; in the 1790s the Ranelagh/Quantrell’s Gardens were to erect a version of London’s Pantheon but this was a pale copy – a country cousin of the glorious structure in Oxford Street [14].

The booking office of Norwich Victoria Station 1913. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In 1795, on the riverside near King Street, Parson Woodforde visited the New Spring Gardens that was renamed Vauxhall in the late eighteenth century. There he saw the Sons of Neptune go down the river by boat, accompanied by ‘a very good band’ [1]. But it was back in Quantrell’s that he saw Mr Decker and Major Money ascend in their lighter-than-air balloons. This was the age of Balloon Mania. When the intrepid local aeronaut, Colonel Money (whose military career had started in the Norfolk Militia), took off, he ‘… went almost over my Head’, wrote Woodforde, as he saw it over Bracondale. This was some seven weeks before the colonel’s balloon famously deposited him in the sea for several hours off Yarmouth [13].

Joseph Decker (or Deeker) visited Norwich before travelling to Bristol then taking his balloon to America. His balloon was 25 feet in diameter, beneath which was suspended, not a basket, but a gold and silver gondola (which became the name for the passenger compartment). The high ground with the windmill in the distance could be Mousehold Heath.

Joseph Decker’s flight in Norwich 1/6/1785. From, John Penny [15]. The Latin inscription above the balloon translates as, Neither rashly nor timidly.

Other amusements mentioned in the diary include the ‘Man Satire’ (satyr) that the parson saw on Castle Hill with his friends, the two Priests. Having laid out sixpence he was most disappointed: it ‘was nothing more than a large Monkey … It did not answer our Expectations at all.’ He was, however, ‘highly Astonished’ with the life-size wax doll on show in St Stephens since the automaton could answer, and pose, questions [9]. But the highlight is to be found in the entry for December 19th 1785. This was the day the parson attended Walker’s lecture on astronomy in the evening but that same afternoon he ‘went and saw the learned Pigg at the rampant Horse in St Stephens.’ In bracketing the sublime and the wonderfully ridiculous, Woodforde’s day illustrates the uncritical nature of public spectacle in the Age of Enlightenment: ‘the desire for mystery rather than elucidation, and the accompanying perception of science and technology as magical rather than empirical disciplines’ [9].

We have encountered the Rampant Horse Inn several times in this blog – a large medieval building to the rear of where Curls (later Debenhams) store was to be built on Rampant Horse Street.

Invoice from The Rampant Horse 1862. Courtesy of Richard Bristow

There have been many clever pigs but this animal, ‘Toby, The Amazing Pig of Knowledge’, was the pig trained by Samuel Bissett [16]. After Bissett died as a result of being assaulted by a man with a sword, Toby was bought by a Mr Nicholson who brought him to Norwich.

Bury and Norwich Post 3/1/1786. © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( 

For his shilling, Woodforde saw the animal ‘with a magic Collar on his Neck. He would spell any Number from the Letters and Figures that were placed before him.‘ But advertisements suggested Toby was capable of much more than typographical tricks: he could reckon the number of people present, tell the hours and minutes of a watch, distinguish between the married and unmarried and divine any Lady’s Thoughts.

Poster for Toby the Sapient Pig. Courtesy of the V&A Museum [17]

The Learned Pig achieved fame. Putting England’s most famous scientist in his place, the poet Southey (1807) said that the pig was, ‘a far greater object of admiration for the British nation than ever was Sir Isaac Newton.’ The animal gained a mention in Wordsworth’s Prelude (1805): ‘The horse of knowledge, and the learned pig’. He even crops up in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, in which Mr Bennet says that their pig is not related to the Learned Pig of Norwich (except these words do not belong to Jane Austen but to screenwriter Deborah Moggach).

The Wonderful Pig 1785, by Thomas Rowlandson. Courtesy of The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Metropolitan Museum New York

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  1. The Parson Woodforde Society (2008). Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich
  4. James Woodforde (1978). The Diary of a Country Parson 1758-1802. Edited by John Beresford. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  9. Angela Daine (2004). An Enlightened and Polite Society. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550. Eds Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  10. Jan Golinski. ‘Sublime Astronomy: The Eidouranion of Adam Walker and his Sons‘.
  12. Charles Boardman Jewson (1975). The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French revolution 1788-1802. Pub: Blackie & Son, Glasgow.

Thanks. This post was inspired by the booklet, ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’, copies of which are available from To learn more about Parson Woodforde and the society in which he lived, visit For permissions I am grateful to the British Newspaper Archive, Clare Everitt and Richard Bristow. Thanks, also, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s photographs of Norwich and Norfolk:

A postscript on Eaton Nurseries


The previous post [1] on the Victorian plant nurseries concentrated in a single Norwich parish seems to have struck a chord in this city with a long history of horticulture. The feedback has been tremendous and, since personal reminiscences and comments brought the topic alive, I felt they deserved to be recorded. The scale of some of the nurseries was astonishing: Adcock’s glasshouses ‘totall(ed) a quarter of a million square feet of glass’. One reader said she’d heard gardeners on Upton Road remarking on how much broken glass they keep digging up. Another, whose garden backs onto the site of Adcock’s nursery, found a subterranean cistern underneath her garden. As we’ll see, other comments provide a fascinating insight into the seed shops maintained by nurseries in the city centre.

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Adcock’s Nursery ca 1904. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

On Twitter, Huw Sayer made the comparison between Adcock’s nursery and the subject of an article in the Eastern Daily Press. More than a century after Adcock, a giant tomato glasshouse is being built just outside Norwich, using ‘More glass than the Shard.’ [2]

Low carbon project to grow tomatoes at Crown Point, Kirby Bedon. (Crown Point was where Victorian balloonist Colonel Money built his mansion). Photo credit: Step Associates

The only surviving nursery lives on as Notcutt’s Garden Centre. As we saw [1], this started as Mackie’s nursery, which was so large that clients could drive around in their carriages. It became the Townclose Nurseries and, after being sold to the Daniels brothers was bisected in the 1930s by the Daniels Road portion of the ring road.

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Daniels Brothers’ receipt, courtesy of Pamela Clark.

I show the Daniels Bros receipt (1892) again as a reminder that in addition to their out-of-town seed grounds and nurseries around Newmarket and Ipswich Roads, they had city centre warehouses in Exchange Street and Bedford Street. This latter area, around the north-west corner of modern-day Jarrolds Department Store, provided a shop window for out-of-town nurseries. The location is perhaps not surprising since the Corn Exchange was built at this junction between the two streets. The area was therefore a focus for the gardening as well as the farming seed trade.

The arrow points to the entrance to Bedford Street off Exchange Street. The Corn Exchange of 1861 stands at the corner, now replaced by an extension to Jarrolds Department Store. ©
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Inside the Corn Exchange 1960. ©Historic England Archive ref: AA98/12867

In 1854, Mason’s Directory records that William John Ewing of the Royal Norfolk Nurseries, Eaton, had a seed warehouse at 9 Exchange Street, while Mackie’s and Stewart had a ‘seed establishment’ next door at 10&11 [3]. Correspondent Don Watson provides a link with the Daniels store around the corner: ‘I remember Daniels’ shop in Bedford Street because, being at school in Norwich, it became my job to buy the vegetable seeds there – much better quality than Bees Seeds from Woolworths (so I was told). That establishment was one of a few which still in the 1950s had only a beaten earth floor’.

Dick Malt confirmed this recollection: ‘Don Watson is quite right, the shop stood about opposite Little London Street and became The Granary when Daniels left. The facade is still the same as it was.’‘The Bedford St premises were where, at that time, seeds were cleaned and dressed for sale, both horticultural and agricultural. The cleaning floor was the topmost, under the roof. By the time I remember it, that aspect of the business had ceased and orders were packed there for posting out. There was a sack hoist from the ground floor and the warehouse manager’s office on the first floor was connected by a speaking tube to the upper floor’. 

Daniels Bros Seed Store in Bedford Street 1960s ©Richard Malt

Simon Gooch said, I ‘thought you might be interested in a little more information about The Granary in Bedford Street, filling in a bit of a missing link between Daniels seedsmen and Jarrolds taking over. My late father Michael Gooch (who was in partnership with my mother Sheila as M & S Gooch, Architects, in Norwich) converted the warehouse into a new shop for the owners Chapman & Pape in 1971-2. They called it The Granary, and at a time before Habitat or John Lewis had arrived in the city it was a bit of a mecca for good furniture and kitchenware. I have a couple of black & white photos taken just after the shop opened, showing the smart typography of the name on one of the windows; the ground floor facade was painted a dark colour, I think purple (though being the Seventies it might have been chocolate brown). The interior’s handsome pine beams and supports were exposed, and the wood and steel staircase inserted.’ The building is now Jarrolds’ modern furniture and design store and they retained the name, The Granary.

The Granary as redesigned by M&S Gooch for Chapman & Pape c1972. Photo Trevor Wood, courtesy of Simon Gooch

Dick Malt’s account continues: ‘This picture of Bedford St [2 above] shows the shop in the 1960s. It had a long mahogany counter which had almost certainly come from the Arcade. My father, A.E. (Jim) Malt was the firm’s manager and later managing director, having spent his working life in the horticultural and agricultural seed trades, beginning as an apprentice to Daniels. The shop was then in the Royal Arcade – I still have the keys!’

Jim Malt’s keys to Daniels shop in the Royal Arcade ©Richard Malt

‘My father was born in 1909, so was most likely apprenticed to the firm in about 1923. Some of the time he had to work on the firm’s farm at Tunstead, near Coltishall, where seeds were grownHe had to collect the keys to the Arcade from the Guildhall on his way to open up the shop. One sharp March morning he found the lock on the gates frozen up – a policeman thawed them out with a blow lamp’.

‘Daniels Bros, ‘The Royal Norfolk Seed Establishment’, had a shop at 16-20 Exchange Street (as seen on the printing block image (below) – reversed for ease of reading) …

Printing block (reversed) showing Daniels Bros seed establishment 16-20 Exchange Street. ©Richard Malt

The plate shows the building was originally five storeys high but numbers 16-20 are now much reduced.

16-20 Exchange Street to the left of Thorns ©OnTheMarket

The discrepancy is explained by George Plunkett’s photograph of the collapse in 1991 of the north-west end of the street.

Looking from the Duke Street carpark towards the Market, the scaffolding marks the collapse of 16-20 Exchange Street ©

Dick Malt suggests that Daniels may have moved to the Royal Arcade ‘when it was opened in 1899’. Below, Stuart McPherson’s ‘ghost’ photo, shows the location of Daniels’ shop in the arcade.

Holders of the Royal Warrant awarded by King Edward VII advertise their prestigious address in the newly-opened Royal Arcade.

Newspaper clipping 1903

The list of Daniels’ locations from a 1939-40 catalogue indicates the firm owned seed farms at Tunstead and Ashmanhaugh. It also shows they still maintained the Royal Arcade address up to the Second World War.

From a 1939-40 catalogue. Courtesy of Dick Malt

The shop moved to the Daniels Road nursery site in 1967 – a new phenomenon then – a Garden Centre – and the Bedford St premises became ‘The Granary’.’

Opening of Notcutt’s Garden Centre. L-R, back row, the Directors: A.E. Malt, Managing Director (Dick’s father); Gordon Youngs (Accountant); W. (Bill) Martin, who was the son of a Daniels shop manager in the Arcade days and who owned a florists in Lower Goat lane, and Charles Daniels (Chairman, but unrelated to the original family).

