The United Friars: Charity and Enquiry in the Age of Reason



The Society of United Friars was founded on the 18th of October 1785 in a Norwich ’house of public entertainment’. Conviviality was written into its constitution that rejected religion and politics in favour of ’social intercourse mellowed with wine and incensed with the fumes of tobacco.’ At their subsequent meetings the brothers would wear the habit of the particular monastic order to which they had been assigned and finger rosaries of 24 beads representing virtues. They also wore pink skull caps representing the tonsure [1,2].

St Francis of Assisi by FL Benouville 1853 (with added pink skullcaps)

Overseeing the mock medieval ceremonial was the Abbot who, like all other abbots, was named Paul. The first was 33-year-old Thomas Ransome, humorist, ’considerable wit’ and leading light of the fraternity [1, 2]. The tone is skittish but what prevented the United Friars from being written off as another drinking club was that for over 30 years its members met to discuss art, science, music, literature and raise money to feed the poor.

Little is known about the founder Thomas Ransome. In Peck’s Norwich Directory for 1802 he is simply listed as ‘Gent 14 Castle Meadow. Born abt 1752. Died 30 May 1815 aged 63. Wife Margaret Walker.’ We do know that Ransome was a clerk who worked in Gurney’s Bank on Redwell (now Bank) Plain and was ‘noted for the beauty of his penmanship’ [3]. As a ‘Franciscan’ he was said to be devoted to the fine arts and the sciences of optic and mechanics. The seven other founding members, described as ’men of more than ordinary education and attainment’, shared the minor offices of prior, procurator, bursar, almoner, hospitaler, camerarius (or chamberlain), cellarer etc [2, 3].

Initially, meetings were held on Thursdays and Sundays [2] in unsatisfactory rooms provided by Brother Wilkins in St Martin at Palace. These were replaced by rooms in ‘White Horse Yard’, possibly in Magdalen Street – although there were several yards of that name [4]. In 1791 these, too, were abandoned in favour of a house that member Henry Dobson, builder, had bought near St Andrew’s Hall. But, needing to reduce expenses in favour of their charitable work, the Friars moved in 1799 to rooms in Crown Court, Elm Hill, with broad mullioned windows and a high, ornately plastered ceiling. The building originally on this site was the town house of the letter-writing Paston family [5] but, like most of Elm Hill, it was destroyed by the fire of 1507. Rebuilt by mayor Augustine Steward as a quadrangle house the front (numbers 22-26) survives as the Strangers Club but the buildings behind, which accommodated 155 people, were demolished as part of the 1927 slum clearance [4].

22-26 Elm Hill in 1934. ©

We can piece together a description of the meetings: the brothers sat around a horseshoe of long tables covered in scarlet cloth, formed around the fireplace [1,2]. Nine tall wooden, medieval candlesticks were placed on the table, illuminating 12 Gothic chairs with the Abbot and Prior sitting on raised seats. Members discussed scientific, literary, social and philosophical subjects. William Beechey, for example, presented a ‘short paper on the history of sculpture since antiquity’ (how could that have been ‘short’?). Provided they dressed as pilgrims, outsiders invited by a member could attend the discussions but not the conclave [2]. Several paintings hung on the walls; the one that hung behind the Abbot’s chair was of St James of Compostela donated by honorary member John Sell Cotman in lieu of the initiation rite of reading a paper on the religious order to which he’d been assigned [1]. The saint points to one of the Friars’ bywords, Charity. (Sobriety is at the bottom of the list). The attributes listed on Cotman’s painting are probably related to the beads on the Friars’ rosaries; one Brother who was late in making his contribution was threatened with loss of a bead, probably representing Punctuality [1].

St James of Compostela by John Sell Cotman c.1808. Credit: Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1951.235.93.

Over a low ornamental cupboard was a large case which contained an orrery, magnifying glasses, fossils, an amphora, a splinter of a cannon used in Kett’s Rebellion, a piece of a mummy, fragments of sculpture from Norwich Cathedral, a hortus siccus [a collection of dried plants], an electro machine, a silver grace cup. air pump, microscope &c.

From the JJ Colman Collection, at the Norfolk Record Office, of papers relating to the United Friars [1].

The painting over the mantelpiece was The Tomb of Ceolwulph by one of the founding members, William Beechey.

Sir William Beechey 1799 ©National Portrait Gallery

Beechey was represented by other paintings including one of the Reverend John Walker, a poet and Dissenting minister [6]. Beechey came to Norwich about 1782 and lived at 4 Marketplace for five years[7]. During his time in the city he ‘tapped a considerable latent demand for good portraiture’ [7]. In 1785, eight of his nine works shown at the Royal Academy were of Norwich or Yarmouth clients. His civic portrait of the mayor, Robert Partridge, is dated 1784. Back in London Beechey became a pupil of the eminent society painter Johan Zoffany and, as Sir William Beechey, he himself became a portraitist to the fashionable. In 1801 the City of Norwich paid him £210 to produce a life-size painting of Lord Nelson in recognition of his Norfolk origins. It hangs in St Andrew’s Hall.

Horatio, Viscount Nelson (1758-1805) by William Beechey; Norwich Civic Portrait Collection;

After the sittings Nelson gave Beechey his bicorn hat.

Nelson’s hat. Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM:1936.107

Another of the founding members was Edward Miles (1752-1828), ‘a Yarmouth man’ and painter of miniatures. Like his contemporary and friend Beechey he had studied at the Royal Academy under Sir Joshua Reynolds. In Norwich, Miles lived three doors away from Beechey at number 7 Marketplace [7]. In 1794, as miniaturist to Queen Charlotte, Miles established himself in Berkeley Square where he gained much aristocratic patronage. In 1797 he extended his fortune by moving to St Petersburg to serve Czar Paul 1 and then his son Alexander 1. He died in 1807 in Philadelphia [8].

Edward Miles by Sir William Beechey. Credit: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Another of Ransome’s disciples present when the fraternity was founded was Mostyn John Armstrong (d.1791), Norfolk historian, county surveyor and topographer. Armstrong lived near Gurney’s Bank at 2 Redwell Street and became a lieutenant in the Norfolk Militia. He and his father had made surveys in the north of the kingdom but after moving to Norfolk they failed to complete an advertised one-inch map of the county and William Faden may have imported some of the Armstrongs’ work for the first large-scale map of the county. Although it carried no author’s name, it is believed that a ten-volume ‘History and Antiquities of the County of Norfolk: Norwich’ was masterminded by Mostyn. Certainly, his name appears on several illustrations including a Plan of Norwich [9]. Brother Armstrong’s name also appears in minutes of the Friar’s meetings as the man who supplied a ‘leg of pork with forcemeat’ for the evening meal, which would have been eaten upstairs in the refectory. Armstrong suffered the mild humiliation of having his contribution described as being ‘very nice (but) not quite enough for supper’ [2]. Perhaps more than the usual 10 or 12 Friars [3] turned up that evening?

Plan of the City of Norwich 1779, probably by Mostyn John Armstrong and based on an earlier plan by Samuel King. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

William Wilkins (1751-1815), antiquary, architect and lessee of the Norwich theatre [3], is described as overcoming ‘the disadvantages of a meagre education’, presumably to distinguish him from his Cambridge-educated son, William Wilkins Jr (1778-1839), who drew up the plans for Trafalgar Square. The father’s name crops up in connection with ‘the Architect of Georgian Norwich’, Thomas Ivory, for whom he was contracted as a ‘plaisterer’ [10]. In a war of words over the contract to redesign the Norwich Castle Keep (1789-1793) the winner, Sir John Soane, called Wilkins a ‘stuccatore (plasterer) … fancying himself as an architect’. In 1820, Wilkins Jr was to restore family honour with his own successful design for a modified panopticon [10,11].

South -east view of Norwich Castle by William Wilkins 1785. Norfolk Museums Collections  NWHCM : 2005.456

Wilkins Senior served his one-year term as Abbot [2]. Locally he was known for managing the Norwich Theatre, which he restored around 1800 at a cost of £1000. When he died his son was left, in addition to the Norwich Theatre Royal, controlling interest in theatres in Yarmouth, Bury St Edmunds, Ipswich, Colchester and Cambridge. In 1819, Wilkins Junior was to re-design the Theatre Royal St Edmunds in a Greek Revival style [11].

William Wilkins Senior’s Theatre Royal Norwich by James Sillett 1828. Credit: Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Of the original eight founders, Ransome, Beechey, Miles, Armstrong and Wilkins all left a trace but biographical details are scant for the remaining three: Rishton Woodcocke is listed in Chase’s 1783 Norwich Directory as Attorney at Law of 5 White Lion Street; Thomas Holl seems to have been member of the family of boot and shoe makers in the city centre; and searches for plain John Cook yield uncertain results. Could he be John Cook Senior, Beadle and an Agent for the Sun Fire Office, or his son John Cook Junior who owned a glass warehouse, or – much more likely – the country gentleman painted by Brother Sir William Beechey?

John Cook of Norwich 1784 by Sir William Beechey. Credit: Rhode Island School of Design Museum.

By the time the United Friars came together, Norwich was no longer the most populous provincial city, pushed into ninth place by the rise of the northern manufacturing centres. Slow to abandon the hand loom, the Norwich textile industry entered a long decline. Despite this eclipse, the latter part of the eighteenth century was a gilded era for a city that was still the capital of a prosperous agricultural region where banking and insurance flourished and a wealthy elite came for entertainment, improvement, social interaction and shopping. Liberated from the religious extremism that regulated life in the 1600s, citizens of the long Georgian century (1714-1830) enjoyed greater freedom to explore ideas in a rational way. Norwich had the first truly provincial paper (the Norwich Post) and by the end of the Georgian era could claim three of the country’s six provincial papers. By the end of the eighteenth century the city’s literary reputation – to which female writers made a major contribution – earned it the title of ‘The Athens of England’ [6]. And the Norwich Society of Artists, founded in 1803, was the first provincial school of painting; like their Dutch neighbours, its members felt no need to people their paintings with religious or classical figures.

This is the rich cultural background out of which the Society of United Friars emerged. Sampling the general membership provides an intriguing slice through progressive provincial society.

William Taylor, son of a wealthy Norwich textile manufacturer and translator of German Romantic literature, was part of the city’s radical intelligentsia; he had a national reputation and was ‘the centre of the literary circle in the city’ [3]. A Dissenter, he worshipped at the Octagon Chapel where Amelia Opie (née Alderson) attended until she became a Quaker after her father’s death. In 1794-5 Taylor and Anne Plumptre – who accompanied Amelia Opie to France to see the revolution for themselves – established a short-lived literary and political magazine named ‘The Cabinet, by a Society of Gentleman’. This was produced by the man who published ‘The Rights of Man’ by Thomas Paine [12, 13]. Opie contributed 15 poems to its first three issues before the journal was gagged as part of the government’s clamp-down on revolutionary sentiment.

William Taylor 1833. Credit, Wikipedia

John Clayton Hindes appears in Chase’s Directory (1783) as, ‘Hatter and Hosier No 12 Back of the Inns’, just off the Marketplace. From its reopening in 1801, until 1817 Hindes, Manager of the Norwich Company of Comedians (actors), was manager of the Theatre Royal that had been remodelled by William Wilkins. He died in 1824 aged 71 in his house in nearby Chapelfield.

Thomas Martineau. The Martineau family of Huguenot descent had two Thomases. Thomas Sr (1764-1826) was a manufacturer and merchant of textiles who, from 1797, served as deacon of the Octagon Chapel in Colegate – perhaps the intellectual centre of the city’s Dissent. His eldest son (1795-1824), Thomas Jr, was a surgeon who co-founded the Norfolk and Norwich Infirmary for Diseases of the Eye on St Benedicts’ Plain. He died on his return from Madeira, aged 29 [14].

Bartlett Gurney was a member of the Gurney banking family who bought their premises from a wine merchant on Redwell Plain. On the death of his father, Bartlett (1756-1802) took over the bank and for a while lived next door [2]. Bartlett Gurney was a Whig and in his book on Norwich, a ‘Jacobin City’ [3], CB Jewson described the Gurney bankers as being ‘radicals and dissenters’ at a time when revolution was in the air. The United Friars contained Whigs as well as Tories and, in a city renowned for its violent politics, it was wise for them to largely abstain from political debate.

Bartlett Gurney (holding a £10 note from Gurney’s Bank) by Vandermine. He is buried in the Quaker’s Burial Ground in Gildencroft, Norwich-over-the-Water.

Bartlett Gurney, one-time Abbot, presented the Friars with a pump and a portable chest of chemicals. Their interest in this area was demonstrated in 1786 when they invited Adam Walker – who was in the city to deliver a series of lectures on general science – to give the Brothers two special lectures on chemistry [15]. The eighteenth century fascination with the emergent sciences has been attributed [15] to the climate of dissent in which individuals felt free to investigate ideas according to their conscience rather than accept dogma. Norwich was a famously dissenting city and as early as 1676 a census of the Norwich diocese revealed about one third Non-conformists [6]. One hundred years later, given the Friars’ no-religion charter, it seems hardly surprising that scientific experimentation should feature so heavily on their agenda.

Hudson Gurney (1775-1864) inherited considerable wealth from the Gurney banking side and from the Barclay Perkins brewery, one of the largest in London. In 1811 this allowed him to rebuild Keswick Hall, on the outskirts of Norwich, in Regency style; in London he lived in St James Square. He devoted time and money to Anglo-Saxon studies and was elected Fellow of both the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries. His early ambition to enter politics was achieved when he stood as proxy to Bartlett Gurney in the Norwich election of 1796 but he hated the turbulence of the city’s politics (see post on Revolutionary Norwich [16]). Instead he sat five times ‘without the anxiety of elections’ [17] for Newtown Isle of Wight. The reputation he gained as a revolutionary Jacobin was later dismissed as a youthful aberration for as an MP he sat on the neutral benches; he even shunned his Quaker upbringing and never became a Friend. In his own estimation he ‘did nothing and thought much.’ He is buried in Intwood church where the Unthanks lie.

Hudson Gurney by John Cochran after Abraham Wivell 1823. ©National Portrait Gallery D2828

William Stevenson (1741-1821) was best known for his 35-year-long ownership of The Norfolk Chronicle, one of only a handful of provincial newspapers. He was also proprietor of the printers Stevenson, Matchett and Stevenson in the marketplace. He, too, was a miniaturist, having studied, and exhibited, at the Royal Academy under Sir Joshua Reynolds. On coming to Norwich he taught drawing. Sheriff in 1799, Stevenson died in his house in Surrey Street and is commemorated by a wall monument in St Stephen’s church [18].

Wall monument to William Stevenson in St Stephen’s church Norwich

Luke Hansard (1752-1828), born in Norwich, became compositor to a London printer who published the Journals of the House of Common [19,20]. In 1774 he became partner for the rest of his life and his membership of the United Friars, back in Norwich, was on an honorary basis [3].

Luke Hansard by Samuel Lane

Hansard’s eldest son Thomas added the name ‘Hansard’ to the cover and this became the name by which official parliamentary reports were known.

Based at his commercial nursery in Catton, a village three miles north of the city, George Lindley was an expert plantsman specialising in the science of fruit growing (pomology). Several Norfolk apples, such as Baxter’s Pearmain, were either sold first or rediscovered by Lindley [21]. Despite his expertise the business was not profitable and his relative poverty would explain his honorary membership [22]. George did, however, find the means for his son John to be educated at Norwich School. John became Professor of Botany at University College London where he taught Botany in its own right and not as an adjunct to Medicine. His name is commemorated in the largest collection of horticultural books in the world – the Royal Horticultural Society’s Lindley Library [23].

George Lindley’s Guide to the Orchard and Fruit Garden (American edition).

George Lindley’s name occurs frequently in the minutes of the society: he presented a scheme for planting an orchard [24], read a paper ‘On the Generation of Mushrooms’ [25] and another ‘On the Nature and Properties of the Swedish Turnip’ [26]. After Brother Thomas Suffield donated a microscope [3] Lindley made a formal request in June 1797 to borrow it and was allowed to use the microscope for a fortnight [27]. Lindley’s investigations were only part of a wider interest that the brotherhood took in the sciences, encompassing gravity, navigation, the solar eclipse, even conducting experiments at Brother Gurney’s at Wroxham on saving lives at sea [3]. We know of their collection of scientific instruments that Friar Blyth Hancock – a poorly-paid schoolmaster and prolific presenter of papers on the physical sciences – was paid half a crown a week to look after. There is an illustration of an electrical device in the United Friars papers in the Norfolk Record Office [1].

Electrical discharge measuring apparatus, undated. Norfolk Record Office COL/9/131

Edward Colman was Assistant Surgeon at the Bethel Hospital from 1790 until his death in 1812. He was Sheriff in 1795 and Abbot of the Friars in 1799. At a meeting he told a story of young John Crome when he lived as errand boy with Dr Edward Rigby, art collector, radical and a surgeon famed for conducting operations on the Norfolk affliction of ‘the stone’ [3]. One night, some of the doctor’s students placed a skeleton in the bed of the boy who would go on to be co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists [28]. Incensed, Crome flung the skeleton down the stairs.