The two seated celebrities were Percy Thrower (the country’s most famous gardener) and Ted Moult (farmer, radio and TV personality).

There is a short history of the firm in ‘Norfolk Fair’ magazine Vol.5, No.11, 1973, does anyone have access to a copy?

Thanks. I am grateful to the readers who made comments and those who provided further information, especially Dick Malt whose father’s working life is commemorated in this piece.



The Nursery Fields of Eaton


In these covid times I cycle. Along the celestial Unthank Road to the junction with Newmarket Road, down the hill to Eaton and out to open countryside. Before the crossing is a house with two intriguing names carved in stone on the gate pillars. The first is badly spalled and its few remaining letters … CRO … would be unknowable except for a modern house-plate, Hillcroft. Although a few of its letters are obscured the other sign can only be for the Royal Norfolk Nurseries.

I was curious to look into this because for several years I’d wondered about the clear, unbuilt-upon spaces on the early maps marked ‘nursery ground’ or ‘garden ground’. The OS map of 1879-86 shows that the Royal Norfolk Nurseries occupied sites from the junction with Unthank Road (yellow) down the hill to Bluebell Road (blue) and a larger area between Bluebell Road and the river, now in the shadow of the A11 Eaton flyover/bypass (green).

Courtesy of Ordnance Survey

Much of the land, from the Unthank’s estate east of Mount Pleasant in Norwich [1] down to Eaton, was owned by the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral; this applied to the village itself with the notable exception of a few oases, including the 12 and 17 acre plots owned by the Corporation of Eaton.

Plots owned by the Corporation of Eaton (red), Blubell Road (blue), Unthank Road (yellow). Plan of Norwich 1807 courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.

The 1838 tithe map and accompanying apportionment record (1839) gives the name of landowners liable to pay church tithes and, within the two outlined areas, William Creasey Ewing (1787-1862) owned most of the individual numbered plots.

Plots owned by WC Ewing. Tithe map of Eaton 1838, courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

The son of William Creasey Ewing, John William Ewing (1815-1868), evidently inherited the land from his father and is listed as Nurseryman, Florist, Lime burner (and there is a lime pit on the site) and Seedsman [2].

John William Ewing. Courtesy of Vivien Humber

Below is The Old House, Church Lane, Eaton (formerly known as Shrublands) where William Creasey Ewing lived. The National Census records his son John William living there in 1851 [2].

Prior to this census return, John William Ewing lived in Shepherd’s House near Mackie’s, the city’s long-established and foremost nursery, founded in the 1700s on Ipswich Road [1]. We’ll come to Mackie’s shortly.

Ipswich Road (red), Newmarket Road (blue), present-day Daniels Road (green) with Mackie’s Nursery spread around the crossroad. Bryant’s map 1826 courtesy of

Between 1833 and 1840, John William Ewing and Frederick Mackie entered into a partnership, forming Mackie and Ewing’s Nurseries, but in 1845 the partnership was dissolved. A newspaper advertisement to this effect places JW Ewing in Ewing’s Nursery at Eaton, indicating that JW Ewing was managing the nursery when he was 30, if not before.

A year later, (incidentally the year his son and successor was born) an invoice from JW Ewing, Nurseryman and Seedsman, shows that the Eaton Nursery was selling ‘Forest & Fruit Trees, Flowering Shrubs etc’ and, in smaller script, ‘Garden & Agricultural Seeds, Dutch Bulbs, Russian Mats (anyone?)*, Mushroom spawn etc.’ *(A reader, Lyn, provided the answer. Russian Mats, exported via the port of Archangel, were closely woven from the leaves of aquatic plants and used to protect fruit trees and young plants etc).

Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

When he died, Ewing’s Royal Norfolk Nurseries were inherited by his son, John Edward Ewing (1846-1933), but when John left Norwich in 1893/4 the business at Eaton was lost.

John William Ewing’s headstone at St Peter’s Church, Cringleford

In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917), Walter Rye wrote that ‘the chief trade of the village is now growing fruit trees and roses for the market’ [3]. He went on to say that other well known Eaton nurseries are the three rose nurseries of C Morse, E Morse and RG Morse and the ‘old-established nursery of Mr Hussey in the Mile End Road.’

From [4]

Ernest Morse appears in this 1910 book of local worthies and businessmen [4] advertising himself as a grower of fruit, cucumbers and grapes. His older brother Henry took out a full page advert announcing his 20 acres of rose bushes and fruit trees in the Westfield Nurseries, Eaton.

From [4]

John Ewing’s partnership with Mackie’s was dissolved in 1845, leaving Mackie’s to stand alone as the city’s predominant nurserymen.

Mackie’s receipt 1828. Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

The industrial scale of Mackie’s operations made it one of the largest provincial nurseries [5, 6]. Bryant’s 1826 map (above) shows Mackie’s 100 acre site was situated around the crossroads where present-day Daniels Road intersects Ipswich Road but the business can be traced back to John Baldrey’s nursery in the city where, around 1750, he was selling plants and trees on a wholesale basis. In 1759, this was taken over by the Aram family – who were selling ‘Scotch firs’ at ten shillings per thousand – and in 1777 John Mackie joined the business. This was around the time the nursery moved to what, in its final days, was to be known as ‘the Daniels Road’ site.

Parson Woodforde knew Mackie:

“Mackay, Gardener at Norwich, called here (the parsonage at Weston Longville) this Even’, and he walked over my garden with me and then went away. He told me how to preserve my Fruit Trees etc. from being inj’ured for the future by the ants, which was to wash them well with soap sudds after our general washing, especially in the Winter.”(from Parson Woodforde’s diary, July 13 1781).

As Louise Crawley describes in her essay on the Norwich Nurserymen, Mackie’s site was so extensive that clients recorded being driven around it by carriage [6]. Mackie’s was to remain in the family for four generations until it was sold in 1859 when they emigrated to America [5, 6].

The Norwich Nursery ca 1833. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office

Fifty years after this map was made the Ordnance Survey recorded that a portion of Mackie’s Nursery at Lakenham had become the Townclose Nurseries. Later still, this was to be purchased by the Daniels brothers.

Daniels Brothers’ receipt used at the nursery grounds in Eaton and their ‘shop front’ – the warehouses in the city centre. Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

Daniels was sold to Notcutts in 1976. By superimposing modern roads on the nineteenth century map we can see how construction of the Daniels Road portion of the ring road in the 1930s (circled in red) bisected the Townclose Nurseries, with the ‘Notcutts’ portion on the south-western/left side.

Daniels Road bisected the Townclose Nurseries. Newmarket Road runs from lower left to upper right. Note also another nursery circled in green on the other side of Newmarket Road. 1883 OS map, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
From the Newmarket Road roundabout in 1933, the Daniels Road section of the new ring road cuts through the Mackie’s/Townclose Nurseries. ©
Plantsman Close and Roseacre Close both built on the eastern side of what had been Mackie’s nurseries

In 1849 Mackie’s ventured beyond the parish of Eaton when they bought The Bracondale Horticultural Establishment, situated in the crook between City Road and Bracondale. Patrons were welcome to visit the nurseries but orders could be placed at Mackie’s warehouses in Exchange Street where customers could also buy seeds and catalogues.

Mackie’s Bracondale Horticultural Establishment. City Road (red). The nursery is outlined in green. Six-inch OS map 1886 courtesy National Library of Scotland. The 1:2500 map (not shown) indicates the location of glasshouses and these are marked on the 6 inch version in blue.

A print in JJ Colman’s album shows Read’s Bracondale windmill (1825-1900). Photographed from the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment it shows a plot with supporting canes and, in the background, heated glasshouses.

Bracondale Windmill c 1855. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk

The trade card, below, from around 1830, shows the extent of the glasshouses that Mackie inherited when he bought the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment from JF Roe. Their exotic produce appears in the foreground:  grapes, melons, ‘forced fruits’ and – most romantically foreign – the pineapple.

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Trade card from c1830 when the Horticultural Establishment was run by Mackie’s predecessor, JF Roe. The engraving of extensive glasshouses is framed with grapes, pineapples, melons and ‘forced fruits’

As a young boy, before I knew words like ‘epicurean’, I visited Cardiff Castle and was shown a table with a hole through which a pot-grown vine would be placed for the Marquess of Bute’s family to snip their own grapes. Unless, of course, they are peeled for you, grapes are pretty low down on the totem pole of self-indulgence since they can be readily grown outdoors or in an unheated glasshouse. But in previous times the seriously rich would grow pineapples in hothouses, as much a show of wealth as a token of their hospitality. Indeed, from the sixteenth century onwards there was something of a pineapple mania. Large country estates with heated glasshouses and staff could afford to grow their own tender fruit and plants. Norfolk estates may have produced pineapples, but this would have been beyond the dreams of the villa-owning classes in the Norwich suburbs [5] who looked instead to commercial nurseries like Mackie’s to provide their hothouse products. 

Charles II presented with the first pineapple (reputedly) grown in English soil by his gardener John Rose (possibly). English School C17. Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

On a national basis, however, Mackie’s reputation rested not with fancy fruit and bedding plants but with the quantity of their arboricultural stock. In 1849 they auctioned ‘one million forest trees’ and in 1796 they were able to send 60,000 trees to an estate in West Wales. The journey from Norwich to Pembrokeshire required the trees to be carted to London then onwards by sea: such transportational hurdles would be largely overcome by the arrival of the railways. When trains came to Norwich in the 1840s, Mackie’s were able to offer ‘instant arboretums’ of 650 varieties of trees and shrubs for £35 [5].

In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917) [3], Walter Rye mentions ‘the old-established nursery of Hussey in the Mile End Road.’ An advertisement from 1869 shows that their Mile End Nursery was, like its larger competitor (Mackie’s) on the other side of the Newmarket Road, offering trees and roses.

Husseys 1869. Courtesy Vivien Humber

In 1885, Husseys occupied much of the area between Unthank(s) Road and Newmarket Road, stretching from the Mile End Road (now ring road) to what would become Leopold Road.

The 1885 Ordnance Survey map labels a tree-filled nursery (green) between the Mile End Road (yellow) and what would become Leopold Road (dotted purple line). Upton Road (dotted red line), Judge’s Walk (blue) was then Green Lane. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland.

By the time of the 1908 Ordnance Survey (though for clarity I show the 1919 map), Hussey’s had another nursery on its doorstep. What had been open ground to the west/left of Upton Road was now occupied by large structures, longer and wider than the terraced roads that had arisen on Hussey’s land.

Glasshouses occupy the land between Judge’s Walk (blue) and Upton Road (red). OS map 1919 courtesy of National Library of Scotland

In the period between the 1885 and the 1908 Ordnance Surveys, EO Adcock had bought the open land to the west of Upton Road and established a nursery producing plants on an enormous scale. Meanwhile, Hussey’s had contracted, a good part having been sold to build Waldeck, Melrose and Leopold Roads. The remainder was still accessible through the entrance off Mile End Road [7].

Edward O. Adcock started as an amateur cucumber grower with eight glasshouses at a time when a dozen cucumbers commanded £1 [7]. To put this in perspective, in 1900 the pound was worth over a hundred times what it is today (although cucumbers are still 95% water).

Adcock’s Nursery ca 1904, including about 15 of his workers. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

In an article eulogising Adcock as one of the ‘Men Who Have Made Norwich’ [7], he is said to have had 125 glasshouses, each 120 feet long, totalling a quarter of a million square feet of glass. As well as cucumbers, Adcock grew chrysanthemums and, by selling 300,000 per annum, he was claimed to be the largest grower in the world.

Packing chrysanthemums at EO Adcock’s Nursery ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

Twenty two acres were devoted to asparagus. Adcock also grew tomatoes in prodigious quantities: in one day his staff picked and packed over two tons of tomatoes to be dispatched by rail [7].

Packing tomatoes. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

What fascinates is the sheer scale at which fruit, vegetables and flowers were produced in just one small part of Norwich. Adcock’s were operating well into the steam age and were evidently able to supply their produce around the country in reasonable time. On a less industrial scale, maps of nineteenth century Norwich give tantalising hints of allotments and other small nurseries such as: Cork’s nursery ground; Allen’s Nursery around Sigismund and Trafford roads in Lakenham; the nursery ground off Dereham Road; the Victoria Nursery in Peafields, Lakenham; George Lindley’s nursery at Catton. Long before refrigerated transport and the concept of food miles it was this web of horticultural enterprises that, together with our farms and markets, fed Norwich.

The Trafford Arms on the site of The Nursery Tavern where, in the 1860s, Robert Allen ran a nursery in this semi-rural parish of Lakenham

If you liked this article you may like the Norfolk Gardens Trust Magazine. Membership of the NGT is only £10 per annum, £15 joint, and for this you will receive two copies of the magazine annually, invitations to visit gardens not always open to the public, and talks by leading figures on gardens and the history of designed landscape. Click the link to see more:

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  3. Walter Rye (1917). History of the Parish of Eaton in the City of Norwich . Online at:$b756725&view=1up&seq=7&q1=fruit
  4. ‘Citizens of No Mean City’ (1910). Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.
  5. Louise Crawley (2020a). The Growth of Provincial Nurseries: the Norwich Nurserymen c.1750–1860. Garden History v48 pp 119-134.
  6. Louise Crawley (2020b). The Norwich Nurserymen . In, The Norfolk Gardens Trust Magazine No 29. This article appears in the magazine, available online at:
  7. Edward and Wilfred E Burgess (1904). Men Who Have Made Norwich’. Reprinted in 2014 by The Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society in 2014. A truly fascinating read – visit

Thanks My main source for information on Mackie’s was Louise Crawley, postgraduate researcher at UEA, and I am grateful for her generosity in sharing her researches into ‘The Norwich Nurserymen’. Local historian Vivien Humber kindly shared information on nurseries in the parish of Eaton. I am also grateful to Pamela Clark, Susan Brown, Sally Bate, Tom Williamson and Beverley Woolner. Thanks to the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society for allowing me to reproduce the Adcocks photographs, to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, and to the George Plunkett archive.

Vanishing Plains


In two recent posts [1,2] I wrote about Norwich’s ‘plains’, a loan-word from the Dutch for the city’s open spaces that were largely established before the fashion for urban squares. Only five of the 15 Norwich plains identified by Richard Lane in his book, The Plains of Norwich [3] are recognised by a formal street sign, some of the others don’t appear on early maps and some of this final six may not seem to you like defined spaces at all.

St Margaret’s Plain on Westwick Street to the rear of St Margaret’s Church. From OS map 1884.

The 1884 Ordnance Survey map appears to show St Margarets Plain occupying much the same space as it does today, although Richard Lane [3] notes that Westwick Street ‘used to widen slightly at this point until pre-war demolition and German bombs altered the northern side completely.’ The demolished houses to the west of St Margarets churchyard are marked with the red star.

St Margaret’s Plain from Westwick Street, the church top right.

In general outline, a similar open space appears on King’s map of 1766 but I wonder if this northern end of the churchyard was lost to pedestrianisation.

St Margaret’s Plain on King’s Plan of 1766

St Margaret is purported to be the figure carved in the left hand spandrel above the porch.

The crossroads in the main shopping area, dominated by Marks and Spencer, and Debenhams, is St Stephens Plain. St Margarets Plain was treated kindly by history but St Stephens’ Plain has been pulled hither and yon by planners, trams and the Luftwaffe.

St Stephens St lower left; Rampant Horse St top left; Red Lion Street top; and Westlegate right. OS map 1884. Starred, The Rampant Horse Hotel, which gave name to the street.

Here is St Stephens Plain on Braun and Hogenberg’s map of 1581.

Circled, St Stephens Plain; starred, St Stephen’ Gates. St Stephens Street runs between the two. Yellow arrow marks site of The Boar’s Head. From Braun and Hogenberg 1581

When Queen Elizabeth I came to Norwich on one of her royal progresses she entered at St Stephens Gates. Here she was met by the Mayor and a demonstration of Norwich weaving featuring religious refugees from the Low Countries whose immigration had been supported by the queen. The area was badly damaged in the bombing of WWII. Some buildings survived but the opportunity was taken to demolish the entire south side of St Stephens Street – including The Boar’s Head –  in order to widen the road.

Old Boar Inn.jpg
At the corner of St Stephens and Surrey Streets, The Boar’s Head, a C15 thatched inn, was badly damaged by bombs in 1942. Its location is marked on the map above.

Red Lion Street, the road on the north side of St Stephens Plain, had already been widened at the very end of the nineteenth century in order to accommodate the new electric trams, whose city hub was in Orford Place. Built in 1900, the south side of Red Lion Street was comprised of buildings designed by Edward Boardman and Son or by George Skipper.

Red Lion Street, widened in 1899 for the electric trams. The women stand at the corner now occupied by Curls (later Debenhams) department store. Opposite, the child caryatids on Skipper’s Commercial Chambers are arrowed. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk
The child caryatids (probably by Doulton Lambeth) supporting the balcony of George Skipper’s Commercial Chambers. He also designed the adjacent Barclays Bank in 1905

Looking down Westlegate towards St Stephens Plain we come to Marks and Spencer, a department store built for Buntings in 1912 by local architect AF Scott [4]. It was badly damaged in WWII but, probably due to its steel-framed construction, it survived and was rebuilt without its attic storey and corner cupola. Opposite is Debenhams department store and one wonders about the fate of purpose-built department stores now that the occupiers are in receivership.

St Stephens Plain from Westlegate. M&S to the left, Debenhams to the right

To see what the plain looked like at the end of the nineteenth century we rotate ourselves 90 degrees clockwise so that, below, we walk down St Stephens Street with Buntings (now Marks and Spencer) on our left. The red star marks The Peacock pub at 1 St Stephens Plain. The narrow street straight ahead is Red Lion Street before it was widened to take the new electric trams.

Pre-1899. Buntings/M&S is on the left (arrowed). A narrow Red Lion St is straight ahead and Westlegate is right. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The ‘Debenhams’ site was originally occupied by a collection of buildings that became the Curl brothers’ department store. As the 1884 OS map shows (above), the site once contained The Rampant Horse Inn, which gave name to the street.

Rampant Horse mosaic in the doorway of Debenhams – a reminder of the ancient inn

Curls was badly damaged in the 1942 air raids and was rebuilt from 1953 to 1956. In the 1960s the store was bought by Debenhams but still traded as ‘Curls’ until the 1970s. Below, we look across the building site to the south side of Red Lion Street designed by Boardman and Skipper in the early 1900s.

Rebuilding the corner of Red Lion and Rampant Horse streets. ©

Walking westwards, Rampant Horse Street merges into Theatre Street, the site of Theatre Plain. An advertisement placed by Francis Noverre gives the address of his first annual ball as being in the Assembly Rooms on Playhouse Plain. Neither Playhouse Plain nor Theatre Plain seem to refer to the theatre immediately west of the Assembly House.

Theatre Street. The red arrow points to the Assembly House; the yellow arrow to the Theatre Royal

Millard and Manning’s map of 1830 shows Theatre Plain occupying the forecourt of the Assembly House.

Theatre Plain off Chapel Field Lane (now Theatre Street). Millard and Manning (1830).

Somewhat ironically for a city claiming to have plains instead of squares, White’s Directory of 1845 refers to the space as Theatre Square [3]. This may be because we were now in an age when squares – unlike the irregular medieval spaces where streets collided – had been made fashionable by the development of polite Georgian London.

The Assembly House

The Assembly House occupies a site established around 1250 as the College of St Mary-in-the-Fields. After the Dissolution, the church itself was demolished and in 1573 the remaining buildings converted by Sir Thomas Cornwallis into a town house, second only in size to the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace [3]. In 1609 the mansion was bought by the Hobart family who, in 1753, leased the building for public assemblies, for which purpose it was converted the following year by Thomas Ivory, the architect of Georgian Norwich. Rather than demolishing the old house, as once thought, it appears that he used a significant part – its central part and wings – in remodelling the ‘House of Assemblies’ [5].

The Assembly House by James Sillett 1828. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In contrast to the popular entertainment offered in some of the larger inns around the marketplace, the Assembly House was where the gentry could come for a game of cards, a glass of wine and sometimes dance the minuet in polite surroundings. However, in Assize Week ‘the double doors between ballroom, card-room and tea-room were opened up, and country dances danced along the lengths of all three rooms’ [6]. Some scorned country dances as half an hour of standing still as long lines of paired dancers took their turn to run the gauntlet. But imagine the fun of galumphing the whole 143 feet beneath candle-lit chandeliers.

St Paul’s Plain no longer exists; it could have been restored after being damaged in the Blitz but was marked for destruction by the City Engineer’s 1944 plan for the inner and outer ring roads. The church was founded in the twelfth century as a hospital for poor strangers. It was  also recorded in the sixteenth century being used as a bridewell (prison) before William Appleyard’s house took over that function in what is now Bridewell Alley [7].

St Paul’s church in 1937 ©

The octagonal top of the tower, rebuilt with white bricks around 1819, survived the incendiary bombs in 1942. Had it been been saved it would be the largest of the city’s five round towers (just as St Benedict’s tower stands alone) but it stood in the way of post-war improvement and the site was cleared in preparation for the St Crispin’s Road flyover and the Barrack Street roundabout.

The 1970 flyover (left) and the Barrack Street roundabout superimposed approximately upon the 1884 OS map. St Paul’s at the left edge of the roundabout was demolished, leaving St Paul’s Square. St James’ church (right) survives as the Norwich Puppet Theatre.

The site is now a small public garden and children’s play area. The evidence, though, for calling the space ‘St Paul’s Plain’ is slim. White’s Directory of 1845 describes it as ’the square called St Paul’s plain’ [3] and – surrounded by streets on four sides – it does look on Samuel King’s map of 1766 more like a square, albeit somewhat on the huh. ‘Square’ may work in this instance but is a poor definition of the other variously irregular open spaces we have seen. George Nobbs’ explanation comes closer: ‘In Norwich the term Plain is usually used to describe the area of a meeting of streets’ [8].

The playground in St Paul’s Square

In his short book on Norwich Plains, Richard Lane [3] generally found White’s Directory of 1845 to be a useful source of addresses as supplied by trade subscribers but he found no mention of St Benedict’s Plain. He wrote that one unnamed author mentioned it as the square where Pottergate, Willow Lane, Cow Hill and Ten Bell Lane met; ‘others’ defining it as the widening of Pottergate from Ten Bell Lane westwards. These two spaces are conjoined in the map below.