Edward Colman by JC Brewer. Credit: Norfolk and Norwich University Hospital

The meetings of the United Friars were just a few dozen steps from Elisha de Hague‘s office at No 5 Elm Hill where he worked with his father of the same name. Beechey painted his brother Friar but I find this portrait by Gray to be more characterful.

Elisha de Hague Jr, Town Clerk of Norwich by Gray 1817. NWHCM 1954.138.Todd8.Wymer.161

A descendant of Protestant ‘Strangers’ who fled The Netherlands in the sixteenth century, de Hague Jr (1755-1826) became councillor, Land Tax Commissioner and – like his father – Town Clerk. He was a founding member of the Norfolk and Norwich Association for the Blind and in 1823 was involved with an Act of Parliament to introduce gas lighting to Norwich [28]. At his initiation into the Friars he presented an essay on ‘The History of the Order of the Crouched (aka Crutched or Crossed) Friars and an account of their Houses in England’ [1]. For this he wore their sky blue habit [1]. de Hague met Parson Woodforde whose descriptions of jaunts to the city bring Georgian Norwich to life [30, 31]. But on the 24th of September 1792 the parson was too ill (probably with gout) to travel into the attorney’s office in Elm Hill. Instead, ‘Mr de Hague from Norwich waited on me this morning with parchment deeds to sign’ [31].

The landscape designer Humphry Repton (1752-1818), a ‘Carthusian’, was also offered honorary membership as an out-of-towner [32].

Humphry Repton. Credit Northmetpit at English Wikipedia

Repton was born in Bury St Edmunds but had close ties with Norfolk; he was educated at Norwich Grammar School and is buried in the market town of Aylsham. In the famous Red Books he gave to clients, Repton presented designs with movable flaps that illustrated the project ‘before and after’. His first two projects were for Norwich mayor and textile merchant Jeremiah Ives at Catton Park, just north of the city, and for Thomas Coke of Holkham Hall. Perhaps his finest achievement in Norfolk is his design for Sheringham Park.

From Repton’s Red Book for Sheringham Park. ©National Trust Images

Charles Jewson [3] records that one of the distinguished out-of-towners to receive honorary membership was ‘the eccentric Earl of Orford’. This would have been Horatio (Horace) Walpole (1717-1797) Fourth Earl of Orford who, like Repton, joined the Friars as a ‘Carthusian’. Horace, the youngest son of the first British Prime Minister, the Whig Robert Walpole, was a writer, antiquarian, collector, dilettante. He is best remembered for designing his house Strawberry Hill, Twickenham, as an early example of the Gothic Revival style that would dominate Victorian public building. Both he and his father are buried in St Martin’s church on the Houghton Hall estate, Norfolk.

Horace Walpole (with Strawberry Hill in the background) by John Giles Eccardt. National Gallery, London

Of Huguenot descent, Thomas Amyot (1775-1850) the antiquary was son of Peter Amyot the clockmaker who was visited in his shop in the Haymarket by Parson Woodforde [31]. To prepare him for life as a country attorney Thomas was articled for one year to the ‘radical’ [3] lawyers Foster and Unthank – this being the William Unthank who bought the land in Heigham on which the Victorian terraced housing around Unthank Road was built [33]. In the 1802 election Amyot was agent for the standing MP for Norwich, William Windham of Felbrigg Hall [34]; in 1806 Amyot gave up his legal practice and joined Windham in London as his private secretary. Through Windham’s influence Thomas gained the lucrative appointments that gave him the freedom to pursue his archaeological studies for which he was conferred fellowships by the Royal Society and the Society of Antiquaries [34].

Watch movement c.1770 by Peter Amyot of Norwich, father of Thomas Amyot. ©catawiki

CHARITY In October 1793 Brothers Walker and Wilkins proposed that something be done to relieve the poor who were suffering from the cold weather, lack of employment and the rise in prices. In August 1795 the price of wheat had been 80 shillings per quarter but by December 1800 it had risen to 150 shillings due to the war with revolutionary France [2, 35]. In response the Norwich poor attacked bakers’ shops and refused to disperse until the Riot Act was read.

Reading the Riot Act (1790) by James Heath after Francis Wheatley. Credit: Graphic Arts/

The United Friars’ response over this period was to distribute food to the poor who assembled at their gate. The Friars raised money by selling tickets to members and non-members and this allowed them to provide a penny loaf and two pints of soup per person on five evenings a week. From April 1796 to April 1807 the Friars spent nearly £200,000 (at today’s prices) on soup and bread [34]. Brothers Bartlett Gurney and Elisha de Hague were appointed to make certain that the soup was of good quality. Brother Taylor performed experiments to demonstrate that superior soup could be made more cheaply than they were being charged and may have been the impetus behind the Friars’ sponsorship of the Norwich Soup Society.

On the fifth of February 1828 the Society of the United Friars convened its last recorded meeting when only three Brothers were present. The last surviving Brother was James Bennett who had been in business with horologist and fellow Friar, Peter Amyot. Bennett died on January 18th 1845 and is remembered as the first man to have made an electrical machine in Norwich [36].


  1. From JJ Colman’s collection of United Friars papers, Norfolk Record Office COL/9/193/1-7
  2. E.A. Kent (1902). Some Notes on the Society of the United Friars. From, Norwich Science Gossip Club Annual Report, 1902. Norfolk Heritage Centre NO62.
  3. C.B. Jewson (1975). The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1778-1802. Pub: Blackie & Son, Glasgow and London.
  4. Frances and Michael Holmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  6. David Chandler (2010). “The Athens of England”: Norwich as a Literary Center in the Late Eighteenth Century. In, Eighteenth Century Studies 43(2) pp 171-192.
  7. Trevor Fawcett (1978). Eighteenth Century Art in Norwich. In, The Volume of the Walpole Society (1976-8) 46, pp 71-90.
  9. Raymond Frostick (2002). The Printed Plans of Norwich 1558-1840: A Carto-Bibliography. Pub: Raymond Frostick, Norwich.
  10. Stanley J Wearing (1926). Georgian Norwich: Its Builders. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich.
  11. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  12. Penelope Corfield (2004). From Second City to Regional Capital. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’ pp 139-166. Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  15. Trevor Fawcett (1972). Popular Science in Eighteenth-century Norwich. In, History Today vol 22, pp 590-595
  24. Norfolk Record Office COL9/96
  25. Norfolk Record Office COL9/94
  26. Norfolk Record Office COL/9/193/1
  27. Norfolk Record Office COL9/2
  31. James Woodforde (1924). The Diary of a Country Parson, 1758-1802. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  32. Humphry Repton in Norfolk.(2018). Eds Sally Bate, Rachel Savage and Tom Williamson. Pub: Norfolk Gardens Trust.
  35. Norfolk Record Office NRO COL/9/193/4
  36. Norfolk Chronicle  January 18th 1845.


I am grateful to Alan Theobald and to Martin Brayne of the Parson Woodforde Society for their assistance. Clare Everett of Picture Norfolk is thanked for permissions.

Plans for a Fine City



No Georgian new town arose in Norwich and what fresh development there was barely disturbed the medieval footprint [1]. The building campaigns of the late 19th and the early 20th centuries had a much greater impact as they cut through the narrow streets in response to the arrival of the railway, the electric trams and the construction of factories. In 1988, in conjunction with the Victorian Society, the late Rosemary Salt invited a reappraisal of the city’s Victorian and Edwardian architecture in an exhibition entitled ‘Plans for a Fine City’ [2]. I have been retracing her steps at the Norfolk Record Office.

Major changes to the traffic flow (horse-drawn and pedestrian) were forced upon the city by the arrival of the railways in the 1840s. A decade or so later, Prince of Wales Road – constructed on the rubble from the City Walls at Chapelfield – was built expressly to connect Norwich Thorpe Station to the city centre. Before the trains, London Street was a narrow medieval lane but in 1856 was widened to 15 feet (4.5metres) then to 35 feet in 1876. This removed most of the old buildings of which the Bassingham Gateway – now the Magistrate’s Entrance to the Guildhall – is a reminder.

John Bassingham of London Street was a goldsmith from the reign of Henry VIII. Carving renovated late C20.

In 1876 the local architect Edward Boardman designed the London Street Improvement Scheme, the initial phases of which cost £27,000. The new London Street was to form a spine of improved access for wheeled traffic between Thorpe Station and the marketplace but the larger vision included associated thoroughfares of Castle Street, Opie Street and Davey Place [2]. The determination to widen the medieval lane was reinforced by compulsory purchase orders as the new building line shows for Castle Street and the southwest end of London Street.

New building line in red. Three present-day shops in boxes. Edward Boardman 1876. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/65/19

One of the first buildings to be raised (1876) was Howlett & Sons’ piano warehouse at the corner of London Street and the marketplace [2-4].

2-8 London Street. Built in 1876 as a piano warehouse. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office BR 35/2/86/1-24

In Rosemary Salt’s words [2] ‘The building exists in mutilated form’ after the attic storey was removed and the facade – composed of carved red bricks from the local Costessey Brickworks [5] – was obscured by cream paint.

The stuccoed, four-storeyed building to the right of Costa Coffee as it turns around to face Gentleman’s Walk was designed by Edward Boardman in 1872, just before he began planning the improvements to London Street.

Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/31/8/1-25

The drawing shows a building profusely decorated with ironwork for this was the showroom of Barnard Bishop and Barnards whose Norfolk Ironworks was in Norwich-over-the-Water. They also had a showroom in London. Having written several posts about their designer Thomas Jeckyll I looked closely to see if any of his ironwork remained on what had become Hope Brothers shop. By the time of this photograph of about 1930 the ornate panels on the ground floor had disappeared; the cast-iron balustrades on the second floor balconies, which were designed by Jeckyll, remained but by the time George Plunkett visited in 1938 (not shown) these had disappeared too.

Hope Brothers on Gentleman’s Walk ca 1930, once Barnard Bishop and Barnards’ showroom. Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The other corner of the London Street Improvement, at the junction with Castle Street, is currently home to Whittard of Chelsea. Built in 1880, its surface is also decorated with Cosseyware brick diapering – a feature the architect repeated in other projects, including The Royal Hotel (see below). While it differs in detail from the building at the other end – notably in the design of the window heads – both are built of red brick in a free Victorian Gothic style that promised a coherent approach to this block on London Street.

Boardman’s plan for Mr Beatley, hat manufacturer, hosiers, glovers and shirt makers. The three elevations wrap around the corner, from Castle Street (left) to London Street (right). Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office BR 35/2/86/11

In the top right-hand corner of the plan appears the signature of S(amuel) Gurney Buxton, chairman of the London Street Improvement Committee.

In the eighteenth century, when the Norwich and Norfolk wool industry was at its peak, Quaker families like the Buxtons and the Gurneys became wealthy by forming country banks that supplied credit to other weavers. These families were part of a network forged by business, Quakerism and intermarriage. In 1896, 20 such local private banks merged to form Barclay & Co Ltd, now the second largest bank in the country. Although Gurney & Co were only marginally smaller than Barclays their name is unlikely to have appeared in the corporate title for it was tainted by the failure of Overend Gurney & Co[6,7]. The insolvency of this, the City of London’s oldest bill-brokerage firm, drove investors to withdraw funds from other banks, spreading financial panic in what became known as the Black Friday of May 1866.

Samuel Gurney Buxton (1838-1909) of Catton Hall. Landowner, JP and banker. Credit: Roger Sharland

How grand a 100 yard-long arcade of Victorian shop windows would have looked in this stretch of the street. But this, it seems, was never part – or allowed to be a part – of Boardman’s vision. The differences in architectural detail between Messrs Howlett and Mr Beatley’s buildings, which bookend the street, are relatively minor and in keeping with another five-bayed red-brick building adjacent to Howlett’s piano store. Any visions of unity appear to have been dashed early on, however, by the insertion of a three-and-a-half storey building with projecting bay windows.

In yellow, two corners of the London Street Improvement scheme, early C20. Note the intervening building with protruding bay windows. From Castle street towards the Guildhall in the distance. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Formerly the Midland Bank, now the HSBC, the building was unsympathetically resurfaced in 1971with ‘boldly projecting forms’ [3]. There it sits, glowering, proudly declaring war upon its Victorian neighbours. But Victorianism is less reviled than it was in the 60s and 70s and the failure to unify the street now seems regrettable.

The former Midland Bank remodelled in 1971

The widening of London Street at the junction with Castle Street and Swan Lane created an open space, the ‘generous 44 ft sweep’ [3] creating a latter day Norwich ‘plain’ [8]. Another one was created further east along London Street at the junction with Little Bedford Street, St Andrew’s Hill and Opie Street. Here, some years after the London Street Improvement Scheme, Boardman was to design the Eastern Daily Press Headquarters (1900).

Eastern Daily Press building 1900. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office BR 35/2/71/7/1-25

This eclectic Arts and Crafts style is not typical of Edward Boardman’s output and may have something to do with the influence of his son, Edward Thomas [4]. The three projecting bays contain cartouches bearing dates: 1844, 1900 and 1960. The present building is of mellow stone on a dark granite base but in 1899 Boardman seems to have specified a different combination with a base made of Carrara Ware.

Developed in 1888 by the Head of Doulton’s Architectural Department, WJ Neatby, Carrara Ware was designed to imitate marble. Its weatherproof properties were exploited by George Skipper for the exterior surfaces of Norwich’s Royal Arcade, built where the Royal Hotel had stood [9]. Doulton’s records at their factory in Lambeth were largely destroyed in the Second World War, making it difficult to attribute their work to a particular building, but here we have a direct link. This photograph taken prior to the 1960 renovation shows a deep dark skirting beneath the windows that may well be the Carrara Ware specified by Edward Boardman.

57 London Street. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

It is hard not to read it symbolically but as one Royal Hotel – a traditional coaching inn – disappeared from the marketplace another of the same name was appearing at the top of Prince of Wales, a short step from the railway station. This was the tall red-brick Royal designed by E Boardman and Son (1896-7) [10]. As with the Eastern Daily Press building, the Boardmans turned to a so-called free Flemish style for this romantic Arts and Crafts building [8].

Plan for The Royal Hotel 1897 by Edward Boardman and Son. Norfolk Record Office BR/35/2/39/7

The lower levels are unadorned, but as you gaze upwards the extravagances of the Flemish Renaissance Revival come thick and fast in the form of ornamental brickwork (here, Cosseyware) topped off with pointed gables, towers and verdigris’d pinnacles [5]. As we will see, the busyness was antithetical to the plainness of Boardman’s industrial buildings.

Boardman’s practice probably designed more Victorian factories and civic buildings in the city than any other (see [10] for further examples). From 1876 the firm was responsible for designing what was to become the largest shoe factory in the country; by 1911 Howlett and White’s Norvic Shoe Company on St George’s Plain, Colegate, employed 1200 workers. This statistic holds a certain irony, for the production of factory-made shoes was now the major source of the city’s employment, replacing weaving that had been the basis of Norwich’s wealth for centuries. One reason advanced for the failure of the wool and silk industry was the reluctance of home workers to abandon hand-weaving in favour of power looms as used in the factories of the north-east of England and Scotland. Now, a few generations later, Norwich workers were making shoes in factories illuminated by electric light.

Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/59/17

In 1876 Edward Boardman drew up plans for the seven-bayed extension facing Colegate.

Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/59/17

In 1894 he added another eight bays separated from the 1876 building by a tower. At the foot of the tower a two-storey-high opening preserved the public right of way down to the River Wensum via Water Lane.

Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/59/17

The creation of Prince of Wales Road in the 1860s, followed by the London Street Improvement Scheme, helped the flow of traffic between Thorpe Station and the Marketplace but even more pervasive changes were needed to superimpose electric tramways upon a largely medieval town plan. Timber-framed houses were cut in half, an inconvenient savings bank disappeared, narrow roads were widened and two new streets were built [12]. The main entrance to the city from the south was via Newmarket Road and St Stephens Street; connecting this route to the railway station required the demolition of the east side of Red Lion Street and for a way to be pushed through to Castle Meadow. What arose behind the stepped-back building line of the new Red Lion Street was a thoroughfare designed by the city’s two foremost architects: George Skipper and Edward Boardman.

Plan for John Pollock’s veterinary practice in Red Lion Street by Edward Boardman and Son (1901). Norfolk Record Office BR35/2/81/14/1-15
The lettering above the arch is a relic from a century ago when this was a vet’s practice. Photo: 2017.

Adjacent to this was George Skipper’s Commercial Chambers. Faced in Doulton’s Carrara Ware, the narrow building is topped by a statue of the extravagantly moustachioed architect himself (for more on the flamboyant Mr Skipper see [13]). No uniformity here; the roofline is quite varied, from Pont Street Dutch to various shades of Baroque Revival.