The general area of St Benedict’s Plain. Only the tower of St Benedict’s church (red star) survived the war. Ten Bell Lane is marked in yellow. The green star marks St Giles’ church standing high on Cow Hill. OS map 1899.

However, the National Archives records that the Norfolk and Norwich Eye Infirmary stood on St Benedict’s Plain from 1823-1854 [9]. And there is an early C20 watercolour entitled ‘St Benedict’s Plain’ by a local painter [10].

‘St Benedict’s Plain Norwich’ by Robert J Gedge, early C20. The artist looks eastwards down Pottergate with Cow Hill to the right ©

The Norfolk County Council’s Picture Norfolk site has a photograph labelled ‘St Benedict’s Plain/Pottergate’.

Photographer George Swain labelled this ‘St Benedict’s Plain/Pottergate’, 1937. The timber frame house does not survive and only the tower of St Benedict’s church, seen through the gap, remains. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

This photograph looks down to the plain from the junction of Cow Hill and Willow Lane …

Looking northwards down Cow Hill. Pottergate runs left-right at the bottom of the hill

… while this shows where Pottergate widens to the west of Cow Hill.

Yellow-painted Kinghorn House, named after a local Baptist minister ca 1800.

The legitimacy of St George’s Plain is beyond question for it is enshrined in Pevsner [11]. It is a part of Colegate, on which the Late Medieval and Georgian houses of the rich wool merchants still stand. On the 1886 OS map the plain appears as a widening of the road between a block labelled ‘Boot and Shoe Manufactory’ and the churchyard of St George’s Colegate.

St George’s Plain ringed in red. St George’s Colegate, red star. The green arrow points down St George’s Street, over the river to the present-day Norwich University of the Arts. OS map 1886.

The ‘Boot and Shoe Manufactory’ was Howlett and White’s factory, once the country’s largest producer of footwear under one roof. Viewed from the west end of Colegate, the seven bays up to the tower were built by Edward Boardman in 1876; left of the tower is Boardman’s extension of 1894, making a facade of 200 feet [11]. In 1909 the company introduced the brand name Norvic and in 1935 the business itself was renamed the Norvic Shoe Company Ltd [12]. Norvic, short for Norvicensis, is the address adopted by each Bishop of Norwich but it can be traced back to a time before the Normans raised the cathedral. In the preceding Anglo-Scandinvian period, this defended trading settlement, or wic, on the north bank of the river was sufficiently stable to mint its own coins and to stamp them Norvic. Colegate is part of that north wic.

Howlett & White’s Norvic factory on St George’ Plain, facing St George’s Colegate. Below the factory tower, which separates two phases of expansion, is a carved brick canopy (red arrow)

That carved brick canopy, probably by Guntons of Costessey, contains an upright anchor not to be confused with the tilted anchor of Bullards Brewery across the river. The expansion of the factory absorbed two lanes that had led down to the riverside; the upright anchor commemorates Water Lane, marked on the OS map above.

On the north-east corner of this expanded area of Colegate, adjacent to St George’s churchyard, is a piece of street furniture that we’ve seen before – a public water fountain with a marble basin for people and troughs below for dogs [13].

Fountain sculpted by J Stanley of Norwich, installed in 1860

The red brick wall to the left of the fountain marks the junction between Muspole Street and St George’s Plain. A little way up Muspole Street, on the opposite side, is a pub whose various names relate to the wool that made Norwich wealthy: Crown and Woolpack (1740s); Wool Packet (1760s); Old Woolpack (2016) and The Gatherers (opened 2020). This was once the site of the town house of the Augustinian Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham, conveyed to John the Prior in 1298. The present building is Georgian with a nineteenth century pub front [14].

From the late nineteenth century, the employment provided by factory-based shoe-making took over from the more fragmented weaving industry that had sustained the city for centuries but by the early 1800s our textile trade was being outcompeted by the power mills of the north. Below, the two trades are represented by the pub and its association with wool, and by the saw-tooth roofline of the Norvic-Kiltie shoe factory that overlooks it. Howlett & White had bought the business from local shoe manufacturer SL Witton Ltd. [12], completing their domination of this part of Norwich-over- the-Water.

The Gatherers on Muspole Street with the Norvic-Kiltie factory to the rear. St George’s Plain is to the left.

St George Colegate (c1459) is a fine church with austere Georgian furnishings. It was one of the few things in the city that architectural commentator Ian Nairn could persuade himself to like. John Crome, co-founder of the Norwich School of Artists, is buried here.


Postscript After this was published, a reader informed me that the space outside The Forum in the city centre is named Millennium Plain – a latter-day plain to add to University Plain and the three on the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital site.

©Reggie Unthank 2020

Something for the Christmas stocking? ‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’, which describes the development of south Norwich by the Unthank family, has been recently reprinted and can be ordered by mail by clicking these links: Jarrold’s Book Department ( and City Bookshop (

Colonel Unthank AD.jpg


  3. Richard Lane (1999). The Plains of Norwich. The Larks Press, Dereham.
  6. Marc Girouard (1990). The English Town. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. George Nobbs (1978). Norwich: City of Centuries. Pub: George Nobbs Publishing, Norwich.
  11. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England: Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  12. Frances and Michael Holmes (2013). The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.

Parson Woodforde goes to market



In 1775, Reverend James Woodforde came to Weston Longville, a small village north of Norwich, and remained as rector until his death in 1803. During this time he kept a diary of his life as a country parson but city-dwellers will find it intriguing for his forays into late eighteenth century Norwich.

“… we both agreed it was the finest City in England by far …”

On first visiting Norwich with a friend (1775)

I am following a fascinating booklet on Woodforde’s walks around Norwich by the Parson Woodforde Society [1]. Much has changed across the two hundred and forty five years between his time and ours: World War II bombing raids; the Industrial Revolution; slum clearance; and fitting a medieval city around the motor car. These things changed the city but what is striking is how much of Woodforde’s Norwich still glimmers through. We start at the Marketplace but there is so much to see that we won’t wander far.

The Market established by the Normans, which supplanted the Anglo-Scandinavian trading place in Tombland, has been the thriving hub of the city for almost a thousand years. Here it is in Cotman’s illustration of 1807, not long after Woodforde’s death.

Norwich Marketplace from the North by John Sell Cotman. Courtesy Abbot Hall Art Gallery

Looking back from the south end, Robert Dighton’s illustration (below) just manages to catch the medieval Guildhall (red arrow), obscured by the tall buildings to the rear of the marketplace. Centre left, the gap between the buildings is Dove Lane but note the absence of a major north exit from the far right corner. To the right of the market is a range of inns and from one of them the London coach is exiting at speed (yellow arrow).

Norwich Market by Robert Dighton 1799.

In acknowledgment of the stables behind the coaching inns, Blomefield’s map of 1741 names the lane to the rear as Backside of the Inns.

Blomefield’s map of Norwich 1741. ©

But by 1766 Samuel King had dignified it as Back of the Inns – the name still used today. He also lists the inns along the east side.

Samuel King’s Plan of Norwich 1766

There were inns all around the marketplace but the ones on the east side are given as The Half Moon, The King’s Head, The Bear Inn and The Angel Inn. From The Angel, Parson Woodforde is known to have caught the coach, which he refers to as the ‘London Machine’ or ‘the machine’ [1].

A post chaise

In 1775, Woodforde’s journeyed from London to Norwich, by post chaise and four (horses): ‘109 miles, and the best of roads I have ever travelled.’ Arriving after ten o’clock at night he found the city gates shut (presumably St Stephen’s Gate), reminding us that the medieval defences were still largely intact at that time. In a telling metaphor for the changes inflicted upon a medieval city by the Victorian age, the stretch of city wall to the north of St Stephen’s Gate was to be used as hardcore for the new Prince of Wales Road. Built in the 1860s, this was intended as a grand approach to connect the new Thorpe railway station with the city centre. The advent of steam was to affect other routes to the city’s markets.

Small changes to the Marketplace accrued after Woodforde died. In 1840, when Queen Victoria married, the fifteenth century Angel Inn was patriotically renamed The Royal. In 1899 it would be demolished and replaced with a fashionable arcade designed by George Skipper [2]. Moulded in marble-like Carrara Ware by Doulton’s WJ Neatby, the figure above the Back of the Inns entrance commemorates the original Angel Inn. As the Royal Inn was disappearing (1896-7), Edward Boardman was building a new Royal Hotel on Agricultural Hall Plain, close to various livestock markets around the Castle, and closer to the railway station.

The Royal Arcade, 1899

The fronts of these inns were separated from the Norman Great Market by what appears on King’s Plan of 1766 as ‘Nether Row or Gentleman’s Walk’. ‘Nether’ refers to a lower row of market stalls arranged outside the inns but as early as 1681, Thomas Baskerville had written about ‘a fair walk before the prime inns and houses of the market-place…called gentlemen’s walk or walking place…kept clear for the purposes from the encumbrances of stalls, tradesman and their goods’. Evidently, the walkway outside the inns had become an acceptable place for members of an increasingly polite and enlightened society to promenade, separated from the hurly-burly of the market. An early photograph from 1854 shows The Walk as a paved boulevard set apart from the market by a line of posts [3].

Gentleman’s Walk and Market 1854 ©Norfolk County Council

Newman’s lithograph provides a sense of the fashionable shops along the east side of the marketplace – an early shopping parade.

Shops along Gentleman’s Walk from a print by J Newman 1850. Source: Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1929.90.5

Woodforde is known to have visited John Toll’s draper’s shop in the Marketplace. He paid seven shillings and sixpence for a pair of cotton stockings for his niece Anna Maria (Nancy) who was his housekeeper and companion [4]. At the shop of Mr Tandy (a ‘Chymist and a Druggist’) he spent three shillings on an ounce of ‘Rhubarb’, presumably tincture of rhubarb, taken for digestive complaints. For thruppence he also purchased Goulard’s Extract, used for inflammation of the skin, although this was later discontinued as it was found to cause lead poisoning.

Although Parson Woodforde drank coffee at The Angel he did not often stay there, preferring to lodge at The King’s Head. It was from here that the Norwich mail coach departed for Yarmouth [1]. And from 1802, two mail coaches left here daily for London, one via Ipswich and one via Newmarket [5].

Coach departing the King’s Head (From Dighton’s painting, see [5]. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service)

Below, Newman’s painting of 1850 shows key changes to the Marketplace as Woodforde would have known it.

Norwich Market, from the south. J Newman 1850. Red arrow = coach exit from the Royal Hotel (formerly the Angel Inn). Yellow arrow = Exchange Street. Note the gas lampposts. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections

In Woodforde’s time there was no wide street exiting the square at the north-east corner but, in 1832, Exchange Street was cut through, connecting the market to St Andrew’s Street then over the newly erected Duke’s Palace Bridge and on towards North Norfolk [6]. On the map above, the purple arrow points to something that would have rocked Parson Woodforde’s world.

Davey Place, for pedestrians. The steps at the end are blocked by a wagon cutting across Back of the Inns. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In 1812, Alderman Jonathan Davey – Baptist Radical of Eaton Hall –announced in a council meeting that he would put a hole in the king’s head. These apparently seditious words were taken sufficiently seriously for a guard to be placed upon his house but what he actually intended was to put a hole in Gentleman’s Walk. He bought the King’s Head Hotel at auction, demolished it and in place of Woodforde’s preferred coaching inn built a shop-lined thoroughfare that connected those attending the livestock markets around the Castle with the Marketplace [7]. Along with Exchange Street, Davey Place is one of the rare post-medieval streets of Norwich.

The ‘Davey Steps’ connecting Davey Place to Castle Meadow provided a barrier to animals, although the stairway was not insurmountable. In April 1823: “A man who sold sand about the streets of Norwich drove his cart and pair of horses up the flight of ten steps, leading from Davey Place to the Castle ditches. The horses did it with much ease and without receiving any injury, to the astonishment of the spectators” [8].

Running westward from the Guildhall, at the back of the market, was the fish market.

‘Fishmarket with St Peter Mancroft’ by GS Stevenson. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections

Here, Woodforde bought soles from Mr Beale, which were sometimes less than fresh [1]. In the days before refrigeration he would take home oysters from the market, although he could also buy them from ‘an old man of Reepham’ [4]. The insanitary Fish Market was replaced in 1860 by a Neoclassical building approximately where the Memorial Gardens are today. This building is at centre of the photograph below. To the right, the building with roof lucams is The Fishmonger’s Arms, a Youngs, Crawshay and Youngs house.

The Fish Market and buildings in St Peter Street, looking down to the Guildhall from the railings of St Peter Mancroft’s churchyard, ca 1890. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

All the old buildings at the back of the market were cleared as part of the construction of City Hall and the Memorial Gardens (1938).

The back of the Marketplace in 1938, looking from Gentleman’s Walk. The City Hall and the Memorial Gardens have just been constructed and buildings at the back of the market demolished. The white stone structure at centre is Lutyens’ war memorial, moved from the Guildhall. ©

In 1914 the Fish Market was transferred out of the Victorian building and re-sited to Mountergate.

Marking a plaque commemorating the Fish Market. On the Rose Lane car park

As the Back of the Inns followed the curve of Castle Meadow it flowed into medieval London Lane. This route was narrow and far from ideal. The opening of Norwich (later, Norwich Thorpe) railway station in 1844 created demand for better access to and from the market and London Street was widened accordingly[6]. Most of the medieval buildings familiar to Woodforde were demolished. He would, though, have known this grand doorway from the house of John Bassingham, a goldsmith from Henry VIII’s time, now inserted into the Magistrate’s Entrance of the Guildhall [10].


The premises of Edward Freeman were in Back of the Inns. We previously encountered this family of cabinet makers when looking at a framed medallion of Amelia Opie [11]. Freemans made high quality picture frames and furniture for country houses like Felbrigg and Blickling Halls but Woodforde’s requirements were more humble: he paid a guinea deposit for two mahogany chests of drawers and half a dozen ash kitchen chairs.


Cockey Lane was at the Guildhall end of London Street, just around the corner from Back of the Inns, and this is where Woodforde visited his upholsterer, James Sudbury. In 1793, two of Sudbury’s workmen – Abraham Seely and Isaac Warren – are claimed to have carried a ‘large New Mohogany Cellarett’ and a sideboard ‘on the Men’s shoulders all the way’; that is, nine miles to Weston Longville [12]. For this Herculean feat Woodforde fed and watered the men and gave them a shilling tip but I can’t help wondering if Sudbury’s cart was hidden down the lane.

A George III mahogany cellarett used for storing and/or chilling wine. Photo: ©

Kerrison’s Norwich Bank in the Back of the Inns was where Woodforde brought tithe money collected on behalf of his friend Henry Bathurst (later, Bishop of Norwich) who was then non-resident parson of a neighbouring parish [4]. Woodforde would exchange bills and cash for a banknote that he sent by post to his friend in Oxford. On one occasion he celebrated his good deed by dining at the King’s Head on a mutton chop and a bottle of wine. Five years after Woodforde’s death, Sir Roger Kerrison was to die in an apoplectic fit after which his bank failed, unable to pay the Government the money he had collected as Receiver-General [13].

Kerrison & Kerrison bank note of 1807. Photo: ©Spink

In 1793, Parson Woodforde banked £2-12s-0d, collected at Weston Longville for emigré French clergy. These refugees from the French Revolution joined a line of French Protestants who had been finding sanctuary here since the sixteenth century [14]. Just south of the Marketplace, in the smaller Haymarket (and Cheese Market), Woodforde had his watchspring repaired by master watch-maker Peter Amyot, a descendant of French Huguenots [1]. In his diary, Woodforde also mentions other descendants of immigrants: like James Rump, grocer and tallow chandler (whose name had been anglicised from Rumpf [14]); Elisha de Hague, attorney; and the influential Martineau family, underlining the contribution that newcomers made to this city’s commerce.

Watch movement c1770 by Peter Amyot of The Haymarket, Norwich. ©catawiki

©Reggie Unthank 2020


  1. ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’ (2008). Published by The Parson Woodforde Society The booklet is still available from
  6. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. In, Norfolk Annals, edited by Charles Mackie. Available online
  9. Michael Loveday (2011). The Norwich Knowledge. Pub: Michael Loveday ISBN 978-0-9570883-0-6
  13. Roger Ryan (2004) Banking and Insurance. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’. Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.

Thanks to Alan Theobald for introducing me to the booklet, ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’. Copies are available from I am grateful to Martin Brayne of the Parson Woodforde Society for his assistance. To learn more about Parson Woodforde and the society in which he lived, visit I am grateful to Clare Everitt for permission to use images from the wonderful archive of local photographs: Picture Norfolk. Thanks, also, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s photographs of Norwich and Norfolk:

Norwich, City of the Plains



London has its famous residential squares, built to enclose green space and clean air against the awfulness outside. These enclaves mainly arose during the Georgian and Victorian periods and from the outset were part of the designed urban landscape.

Bloomsbury Square 1787. Image: English Heritage

Norwich, on the other hand, has very few formal, rectangular spaces. In this second post on Norwich Plains we try to define these irregular spaces by contrasting them with more formal squares.

The Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace, Tombland (meaning empty space), and the Norman marketplace that superseded it, are both rectangular but neither of these was called a ‘plain’ for they pre-dated the arrival of the Dutch who gave the name to our open spaces. And although we can point to several isolated Georgian gems there was never sufficient development within the confines of a medieval street plan (if ‘plan’ is the word) to add up to an eighteenth century square. The nearest thing to a London-like square is the Cathedral Close.

The Lower Close, looking east.
Georgian terrace on south side of the Lower Close

Before the word ‘close’ was appropriated by twentieth-century developers for their suburban cul-de-sacs, the name related more specifically to the area around an ecclesiastical building enclosed – cloistered – behind the precinct gates. It may never have been an appropriate name for the more casual, un-green places outside the cathedral walls. Norwich plains are irregular, rather tentative spaces that seem to have arisen where several medieval streets collide. Some plains have been so eroded by tramways, traffic-bearing roads, World War II and general ‘improvement’, that we may wonder whether they existed at all.

St Catherine’s Plain is one such open space. It was the land surrounding the pre-Conquest church of St Catherine that was given to the nuns at Carrow by King Stephen. Now it is one of Norwich’s lost churches and its demise can be traced to the plague that almost depopulated the parish; by the time of the historian Blomefield (1705-1752) it consisted of just one house [1].

Cuningham’s map of Norwich, 1558, showing the lost church of St Catherine, at centre

At the southern end of Queen’s Road, between the twentieth century junction with Surrey Street (formerly St Catherine’s Lane) and the following junction with Finkelgate, is a treed area still marked with an older-style cast-iron sign.

Finkelgate connects with the south end of Ber Street, which was once called St. Catherine’s Street [1]. The map below also shows a St Catherine’s Lane and a St Catherine’s Hill, emphasising that the district of St Catherine’s was at one time more extensive than we may now realise.

St Catherine’s Close, enclosing the church (purple star). Red line marks St Catherine’s Lane (now the continuation of Surrey Street); blue line marks St Catherine’s Hill. Green star = St Catherine’s Plain. Blue Star = St Catherine’s Close. Yellow star = All Saints’ Plain. Ber St runs along the right edge; modern-day Queen’s Rd to the left. Millard & Manning’s 1830 Plan of Norwich. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council
St Catherine’s Plain from the junction of Surrey Street with the widened Queen’s Road, which has absorbed some of the plain [2]

Walking down Surrey Street to the junction with All Saints’ Green we come to a fine building designed by local architect Thomas Ivory who is responsible for several of the high points of Georgian Norwich. This is his St Catherine’s Close (1780) – a name once given to the place where the parsonage had stood [1] . The Adam-style porch was damaged when the area was bombed during World War II and is a replacement [3].

St Catherine’s Close (or House) by Thomas Ivory, completed by his son William. Marked with blue star on the map above. Now the offices of solicitors Clapham & Collinge

Just east of this house is All Saints Green that, as marked by the yellow star in the 1830 map above, was once known as All Saints Plain. On Samuel King’s map of 1766 this open space is labelled All Saints Green – a name by which it is known today. It appears there was a fluidity in naming places. King’s map also gives the space the alternative name of ‘Old Swine Market’ but by 1806, when Blomefield’s History of Norwich was published, the hog market had moved to the castle ditches.

All Saints Green/Old Swine Market. Samuel King’s Plan of Norwich 1766

Born 1844 in Ludham, Robert Herne Bond owned a shop in Ber Street and bought adjoining properties that allowed him to extend through to All Saints’ Green [4]. One of these buildings started life as the Thatched Assembly Rooms before being converted to a ballroom then a cinema. Bond converted it back to a ballroom for his staff and it was also used as a restaurant and furnishing hall. The ‘Thatched’ was destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1942. Immediately the war ended, Bond’s son, the architect J Owen Bond, replaced this collection of vernacular buildings with a Streamline Moderne department store. In 1982, Bonds of Norwich was taken over by John Lewis [5].

Bonds at 21 All Saints’ Green, photographed in 1935. ©

St Giles’ Plain. The provisional nature of some of the Norwich plains is apparent from Richard Lane’s book The Plains of Norwich. White’s Directory of 1845 does not, he writes, list St Giles’ Plain in the street guide despite several traders giving their address there [2]. Nor could I find it on the 1884 OS map, the Millard & Manning 1830 map, Cole’s 1807 and King’s 1766. This is not to say that the plain didn’t exist but that locals were more ready than mapmakers to use the local name for these open spaces.

St Giles-on-the-Hill with Upper St Giles ahead, Churchman House left. Cleveland Street cuts left-right across the plain.

The church stands at the intersection of Upper St Giles and St Giles Streets, Cow Hill and Bethel Street, with Willow Lane to the rear. The area outside the church would have looked more tranquil before the 1970s when Cleveland Street joined the plain, bringing traffic off the Grapes Hill roundabout and the Inner Link Road.

St Giles church, red star. Cleveland Road (yellow) was built in the C20. Samuel King’s map 1766

Until the Conquest, the settlement’s main axis ran north-south, from Magdalen Street, through Tombland, to King Street. The Normans changed this by developing the ‘French Borough’ westwards from their Castle and Marketplace. Two Norman streets from the market converged at St Giles: Lower Newport (now St Giles Street) and Upper Newport (now Bethel, formerly Bedlam, Street).