Pollock’s red brick building is to the left. Skipper’s Commercial Chambers is to the right. Photographed in 2017.

Commercial Chambers was designed for the accountant Charles Larkin, the City Auditor, who had been Chief Clerk to Buntings, the department store where Marks and Spencer now stands [14].

Drawing for Commercial Chambers, exhibited at the Royal Academy in 1903 [14]

Skipper also put forward a proposal for the next building along Red Lion Street – a bank.

Competition design by George Skipper for the Norfolk and Norwich Savings Bank in Red Lion Street, c1905. Credit: RIBA Collections

This competition plan was never realised; in its place Skipper recycled plans for a neo-Baroque building (D, below) that had been intended for the N&N Savings Bank in Stump Cross – the part of Magdalen Street that would be erased by the flyover of the 1960s.

Curls department store was bombed in 1942. Here, in 1955, before a new Curls (later Debenhams) building blocked the view, we see: A, Boardman’s Anchor Buildings for Bullards; B, Pollock’s surgery by Boardman; C, Commercial Chambers by Skipper; D, Bank by Skipper. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

The new bank (now Barclays) in Red Lion Street was itself a replacement for another branch of the savings bank (starred below) demolished in the Haymarket in order that trams could glide more easily around the corner to the central hub in Orford Place [12]. To ease this corner, Skipper designed a curved frontage for Haymarket Chambers (now Pret a Manger) on the opposite side of the street.

OS map 1885.
The curved frontage of 11 Haymarket Chambers 1896-1902 by George Skipper. Courtesy RIBA Collections

The suburbs of an expanding Victorian city were well served by the trams. The area immediately to the south west of the city had begun to fill with terraces after the sale of Unthank land in the mid-nineteenth century [15]. As a practising solicitor, Clement William Unthank had drawn up detailed covenants to preserve the appearance of terraces built on his land: to be faced in good white bricks; doorways arched in bricks; no gable peaks to the front of the house; nothing to project more than 18 inches from the building line etc. These were humble terraces whose austere frontages lent a Classical appearance. But the land on the Eaton Glebe Estate, further along Unthank Road, had belonged to the vicar of Eaton and architect Arthur Betts was free to design substantial red-brick villas in College Road with ‘the most unusual “cottagey” Gothic details’ [2], such as half-timbered attic gables and moulded brick string courses.

Designed by Arthur Betts 1891. NRO N/EN/12/1/2093
In College Road, red brick and bay windows differentiate these houses from the Unthank terraces

The railway and electric trams had significantly changed, not just the appearance of the city, but the lives of its citizens. Plans in the Norfolk Record Office show a structure in Unthank Road housing technology that would, over a century later, radically change the way we live now.

‘The Norwich’ telephone kiosk by Boulton & Paul (1909), installed for those who could not afford a private line. NRO N/EN/12/1/6701. It was situated outside 103 Unthank Road, now the Blue Joanna restaurant.


It is a pleasure to thank the staff of the Norfolk Record Office for their assistance with this post. I also thank Clare Everitt for permission to use images from the invaluable Picture Norfolk website.


  2. Rosemary Salt (1988). Plans for a Fine City. Pub: The Victorian Society East Anglian Group.
  3. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  4. David Bussey and Eleanor Martin (2018). Edward Boardman and Victorian Norwich. Pub: The Norwich Society.
  12. Frances and Michael Holmes (2021). The Days of the Norwich Trams: Transforming Streets, Transforming Lives. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  14. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold and Sons
  15. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle: The Expansion of Victorian Norwich. Available by mail order.

The third Unthank book (‘Back Stories) now published

I’ve been driving around Norfolk delivering copies of Back Stories: Further Adventures in Colonel Unthank’s Norwich. The book can be ordered online from The City Bookshop (press this link to order it directly). It is also available from Jarrolds Book Department, Norwich (not quite yet online 8/11/22) (01603 660661) and from their branch in Cromer (01263 512190). It can also be bought by click-and-collect from Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich (01603 767292); The Book Hive, Norwich (01603 219268) and The Holt Bookshop (01263 715858).

The new Colonel Unthank’s Norwich book #3

I’m pleased to announce that the third book in the ‘Unthank’ series is now in print (November 2022) and is available from all Norwich bookshops: The City Bookshop (can be ordered online); Jarrolds Book Department; The Book Hive; and Waterstones. It is also available from Jarrolds in Cromer, The Holt Bookshop, and Kett’s Books, Wymondham. Like its predecessor, ‘Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City‘, it is comprised of short articles based on the history of Norwich and Norfolk. The 192-page book is profusely illustrated.

Here is a brief sample of some of the 26 chapters.

Female Suffrage in Norwich


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Three years ago I wrote about the Norwich artist Catherine Maude Nichols [1] and was surprised to find that she was one of only three women who, like 360 of the city’s male worthies and businessmen, presumably paid to have their potted biography and photograph featured in a Norwich trade book published in 1910 [2]. This book – Citizens of No Mean City – was evidently opaque to the political mood for this was around the time that Margaret Jewson set up the Women’s Freedom League in the city (1909) [3] and Emmeline Pankhurst’s Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU) opened an office in London Street for the suffragette movement (1912). All of the featured men in the book would probably have been able to vote; admittedly, not all males could vote but women with the franchise were fewer still. They were not to gain parity with men until 1928.

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The Suffragette, the weekly newspaper of the militant Women’s Social and Political Union (WSPU)

The figure of Joan of Arc was a suitably militant emblem for an organisation that believed in action not words. She was brought to life on several occasions by the leading suffragette, Elsie Howey, riding a white charger.

CATHERINE MAUDE NICHOLS (Read her biography in [1]).

While Henry Cadman felt able to proudly declare his membership of the Gas-workers’ and General Labourers’ Union in his biography, Catherine Maude Nichols made no mention of her political affiliation. She was, however, known to have been active in the local branch of the National Women’s Suffrage Societies (NUMSS) set up in 1909 [3] and the name of ‘Miss Nichols’ (surely our Miss Nichols) appears in the first annual report of the WSPU in 1907, which records a contribution of £11 16s Od.

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Catherine Maude Nichols [from 2]


The second of the Norwich women to have an entry in ‘Citizens of No Mean City’ [2] was Margaret Eleanor Pillow, a friend of Miss Nichols who had studied at Cambridge but at that time was not allowed to take her degree. She listed an impressive string of credentials, including the diploma she was allowed to take from the Royal Sanitary Institute that led to her becoming the first female sanitary inspector in the country. Margaret was a pioneer in a man’s world and there are clues to her political stance. As a founding member of the Pioneer Club and the Lyceum Club she would have been in an environment where women’s rights were fervently discussed. Members seem to have been non-militant suffragists, rather than suffragettes who believed in direct action (‘Deeds not Words’), but her sympathies for the more militant wing can be inferred from the fact that her wedding reception was held at the home of Mrs Pankhurst – luminary of the suffragette movement [3].

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Margaret Pillow [From 2]
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Margaret Pillow’s tea rooms [from 2]. The framed script on the right reads’ Words from John Ruskin’


In 1912 the WSPU, spearheaded by Emmeline Pankhurst, opened its Norwich office at 52 London Street. The keys were held by Miriam Pratt who sold The Suffragette from the corner of Gentleman’s Walk and London Street. Miriam (1890-1975) had moved from Surrey, aged eight, to live in Norwich with her aunt Harriet and her husband Police Sergeant William Ward. This was in Grove Avenue, not far off the junction between Ipswich Road and Newmarket Road [3]. The name of  Miriam A. Pratt , age 12, appears on the list of pupils at Duke Street Elementary, the former board school in the city centre. By spring 1913 Miriam had become a teacher at St Paul’s School and was living at Turner Road on the other side of the city, off Dereham Road. She was a member of the St Peter Mancroft Dramatic Society and there are several mentions in local papers of appearances, including a piano duet at a temperance meeting with Miss Stribling [4] and a part in ‘Three Irish Plays’ in Mr Orams’ garden, where the enjoyment of a ‘scanty’ audience was marred by a cold wind [5].

Miriam Pratt 1913

From 1912 to 1914, Emmeline Pankhurst’s daughter Christabel orchestrated a nationwide bombing and arson campaign [6]. Miriam became one of her unmarried ‘Young Hotbloods’ and in 1913 attempted to set fire to a house under construction on Storey’s Way on the outskirts of Cambridge, together with the Balfour Laboratory of Genetics in the centre of Cambridge. She and her companions left behind an unfortunately melodramatic trail of clues: suffragette leaflets were found at both sites; the prints of a woman’s boot had been left on a newly cemented floor at Storey’s Way; blood was detected on broken glass; and a woman’s gold watch was found beneath a broken window. Having read about the fire in a Norwich newspaper, Miriam’s uncle, the policeman, questioned Miriam who admitted the watch was hers – in fact, it was one he had given her – and that she had cut her finger when trying to remove putty with a pair of scissors. She was arrested within days and on the morning of 22nd May was taken into custody. Later that day she was bailed on a £200 surety by Dorothy Jewson and her brother. Dorothy was to become the first female MP in East Anglia [3].

Suffragette meeting in Norwich Market. The statue of the Duke of Wellington (behind the speakers) is now in the Cathedral Close and the site of Bonser’s Stores occupied by Lloyds Bank. Credit:

On bail, Miriam was unable to return to teaching but was employed on a temporary basis in the office of the Norwich Education Committee [7]. On the 18th of July, she attended a meeting of over 2,000 people in Norwich marketplace demonstrating against the so-called `Cat and Mouse Act’ of 1913 in which prisoners weakened by force-feeding were temporarily discharged until they were strong enough to be returned to prison to be force-fed once more[3].

Miriam Pratt 1913. With permission of Archant Library/Eastern Daily Press. Accessed via the Local Recall Project (

She was tried at Cambridge Assizes on Friday 14th October 1913. The Diss Express reported that Miriam was ’a pleasant looking young woman, who was attired in a violet-coloured costume with hat to match, and wearing a large bunch of violets at her waist’ – a reference to the suffragette colours of Green, White and Violet: Give Women Votes.  Miriam’s solicitor claimed the cut on her finger could not have been caused by broken glass. He asked her to approach the magistrates’ bench and, according to the Manchester Daily Citizen, ’the young girl laughed merrily … and showed each of them the wound.’ Despite her eloquent defence her uncle’s evidence – which he read ’under the stress of considerable emotion’ – proved damning and she was sentenced to 18 months’ hard labour. The policeman, torn between duty and love for his niece, was later to become Honorary Secretary of the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement [3].

The attack on the  Balfour Biological Laboratory for Women seems like an own goal for, at a time when barriers were erected to women attending lectures and practicals, and few actually sat the Tripos exams, the laboratory had been set up specifically for young women by the Vice-Principal of Newnham, Eleanor Sidgwick and staffed by women who were, perforce, not members of university departments [8]. The rationale for the arson appears to have been that the suffragettes were drawing attention to the futility of women studying for degrees they would not be allowed to receive.

The former Balfour laboratory in Cambridge, named for Eleanor Sidgwick’s brother Francis who had recently been killed when climbing Mont Blanc. Courtesy of Credit Mena Schmid

One of the assistants in the Balfour Laboratory was Anna Bateson whose brother William (1861-1926) coined the word ’genetics’ to describe the study of inheritance. The groundwork had been laid by the Austrian monk Gregor Mendel (1822-1884) who cross-pollinated different varieties of purebred pea plants and carefully recorded how characteristics like height or the wrinkling of pea seed were inherited (or not) by the offspring. Mendel’s work lay dormant until 1900 when it was rediscovered by three European scientists. William Bateson brought the discipline into the twentieth century with experiments in genetics pursued in a Cambridge laboratory staffed by his wife, sister and female students from Newnham. In 1910 Bateson was made the first director of the John Innes Horticultural Institution in Merton Park, Surrey. The John Innes moved to Bayfordbury in Hertfordshire in 1950 then moved again in 1967 to its present site on the outskirts of Norwich where it adds lustre to the Norwich Science Park.

In Holloway, Miriam went on hunger strike and was force-fed. Some time that week she was captured by a surveillance camera secreted by Scotland Yard in a van parked in the exercise yard, her photograph intended to identify her at demonstrations.

Miriam Pratt surveillance photograph commissioned by Scotland Yard. Holloway Prison 1913
© Museum of London

Miriam’s treatment seems to have weakened her heart; it left her in a critical condition and she was released under the terms of the Cat and Mouse Act against which she had demonstrated. She did not return to prison.

On the 24th October 1913 the nation’s local newspapers reported the ’disgraceful behaviour’ of suffragettes who, the previous Sunday, had interrupted services in London, Birmingham and Norwich. In Norwich Cathedral they are reported to have started a ‘chant’ but, as explained in The Suffragette, the intervention was more subtle than unruly. The group of suffragettes were sitting behind the canopied stall containing Mr Justice Bray who had handed down the harsh sentence to Miriam. Their ‘outrage’ consisted of an amendment to the daily prayer: ’O God, the Creator and Preserver of all Mankind, we humbly beseech thee for all sorts of conditions of men …’. When the cleric reached the words ’for all conditions of men’, where the names of those deserving of prayer could be inserted, the suffragettes stood up and sang in chorus, ’Lord, save Miriam Pratt and all who are tortured in prison for conscience’s sake.’ They stayed quiet for the remainder of the service and were not removed. 

‘Read The Suffragette’. Suffragettes marching on Prince of Wales Road, Norwich. Could the tall woman in white be Miriam Pratt (5ft 7½ inches)? Credit:


Grace Marcon (b.1899) was the daughter of Canon Walter Hubert Marcon of Edgefield, North Norfolk. She raised funds for The  Suffragette and attended WSPU meetings in Tombland – the ancient Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace outside Norwich Cathedral [9]. In 1913 and 1914 she was arrested three times for her direct action in London. On the third occasion she was sentenced to six months in Holloway for damaging five paintings in the National Gallery, including one by each of the brothers Gentile and Giovanni Bellini.

The Agony in the Garden c.1460 by Giovanni Bellini. National Gallery, London. Attacked by Grace Marcon

In targeting a famous painting, Grace Marcon was in the company of suffragettes who, between March and July 1918, emulated Mary Raleigh Richardson’s famous attack on the Rokeby Venus in the National Gallery by attacking 14 others. She produced a meat cleaver and before she could be stopped by the guards managed to slash the nude with, in her words, ’several lovely shots’. In consequence some museums would only allow entry to women who had a letter from, or were accompanied by, a gentleman who would vouch for them [10].

The ‘Rokeby’ Venus by Velasquez, damaged in the National Gallery by Mary Richardson, 1914. Credit: Wikipedia

During her hunger strike Grace became delirious and felt that her hair was like red hot wires in her head; the surveillance photograph captures her before she cut off her hair.

Surveillance photograph of Grace Marcon aka Frieda Graham 1913-14. Credit: Wikipedia

The first time she was arrested she was bound over, not jailed. For her third arrest she used the nom de guerre, Frieda Graham, with the possible intention of saving her family embarrassment [11].

A street in Edgefield NR24 2RX is named after Grace’s father who was the local rector for over 60 years. He is commemorated in his church of Saints Peter and Paul, Edgefield, by John Hayward’s stained glass depicting him as a cycling parson [12].

1980s stained glass by John Howard. Courtesy of Simon Knott [12]


Violet Aitken, who lived to be 101 (1886-1987), was the daughter of William Aitken who became Canon of Norwich Cathedral in 1900 [13]. The WSPU’s campaign of window-breaking started on the first of March 1912 when hundreds of suffragettes launched themselves on London’s West End carrying concealed hammers and bags of stones [3]. Three days later there was another wave of attacks in which Violet was arrested for causing £100 of damage to the windows of Jay’s clothing shop (by appointment to Queen Alexandra) in Regent Street. Initially imprisoned in Holloway she was transferred to Winson Green, Birmingham, where she was force-fed after going on hunger strike.

Violet Aitken © Museum of London

Being fed by a nasal tube caused Violet to vomit continuously and she was released on medical grounds. She became editor of The Suffragette but thought of giving this up to make a living as a writer. She continued in post, however, following the funeral of Emily Davison (force-fed 49 times) who ran in front of King George V’s horse at the 1913 Derby. On Saturday June 14, 1913, Violet’s father entered these words in his red Asprey’s diary: ‘… very disappointing news from Violet that she is determined to go on with this wretched paper as she feels it would be like deserting the cause to leave them now.’ [14]

A year earlier, Canon Aitken had already confided his distress about Violet’s activities to his diary.

Canon Aitken’s diary for Tuesday March 5th 1912 [13]. Credit: Norfolk Record Office.

He wrote, ‘Violet … had again been arrested and this time for breaking plate glass windows. I am overwhelmed with shame and distress to think that a daughter of mine shd do anything so wicked and I can only throw the whole matter on Him who is the great burden bearer of His people. But my poor wife! It’s heartbreaking to think of her being exposed in her old age to this horror.’ [15]

Norwich did not avoid the wave of window smashing. In May 1913 the Dundee Evening Telegraph (Oh the randomness of newspaper searches) reported damage to a large new plate glass window belonging to Buntings the drapers in Rampant Horse Street, now the site of Marks and Spencer. Using a diamond, ‘Votes for Women’ had been scratched in the window together with three broad arrows relating to the imprisonment of WSPU activists. The window was smashed [3], its replacement estimated at £1000.