The church is situated on a hill, 85 feet above sea level. If you were to stand on top of the magnificent tower you would be 205 feet above the sea; not as tall as the county’s high point, Beeston Bump (344 feet), but still dizzyingly elevated for Norfolk. Two thirds up the tower the single clock-face points down St Giles’ Street to the Guildhall, next to the marketplace. With a diameter of ten feet the dial should have been easy to see although visibility was improved in the mid-C19 by the addition of a six and half feet minute hand.

St Giles’s single clock-face, from St Giles Street

Facing the south side of the church, across the plain, is Churchman House built in 1727 for Alderman Thomas Churchman and remodelled in 1751 by his son Sir Thomas. According to Pevsner &Wilson this is ‘the very best Georgian house in Norwich’ [3].


For two years (1875-7), Churchman House was the first home of the Norwich School for Girls before it moved to the Assembly House and then to its present location on Newmarket Road in 1933 [2]. After the girls moved out in 1877, Churchman House was bought by Dr Peter Eade, sheriff and three times mayor. Dr Eade was an eminent citizen, being Chief Physician at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, on St Stephen’s Road. He was also first President of the Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society at a time when meetings would be held on the night of a full moon to help members return home safely.

Sir Peter Eade. Courtesy: Jarrold & Sons Ltd

Dr Eade was also embroiled in the affair of Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, that I recently wrote about [6]. Physician and philosopher Thomas Browne, the city’s most famous citizen of the seventeenth century, was buried in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft. In 1840 his skull was stolen when his coffin was broken open during the burial of the vicar’s wife. After some years the skull was bequeathed to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Museum where, despite numerous requests for its return, it stayed until 1922. Peter Eade ‘must have been one of the leading figures behind the hospital’s refusal to return the skull’ [7]. At the time, skulls of the famous were used for phrenology, the pseudo-scientific name for ‘reading the bumps’ – the dubious procedure for deducing personal characteristics from the shape of the cranium. Yet while Eade the Physician fought against the restoration of the skull, Eade the Mayor championed the commission for Browne’s statue, which was installed in the Haymarket in 1905 [7].

St Mary’s Plain feels more of an open space than others in Norwich-over-the-Water, possibly because of the borrowed elbow room provided by the large churchyard.

St Mary’s Plain, off the north end of present-day Duke Street. Millard & Manning’s 1830 Plan of Norwich. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

The plain takes its name from St Mary-at-Coslany, Coslany (or island with reeds) being one of the four original Anglo-Saxon settlements on which the city is based. On the belfry, the double openings with the recessed shaft reveal the church’s Anglo-Saxon origins. It is probably the oldest in Norwich [3].

St Mary-at-Coslany where John Sell Cotman was baptised in 1782

Until the late C19 the area consisted of ‘noxious courts and alleys’ [2] but all this was to change dramatically in the following century. Norwich-over-the-Water housed many light-industrial factories and was bombed several times during the Baedeker Raids. In 1942 the church was badly damaged by incendiaries.

From far left: St Mary’s Baptist Church; the thatched Pykerell’s House adjacent to Zoar Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel; the red-brick St Mary’s Works; and hidden by the tree, the tower of St Mary-at-Coslany.

Above, just visible to the left, is St Mary’s Baptist Chapel. It dates from 1951 although various versions had stood on this site since 1745. Below, is the chapel on the 12th of September 1939.

St Mary’s Baptist chapel, 12th September 1939 ©

War had been declared against Germany on the 3rd September 1939. A week later, fire swept through the Baptist church but this was not caused by enemy action – a hint of the damage can be seen on the roof. Rebuilt to the original design, the church was opened again a year later but in June 1942 was completely gutted, this time as a result of the Baedeker bombing campaign. The church we see today was opened in July 1951 (see [8] for the detailed history of this area and of wartime bomb damage).

The Baedeker raids of 1942 also claimed medieval Pykerell’s House, named after an early C16 Sheriff and three-times mayor. Extensively restored, it is one of only six thatched houses left in Norwich. Surprisingly, I can find no reports that its conjoined but unthatched neighbour – Zoar Strict and Particular Chapel – suffered any damage in the blaze. In evading the Luftwaffe’s incendiary bombs the church was echoing its biblical namesake, Zoar, one of the five cities of the plain (the Dead Sea Plain) to escape the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.

It is intriguing that Zoar, a small Baptist chapel, should be sited so close to the large, general Baptist Chapel further along the plain. This break-away branch of the Baptist faith is ‘strict and particular’ in allowing only those baptised by immersion to receive communion.

The shape of the plain as we saw it on King’s map of 1766 was further changed in the 1920s. Then, old slum dwellings were demolished to make way for St Mary’s Works, home to Sexton, Son and Everard, one of the city’s large shoe-making factories. But it, too, was extensively damaged in 1942 by the summer bombing campaign. The building was restored but the business closed in 1976 and now it awaits redevelopment.



In researching the city’s open spaces I came across an article that gave insight into the extent to which the cathedral’s brethren fulfilled their moral obligation to feed the poor [9].

Cathedral precinct. Upper Close outlined in red. Erpingham Gate (purple) and St Ethelbert Gate (yellow). Almary House leading onto Almary Green (blue star). 1885 OS map

Almary Green is not named for the Virgin Mary but because of its proximity to the Almonry. The Almoner’s House and Almonry Green are situated in the south-west corner of The Close conveniently near the paupers soliciting alms at St Ethelbert’s Gate. Here, the almoner had his own granary, distinct from the priory’s Great Granary. This separation ensured that the needy were fed mainly rye or ‘horse’ bread to accompany their soup or pottage based on pulses while wheat from the other store was used to make the white bread eaten by the brethren. From the accounts, the monks appeared to have eaten and drunk in ‘truly heroic quantities’. Bread and ale comprised about half their diet while fish and meat (but little dairy and no fruit and vegetables) made up the other half. Modern nutritional guidelines suggest the paupers had the better deal.

Almary Green and 1-4 The Close, Norwich Cathedral

In 1422, on Maundy Thursday, sufficient supplies were distributed to feed 5,688 poor. And on the anniversary of the death of the founder, Herbert de Losinga, around 10% of the annual allocation of rye, peas and barley was doled out in one day. It is not clear how the remainder was distributed throughout the rest of the year. In 1310-11, 33,000 loaves, 28,500 portions of pottage and 216,000 gallons of weak ale were given to the poor. If no food was distributed outside the charity season then the soup kitchen could have catered for around 1350 persons, possibly served by the monks. If, however, food was provided throughout the year then the almoner could have fed around 500 paupers a day [9]. Despite the fact that Norwich was a relatively wealthy city it is clear that a large part of the population required social care and it was the church that provided it before the Elizabethan Poor Laws.


  2. Richard Lane (1999). The Plains of Norwich. Pub: The Larks Press, Dereham.
  3. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and the North-East. Yale University Press.
  9. Philip Slavin (2012). Bread and Ale for the Brethren. In, Studies in Regional and Local History vol 11. Pub: University of Hertfordshire.


The main source for this post has been Richard Wilson’s excellent book on Norwich Plains. As ever, I am grateful to Jonathan Plunkett for generously allowing access to his father’s collection of C20 photographs of Norwich.

The Plains of Norwich



I recently came across that quotation by Dorothy Parker about members of the Bloomsbury Group living in squares, painting in circles and loving in triangles. They couldn’t have done that in Norwich for although we have circles and triangles we don’t have squares. Instead, we have plains, an import from the Low Countries. 

In modern Amsterdam, a ‘plein’ is an open rectangular space surrounded by buildings

Plains aren’t restricted to Norwich for you’ll stumble across them in Norfolk and Suffolk; I came across this one in Great Yarmouth.

Hall Plain, just off the Quayside in Great Yarmouth

It was in 1566 that the Fourth Duke of Norfolk requested Queen Elizabeth’s permission to invite ‘thirty Douchemen’ to help revive Norwich’s flagging textile trade. The following year this trickle became a flood when Protestants from the Spanish Netherlands escaped the religious intolerance of Philip II of Spain [1]. But the word ‘plain’ for an open space predated these arrivals: Nicholas Sotherton’s eye-witness account of Kett’s 1549 rebellion refers to ‘the playne before the pallace gate’ [2] so the word was an earlier introduction, part of the city’s already long association with the Low Countries.

‘The playne before the pallace gate’. Looking out from the gate of the Bishop’s Palace towards St Martin at Palace Plain. Cotman’s house is the tallest of the red brick buildings, the churchyard of St Martin at Palace is to the right

St Martin at Palace Plain – now the site of the Wig & Pen pub and John Sell Cotman’s house – was the site of a pitched battle between the King’s forces and Robert Kett’s men.

St Martin at Palace Plain. The church of St Martin at Palace is marked with a cross. The gate to the Bishop’s Palace is marked with a star and a plaque marking the death of Lord Sheffield is further along the Cathedral wall (arrow). 1884 OS map courtesy of [3]

Lord Sheffield fell from his horse and, as was the custom, he removed his helmet expecting to be ransomed. Instead, he was bludgeoned to death by a butcher named Fulke. Sheffield and 35 others were buried in the adjacent church. 

In his book The Plains of Norwich, Richard Lane wrote that only five of the fifteen Norwich plains are officially marked by a street sign; St Martin’s at Palace Plain is one of them as is Agricultural Hall Plain, at the east end of Castle Meadow [4].IMG_2805

At one time the castle was ringed by various livestock markets for which the Agricultural Hall of 1882 provided formal focus. The sloping plain outside the Hall stands at the top of Prince of Wales Road, a wide, curving street.  It was built in 1865 to connect Norwich Thorpe Railway Station to the city; it was never finished as planned and is only graceful in parts.  However, the buildings on the plain at the top of the road ‘dignify the new entry to the city’ [5].  From the left (below) we see: part of Barclays Bank – a huge banking hall designed like a Roman palazzo by the local firm of E Boardman & Son with Brierley & Rutherford of York (1929); next, a monument to the Boer War – the statue of Peace sculpted by George and Fairfax Wade (1904); then the Royal Hotel, another local masterpiece by the Boardmans (1896-7), decorated in  moulded red brick from Gunton’s Costessey Brickworks [6]. To the right we get a glimpse of the Agricultural Hall itself. It was built in 1882 in local red brick and alien red Cumberland sandstone, again relieved with decorative Cosseyware.

The Agricultural Hall was inaugurated in 1882 by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, who was Patron of the Norwich Fat Cattle Show Association. This was the year that Oscar Wilde started his lecture tour of America where one of his topics was ‘The House Beautiful’. Two years later he came to the Agricultural Hall to deliver the same lecture, no doubt well received by cattlemen on both sides of the Atlantic.

The Agricultural Hall

Just visible to the left is the former Crown Bank of 1866 built by Sir Robert Harvey. As we saw in The Norwich Banking Circle, Harvey named his Crown Bank after the Crown Point estate, just outside the city at Whitlingham. The estate was bought from the aptly named Major Money – intrepid balloonist and someone who had served in the army at Crown Point fort in North America.

Harvey shot himself after his dubious investments discredited the bank. The crown carved into the pediment of the Crown Bank then doubled as an appropriate symbol for the Post Office until 1970

Before we leave Agricultural Hall Plain we should take some cheer from knowing that Laurel and Hardy stayed in the Royal Hotel in 1954.

Looking out from the Hall (now Anglia TV), across Agricultural Hall Plain, is its conjoined twin – Bank Plain.

Bank Plain, with the balcony of a Boardman building to the immediate left, the turreted Royal Hotel in the distant left, the Agricultural Hall ahead and the former Barclays Bank to the right.

On the site now occupied by the former Barclays Bank stood its predecessor, Gurney’s Norwich Bank, established in the late C18.

Gurney’s Bank and the adjacent Bank Plain. Courtesy of the Library at Friends’ House

At the time, the open space was called Redwell Plain but after Gurney’s opened it became known as Bank Plain. The well is still commemorated in Redwell Street, which runs between Bank Plain and St Andrew’s Street.

In 1899, E Boardman & Son designed this Classical building for the Royal Insurance Company. It stands at the junction of Bank Plain and Queen Street, where the Boardmans’ own offices were situated in Old Bank of England Court.
Edward Boardman’s sign, carved from Costessey clay. Old Bank of England Court, Queen Street

Today, it is possible to travel to St Andrew’s (Hall) Plain by following the bend in the road down the hill to Suckling House/Cinema City. But, as the map shows, this extension of St Andrew’s Street did not exist in 1884; it was created so that the new electric trams, which ushered in the twentieth century, could avoid the tight corner where Redwell Street meets Princes Street.

The curved line shows the approximate route of the new tramway constructed in 1900, joining Bank Plain to the plain outside St Andrew’s Hall. 1884 OS map courtesy of [3]

Garsett House – also known as Armada House since it was reputedly built from the timbers of a ship wrecked during the Spanish Armada – was bisected in the process.

The right-hand side of Armada House, also known as Garsett House (Sir Robert Garsett d.1611), was demolished to make way for the electric trams. Note the overhead wires.
St Andrew’s Hall Plain. This scene was prior to 1892 when a public lavatory was built in the curved piece of wall. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

St Andrew’s Hall is the nave of what was the Blackfriar’s or Domican church of Norwich – the most complete surviving medieval friary in England. Present-day Blackfriars Hall was formerly the friars’ chancel and, as the map above indicates, was also once the church of the Dutch-speaking community [1].

The engraving by Wenceslas Holler (1607-1677) shows the nave and chancel meeting beneath an octagonal tower that collapsed in 1712. Home to the ‘Order of Preachers’, as the Dominican Friars are known, the large internal volume of St Andrew’s Hall was designed for spreading the word [7]. Outside, St Andrew’s Plain was also used as a preaching yard but during Kett’s Rebellion it witnessed less peaceable activity for it was on the plains, rather than the tortuous medieval alleyways, that pitched battles could be fought. Sotherton saw the rebel bowmen let loose ‘a mighty force of arrowes’… ‘as flakes of snow in a tempest’ but Captain Drury’s band of arquebusiers, with their early versions of the musket, replied with ‘such a terrible volley of shot (as if there had been a storm of hayle)’, leaving about 330 dead [2]. St Andrew’s Hall was used as stables until the uprising was quelled.

Maddermarket Plain is one of the city’s smaller plains [4]. It is situated at the junction of St Andrew’s Street, Duke Street, St John Maddermarket (formerly St John’s Street) and Charing Cross. The latter two names provide a thumping clue to the history of this district. ‘Charing Cross’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘shearing’ – the process where the raised pile on woollen cloth was cut to a standard height with shears. ‘Madder’, of course, refers to the red/deep pink dye derived from madder roots and used to colour fabric the famous ‘Norwich Red’.

Maddermarket Plain at the end of the raised graveyard of St John Maddermarket. Charing Cross is circled; the red dot marks the site of Michael Stark’s dyeworks adjacent to Duke’s Palace Bridge. The church of St John’s Maddermarket is marked XIX. Millard & Manning’s Plan of the City of Norwich 1830

The Charing Cross/Westwick Street area was at the heart of the textile industry [4] and the river was where its waste products ended up. Just above Charing Cross on the map is Fuller’s Lane – fulling being a process in which cloth is cleaned. In a previous post [8] we saw that in the C19 the master dyer Michael Stark emptied his dye vats into the Wensum from his factory next to the Duke’s Palace Bridge but this kind of pollution had been happening for centuries. On his journeys through England in 1681 Thomas Baskerville noted that the duke’s great townhouse was ‘seated in a dung-hole place’, surrounded by tradesmen cleaning and dyeing cloth [9]. The palace was later abandoned.

At the beginning of the 1500s, Norwich had been devastated by two fires that destroyed over 1000 houses [10]. The extent of the damage was such that some 70 years later the mayor was discussing how to deal with unrestored plots. When Queen Elizabeth I visited Norwich in 1578 she commented on the number of derelict properties despite the steps taken to shield her from the worst. To convey her from the Marketplace to the Cathedral (centuries before Exchange Street was open) the east wall of St John’s Maddermarket was rebuilt in order to widen the street [4].

In 1671 John Evelyn noted that the city’s churchyards were filled to the tops of the walls. Today the wall, perhaps the one rebuilt for Queen Elizabeth I’s visit, awaits repair.

 In his book, Richard Lane [4] skips forward a few centuries to end with the last recorded plain of the twentieth century. This is University Plain, the site of the University of East Anglia where Sir Denys Lasdun built his 1960s paean to concrete. You might imagine the plain to be an open meeting space, such as the amphitheatre-like Central Court, but it appears to refer to the large site as a whole.

University Central Court and waterfall 1990 ©

The use of the word ‘plain’ continues into the twenty-first century. In 1771 William Fellowes, a wealthy and philanthropic squire, built in Shotesham (ca. eight miles south of Norwich) what is claimed to be the earliest cottage hospital in England. Benjamin Gooch was the first surgeon and he, together with Fellowes, went on to propose a new general hospital for the city of Norwich. Designed by local architect William Ivory, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was built just outside the city wall at St Stephen’s Gate on land provided by the council at a nominal rent. Fellowes laid the foundation stone in 1771 and it was completed in 1775.

Memorial plaque to William Fellowes on the former N&N Hospital in St Stephen’s Road

In 2003 a new hospital was built on the outskirts of Norwich at Colney leaving the old N&N site to be developed for housing by Persimmon Homes on the newly-coined Fellowes Plain [11].

The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, refurbished in the C19 by Edward Boardman

The word ‘plain’, as applied to Fellowes Plain, seems to refer to the entire site although three open spaces within this are named ‘plain’ in their own right. The first is Kenneth McKee Plain, dedicated to Ken McKee CBE (1906-1991), orthopaedic surgeon at the N&N who pioneered the total hip replacement.

Kenneth McKee CBE, sculpted by his daughter in law, Gina McKee 1988. Courtesy racns website [12]

The second is Edward Jodrell Plain. Dozens of searches provide no insight beyond repeating the salient fact that he was a major benefactor. The Jodrell family of Bayfield Hall, near Holt, were known to have been benefactors to the N&N [13]. As far back as 1814 Henry Jodrell left £200 to the hospital in his will. His nephew Edward (1785-1852) and Edward’s son Captain Edward Jodrell have the necessary forename but it was Captain Jodrell’s youngest son Alfred who seems best remembered for his philanthropy. He sent baskets of fruit and vegetables each week to the hospital and at Christmas gave 40 oven-ready chickens and the same number of turkeys, underlining the Jodrells’ tradition of giving to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

The third plain on the site of the old hospital is the large green known as Phillipa Flowerday Plain.

Variously spelled ‘Phillipa’ or ‘Philippa’, the former is the spelling given in the UK 1881 National Census for Phillipa Flowerday, ‘sick nurse’.

Before being employed by Colmans at their Carrow Works, Phillipa Flowerday (1846-1930) trained and worked as a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. According to Rod Spokes, former Colmans manager, when the company’s dispensary was founded in 1864 a man was employed to visit male employees at home and report on cases of need. In 1872, Phillipa was employed to visit the families of the workpeople as well as assisting the doctor in the dispensary. She is therefore celebrated as the first industrial nurse in the country [14].

Phillipa Flowerday far right. Image courtesy of Norfolk Record Office at

To be continued

©2020 Reggie Unthank


  4. Richard Lane (1999). The Plains of Norwich. Pub; Lanceni Press, Fakenham.
  5. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I. Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.

Thanks: I was inspired to write this post by Richard Lane’s excellent book on Norwich Plains and I have drawn upon it freely. I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permissions and the George Plunkett website for the use of photographs. I am grateful to Rod Spokes for information about the Colmans dispensary.

Twentieth Century Norwich Buildings


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The confrontation between the Classical Revival (based on Greco-Roman principles of symmetry and proportion) and the Gothic Revival (based on the pointed arches and pinnacles of  English medieval cathedral-building) dominated this country’s architecture in the nineteenth century. There is very little Victorian Gothic in Norwich but the Classical influence endured well into the twentieth century as the preferred style for temples of commerce. It took World War II and the post-war clearances before the modern took hold.

At the beginning of the century, George Skipper designed his masterwork for Norwich Union: “Without any doubt … one of the most convinced Edwardian office buildings [1].


George Skipper’s Surrey House for Norwich Union (now Aviva) 1904

In 1926, FCR Palmer and WFC Holden designed a ‘splendid’ building for the National Westminster Bank in London Street. Pevsner and Wilson wrote that it was modelled on a Wren city church: “One would assign a much earlier date to it [1].”


A Wren-like church in the first pedestrianised street in the country. Now the Cosy Club.

And as late as 1929 “a kind of Renaissance [1]” style was employed for the large Barclays Bank on Bank Plain that replaced the C18 bank of Gurney & Co, formed as an amalgamation of Quaker banking interests.


Designed for Barclays Bank by Edward Boardman & Son with Brierley & Rutherford of York, it was last used by the Open Youth Charity, now in liquidation.

Below, the Stuart Court apartments in Recorder Road show that the Arts and Crafts Movement also survived into the C20. These were built in the manner of almshouses by ET Boardman; he had married into the Colman family and designed the Dutch-gabled houses in memory of his brother-in-law James Stuart who had been concerned about the poor quality of housing for the elderly. The Dutch gables are a perfect example of vernacular revival in a city whose population at one time contained one third or more religious refugees from the Spanish Netherlands.


Stuart Court, designed by ET Boardman in 1914 but not completed until after the war

Behind the traditional facade the Stuart apartments were built around reinforced concrete but this material, and metal framework, had been used in the Boardman practice for decades. In fact a more forward-looking kind of architecture – neither Gothic nor Classical but proto-modern in the suppression of detail – had been introduced to the city by Boardman Senior with his factory buildings nearly half a century earlier.


Haldinstein and Bally shoe factory (1872) by E Boardman 2-4 Queen Street

In 1912, Bunting’s Drapers and General Warehousemen of St Stephen’s Street was constructed by Norwich-based architect AF Scott using non-traditional techniques. Here, an internal steel support was clad with stone curtain-walling but there was still a diffidence in giving it a more modern external appearance. Instead, the building was decorated in a genteel Classical Revival style, the stone panels beneath the windows carved with ‘Adam’ swags.

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Buntings Department Store, early C20. It was to be bombed in WWII.  ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The structure was topped by a cupola of the kind that George Skipper had used as a signature on his buildings around 1900 [3].

skipper cupolas2.jpg


‘Buntings’ site at the corner of St Stephens’ and Rampant Horse Streets is now occupied by Marks and Spencer, minus the dome. The more modern infill to the right is the former site of F W Woolworth.