Buntings in 1909. Credit:

Ten days later the Diss Express reported that the glass slashers had gone on the rampage through Norwich, using a diamond(s) to make shapeless marks on what appears to have been most of the shop windows in the city centre. The main shopping parade along Haymarket and Gentleman’s Walk was affected; ‘even the bye-streets’ didn’t escape, including Prince of Wales Road, St Giles Street and ‘practically every shop in Dove Street’. Castle Street was also targeted including, rather curiously, Prince’s Tea and Luncheon Rooms belonging to suffragist Margaret Pillow.


Caprina Fahey came to local attention when Museum Trainee Andrew Bowen of the Norfolk Museums Service put out a call for further information about this suffragette who had died in 1959 in Hainford, a village just north of Norwich [16, 21]. One of her middle names gives the clue to her birthplace for she was born (1883) Charlotte Emily Caprina Gilbert on the island of Capri, the daughter of Alice Jane Gilbert and Alfred Gilbert – first cousins who married the day they eloped to Paris in 1876 [17].

Caprina’s father studied under the sculptor Sir Joseph Boehm and from the late 1880s to the mid-1890s achieved fame with major commissions such as the statue of Eros in Piccadilly Circus. Towards the end of this golden period Gilbert (now Sir Albert) overstretched himself, failed to complete work, fell out with the royal family and declared himself bankrupt [18].

Sir Joseph Boehm, who instructed Alfred Gilbert, sculpted ‘Charity’ for the Boileau family of Ketteringham Hall, south-west of Norwich. Now in the gardens of the former Norfolk and Norwich Hospital on St Stephens Road.

As a young woman, Caprina trained as a masseuse before becoming a nurse and, later, a midwife. Her first husband was Alfred Fahey who was her father’s assistant and, according to the 1901 census, lived with them as a visitor with the occupation of ‘Artist (Painter Student)’. They married but he abandoned her with a child; she divorced Fahey, suing him for adultery and desertion and, unusually, winning custody of baby Dennis.

Caprina joined the WSPU in 1908, and in 1909 was imprisoned for a month for being part of a 27-strong deputation to the Houses of Parliament from the Women’s Parliament Meeting held in Caxton Hall. A year later she took part in the infamous Black Friday (18th November 1910). The WSPU supported the inadequate Conciliation Bill that offered the vote, not to all women but to about a million property-owners. But Prime Minister Asquith – no supporter of female emancipation – effectively blocked the bill when he decided to hold another election. In response to this betrayal, three hundred suffragettes marched from Caxton Hall to the Houses of Parliament where they were treated brutally. Police were redeployed from rougher areas like Whitechapel and there were reports that women were sexually molested. Caprina was sentenced to two weeks’ imprisonment for stone throwing.

Black Friday. The Daily Mirror 19th November 1910. Public Domain via Wikipedia

Evidently, Caprina was an active campaigner for women’s suffrage and in 1910 was the WSPU organiser for the Middlesex Parliamentary Division [19]. A recently discovered copy of the programme for Emily Wilding Davison’s funeral confirms that Caprina was one the 11 group captains marshalling the various sections of the funeral procession [20]. Elsie Howey was part of the cortège, appearing as Joan of Arc mounted on her white horse.

Back page of programme for Emily Davison’s funeral showing ‘Mrs Fahey’ as one of the Group Captains. Credit: Elizabeth Crawford [ref 20]

During both terms in jail Caprina went on hunger strike for which the WSPU awarded her the Suffragette Medal with two bars ‘For Valour’. Despite her bravery Caprina’s father cut her out of his will, saying that Cappie was ‘a banner waver in a rotten Cause!!!!’ [17].

Caprina Fahey’s medal for valour, 1914. Norfolk Museums Service, courtesy of Andy Bowen [21]

During the First World War, Caprina married Edward J J Knight. Sometime during the Second World War they moved to Rose Cottage in Hainford where she died on 26th October 1959. That same year, her husband presented Caprina’s suffragette medal to the Norwich Castle Museum [21].

The Colman family

The activities of the WSPU suffragettes drew most attention but others in Norwich – who either did not support direct action and/or wished to maintain contact with the Labour Party – also worked for the emancipation of women. These included: the Women’s Freedom League set up by Margaret Jewson in 1909; the Church League for Women’s Suffrage; the Men’s Political Union for Women’s Enfranchisement (of which Miriam Pratt’s uncle was the Hon Sec); and the Norwich branch of the National Women’s Suffrage Societies(NUWSS) [3].

Daughters of the Colman’s mustard dynasty, the Colman sisters, Ethel, Helen and Laura, were all active in Norwich politics. All three supported the call for female suffrage; they were not, however, members of the WSPU although they sent letters of support [3]. Following a meeting held in the Agricultural Hall in December 1909, when it was decided to set up the NUWSS, Ethel and Helen became Vice Presidents under Laura’s Presidency. And when Ethel became the Lord Mayor of Norwich in 1923 – the first female Lord Mayor in the country – she chose her sister Helen as official consort.

Ethel Colman in her mayoral robes, 1923. Public Domain via Wikipedia

In January 1910 Helen L Willis – a prime mover in setting up the NUWSS – placed an advert in the Eastern Evening News to announce that the society was active in Norwich and that their office was open at 7 Brigg Street, near Rampant Horse Street. Her name also appears on headed paper of the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society.

Letterhead of the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society, President Mrs Laura Stuart (née Colman), Vice Presidents Miss Colman and Miss Helen C Colman, and Honorary Secretary Miss Edith L Willis (whose mother was a Colman). From a letter thanking the Electrical Workers’ Union for their unanimous support of the Suffrage Resolution. Credit: Norfolk Record Office SO 248/2/2/4

Edith’s home was in Southwell Lodge (now demolished), at the corner of Ipswich and Cecil Roads, where she lived with her parents. Her mother, Mary Esther Willis, was the sister of JJ Colman, manufacturer of English mustard, philanthropist and father of the three Colman sisters. Helen was therefore cousin of the three Colman suffragists who held the presidential posts in the local NUWSS while she was the Honorary Secretary [22].

Edith L Willis, Hon Sec of the Norwich branch of the NUWSS. Credit:

In 1914, at the beginning of World War 1, the suffragette campaign was suspended and at the end of the war (1918) the vote was extended to women who were rate payers or who were married to one. Women and men were not able to vote under the same terms until 1928 but by this time women like Dorothy Jewson and Ethel Colman were playing a more active part in local and national politics.


While searching newspaper archives my eye was caught by an unexpected name ,’Senghenydd’, in the news clip following the one for Muriel Pratt’s sentencing in 1913.

Derry Journal 17/10/1913 ©British Library Board

I never met my paternal grandfather; I only know him by a handful of keywords of which Senghenydd is one. I recall relatives telling me that he led the mine rescue team from his own colliery to the mining village of Senghenydd in the neighbouring South Wales valley. In 1894, 290 men and boys had been killed in my grandfather’s pit but the number of fatalities in the Senghenydd explosion was far worse even than the 336 recorded by the Derry Journal for the death toll eventually reached 439.

My grandfather, front centre

©2022 Reggie Unthank


I am grateful to Ruth Battersby Tooke, Andrew Bowen and Bethan Holdridge of the Norfolk Museums Service for information on Caprina Fahey. Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Rachel Ridealgh and Simon Knott helped me obtain photographs, as did Ben Craske of the Eastern Daily Press newspaper archives.


  2. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold, Norwich.
  3. Gill Blanchard (2020). Struggle and Suffrage in Norwich. Pub: Pen & Sword Military
  4. Eastern Daily Press Monday 28 November 1910
  5. Norfolk News Saturday 20 July 1907
  6. Article by John Simkin
  7. Gill Blanchard (2022). Miriam Pratt (1880-1975) – A Norwich Suffragette. In, ‘Aspects of Norwich’ Pub: The Norwich Society.
  10. Diane Atkinson (2015). The Suffragettes in Pictures. Pub: The History Press.
  14. Norfolk Record Office MC 2165/1/23, 976×4.
  15. Norfolk Record Office MC 2165/1/24, 976×4.

Norfolk Rood Screens



In 1851, the Gothic Revivalist, Augustus Welby Northmore Pugin, observed that more rood screens were preserved in Norfolk’s churches than in any other county. One estimate puts the figure at 275, of which nearly 100 are painted [1]. Some, like the beautiful screen paintings at Barton Turf, are treasures of international importance.

Barton Turf

Although there are earlier examples, the large, carved wooden screens (rarely stone) that we see today, across the chancel arch, were built around the mid-fifteenth century. These partitions would have been topped by a rood (Saxon for cross), with a crucified Christ flanked by his mother and St John the Evangelist.

Courtesy of Lucy Wrapson

As we will see, the upper parts of this complex and by no means standardised superstructure were to disappear during the Reformation and the Commonwealth purges that followed. Despite its erratic history (limewashed, put up for sale, placed in the west end [2]), the screen at Attleborough, Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, is now restored to its rightful place at the east end and provides a sense of what used to be. ‘There is not another church in East Anglia that can match this screen for size and completeness’; from wall to wall the screen is 52 feet wide. Above and behind the rare rood loft are painted figures in the typanum once covered by whitewash. Like the majority of its counterparts throughout the country this screen is in Perpendicular style – the style that dominated church building from the latter part of the fourteenth century until the Reformation, when the evolution of ecclesiastical architecture stalled.

The great rood screen at Attleborough. The mural was painted ca. 1500 [2].

To see a more complete tympanum painting we have to exit the county for neighbouring Suffolk and St Peter, Wenhaston. In 1892 this wooden structure was taken down and, famously, left out in the rain, revealing the painting beneath the whitewash. This ‘doom’ painting illustrates the Day Of Judgement when God decides which soul goes to heaven and which to hell. On the Wenhaston Doom the unpainted silhouettes show where Jesus, Mary and John were once attached

The Wenhaston Doom

Back in Norfolk, at Ludham St Catherine, is a tympanum painting that had lain in the unused rood stair until it was discovered during an Archaeological Society outing of 1879 [3]. The arrows show the doorways at the bottom and top of the stairs that led to the rood loft. It is possible that the painting may have been hastily installed during the brief reign of the Catholic Mary Tudor who worked to reverse the iconoclasm begun during the reign of her father, Henry VIII [3].

In her Royal Order of 1561, the Protestant Elizabeth I directed that, although rood figures in the loft should be taken down, ‘a comely partition between the chancel and the church‘ should remain (or a new one erected), topped with a suitable crest or the Royal Arms [2]. Elizabeth’s arms can be seen on the reverse of the Ludham typanum, although they now face the altar. The retention of a partition may explain why England has so many screens. And Norfolk may have so many painted dado screens because, during the Civil War, ‘Smasher’ Dowsing applied his iconoclasm to Suffolk and Cambridge.

The 12 painted panels make up ‘one of the best screens remaining in the county.‘ [3]

St Mary Magdalene, St Stephen, St Edmund, King Henry VI, St Augustine, St Ambrose// St Gregory, St Jerome, St Edward the Confessor, St Walstan, St Lawrence, St Apollonia. (Panels 7-10 are by a different hand ) [4]

The screen had served to isolate the mysteries around the altar from the congregation in the nave – a permeable barrier to remind lay people of the distinction between this life and life hereafter. But by 1638, the Bishop of Norwich, Richard Montague, could communicate a more prosaic view of the function of the screen:

Is your chancel divided from the nave or body of your church … is there a decent strong door to open and shut … with lock and key, to keep out boys, girls or irreverent men and women? and are dogs kept from coming to besoil or profane the Lord’s table? [2].

None of the rood screen painters left their name but attempts have been made over the years to group their works stylistically. The mirror to which all other paintings are held is the screen at St Helen’s Ranworth, probably the best known rood-screen in the country.

The late C15 screen at Ranworth containing paintings of the 12 apostles. On the adjoining parclose screens, arrows point to two highly mannered and exceptional paintings, of St George and St Michael.
St Michael slaying the seven-headed dragon of the apocalypse; St George and the dragon.

St Michael has been described as ‘debonair’ [3] [and detached [15] but despite the associated languor he has warmed to his task and already separated the dragon from two of its seven heads. These paintings, over twice the width of those on the rood screen, provide greater room for arm-waving than allowed the 12 constricted saints on the rood screen panels. Stylistically, it has been said that the demi-figures (below) painted above saints in the reredos panels are typical of the elegant feather-suited angels of the fifteenth century Norwich School of Glass Painting whose output can be found throughout the county [5] (see my earlier posts on Angels’ Bonnets [6], Angels in Tights [7] and Norfolk’s Stained Glass Angels [8]).

Circled and enlarged in the tracery above St Barbara, is a sorrowful angel with the same blond corkscrew locks as St Michael. St Barbara holds her martyr’s palm leaf and the tower in which she was kept from the world. Ranworth. Note the rich brocade gown.

One further comparison with glass painting: in his key book on the Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century, Christopher Woodforde pointed out that ermine ‘tippets’ (short shoulder capes), of the kind worn by the demi-figures of angels at Ranworth, were also worn by angels in fifteenth century Norwich School painted glass, suggesting a common inspiration [9].

Left, a Ranworth demi-figure compared with (right) a painted-glass angel from St Peter’s, Ringland. Three general similarities: their tight blond curls (common in Norwich School painted glass); the way of handling the vertical wing feathers; and (circled) the tadpole-like black tails on the ermine.

The ‘Ranworth style’ exemplified by the flamboyant saints, George and Michael, are a late and refined version of Northern Italian ‘International Gothic’ [15, 10, 11] characterised, wrote John Mitchell [11], by the ‘melodiously flowing’ garments that fall away from the body almost independently of the underlying limbs. The style may have lingered in Norfolk but Norwich was not an insular place for it had grown rich from trading woollen cloth with its neighbours across the North Sea. The artist who took over John Wighton’s C15 glass-painting workshop, John Mundeford, was a Dutchman and it is reasonable to suppose that the city’s other artists – working on screens, walls, glass and brass – would have been exposed to continental art that was increasingly influencing English religious art in general [10-12].

For example, St George on the Ranworth screen (above) strikes a similar pose to the superb equestrian painting on the wall of St Gregory’s Norwich (below) [10]. In turn, the mural could well be influenced by prints of paintings by artists such as the well-known Netherlandish Rogier van der Weyden (c1400-1464), whose works had been in circulation for over half a century.  

St George and the Dragon. Left, St Gregory’s Norwich, late C15; right, by Rogier van der Weyden ca. 1432-5. National Gallery of Art, Washington.

And as noted by Audrey Baker, the upright white lilies and red roses in the headdress of the Virgin Mary, from Jan van Eyck’s (d 1441) Ghent altarpiece, are mirrored in the garland worn by St Cecilia from the rood screen at North Elmham [15].


The concept of a Ranworth Group has evolved over the years [11, 13, 15]. Originally five, there now appears to be a nucleus of seven: Ranworth, North Elmham, Old Hunstanton, Thornham, the apostle paintings at Southwold, Filby and paintings from St James, Pockthorpe Norwich removed to St Mary Magdalene Norwich. John Mitchell considers an unfinished panel of St Apollonia from St Augustine’s Norwich, now in St Peter Hungate and restored by Lucy Wrapson, to be a probable eighth, ‘Within the close orbit of the [Ranworth] shop’  [14]. To this eight Lucy Wrapson adds North Walsham as well as the panels lost in 1891 to fire at Great Plumstead, known only from Victorian illustrations. See if you can spot similarities amongst the core seven.

Ranworth, St Helen
Hunstanton, St Andrew. Four of the 12 apostles, St Andrew is far right
Thornham, All Saints
Filby, All Saints
Southwold, St Edmund’s. One of a pair of central Apostles panels. Dated c1500, possibly the last surviving example of the Ranworth Group.
In poor condition, one of the great Late Medieval treasures of East Anglia seems in urgent need of attention. North Elmham, St Mary
Norwich, ex St James Pockthorpe now at St Mary Magdalene. Bought by JJ Colman from a Norwich market in the 1880s. Restored and heavily overpainted. Removed to StMM when StJP was converted to Norwich Puppet Theatre in 1982. Tree ring analysis shows the panels were made from Norfolk wood [15].

In a magnificent book on East Anglian rood screen painting, based on her thesis of 1937 [15], Audrey Baker observed two details found in the Ranworth Group (with the possible exception of North Walsham). The first was the inclusion of animal or bird motifs in the rich brocades – based on Italian designs – worn by the apostles and virgins. On the basis of these rich fabric patterns the Ranworth Group has been called the ‘damask workshop’ [13].

The rich fabric with animal motifs worn by St Paul at Ranworth

The second motif identified by Audrey Baker was the ‘counterchanged’ tiles on which the figures stand. In all seven, the saints’ feet have been painted against a background of tiles represented as a two-dimensional vertical pattern [15]. This gives the effect of a skirting board instead of the tiles receding into the painting as they would have done in Flemish paintings of the time; there is no landscape here and there is a strong impression that the artists were working from ‘old-fashioned prototypes’. The tiles are usually set diagonally with a central inset in which two colours are reversed. Here, I have cut vertical strips from rood screens representative of the core seven churches. All contain the characteristic floor tiles but they also illustrate another feature that unites the group: the floral pattern in the background, usually stencilled in gold leaf.

Found on all seven screens, the tiles at bottom and the stencilling above. Ranworth, Old Hunstanton, Thornham, Filby, Southwold (apostle screens), North Elmham, St James Pockthorpe Norwich. (The stencilling around the Southwold apostles is pushed up into the tracery by the gold gesso background; the patterns at Filby are all but faded).

Baker identified two stencilled patterns at Ranworth: one of a bunch of loosely-tied flowers, the other a pomegranate [15].

Two adjacent ‘saints’ panels from Ranworth illustrating the two stencils: the posies of flowers above St Paul (left) and pomegranates above St John the Evangelist (right)

Ranworth, Old Hunstanton, Filby, Thornham and North Elmham share the same stencil tool [13]. St James Pockthorpe, Norwich shares a virtually identical pattern while North Walsham is ‘very similar’ (although there are no tiles at the feet of the figures at North Walsham [13]).

North Walsham, St Nicholas, with stencil pattern enlarged in the circle

A ninth set of screen paintings in the larger group recognised by Lucy Wrapson is now lost. In 1891, the rood screen at Great Plumstead was destroyed by fire but we are fortunate that artist Cornelius Jansson Walter Winter had made copies in 1859 [16].

CJW Winter’s painting of saints Martin and Giles from the Great Plumstead screen. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1951.235.B492

As we see, the tiles and stencilled background were also present at Great Plumstead. The facial features of St Martin – the narrow face and that ski-jump nose – is a stereotype found in some, but by no means all, of the Ranworth group. Bear in mind that details may have been lost or exaggerated during restoration; the Pockthorpe figures, in particular, have been heavily overpainted.

The Ranworth Nose. Top: demi-angel, Ranworth (flipped [f] right-left for easier comparison); St Cecilia North Elmham [f]; St Martin Great Plumstead [f]; St Margaret Filby [f]. Bottom: St Cecilia Filby; St John Old Hunstanton; St Helena Pockthorpe (now at St Mary Magdalene Norwich); St Barbara Filby [f].

The similarities between these and other satellites of the Ranworth Group suggest that a workshop, of painters used studio cartoons as is known to be the case for Norfolk stained glass painters [8]. The use of stock figures is particularly obvious at North Elmham where all the female saints are painted from the same model – some reversed – and only differentiated by the attributes they carry (e.g., St Barbara with her castle).

A Norwich School of Painters?

In the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries Norwich was a regional centre for glass painting [9]. Around 1500, Alderman William Heyward’s workshop was preeminent and there is good evidence that it produced inscribed monumental brasses as well as painted glass, probably south of the river around what is now the redundant church of St Peter Parmentergate. When Heyward had been apprenticed to Thomas Goldbeater as a glazier, Richard Steere was apprenticed as a painter, again suggesting that drawing skills were used in more than one medium [9]. Indeed, David King [17, see also 13] has argued that Heyward ran a multi-media workshop that may also have been involved in painting rood screens and walls – perhaps even the mural of St George and the Dragon in St Gregory’s Norwich [17].

Please note, I shall be taking a short break from the blog in order to write another book based on these posts.

© 2022 Reggie Unthank


  1. Lucy Wrapson (2013). East Anglian Medieval Church Screens: A Brief Guide to their Physical History. Hamilton Kerr Institute, Bulletin number 4, pp33-47
  2. DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches No 3, West and South-West Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions, Cambridge.
  3. DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches No 1, North-East Norfolk.
  4. Do read the excellent Hungate Rood Screen Trail booklets. For PDFs press link.
  5. Tom Muckley (2005). Rood Screens in East Anglia. In:
  9. Christopher Woodford (1950). The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  10. David King (2013). Medieval Art in Norfolk and the Continent: An Overview. In, East Anglia and its North Sea World in the Middle Ages pp. 82-119.
  11. John Mitchell (2000). Painting in East Anglia around 1500: The Continental Connection. In, England and the Continent in the Middle Ages. pp368-373.
  12. Lucy Wrapson (2015). A Medieval Context for the Artistic Production of Painted Surfaces in England Evidence from East Anglia c.1400–1540. In T. Cooper, A. Burnstock, M. Howard and E. Town, Painting in Britain 1500–1630, Production, Influences and Patronage, London, 2015, pp.166-175.
  13. Lucy Wrapson (2015). Ranworth and its Associated Paintings: A Norwich Workshop. In, Medieval and Early Modern Art, Architecture and Archaeology in Norwich. Pub: Maney.
  14. John Mitchell, personal communication March 2022.
  15. Audrey Baker (2011). English Panel Paintings 1400-1558: A Survey of Figure Paintings on East Anglian Rood Screens. Pub: Archetype Pubs Ltd.
  16. Allan Barton.
  17. David King (2011). ‘The Indent of John Aylward – Glass and Brass at East Harling’, Monumental Brass Society, Transactions, XVIII (3) pp. 251-267. 

Thanks: I am grateful to Lucy Wrapson, David King and John Mitchell for their generosity in sending me reprints and answering my questions; Bea Leal and Sophie Cabot, Trustees of St Peter Hungate, kindly opened the church for me; Reverend Selwyn Tillett and caretaker Mike Preston arranged for me to see the rood screens at St Mary Magdalen, Norwich.

Norwich Guides: Ancient and Modern



When browsing in the City Bookshop in Davey Place I came across Official Guides to Norwich for 1929 and 1935, in the reign of King George V. The contrast between ancient and modern was striking for while Ralph Hale Mottram was taking a backward look at the city’s rich history in the introductory section to the 1935 guide, businesses in the advertising section were gamely boosting their progressive credentials.

Cover of The Official Guide to the City of Norwich 1935 by John H Archer of Norwich. Published by the Norwich Publicity Association, with offices in the Bridewell

The rolling boundary between old and new is relentless and any marker of modernity quickly gets left behind as we see, not in an advert for Norwich, but in a puff for its distinguished neighbour, King’s Lynn. In the ‘Port for 1000 years‘ a passenger biplane is set against Henry Bell’s seventeenth century Customs House and the mid-twelfth century church of St Margaret.

Ancient and modern. Credit: The Official Guide to the City of Norwich 1935

Norwich had several firms making planes, such as Boulton and Paul at their Rose Lane Works where they manufactured more Sopwith Camels during World War I than any other company. B&P’s best known plane of World War II was the Defiant, with a rotating gun turret operated by the gunner seated behind the pilot. But in 1935, unconscious of the imminent descent into further conflict that would cause their factory to be bombed, they were advertising health-giving rotating ‘Sunshine Rooms’.

Credit: The Official Guide to the City of Norwich 1935

Mottram’s perspective on events from living memory is fascinating. About St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, he wrote: ‘The massive tower can be seen in any old picture of the marketplace to have had a much more homely appearance before the addition of the ornaments which … have been the object of some controversy.’ Controversy?

View of St Peter Mancroft, unknown artist. The hot air balloon suggests the work was made in the age of ‘balloon mania ‘ – late C18 to early C19. Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1894.76.1087

The sturdy tower overlooking the marketplace seems to have been designed to support a far more significant lantern stage for which the small spike was evidently judged to be a poor substitute. In the 1880s the Streets (father and son) were engaged to add a parapet with a stone pepperpot in each corner and in 1895 the son, AE Street, replaced the old spike with a lead-covered structure supported by crocketed flying buttresses. Not everyone liked it. Mortlock & Roberts [1] thought the old plain top and spike ‘infinitely preferable’, taking objection to the new model’s ‘cake icing effect’, while Pevsner & Wilson judged it ‘too playful to make a stand on this tower‘ [2].

The spirelet erected on St Peter Mancroft by the Streets in 1895 (left), thought to have been modelled on the fifteenth century structure topping SS Peter and Paul, East Harling, S Norfolk (right).

Born in the 1880s, Ralph Hale Mottram was a small boy when the Streets were at work so his opinions about the Mancroft controversy are likely to have been borrowed from the ‘members of the last generation‘ – the witnesses who could ‘remember desperate faction fights here at election times, with a great chain drawn across the centre (of the marketplace) to separate the combatants, who used to kick up the old kidney-shaped cobbles for missiles, and frequently had to be driven from the field by force.’ Violence had long been a feature of Norwich political life [3]; at election time the marketplace was set out like a tournament field with the Blue and White (Whig) tent occupying one side and the Orange and Purple (Tory) tent the other.

The Political Drama c1830. ‘The freedom of an English election or the drunken dragoons shooting old women and children at Wolverhampton by way of keeping their hand in.’ Norfolk Museums Collections THEHM: DS.384.91

As we saw in the post on Revolutionary Norwich [4], political meetings in eighteenth century Norwich were corrupt, drunken and highly adversarial. This continued well into the late nineteenth century. When Mottram was three, a 500-strong meeting attended by the unemployed turned violent. After shops were sacked and a ham stolen the rampage was remembered as the Battle of Ham Run [3].

Mottram said of the marketplace that ‘the roadway is pure twentieth century, public service and private vehicles driven by the internal combustion engine pass in a continuous stream.’ The air quotes shimmering around ‘internal combustion engine‘ betray someone born in the age of the horse-drawn carriage.

Credit: The Official Norwich Guide 1935

This photograph might be older than 1935 since the buildings at the back of the market were described as being ‘in course of demolition to make way for the New Town Hall’. The red arrow points to the tin hut that doubled as police offices and drill hall. Both the hut and the municipal offices on St Peter Street (top right) would be pulled down as part of the new City Hall project. In turn, these had replaced the old ‘butchery, spicery, Soper Lane, Worstead Row, herb market and Pudding Lane’ by which the medieval authorities had segregated the various trades. By May 1938 the old municipal buildings had been demolished to make way for the area to the back of the market containing the Garden of Remembrance, with the newly completed City Hall behind.

The Market 1938. Construction of the terrace at rear of Market Place on site of old Fish Market ©

Mottram also wrote about another landmark that is no longer with us. In a brief section on Mousehold Heath (‘”Mussel” in local dialect’) he mentions George Borrow’s poem The Wind on the Heath – the high ground above the city where local hero Robert Kett was defeated and where John Crome painted his windmill (‘and only recently burned down’). At one time the painting was titled ‘A Windmill on Mousehold Heath, near Norwich No. 926′ although, as we will see, the location was brought into question.

A Windmill near Norwich c.1816 John Crome 1768-1821 N00926 © (The vertical line is a gap between the boards)

Could ‘Old’ Crome’s windmill be one of the two depicted in Braun and Hogenberg’s (1581) prospect of Norwich?

Braun and Hogenberg’s prospect. Two windmills arrowed top left

The excellent Norfolk Mills website lists two mills for Mousehold Heath, one of which is the Sprowston postmill, sometimes thought to have been Crome’s windmill [5]. In 1933, two days before the mill was due to be handed over to the Norfolk Archaeological Society for preservation, sparks from a gorse fire set the sails alight and the windmill burned down.

Except, a paper in Norfolk Archaeology 1966 [6] turned this idea – and the map – on its head with a convincing argument that ‘Old Crome’s Mill’ was not situated on Mousehold Heath to the north of the city but in Trowse to the south.

Faden’s map of Norfolk 1797. The Mousehold/Sprowston mills are labelled in yellow, Trowse mill is circled in red, near Crown Point owned by ‘Money Esq’. Credit:

The fingerpost in Crome’s painting seems to carry no inscription but Miklos Rajnai [6] explained that the fingerpost on a very similar drawing of a mill by Norwich School artist George Vincent contains the words, ‘To Crown Point’. The clincher – revealed for the first time in Rajnai’s article of 1966 – was that an old label on the back of Crome’s painting stated: ‘Trowse Mill/near Norwich/painted by/Old Crome’. The windmill at Trowse (see map) is near Crown Point, then owned by intrepid balloonist Major John Money (1752-1817) and subsequently re-built by the banker Sir Robert Harvey.

Trowse Windmill 1818 by George Vincent. Before having to reduce resolution for publication, the lettering on the fingerpost could be discerned as ‘To Crown Point’ (circled). Wikimedia Commons

In a suggested tour of the city, Mottram describes walking towards St Andrews Hall down ‘the new street made for the trams which here descend the hill‘. By the time Mottram wrote his article the ‘new’ street was 35 years old. The tramway had cut a swath through mainly Tudor buildings: the City Arms was demolished and another Tudor building, purportedly made from timbers salvaged from the Spanish Armada, was neatly bisected. (Read Frances and Michael Holmes’ recent book for a fascinating account of the Norwich trams [7]).

Looking eastwards along St Andrews Street in 1897. Around the corner (arrow) is St Andrew’s Hall and Plain; directly ahead is the City Arms, which would be demolished in order for the electric trams of 1900 to descend the hill more easily. The star marks the C16 Armada/Garsett House, the obscured right-hand side of which was demolished to accommodate the tramway. © Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Across the road from Armada House was another Tudor building, now exposed to the new street – the home of 1572 mayor Robert Suckling whose kneeler monument is next door, in St Andrew’s church [8].

Sir Robert Suckling (1520-1589) with his third wife and 10 children. St Andrew’s Church.

Ralph Mottram wrote that Suckling House ‘was lately purchased by the Misses Colman who opened it as a public Assembly Hall.’

The restored hall-house, Suckling House, the right-hand part of which was refronted in the Georgian period. St Andrew’s Church is off to the right. Photographed by George Plunkett in the year that Ralph Mottram wrote his guide (1935). ©

Ethel and Helen Colman, of the Colman’s Mustard family, bought this merchant hall-house in 1923, the year that Ethel became Mayor of Norwich and the first female mayor in the country. The philanthropic sisters had the building restored by their brother-in-law E.T. Boardman (son of architect Edward Boardman) and presented it to the city in 1925 as a place for public assembly. The complex is now Cinema City, housing an arts cinema and restaurant.

Ethel Colman, the country’s first female mayor. Credit: Public domain via Wikipedia

To the left of Suckling House (not in frame in the photo above) is the Boardman-designed Stuart Hall, named after the husband of Ethel and Helen’s sister, Laura Elizabeth Stuart. I hope to write about James Stuart in greater depth but he deserves a brief mention here. A fellow of Trinity College Cambridge, Stuart had been a Liberal MP concerned about the lot of ordinary people. He championed education for all and as a director of Colmans promoted their pension scheme for workers. After James Stuart’s death in 1913, his wife and her family commemorated his name with the almshouse-style Stuart Court apartments (1914). He is also remembered by Stuart Garden in Recorder Road, opposite the Court, but this wasn’t officially opened until after the war, making this year (2022) the centenary of the garden’s opening [9].

One hundred years old. The James Stuart Garden (1922) in Recorder Road, off the bottom of Prince of Wales Road.

In another excursion, Mottram went to Norwich-over-the-Water and – foreshadowing the psychogeographers – took what he called a ‘wander’ off Oak Street, down Jenkin(s) Lane. Only 26 inches wide, the narrowness of this passageway was acknowledged in the rueful local alternative, Chafe Lug Alley [10]. Although he wrote that this led to the first Quaker meeting house in Norwich, the first such place of worship was built in Goat Lane in the city centre in 1676, replaced in 1826 by the chapel that stands there today [11]. The Goat Lane site of a quarter of an acre left no room for the Quakers to bury their dead, for which purpose they used an acre of land across the river (where Amelia Opie and the Gurneys were interred). It was here in 1700 that the Society of Friends built their second meeting house.

Jenkins Lane (arrowed) off Oak Street led to the Friends’ Meeting House (circled). The dotted line approximates the path of the C20 inner ring road. 1907 OS map courtesy of National Library of Scotland

Because Quaker Lane (underlined red) was too narrow for funeral processions, land was rented so that the cortege could travel from St Martin Lane (now inside the ring road) up to a turning circle adjacent to the burial ground [10].

The Second Quaker Meeting House, built in 1700, destroyed by enemy action in 1942. Credit: The Official Guide to the City of Norwich 1935

The advertisements are as fascinating as anything. In an older trade book (1910), the hatters and capmakers, T Wells & Son (estd. 1849) were enhancing their pedigree with an armorial plate. The hatmakers adopted three wells and a rising sun as their rebus, echoing the golden well used by the fifteenth century Bishop of Norwich, James Goldwell.