After WWI the city’s priority was to build, in Lloyd George’s words, “homes fit for heroes”. This involved massive slum clearance followed by a programme of local authority house-building that led to 40% of the population living in council houses by the end of the 1950s [1]. The most notable of the municipal estates was at Mile Cross, north of the city centre (1918-20). This was the council’s first foray into large estate building, for which they engaged Stanley Adshead, the first Professor of Town Planning at University College London, who laid out the estate on Garden City principles [4].

Mile x use this.png

Mile Cross 1928. ©http://www.britainfromabove EPW021219

Variety was achieved by modifying standard house plans. Local architects such as George Skipper (a long way from his ‘fireworks’ of the turn of the century) and AF Scott (better known for his work on Methodist chapels) adapted these to reflect early C19 Norwich neo-Georgian housing; others incorporated Arts and Crafts details, such as pin tiles on the first floor elevation that seem more reminiscent of Kent and Sussex than Norfolk [4].

While social housing was adhering to the traditional, a revolutionary new international movement was evolving. In 1927 the Bauhaus, founded in Germany by Walter Gropius, began teaching a new kind of architecture in which reinforced concrete was used to produce sweeping layers, its minimalist horizontal lines emphasised by long runs of ribbon window.

1024px-thumbnail Gropius.jpg

The uncluttered International style of the Weissenhof estate housing designed by Le Corbusier in 1927. Photo by qwesy qwesy. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported licence

It would be some years before the International style took hold in Norwich. Diffident nods towards Modernism were provided by the rounded steel windows of the Streamline Moderne version of Art Deco: first at the former Abbey National Building Society offices in London Street …


Designed in the 1930s by FH Swindels of the Boardman office who also helped design Barclays Bank to the left

… and in the Pottergate Tavern.


The Pottergate Tavern, now The Birdcage, 1930s

Pevsner and Wilson [1] presumed the pub to have been designed by J Owen Bond, a protégé of George Skipper, possibly because of the much larger building he is known to have designed with similar Streamline Moderne influences. J Owen, third son of Robert Bond, designed this replacement for his father, whose department store was damaged by bombing in WWII. A follower on Twitter said that her neighbour could see the flames from Arminghall, to the south of the city.


Bond’s of Norwich (now John Lewis) designed by J Owen Bond. One of the first modern buildings to spring up after the war (begun 1946). 

By sticking with its medieval Guildhall throughout the C19, Norwich missed out on the grandiose Victorian town halls erected by its competitors in the industrial north. In the late 1930s Norwich did build a new city hall and Pevsner and Wilson [1] wrote that it “must go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars.”


Norwich City Hall designed by CH James and SR Pierce in 1931, completed 1937-8

The essentially plain style was borrowed from the Swedish Classical of Stockholm’s City Hall with the colonnaded portico of that city’s Concert Hall. But, because of these backward-looking references, architectural historian Stefan Muthesius felt that the term ‘modern’ didn’t quite apply to Norwich City Hall [5].

Instead, Muthesius awarded the accolade for the city’s first real International Modern-style to David Percival’s City Library, opposite the City Hall. Percival had come from Coventry in 1954, “then the hot-bed of civic-minded modernism”; as Norwich’s new City Architect he designed the new library, which was completed in 1962 and burned down in 1994.


Norwich Central Library destroyed by fire in 1994. City Architect, David Percival; Job Architect, Jim Vanston. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Percival was responsible for introducing mainstream Modernism into Norwich’s postwar public buildings though he strove to soften its hard edges with regional references, especially on domestic-scale projects. By tempering Modernism with the local spirit, Percival is credited with pioneering the Vernacular Revival style [6]. The impact of massed concrete panels on the library, for example, was moderated by pre-cast panels of split-flint cladding (although a glance at the nearby Guildhall shows just how far this was from vernacular techniques).

Perhaps the most famous example of Vernacular Revival in Norwich’s public housing is the Camp Grove scheme off Kett’s Hill. Here, Tayler and Green’s signature decorative brickwork and patterned bargeboards – combined with changes in roof pitch, four different pantiles and 16 types of brick and flint – provide an unexpected degree of variation [7].


St Leonard’s Road 1973-6.

In contrast to the City Hall, Norfolk County Hall – built in 1966 in the International Modern style – never attracted much praise. Pevsner and Wilson dismissed it as “an ordinary steel-framed office tower.” 


Norfolk County Hall 1966 by Reginald Uren. Photo: Keith Evans CC BY-SA 2.0

Other forays into the International Style, such as the eight-storey block to the right of Skipper’s building for Norwich Union in Surrey Street, were also poorly received. Never one for mincing his words, Ian Nairn thought it “a completely anonymous slab” [8]. Evidently not a style for an ancient county town.


The 1945 City Plan envisaged a post-war Norwich in which the car played a major part [9]. In 1971 the inner ring road split Norwich-over-the-Water: the two halves were to receive different treatments. The northern half was to be the site of the Anglia Square development with a large cinema, offices, multi-storey parking plus that symbol of the new age – a pedestrian shopping precinct. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office at Sovereign House was a key part of the scheme and it was this New Brutalist building that marked the rise and fall of the site as a whole – the HMSO pulling out well short of its 40-year lease, leaving the building derelict by the new millennium.


The raw concrete and glass of Sovereign House by Alan Cooke and Associates 1966-8. 

Currently, we await the outcome of a planning application to redevelop the entire Anglia Square site with 12-storey blocks and a 20-storey tower. The scale of the proposal shows that no lessons have been learned from the brief history of Anglia Square in which an ‘out of scale’ [10] development was imposed upon a historic site. For an appreciation of the Gildencroft area see [11].

There was no such grand project on the city side of the inner ring road and this part of Norwich-over-the Water fared better.


Inside the inner ring road, looking westward: in the distance, St Mary’s House; the glass and concrete St Crispin’s House; and the red brick of Cavell House. 

In this snapshot from the evolution of office building, the 1960s curtain-walling of St Mary’s House on the far side of the St Crispin’s roundabout was succeeded by the 1970s layers of concrete and glass in St Crispin’s House, built for HMSO when permission was denied for an extension to Sovereign House at Anglia Square. A starker contrast was between the Brutalist concrete of St Crispin’s House juxtaposed against the red brickwork of 1990s Cavell House. This was part of what has been recognised as a “welcome softening of approach since the late 1980s” [1] for, as part of the Postmodern credo, Cavell House reacted against Modernism by providing local context missing from Anglia Square. Here, the windows on the upper floor referenced the long through-light weavers’ windows once common in this, the heart of the city’s textile trade. The flat arches heading the lower windows were borrowed from Sherwyn House, an old brush factory (now renovated apartments by Feilden & Mawson) further down St George’s Street. (See [12] for more about this district).

Two windows1.jpg

C20 Cavell House above, C19 Sherwyn House below

There was no such confrontation between new and old at the University of East Anglia where Denys Lasdun in the 1960s (replaced by Bernard Feilden in 1969), and Rick Mather in the 1980s, were able to build on a green-field site without planning constraints [1]. A Teaching Wall snaked through the original scheme, separated from the residential blocks by a first-floor walkway. Lasdun’s residences consisted of a cascade of study/bedrooms forming the ziggurats that have become emblematic of the UEA.


 Denys Lasdun’s concrete ziggurats of 1966-7

As part of the second-phase of the masterplan, Rick Mather’s Constable Terrace echoed the serpentine form of Lasdun’s original layout but its smooth white rendering was a deliberate break from the hardline grayness of the earlier student housing.


Rick Mather’s highly energy-efficient Constable Terrace of 1991-3

Facing Constable terrace is the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts (1974-8). Designed by Norman Foster and Wendy Cheeseman, the tubular steel exoskeleton represents what is probably this country’s first use of High-Tech industrial architecture applied to a museum or gallery. The superstructure encloses a magnificent open space, some 130 metres long, that accommodates Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury’s art collection, along with university teaching areas.


The High-Tech Sainsbury Centre by Foster & Associates. The glass bridge is a continuation of the pedestrian walkway that winds at first floor level along the university’s spine.

Just squeaking in at the close of the twentieth century The Forum, funded by the Millennium Commission, was begun in 1999. Designed by Hopkins and Associates the Forum replaced David Percival’s flint-clad Central Library of the 1960s, destroyed by fire. This ‘Son of High Tech’ building [2] houses BBC studios, a restaurant, a café and what has become the most popular library in the country. The  jaws of the horseshoe-shaped plan are closed by a glazed wall that – in a display of good manners – withdraws from, rather than confronts, the glorious St Peter Mancroft opposite.  IMG_2530.jpeg

©Reggie Unthank 2020


  1. Nikolaus Wilson and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  2. Vic Nierop-Reading (2013). Twentieth-century Norwich in a nutshell. Norfolk Historic Buildings Group Newsletter No.25 pp 14-15.
  4. Mary Ash and Paul Burall (2019). Norwich leading the Way: Social Housing. Pub: The Norwich Society.
  5. Stefan Muthesius (2004). Architecture since 1800. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’ by Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson pp 323-342. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  6. John Boughton (2018). Municipal Dreams: The Rise and Fall of Council Housing. Pub: Verso.
  7. Elain Harwood and Alan Powers (1998). Tayler and Green, Architects 1938-1973: The Spirit of Place in Modern Housing. Pub: The Prince of Wales’s Institute of Architecture.
  8. Ian Nairn (1967). Norwich: Regional Capital.  Reprinted, with an introduction by Owen Hatherley, in Nairn’s Towns (2013). Pub: Notting Hill Editions.
  9. CH James and SR Pierce (1945). City Plan of Norwich 1945. Pub: Norwich Corporation.
  10. Charles McKean (1982). Architectural Guide to Cambridge and East Anglia since 1920. Pub: ERA Publication Board.

Thanks: to David Rimmer, Martin Shaw, and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk.

Thomas Browne’s World


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


Sir Thomas Browne, from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich

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

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


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

Browne was appropriately sceptical in his examination of Vulgar Errors (Pseudodoxia Epidemica) like: Does a carbuncle give off light in the dark? and, Do dead kingfishers make good weathervanes? He even attended the trial in Bury St Edmunds of two women who were hanged for witchcraft. But the Enlightenment had barely got going and the proto-scientist Browne found himself straddling two worlds that had yet to drift apart – even Sir Isaac Newton sought the philosopher’s stone that would turn base metal into gold.

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


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

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


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

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

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

Screenshot 2020-06-23 at 18.53.53

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


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

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

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


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

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

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


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


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

inside house

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

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

Dr Browne’s overmantel ©Norfolk Museums Service

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

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

Haymerket chambers norwich ribapix.jpg

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

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

Browne's Garden House

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

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

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

The Livingstone Temperance Hotel 1936 ©


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


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

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


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

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

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


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


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

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


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

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


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

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

Sir Thomas Browne died on the 19th October 1682. One claim is that he died, having eaten too plentifully of a Venison Feast [12] but others believe this was out of character for such an abstemious man. He was buried in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft, some 200 yards from his house.


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

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

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

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

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

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

IMG_2477 2

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

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


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


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


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


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

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

©2020 Reggie Unthank


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

Available online. Click Jarrolds Book Store  or City Bookshop


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

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