Accompanying this were photographs of the white-bearded father, Thomas Wells (b 1841) and the son, Herbert Rumsey Wells (b 1877). In Rumsey’s portrait, he sports a waxed moustache and that little patch of hair beneath his lower lip that might have once been called an imperial (in the fashion of Napoleon III) but now seems to be called a soul patch, demonstrating that even though you may change the name there is nothing new under the (rising) sun.

Herbert Rumsey Wells ca 1910. Credit: [12]

A quarter of a century later, in the Official Norwich Guide of 1935, Rumsey Wells was sporting the full goatee, flamboyantly advertising himself as ‘The most expensive Capmaker in the World’.

Credit: Norwich Publicity Association 1937

Famed for his ‘Doggie’ cap (modelled above in the ‘Watton’ shape), Rumsey Wells made headgear, like ‘The Brundall’ for men and the ‘Rumishanter’ for women. He died in 1937 but his shop – leased from the brewers Lacons – is now home to the Rumsey Wells pub in St Andrews Street.

Finally, I had occasionally wondered about the origin of the street name ‘Westlegate’ and Mottram provided the answer. 

Westlegate 1890 copy.jpg
Westlegate in 1890, decades before the street was widened and most of the buildings demolished. Photo: courtesy of David Vincent

The name of the city street ‘Westlegate’ remains although, of its ancient fabric, only All Saints church and the adjacent thatched building still stand. In this Viking town we are familiar with ‘gate’ being derived from the Old Norse ‘gata’ for street or road, as in Fishergate, Colegate etc. According to Mottram the ‘westle’ bit derives from the fine wastel bread that used to be made there.

Wastel bread has its verbal root, guastel, from old French which is now gateau meaning cake, so it seems to have been a cake-like bread made from fine white flour [13]. Jacob Grimm of the German Brothers Grimm knew the word Gastel for ‘a finer kind of bread‘ which was also known as Wastel in Upper Germany i.e. Bavaria and Austria. In Italy, the guastella (guastedda in Sicily) has survived the times in different shapes, mostly flat, always white, and often sweet.

© Reggie Unthank 2022


  1. DP Mortlock and CV Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
  2. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  3. Mark Knights (2004). Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 (eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
  6. Miklos Rajnai (1966). John Crome’s Windmill’ Norfolk Archaeology
  7. Frances and Michael Holmes (2021). The Days of the Norwich Trams. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  12. ‘Citizens of No Mean City’ (1910), a trade book published by Jarrold & Sons


I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permissions.

Chapel in the Fields



Over the years Norwich’s largest public green space has been known as Chapel-in-the-Fields, Chapel Fields, Chapple/Chapply/Chaply/Chapley Field, and now Chapelfield Gardens [1]; my daughters call it Chappy. We saw the area last when genteel Georgians promenaded around its triangular walk [2] but this only occupied a thin slice of time for the name goes back a further half millennium to when John le Brun founded the Chapel of the Blessed Virgin Mary in the Fields (1250). This evolved into the College of St Mary in the Fields, part of which was to be incorporated into the Georgian Assembly House (1745-6).

Braun and Hogenberg’s prospect of Norwich 1581. The inset focuses on Chapel Fields, from St Stephen’s Gate (far right) to St Giles’ Gate (lower left). Courtesy of Norfolk County Council.

Braun and Hogenberg’s prospect of 1581 is based on Cuningham’s map of 1558 so provides a glimpse of Chapel Field around the time of Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries. In 1569 the ownership of Chapel Field was transferred to the city. The map shows this sector dominated by two areas of open ground: the land behind Chapel Field House and a triangular meadow grazed by cows and occupied by figures with bows and arrows. This was at a time when it was still compulsory for men between the ages of 15 and 60 to prepare for war and we see them practicing archery under the walls. But warfare was changing and by the latter part of the century the field became the mustering ground for the city’s trained artillerymen.

By the time of King’s plan of 1766 the two parts were still largely open ground. Only minor inroads were made by the bowling green, theatre and Assembly House, which provided entertainment for leisured Georgians. On the triangular field we see the double row of elms that lessee Thomas Churchman’s planted for his promenade [2]. This latter portion would survive as present-day Chapelfield Gardens.

The two portions of Chapel Fields: Assembly House (blue star) and Churchman’s triangular promenade (note the ‘Water House’, circled).Samuel King’s plan 1766. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

A generation later, Chapel Fields still embodied a sense of bucolic openness as conveyed in the etching by John Crome (1768-1821). The city had always allowed Chapelfield to be used as a public space and in 1656 resisted Lady Hobart’s attempt to prevent citizens passing through [3]. Infilling with shanty housing was the norm in the rest of the city but the only signs of encroachment on rustic Chapelfield are the post-and-rail fencing and the high wall to the left (possibly part of the city wall) .

View in Chapel-Field’ by John Crome (etching). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd 7. Mancroft 118

From the beginning of the eighteenth century the fields were fenced in [3]. In 1867 the council erected iron railings [4], which would be removed in World War Two, purportedly to make guns. This would have been the ‘massive palisade’ supplied by W S Boulton (later of Boulton & Paul) who, ‘produces every kind of railing … also mincing and sausage machines’ [5].

Chapel Fields lies in the crook of the protective arm provided by the city walls, built about 1300. Some 500 years later the gates at its southern and western extremities were demolished to ease the flow of horse-drawn traffic: St Giles’ Gate in 1792 and St Stephen’s Gate a year later. The walls were disappearing too, signifying a loosening of the hold of the medieval past and allowing – if only notionally – the escape of noxious air. In the 1860s, some of the wall around Chapelfield was used as hardcore for the new Prince of Wales Road that connected the markets with the newly arrived railway [6]. Some of the ‘Chapelfield’ wall had been breached by houses built against them.

From inside Chapelfield Gardens. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In 1969, these houses were demolished to make way for the ring road [7].

The City Wall outside Chapelfield Gardens following demolition of attached houses in 1969. ©

King’s map of 1766 shows a water house within Churchman’s triangular walk, part of the corporation’s scheme to supply water to the city. Water pumped from the river at New Mills (near Westwick Street, upstream of the built-up area) supplied Chapelfield and Tombland. The Tombland works were described in 1698 by Celia Fiennes as ‘a great well house with a wheele to wind up the water … a large pond walled up with brick a mans height … (and) a water house to supply the town by pipes’ [quoted in 8]. This is commemorated by John Henry Gurney’s obelisk and fountain of 1850.

JH Gurney’s fountain and obelisk commemorate a previous water cistern. This memorial was relocated in the recent (2021) transformation of Tombland.

Supply of unfiltered water was therefore restricted to a few parts of the city – and then only to those who would pay for the connection. In 1792, supply was taken over by the Norwich Waterworks Company who built the water tower and reservoir in Chapel Field that appear on Millard and Manning’s map of 1830 [9].

The Chapelfield reservoir on Millard and Manning’s map 1830. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council.

The presence of waterworks in Chapelfield had disturbed the illusion of a bosky retreat where the gentility could associate and by 1840 the park had become ‘the resort of loose and idle boys’ and washerwomen [9]. One idea had been to dignify the site by placing a statue of Nelson on an island in the middle of the reservoir [3]. This never happened and the statue was located, instead, in the cathedral’s Upper Close.

Print by JW Papworth of Thomas Milnes’ statue of Nelson, intended to be placed upon a fountain pedestal in Chapel Field. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd7.Mancroft168

In 1852 the Waterworks Company agreed to hand the land over to the corporation provided they laid it out as a public garden, which they did. By designating Chapelfield Gardens a public park the site was protected from the terraced housing being built just the other side of the city wall.

In 1866 the corporation offered the north-west corner of Chapelfield Gardens to the militia for building a drill hall [5]. This castellated Neo-Gothic building, designed by the City Surveyor, Ernest Benest, incorporated part of a tower from the old city wall. The triangular shape of Chapelfield Gardens would be lost when this corner, and the Drill Hall, were flattened beneath the inner ring road of the C20.

Postcard depicting the Old Drill Hall on the site of the present-day roundabout, with Chapelfield Gardens to the left. The tower incorporated from the city wall is marked with a dotted line. Courtesy of Wikipedia

From within this lost north-west corner of Chapelfield Garden we see the back of the Drill Hall and beyond this the Catholic Cathedral, only just completed in 1910. And those must be Mr Boulton’s sturdy iron railings, removed in World War II.

The lost corner’. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The Drill Hall was demolished in 1963 but the position of the old city-wall tower incorporated into its structure is commemorated by a semi-circle of cobbles on the Grapes Hill roundabout, constructed as part of the 1968-1975 Inner Link Road.

Grapes Hill roundabout from the Catholic cathedral tower, with semi-circle of cobbles (inset) marking the ‘Drill Hall’ tower. The dotted line follows the medieval wall. © [10].

To connect the roundabout with incoming traffic from Earlham Road – which had previously gone straight across to St Giles Street – an awkward fiddler’s elbow (yellow) was created when vehicles were diverted a little way up Unthank Road. Traffic was reconnected with St Giles Street via a spur off the roundabout, creating Cleveland Road (green) in the process. It probably made sense at the time.

Left: contemporary map courtesy of Right: 1908 OS map courtesy of National Library of Scotland. Blue, drill hall. Green, Cleveland Street. Yellow, Earlham Road traffic re-routed up Unthank Road.

George Plunkett’s invaluable archive of twentieth century photographs shows us the Earlham Road/St Giles Street intersection before the map was redrawn in the late 1960s. Here we look down the narrow street that appears as St Giles Hill on the 1884 OS map and as Grapes Hill in 1908. This was some 60 years before the houses were demolished in readiness for the dual carriageway and the pedestrian flyover built over it. To the far left, at No 1 Earlham Road, is the eponymous Grapes Hotel. It was the only building on the hill to survive the ring road but it was to give way to retirement homes built around 2000. I can recall being able to touch the upper floor of the former Grapes Hotel from the gangway up to the footbridge.

St Giles Hill. View north from St Giles Gates, 1964′. ©

Inside the gardens, one of its most exotic inhabitants was the iron pavilion designed by Thomas Jeckyll. Made by Barnard Bishop and Barnards, and with much of the bas-relief work being forged by Aquila Eke (George Plunkett’s great uncle) it won a gold medal at the Philadelphia exhibition of 1876. Four years later it was bought by the Norwich corporation for £500 and installed in Chapelfield Gardens. I’ve written at length about Aesthetic Jeckyll and his designs for Barnards’ Norfolk Iron Works [e.g., 11], so I won’t run on, but this was the famous ‘Pagoda’, enclosed by railings in the form of uber-fashionable sunflowers – an icon of the Japanese-influenced Aesthetic Movement, here in provincial Norwich. Yet, despite it being a triumph of Norwich craftsmanship, the modernists who wrote the City of Norwich Plan for 1945 judged the Pagoda to be dispensable and so it was demolished in 1949. As Gavin Stamp wrote in Lost Victorian Britain, ‘Victorian, quite simply, was a term of abuse’ during the post-war period.

Norwich’s lost treasure, The ‘Pagoda’. Sunflower railings, arrowed. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Designed by Jeckyll, the fabric hangings that once decorated the Pagoda are conserved in the Norwich Castle Study Centre.

Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

Another occupant of Chapelfield Gardens was a thatched teahouse, known as King Prempeh’s Bungalow, built about the time of the Ashanti campaign in West Africa. Prempeh the First (1870-1931), who had tried to negotiate peace with the British, was captured by an expeditionary force led by Robert (‘Scouting for Boys’) Baden-Powell and sent into exile. In 1902, the Ashanti Kingdom became part of the Gold Coast colony. When Prempeh – once ruler of all he surveyed – was eventually released he found himself Chief Scout of what was now a British protectorate [12].

The thatched teahouse in 1931. In 1938, this was replaced by the present building that for many years housed Pedro’s Mexican Restaurant ©

Surrounding Chapelfield Gardens

From about 1815 the New City arose outside the walls on the south-west side of Chapelfield Road. This signalled the start of the expansion of working-class housing away from the insanitary muddle of the old city. A piece of land once used as a market garden became Crook’s Place and along with Union Place and Julian Place these terraces of small houses were built to accommodate an influx of workers from the countryside [13]. Mostly back-to-back, these modest dwellings with shared privies and water pumps proved to be insanitary and were demolished during rounds of twentieth century slum clearance. A generation later, terraced housing on the Steward and Unthank estates was built to higher standards and continued the city’s westward expansion well beyond the pull of the medieval walls [13].

Chapelfield Gardens (yellow). Julian, Union and Crook’s Place(s) (red). The Crescent (green), Gothic House (blue star). 1886 OS map. National Library of Scotland CC-BY-NC-SA

Built better for polite society, the V-shaped Crescent (1821-1827) survives into the twenty-first century. Nearby, the distinctive Gothic House was demolished as part of the Vauxhall demolition scheme of the 1960s. The Gothic Revival, mostly encountered on Victorian non-conformist chapels around Norwich, hardly touched the city’s domestic housing; the Gothic House is a rare example of this style, here applied as a facade to an older building [14].

No 47 Chapelfield Road. The Gothic House in 1939, built 1857. ©

The street bounding the gardens to the north, Chapelfield North, is architecturally rich; it hasn’t altered significantly during my 40 years in the city although the ebb and flow of traffic seems to have changed according to various schemes. One bystander that has overseen a more dramatic change in transport fashion is The Garage, now a centre for performing arts.

The Garage, Chapelfield North. The building immediately to the left is St Mary’s Croft built 1881 in exuberant Tudorbethan style.

Originally, The Garage was built as the new motor works for Howes & Sons Ltd.


In this photograph Howes were announcing themselves as ‘coachbuilders’ at a time when coachwork had come to mean the body of a motor vehicle. But this was just a breath away from a world when Howes built horse-drawn carriages.

Howes & Sons Ltd, coachbuilders, established 1784 (from Bayne’s Comprehensive History of Norwich, 1869 [5]).

A twentieth century addition to Chapelfield North is the Norwich Spiritualist Church. Built by RG Carter in 1936, this single-storey building was part-funded by proceedings from a post-WWI spiritualist meeting addressed by the faith’s most famous adherent, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

The third of the triangle of streets around Chapelfield Gardens is Chapelfield East, which divides the gardens from the larger block that once housed Caley’s chocolate factory (later, Rowntree Mackintosh then Nestlé). Demolished to make way for the Chapelfield Shopping Centre (2005) this complex was – with a nod to its ecclesiastical heritage – recently renamed as Chantry Place.

On this street Chapelfield East Congregational Church once stood, a prominent landmark with twin 80-foot towers. As George Plunkett noted [15], a stranger could have been excused for thinking it was this chapel that gave name to the neighbouring public garden. Of course, it was far too young, arising in 1859 to be demolished in 1972.

Chapelfield East Congregational Church seen in 1939 ©
On St Mary’s Croft in Chapelfield North, a reminder of the chapel of St Mary in the Fields,

© 2022 Reggie Unthank


  1. Francis Blomefield (1806). ‘History of the County of Norfolk’ 4, part 2 Chapter 42 City of Norwich. Online at:
  3. Frank Meeres (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co. Ltd.
  5. A.D. Bayne (1869). A Comprehensive History of Norwich
  6. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. Margaret Pelling (2004). Health and Sanitation to 1750. In, Norwich since 1550. Eds: Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  13. Rosemary O’Donoghue (2014). ‘Norwich, an Expanding City: 1801-1900.’ Pub: Larks Press.
  14. Noël Spencer (1978). Norwich Drawings. Pub: Noël Spencer and Martlet Studio.

Thanks: I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk and to the George Plunkett collection for permission to use photographs.

Noël Spencer’s Norwich


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We’ve already encountered the artist Noël Spencer, most recently when his book on Sculptured Monuments provided inspiration for two posts [1, 2]. He came to Norwich in 1946 as Headmaster of the Art School (then still a department of City College) and retired in 1964 as Principal after the Art School had become a separate institution [3]. Arriving from Huddersfield, Spencer was able to see his adopted home with a stranger’s eye. He seemed more interested in buildings than landscape, making pencil drawings on the spot, recording things that would soon be lost in the post-war period. His name cropped up again when I was introduced to Margaret Pearce who went to the Art School as a 16-year-old student in 1943. She was befriended by Spencer and his wife Vera who lived in Upton Close, Eaton, and who, for many years, sent Christmas cards based on Noël’s drawings of Norwich buildings. Margaret generously passed on these records of lost Norwich, which form the basis of this post.

Plaster casts of antique statues in the School of Art. By Margaret Pearce, mid 1940s

Margaret’s painting of antique figures was made in the School of Art in the ‘new’ (1899) Technical Institute site on St George’s Street. Her work is reminiscent of young Alfred Munnings’ painting made in the last years of the old School of Art when it occupied the top floor of the Free Library at the corner of St Andrew’s and Duke Streets. For much of their occupancy of the Free Library, students drew figures, not from life but from plaster casts. Note the illumination from above; we’ll see this again.

munnings class.jpg
The Painting Room at the Norwich School of Art, by Alfred Munnings (1897). Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM: L2001.4.1

This ink drawing on one of Noël Spencer’s greeting cards is labelled ‘The Norwich Technical Institute. Now the City College and Art School, built beside the Wensum in 1899. Sir John Soane’s Blackfriars Bridge in the foreground.’ Soane built the bridge of Portland stone in 1783-4.

© Estate of Noël Spencer

This was the building that replaced the overcrowded Art School housed on the top floor of the Free Library [4]. But before leaving the Free Library we should acknowledge its place in the history of public libraries. The Libraries Act of 1850 revolutionised access to books, allowing ordinary citizens to borrow items without paying for a subscription. The Norwich Free Library (below) was the first in the country to be constructed under the Act, recovering costs by adding up to a halfpenny to the rates.

The Norwich Free Library at the corner of St Andrew’s Street and Duke Street. Demolished for road widening and replaced by a telephone exchange. © Estate of Noël Spencer

Accommodation for the School of Art on the smaller upper floor proved unsatisfactory from the start. Students were warned not to move about unnecessarily because the floor had dropped away so much that adjacent rooms could seen beneath the partition walls. Cracks in the chimney let the rain in, water closets were condemned, foul air pervaded the building but the problems with the WCs weren’t helped by students flushing modelling clay down the pan [3]. Access to the School of Art on the upper floor was awkward, leading to a demand for a separate entrance and staircase to the top floor [3]. This appears to have been granted for Noël Spencer drew a gate that led up to the School of Art [5].

Newspaper clipping of linocut print by Noël Spencer of the gate leading to the old School. Courtesy of Norwich University of the Arts NUAAR00034

On the Christmas card below, based on a drawing dated 6th of February 1966, we glimpse the western end of the old Free Library/Art School with its roof lantern illuminating the Antique Room. Number 11 St Andrew’s Street was constructed in the 1830s as the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institute but later housed a variety of municipal offices. Spencer labels it ‘The Old Baths’, the municipal ‘slipper baths’ so named because the towel draped across the bath for modesty made it look, well, like a slipper. The sign on the gable end wall refers to the Deaf Welfare Centre while the building also contained the Guardians of the Poor (later the Public Assistance Department). Other signs on the gable end point to Clarke’s Billiard Club at the rear in what had been the Catholic chapel – the last vestige of the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace. All of this was to be swept away in the 1960s to accommodate the new telephone exchange and the entranceway to the St Andrew’s Street car park [4].

© Estate of Noël Spencer

In 1938 the City Council announced they would be building a new library on compulsorily purchased land centred around St Peter’s Wesleyan Chapel on Lady Lane, not far from St Peter Mancroft. But war intervened and it wasn’t until 1962 that much of what we see on the 1884 OS map was demolished to make way for David Percival’s modernist library, which would be destroyed by fire in 1994. Now, the site is occupied by The Forum, which houses the Millennium Library. What had been Lady Lane became Esperanto Way and is now called Will Kemp Way, which lies behind The Forum.

The building site for the new Central Library was situated between Bethel Street and Theatre Street. St Peter’s Wesleyan Chapel (blue star). Lady Lane (yellow line). St Peter Mancroft (red star). 1884 OS map, courtesy of

In 1960 Noël Spencer recorded the Lady Lane Chapel with his pen as George Plunkett had done with his camera in 1949. This chapel had been designed by John T Patience in 1824 in the same period that he designed the Friends’ Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane (1824) and the Roman Catholic Chapel in Willow Lane (1828) [6].

St Peter’s Chapel, Lady Lane (demolished). Left, Noël Spencer © Estate of Noël Spencer; right, ©

Tumblers clicked when I realised that St Peter’s Chapel at the junction of Park Lane and Avenue Road was built as the direct successor to St Peter’s Chapel in Lady Lane. In 1939, as the latter was being marked for destruction, Boardman & Son were supervising its replacement in the Golden Triangle [7]. Currently, the ‘new’ St Peter’s is being converted to apartments. It was built adjacent to a smaller Wesleyan Methodist chapel of 1894 that was evidently stripped of its neo-Gothic identifiers when it was encased in brick and repurposed as the church hall. About two years ago those bricks were removed, revealing a Neo-Gothic window.

Top, St Peter’s Park Lane and its church hall to the right, 2017. Lower left, the church hall being stripped of its brick casing in 2019. Lower right, the original Wesleyan chapel of 1894 before its conversion to a church hall.

In 1954 George Plunkett photographed Plowright’s antique shop at the corner of Tombland and Queen Street. The dilapidated state of the adjacent building is explained by Plunkett’s description of an enemy raid in May 1943 when incendiary bombs gutted Bell’s the estate agents and ‘Plowright’s the antique dealers’ premises next door suffer(ed) severely from blast which scattered and smashed a quantity of valuable silver and glassware.’ [6]

Tombland 1 and Queen Street 1954; note the damage to roof and windows of the building abutting the antiques shop.

By 1956 these buildings had been demolished and Noël Spencer drew, instead, a construction site. Demolition temporarily exposed the ‘hidden church’, St Mary-the-Less, once used by the Walloon strangers as their cloth hall and where French-speaking immigrants worshipped from the sixteenth century until the nineteenth.

Noël Spencer’s greeting card shows RG Carter to be the main contractor for a new branch of the Woolwich Building Society. © Estate of Noël Spencer

Spencer viewed the scene from across the road, from the first floor offices of local architect Ernest Hugh Buckingham (1874-1962). This would have been in a three-storey, round-cornered early C19 building on the site of the ancient Popinjay Inn, roughly where the devastating fire of 1507 started [6]. That building is no longer with us for the corner was presumably demolished as part of the post-war programme of street-widening. The site is now occupied by the bar/restaurant, All-Bar-One. I asked if I could go upstairs to photograph the former building site from Spencer’s vantage point but was told this wasn’t possible. All-Bar-Me then.

Arising on this site was a branch of the Woolwich Equitable Building Society that would obscure the church once more. It is now occupied by Haart the estate agents.

The top of the church tower remains visible; the easily overlooked south entrance is arrowed.
Three cast sculptures from 1957 decorate the former Woolwich building. The martial theme refers to the Woolwich Arsenal in south-east London, which supplied munitions to the British forces.

Another of Spencer’s drawings records a bomb site being levelled in 1949. Trevor Page’s Norfolk Furnishing Establishment had made and upholstered furniture here until it was bombed during a Baedeker raid in August 1942; its loss allowed St John Maddermarket to be seen from Exchange Street [6]. To the far right of the illustration, beneath the tree, we see the stippled wall of the churchyard. This boundary wall was rebuilt in 1578 after land had been borrowed from the crowded graveyard to widen the lane so that Queen Elizabeth I could be conveyed from the Guildhall to the Duke of Norfolk’s palace on the riverside.

Demolition of the furniture shop allowed the Curvilinear east window of St John the Baptist, Maddermarket, to be seen from Exchange Street. The crane bears the name of Edward Edwards whose firm was used on other occasions for groundworks by George Skipper. © Estate of Noël Spencer

1951 was the year of the Festival of Britain, a ‘beacon of change’ for a country recovering from a debilitating war. It was also the year in which the 11-year-old twin King brothers dedicated the forward-looking Norfolk House on this bomb site. Impressed by Halmstad City Hall in Sweden, their father, Raymond King, was determined to introduce a similar note of modernity to Norwich [8]. In spirit, if not in detail, this new building also bears comparison with Norwich’s own City Hall of 1939, which was influenced by Stockholm’s neo-Classical City Hall and Concert Hall. When completed, Norfolk House obscured all but the tip of St John’s tower from Exchange Street.

Right: Norfolk House, currently the home of City College, 1951 ( Left: only the tip of the church tower can be seen from Exchange Street (blue arrow).

Breaking the roofline of the Halmstad City Hall is a sculpture of a man o’ war surmounting a clock (not shown). On Norfolk House this theme is transmuted into the shield of the kingdom of East Anglia topped by a Norfolk wherry.

The designer of this sculpture was James Fletcher-Watson, architect, famous water-colourist and nephew of architect Cecil Upcher, who was the subject of October’s post [10]. In one of those little coincidences in a city bristling with artists, Fletcher-Watson and Spencer portrayed the same lost building on Cow Hill.

Left: Noël Spencer. ‘House on the east side of Cow Hill now demolished’ © Estate of Noël Spencer. Right: James Fletcher-Watson. ‘Junk Shop Cow Hill, Norwich’. Courtesy of Mandell’s Gallery

Another of Spencer’s greeting cards depicts the Golden Ball public house and provides an image missing from a short article I’d written for my recent book [9]. The excellent Norfolk Pubs site locates the Golden Ball pub of 1900 at the corner of Cattlemarket Street and Rising Sun Lane on Castle Hill [11]. The Golden Ball around which my article turned can be seen here, suspended over the junction of the two roads.

An inscription on the inside cover of the card states, ‘”The Golden Ball”, demolished about 1962/Rouen Road passes across the site.’ The words ‘Cattlemarket Street’ and ‘To Spelman’s Horse Sale’ underline the importance of the livestock markets around the castle to the county’s thriving agricultural trade. © Estate of Noël Spencer

The OS map of 1884 shows the Golden Ball pub at the top of Cattlemarket Street at the three-way junction with Golden Ball Street and Rising Sun Lane.

Golden Ball Inn (gold circle); Golden Ball Street (gold line); present-day Prospect House (red star). The blue arrow points to the castle, one map-width away. 1884 OS map.

At the right-hand edge of the map is Prospect Place Works that manufactured agricultural machinery for Holmes & Sons’ beautiful cast-iron-and-glass Victorian showroom (now the Crystal House) on the hill at Cattlemarket Street. This area was to be reconfigured, first by German bombs then by the bulldozers of postwar renewal. In 1962, the Golden Ball pub was compulsorily purchased and, along with Rising Sun Lane, flattened to form a wider, realigned route (Rouen Road) that bypassed narrow King Street. The name ‘prospect’, which must refer to the view across the valley to the Thorpe side, lives on in Prospect House, built in 1970 as the headquarters of Eastern Counties Newspapers. Golden Ball Street remains and the golden globe that once hung over the corner of that street is reimagined in the sculpture by Henry Moore’s assistant, Bernard Meadows, outside the ECN building. Norwich boy Meadows – who would have known the old street and the pub – resurrected the golden ball, now playfully prodded by the apprentice whose master’s works were famously holey and bumpy.

‘Public Sculpture’ by Bernard Meadows at the entrance to the ECN building at the junction of Golden Ball Street and Rouen Road.

In the postwar period, Spencer drew one of only six thatched houses in the city – the sole timber-framed house on Westlegate to survive the twentieth century transformation. The house to the left was demolished to make way for Westlegate Tower.

Left, © Estate of Noël Spencer

The thatched building was once a public house known, in Norfolk dialect, as the Barking Dicky. A comment on the back of the card in Margaret’s hand explains the term.

The Barking Dicky – named after a rather poorly painted sign board of a rampant horse. Norfolk humour for the braying donkey. Norfolk old rhyme – Matthew, Mark, Luke and John/Hold you the dicky bor while I gets on.

Below is one of Spencer’s cards showing two carved figures that puzzled me for a while. The illustration on the greeting card was untitled but an online search turned up a larger version of the drawing labelled, ‘The Fair Tombland, Norwich 1949’.

Tombland Fair © Estate of Noël Spencer

Mention ‘carved figures’ and ‘Tombland’ to Norwich residents and they will automatically think of Samson and Hercules – the pillars holding up the porch of the C17 building in what had been the Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace. Over the years, these famous Norwich strongmen have guarded a war-time dance hall, Ritzy’s night club and a seafood restaurant (when S&H were painted an ignominious shade of lobster red).

Except … except Spencer’s drawings are usually faithful representations and these half figures don’t look anything like the full-length Norwich strongmen. Margaret recognised the jarring note and wrote on the back of the card, ‘Where can this have been, and when?’

Samson and Hercules House, Tombland.

Despite the inconvenient shuttering around a former jewellers we can see that Tombland curves away to the right and not to the left as in Spencer’s drawing.

By tweaking the signage on the stall, to the left of the figures on Spencer’s drawing, it is possible to make out the name ‘Castle Books’.

This is the Castle Book Stall that once stood on Agricultural Hall Plain, several hundred yards to the south of Tombland. The Shirehall – glimpsed below – is to the right, making the large monolithic block to the left in Spencer’s drawing, the Agricultural Hall (now Anglia Television).

Norwich, Castle Book Stall on Agricultural Hall Plain in the 1950s. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Look closely and you can see these supporting figures to have been lit by strings of light bulbs, showing them to have been a fairground attraction. Until the seventeenth century the annual Tombland Fair was held on the Thursday before Easter but for most of the twentieth century ‘Tombland Fair’ was held at Christmas and Easter on the spaces around the Castle mound (e.g., Cattlemarket Street, Castle Meadow, Market Avenue) [12]. The classical portico (circled) down the road belongs to the old Crown Bank (later the Post Office) next to the Agricultural Hall, meaning that the fairground ride was located at the southern border of Agricultural Hall Plain, adjacent to the hall itself.

From right to left, at the junction of Agricultural Hall Plain and present-day Market Avenue, is a fairground attraction; behind the Castle Book Stall is the looming shape of Agricultural Hall, behind which is the portico with Ionic columns (magnified, inset) belonging to the failed Crown Bank at the top of Prince of Wales Road. © Estate of Noël Spencer
The fairground ride (red star), Agricultural Hall (yellow dot) and Crown Bank/Post Office (blue dot) are aligned along the edge of Agricultural Hall Plain. Tombland is marked by the red oblong. Ordnance Survey 1884 .

In response to a request for information, Adam Brown, chair of The Fairground Heritage Trust [13], seems to have identified the actual fairground ride sketched by Noël Spencer. John Thurston and Sons brought their travelling fair to Norwich and to other venues, such as the Cambridge Midsummer Fair and the Mop Fair in Northampton. It was at the Mop Fair where the photograph below was taken in 1949, the year that Spencer made his drawing. The photograph is of an Ark – a ride consisting of cars or gondolas that moved around undulating ‘hills’. Later, this ride would be converted to a more exciting waltzer in which the cars spun around their axes as they moved around the track. The figures adorning the entrance represent Atlas who, with arms bent above his head, bears the weight of the heavens upon his shoulders. These Atlases (or Atlantes, plural of Atlas) were surely the half figures that Noël Spencer drew in 1949.

John Thurston and Sons’ fairground ride at the Northampton Mop Fair, 1949. Reproduced with permission of the University of Sheffield.

Thanks: I am indebted to Margaret Pearce, one-time student of the Norwich School of Art, for her kindness and generosity in providing the Christmas cards sent over the years by Noël and Vera Spencer, and I am grateful to Sarah Scott for making the introduction. Thanks also to Professor Simon Willmoth of Norwich University of the Arts, for providing images from the NUA Collection & Archives, to Clare Everitt of the indispensable Picture Norfolk site, and to Jonathan Plunkett for making his father’s photographs available to all ( Alan Theobald put me on the track of Thurston’s fairground attractions; Adam Brown, Chair of The Fairground Heritage Trust, identified what was probably Spencer’s fairground attraction; and I thank Jo Pike for discussions on Norwich fairs.

And thanks to you, dear reader, for following these posts and for the comments that illuminate our shared fascination with the history of this fine city: I wish you a Happy Christmas.

This post is respectfully dedicated to Noël Spencer who evidently loved Norwich and recorded this city at a time of great change. Every effort has been made to trace the copyright holder of Noël Spencer’s images. I will be pleased to give credit and can be reached via the Contact link at the top of the page.

© Reggie Unthank 2021

Christmas present?

‘A Sideways Look at the City’ (£14.99) and the recently reprinted ‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’ (£10) are available from Jarrolds’ Book Department, City Bookshop in Davey Place, and The Bookhive – all in Norwich. ‘Sideways’ can also be purchased from Waterstones, Norwich; The Holt Bookshop; and Kett’s Books, Wymondham.


  3. Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton and John Stevens (1982). A Happy Eye: A School of Art in Norwich 1845-1982. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., Norwich.
  5. Noël Spencer (1978). Norwich Drawings. Pub: Noël Spencer and Martlet Studio. (A beautiful book, worth seeking online).
  9. Clive Lloyd (2021). Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City. See:

Georgian Norwich



In 1505 and 1507 great fires swept away the majority of Norwich’s early medieval buildings and a new city – still largely timber-framed – arose on the old street plan [1]. Two centuries later, as historian Marc Girouard noted of the country in general, Georgian buildings were raised, ‘on medieval plots and incorporated a medieval, or at least Tudor, structure behind their new facades‘ [2]. Grafting new faces onto old frames was therefore not peculiar to Norwich; however, the lack of stone, in what was still the nation’s second city, meant that new classically-influenced buildings based on proportion and balance would be of red brick or plasterwork masquerading as stone. The straitjacket of a medieval street-plan, encircled for much of the Georgian period by city walls, meant that no new squares and crescents would be laid out, as in London, Bath, Edinburgh, Newcastle and Bristol. There would be no Georgian new town in Norwich.

Numbers 22, 24 and 26 Princes Street in 1936. ©

There was a good example of Georgianification in last month’s post [3]. Where Norwich architect Cecil Upcher had restored the centre house above (No 24) by stripping it back to its Elizabethan bones, the house next door (No 26) had already been modernised by the Georgians who had inserted sash windows (although the timber-framed construction is betrayed by the jettied [jutting] first floor). That other trademark of the Georgian makeover – the Classical door surround – is out of shot but a stroll around old Norwich produces numerous examples of Georgian doorways – many retrofitted to older buildings [4,5].

Not long before the first George acceded to the throne in 1714, Celia Fiennes visited the city on her travels by side-saddle. She commented on the lack of brick buildings in the city centre, noting that what few she saw belonged to rich merchants in Norwich-over-the-Water.

‘… but all their buildings are of an old form, mostly in deep poynts and much tileing as has been observ’d before, and they playster on Laths wch they strike out into squares like broad free stone on ye outside, wch makes their fronts Look pretty well; and some they build high and Contract ye roofes resembling the London houses, but none of brick Except some few beyond the river wch are built of some of ye Rich factors like ye London buildings’ [6].

… they playster on Laths wch they strike out into squares like broad free stone.’ At the corner of Elm Hill and Princes Street

This house, with rusticated plaster-work designed to look like stone, was built about 1619 [7] and appears on James Cobridge’s ‘Mapp of the City of Norwich’ (1727). Subscribers who wanted their house to be depicted in the margins were asked to pay seven shillings down and three on delivery. Mr James Reeve should regard this as ten bob well spent since his house at the corner of Elm Hill and Princes Street is the only one that can still be recognised (although most churches remain) [8].

Note the number of grand houses with courtyards. Reeve’s house is outlined in red. Cobridge’s plan 1727. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council.
Captain John Reeve’s house in St Peter Hungate by James Corbridge 1727. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Paradoxically, Mr Reeve’s house is the least grandiose of the illustrated buildings and we can only mourn the number of large C17-18 houses that we have lost. During the eighteenth century, most of the houses in Norwich-over-the-Water  were remodelled or rebuilt [7], no doubt on profits from a thriving textile industry. An example of contemporary remodelling is provided by 27-29 Colegate, ‘ … a seventeenth century timber-framed house raised a storey in the C18’ [7].

27-29 Colegate (with the six lucams or dormers) in Norwich-over-the-water.

St Giles Street is one of the most imposing Georgian streets, full of houses either built in the Georgian period or brought up to date with a new facade (usually involving an increase in height) [7].

The south side of St Giles Street, with the City Hall clocktower in the distance

Focussing on newly-built brick houses of the 1700s, Pevsner and Wilson [7] noted that none retained the old courtyard plan. Abandoned by the rich then filled with the shanties of the poor, numerous ‘courts’ or ‘yards’ were to become insanitary slums that lasted well into the twentieth century. Meanwhile, the wealthy either retreated to their country houses surrounding the city or lived in their brick-built townhouses (stone being famously scarce in these parts). The wealthy master-weaver Thomas Harvey did both. He built a mansion just north of the city, Catton House, while maintaining a town house in the heart of the weaving district. This was number 18 Colegate, built in the early eighteenth century [9]. Thomas Harvey was the man whose collection of Dutch paintings influenced the co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome, who lived off Colegate [10].

No 18 Colegate. The threat of flooding from the nearby river accounts for the high steps up from the street.

Pevsner and Wilson considered 18 Colegate to be ‘(one) of the best early C18 houses in Norwich’ and awarded a similar accolade to Churchman’s House on St Giles Plain – ‘one of the finest houses in Norwich’ [7]. The imposing front we see today was added in 1751 by Sir Thomas Churchman in the course of remodelling his father’s house. Both this and Harvey’s house are seven-bayed but the pediment above the central three bays of Churchman’s House adds a more elegant top note.

In 1746, Churchman Jr planted a triangular walk of elms on nearby Chapel Field that he leased from the council [11].

The walk around a triangular avenue of elms in Chapelfield, just inside the city wall. The star marks the position of Churchman House. Note the proximity of the bowling green, theatre and assembly house. From King’s Plan of Norwich 1766, courtesy of Norfolk County Council.

This was the age of the promenade in which polite society paraded itself in the evening, or the afternoon in winter. In the provinces, polite society was mainly composed of the rising middling sort who looked ‘to register a cultural claim to gentility rather than one solely based on pedigree.’ Promenaders would take the air in their finery but, in this Second City passeggiata, as elsewhere around Europe, this could be read as a display of tribal affiliation in which a warm greeting or a curt nod betrayed your position in the social order [12].

In 1777, Parson Woodforde [13, 14], whose diary tells us so much about Georgian Norwich …

‘… went and drank tea this evening … with Mrs. Davy in St. Stephen’s Parish, with her, Mrs. Roupe, her mother-in-law and a very pretty young Lady from the boarding School. We took a walk afterwards in Chapel Field etc.’

In addition to drinking tea or coffee with friends, the leisured class could visit one of the several coffee houses around the marketplace [12,15]. There, they could read newspapers, gossip and – as unwitting participants in the English Enlightenment – discuss ideas that might have been considered seditious in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. An Act of Parliament that restricted printing to London, Oxford and Cambridge had been allowed to lapse in 1695 [12] and Norwich was first to publish a truly provincial newspaper. By 1707, when only about six newspapers had established themselves in the provinces, Norwich had three of them. This was accompanied by a surge in the number of booksellers, which rose to 17 by the end of the Regency (1820) [12].

The Norwich Post, founded in 1701. On Norwich University of the Art’s Francis House in Redwell Street.

The east side of the marketplace was where the fashionable came to gaze into the specialist stores along Gentleman’s Walk – an early shopping parade. This print is a little later than the Georgian period but the discernible names give a sense of the shops along the Walk: Lammas Bros (tea dealers); Potter & Co (furrier); Sidney & Ladyman (also tea dealers); W Ringer (Berlin [wool embroidery] and fancy repository). Other shops from this period on the Walk include: confectioners; glove makers; coffee roasters; china dealers; mercers specialising in lace; hatters, and booksellers.

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

From 1724, advertisements in the local newspaper invited Members and ‘Clubbers’ to listen to professional musicians at the Musick Night in Mr Freemoult’s Long Room [16].

Mr Freemo(u)lt’s House, which appears on Cobridge’s map above (five down, far right). Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

There was also music and dancing at assemblies, especially during Assize Week in early August, when county society came to town. The genteel could visit pleasure gardens, country cousins of London’s Vauxhall and Ranelagh Gardens (read [17] for the fascinating story of Norwich’s pleasure gardens). At Quantrell’s pleasure garden, for instance, the interval at concerts could be filled with humorous dialogues and songs, the evening completed with a celebration of military victories animated with illuminations, transparencies, capped off with spectacular fireworks.

But the days needed filling too. Visiting lecturers would expound on a range of advances in the natural sciences for this was the Age of Reason and the enlightened were hungry for Knowledge as well as Diversion. In one day in 1785 Parson Woodforde explored the two poles: he attended a lecture at the Assembly House on astronomy aided by a large mechanical orrery but in the afternoon he ‘went and saw the learned Pigg at the rampant Horse in St Stephens’ [18]. It was claimed this animal could spell, using letters and numbers placed before him. Could the paperweight I bought a few years ago be a souvenir of the Learned Pig?

I was prompted, in part, to write this post by a book on ‘Georgian Norwich: Its Builders’ by local architect, Stanley Wearing [19]. Before focussing on ‘the genius of Thomas Ivory’ he says a few words about the Norwich-born Brettingham brothers, Matthew (d.1769) and Robert (d.1768). During the building of Holkham Hall in north Norfolk, Matthew was assistant to William Kent – the man who introduced Palladian architecture to England – and managed the project for some years after Kent’s death.

Holkham Hall. Building commenced 1734, seen here in 1964 by ©

There is a small piece of Cow Hill, Norwich, that is forever Holkham Hall: this is Holkham House, built in the mid-eighteenth century. A green plaque states it was designed by Matthew for his brother Robert but Pevsner and Wilson are unsure which brother designed it [7].

Holkham House, 15-17 Cow Hill, Norwich, seen in 1935. ©

Provided they pledged an oath of allegiance, nonconformists were extended the freedom of worship by the Act of Toleration (1689). In the following century a new nonconformist chapel arose on Colegate – a manifestation of the strong current of dissent that ran through the city. Initially, Robert Brettingham was engaged as architect and surveyor but seems to have been discharged by a select committee. Thomas Ivory (1709-1799) then competed with a Mr Lee for the contract but it appears that Ivory’s ‘Moddle’ for an octangular building swung it for him [19]. Commissioned by the Presbyterians, Ivory’s new chapel of 1754 was said by John Wesley to be the most beautiful meeting house in Europe.

In 1751, six years after purchasing his freedom as a carpenter, 42-year-old Thomas Ivory was appointed to do ‘all the carpenter work’ in the medieval Great Hospital on Bishopgate. Ivory leased land from the hospital in order to build his own house, where he lived from 1756 until his death.

In the grounds of the Great Hospital in Bishopgate, St Helen’s House, built by Thomas Ivory, later expanded by his son William. ©

Ivory imported and exported timber from his business premises on Bishopgate; it was on this street that he also built what was probably his first major project in the city – the Methodist Meeting House or Tabernacle. His client was the Reverend James Wheatley, an Independent Methodist who had been expelled by Wesley from the Methodist movement for immoral conduct. Wheatley saved the money for his church, partly one feels, for his own protection; as an itinerant preacher he had been assaulted for his views [20].

The Tabernacle, Bishopgate, 1936, demolished in 1953. ©

Wheatley’s Tabernacle was diagonally opposite the Adam and Eve pub, the oldest in Norwich.

The Tabernacle (red star), Adam and Eve PH (blue star). Is that Ivory’s timber yard on the right?1884 OS map

The three high points of Thomas Ivory’s building career are illustrated in the border of Samuel King’s plan of the city.

The Octagon Chapel, The Assembly Rooms and the Theatre, all by Ivory. King’s Plan of Norwich 1776. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

Ivory’s two buildings dedicated to entertainment were on the Chapel Field Estate, perhaps the closest in Norwich to a Georgian enclave. Ranging from local aristocracy to merchants and manufacturers there were about two dozen proprietors of the estate, their aim being to create ‘a superior neighbourhood for leisure in the mid eighteenth century’ [12]. Along with a new bowling green, the remodelled assembly rooms were opened in 1755, adjacent to Churchman’s triangular walk [12]. The Assembly House was built on the vestiges of the ancient College of St Mary-in-the-Fields and Sir Henry Hobart’s mansion, already used for occasional assemblies. This was the town house of Hobart of Blickling Hall, who had been Steward of Norwich in 1595 and went on to become Attorney General. An anonymous tourist in 1741 had pronounced, ‘the buildings which have anything of grandeur in them are all Gothic’ but the Assembly House is a Georgian building of which Norwich could be proud, for – with the exception of Bath – no other city of its size could match it [7]. Due to lack of funds Ivory was unable to remodel the attached wings but this didn’t prevent the connecting doors from being thrown open so that dancers could form a line 143 feet long.

The Assembly House, designed by Thomas Ivory and Sir James Burrough.

The sculpture in the centre of the fountain is of a female putto made in the late 1930s by sculptor James Woodford, the man who designed the roundels on the great bronze doors of the City Hall (1938) and is thought to have made the two flagpole bases in the Memorial Garden outside City Hall [21].

Left: Putto outside the Assembly House. Centre: Robert Kett (who fought for the rights of the common people) from a roundel on the City Hall doors. Right: Assyrian-influenced figure, base of the flagpole, Memorial Garden. All attributed to James Woodford, late 1930s.

In 1757, on an adjacent plot, Thomas Ivory built the 1000-seat Theatre Royal, purportedly based on the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. As proprietor, he engaged the Norwich Company of Comedians to perform plays. To get around the inconvenient fact that only London theatres could be licensed to perform plays, he renamed his enterprise The Grand Concert Hall and presented free plays in the interval between the paid-for concert [22]. Norwich became the second provincial theatre to receive royal assent after an Act of 1767 allowed the licensing of theatres outside the capital.

Thomas Ivory’s original New Theatre in Chapelfield, 1758. Norwich Castle Museum & Art Gallery, Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM : 1954.138.Todd7.Mancroft.44

The theatre was modified by William Wilkins in 1801 and rebuilt by in 1826 by William Wilkins Jr., better known as architect of the National Gallery. Wilkins’ theatre burned down in 1934.

Wilkins’ theatre of 1826 by James Sillett, 1828. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

In the 1760s, Thomas Ivory built a four-storey terrace in Surrey Street. Numbers 35/33 and 31/29 were completed in 1761 while 27/25 were built around ten years later, with the possible involvement of Ivory’s son William. Outside number 29 is a plaque recording that this was once home to Sir James Edward Smith, son of a wealthy Norwich textile merchant, who founded the Linnean Society and brought the Linnean collection to this city. The collection was comprised of Carl Linnaeus’s own ‘type specimens’ – the standards for each species. This was at the height of the world-wide collecting and gathering of plants and animals whose classification into groups paved the way for Darwinism. Smith also had what must have been a fascinating garden and, as a former plant scientist, I twitch each time I read that the garden was bought in the 1930s by the Eastern Counties Bus Company to build the new bus station [23].

Numbers 35/33 and 31/29 Surrey Street (with double porches) were built by Thomas Ivory. During a Baedeker raid of 1940 a bomb fell in the bus station behind numbers 27/25, and another fell directly outside, perhaps explaining why that end of the terrace was rebuilt in the 1960s.

In 1939, another red brick, four-storey building was raised on St Andrews Street, giving us the opportunity to look at the Georgian legacy in the twentieth century. This was the nine-bay Telephone Exchange built in the ‘Post Office Georgian’ style favoured by His Majesty’s Office of Works between the two world wars. The Georgian references are minimal (only three of the windows are encased in a stone architrave with a triangular pediment – and these aren’t real sash windows) but they are sufficient to disguise a high-tech building in comfortable traditional garb when it could (perhaps, should) have been clothed in a more challenging modernist style.

Telephone exchange in St Andrews Street, begun in 1939 but not completed until 1942 because of the war.

Around the corner from the Ivory terrace on Surrey Street, Thomas built a house for himself at the west end of All Saints Green, but immediately let it out in 1772 at £60 per annum to a Miles Branthwayte. From 1860, the house was to become the Norfolk Militia Artillery Barracks with sufficient land to provide for a parade ground and stables.

Ivory House, No13 All Saints Green, now apartments

In 1779, Thomas Ivory died of heart disease and is buried in Norwich Cathedral. Echoing Sir Christopher Wren’s epitaph in St Paul’s Cathedral (If you seek his monument, look around), the Norwich Mercury wrote, Let his works speak for him [19].

Thomas Ivory’s wall memorial in Norwich Cathedral, carved by his nephew John Ivory ©Roland Harris

And if we seek a secular memorial there is St Catherine’s House. Thomas Ivory designed this building on All Saints Green but died during its construction. His son William completed it the following year [7].

St Catherine’s Close (1780) on All Saints Green; its ‘very pretty curved Adamish porch’, is a plaster replica after the original was damaged. The blank semicircular tympana above the ground floor windows are ‘an up-to-date London feature’ [7]. Now offices for Clapham & Collinge Solicitors.

©Reggie Unthank 2021

For your Christmas stocking. Published this year, my latest book is a collection of short, richly illustrated articles on the history of Norwich, including Mrs Opie’s medallion, angels’ ears, random walks, a half-size Pantheon and golden balls. Click here for a look inside.

Derek James of the Eastern Daily Press generously wrote, ‘It must rank as one of the finest books in recent times on the Fine City.’

The book is available in Jarrolds Norwich and City Bookshop Norwich. Click the underlined links to go straight to their mail order pages. It can also be bought in: The Bookhive, Norwich; Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich; the Holt Bookshop; Ketts Bookshop, Wymondham, and ‘Bear’ on Avenue Road, Norwich.


  2. Marc Girouard (1990). The English Town. Pub: Yale University Press.
  6. Celia Fiennes (1698). Through England on a Side Saddle in the Time of William and Mary, Being the Diary of Celia Fiennes. London: Field and Tuer, The Leadenhall Press, 1888. Available online:
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. Raymond Frostick (2002). The Printed Plans of Norwich, 1558-1840. Pub: Raymond Frostick, Norwich, England.
  12. Angela Dain (2004). An Enlightened and Polite Society. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550’ (eds. Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
  15. William Chase (1783). The Norwich Directory. Online at:
  16. Trevor Fawcett (1979). Music in Eighteenth Century Norfolk and Norwich. Pub: Centre for East Anglian Studies, UEA.
  19. Stanley J Wearing (1926). Georgian Norwich: Its Builders. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.

Thanks. I am grateful to Roland Harris, Norwich Cathedral Archaeologist, and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk.