Norwich was slow to find its way into the industrial world. Before the slum clearances, the city still had a timber frame: largely Tudor in appearance with Georgian contributions. Around 1900 the architect Edward Boardman introduced a glimpse of modernity with factories and offices built around steel frames with concrete floors, while George Skipper’s more exuberant projects added sparkle. The contributions of these two Norwich titans survived well, helping to define the city’s present-day character, but much of the fine texture from a century ago was built up by numerous smaller practitioners like Cecil Upcher.
Upcher was born in 1884 in Barnham Broom, Norfolk, where his father, the Reverend Arthur Charles Wodehouse Upcher B.A., was the rector.
White’s Directory described Reverend Upcher’s home as ‘a spacious residence with pleasant grounds near the church’ . The 1911 census records that the Upchers lived in the rectory with a cook, a parlour maid, a house maid, a kitchen maid and a nurse. They lived well, in a manner appropriate to the descendants of Abbot Upcher, the man who commissioned the Reptons to design Sheringham Hall and Park.
Having mentioned Abbot (his given name, not title) Upcher it would be wrong to cast him aside so soon for in some quarters he is the better known Upcher. The name Upcher may be a corruption of Upshire in Essex yet census returns find it most frequently – although still scantly – in Norfolk . In 1812, Abbot and Charlotte Upcher bought their estate near Upper Sheringham on the north-east Norfolk coast. They engaged John Adey Repton as architect and Repton’s father Humphry to reconfigure the landscape.
Humphry Repton (b1752), the foremost landscape designer of the late Georgian period, died in March 1818, seven years after being badly injured in a carriage accident. In less than a year Abbot Upcher, would also die, aged 35, never to live in the hall he had commissioned.
Abbot’s great grandson Cecil therefore came from Norfolk stock and it was as a Second Lieutenant in the 9th Battalion of the Norfolk Regiment that he served in the Great War.
Writing to his fiancée, Hilda Ward, he describes the conscripts as “a top hole lot of men all true Norfolk men” . In his letters Upcher describes several of his billets; some he sketched.
Since 1906, Upcher had been in practice in Norwich as an architect, specialising in church restoration. His professional training emerges in the sketch below in which he measured the accommodation provided by a dugout: beneath a ceiling four feet high were two beds, six feet long and two feet wide, separated by an 18 inch gap. His temporary refuges were drawn with precision but revealed nothing about the awfulness on the other side of the tin roof.
Upcher’s letters convey the sense of the ironic, understated tone of the officer class – especially when wounded.
‘Monday September 27th 10am . In the train. Here I am on my way to England I believe. I got a bullet through the fleshy part of my left thigh. No damage and as fit as a fiddle. Feeling a bit of a humbug to be leaving it all, but walking is rather a job at present. We had to take a Bosch position at 7am yesterday Sunday morning and I got bowled over with a lot of others I fear .’
The voice will be familiar to readers of PG Wodehouse (and the name, Wodehouse, introduced into the family line by Upcher’s grandmother is inescapable here). When asked if he had taken part in the First World War, Bertie Wooster’s manservant Jeeves replied, ‘I dabbled in it to a certain extent, m’lord.’ (Ring for Jeeves, 1953).
By mid-1916 Upcher was suffering from deep depression and was invalided out with shell shock . When he married Hilda the same year we see him holding a cane that seems too large for a swagger stick, suggesting he was still carrying an injury. Nevertheless, he returned to active service until the end of the war.
Upcher had been educated at Haileybury College, Herts before training at the Liverpool School of Architecture. Before the war, he was in partnership with Arthur John Lacey at number 6 Upper King Street Norwich. They specialised in church renovation and one of their last projects before the outbreak of war was the restoration of the ruinous St Martin, Overstrand.
After the war, in the church in Upper Sheringham that housed the Upcher mausoleum, Cecil Upcher acknowledged men of the village killed in the war, by designing the oak pulpit and the foliate reredos above the altar.
And as a memorial to the men of the Norfolk Regiment who died in the Great War, Upcher designed a crescent of 12 alms houses in Norwich for disabled soldiers.
The medallion of Britannia at the top of this memorial is signed by HA Miller who collaborated with Upcher on a memorial in the cathedral . Herbert Miller (1880-1952), who trained at the Norwich School of Art, seems to have specialised in memorial plaques with portrait roundels, including: Amelia Opie on Opie House in Castle Meadow; John Sell Cotman on Cotman House in St Martin-at-Palace Plain; George Borrow outside George Borrow House in Willow Lane; and the Baptist preacher Joseph Kinghorn on a house in Pottergate near the Grapes Hill underpass .
After the Second World War Upcher was to design, for an adjacent plot, a range of six cottages for the wounded, funded by the public via The Home Guard. Distinguished by their Dutch gables, these cottages seem to belong to an earlier age; they appear less generous than the two-storey accommodation provided by the Great War cottages but were designed for the disabled as single-storey bungalows in order to avoid difficulties with stairs.
Documents in the Norfolk Record Office confirm that Upcher’s practice was involved in all aspects of restoration in churches around Norfolk. They were not, however, restricted to ecclesiastical work; for example, Number 24 Princes Street is a Tudor building restored in 1932 by Upcher. Stripping the plaster from the front revealed the herringbone brick infill we see today. According to George Plunkett, the wooden lintel above the door came from a house in Fyebridge Street, once home to Edmund Wood who was Sheriff in 1536 and Mayor in 1548 .
The repurposed spandrels of No 24’s door contain the merchants’ mark of the Worshipful Company of Grocers (top right, below). And around 400 years later, Cecil Upcher and builder Robert Carter left their names carved on the door jambs of the house in Princes Street.
The mark of the Mercers’ Company is also suggested to be represented somewhere  but the shield at top left contains a tangle of initials and not the maiden’s head that was, from 1530, the mercers’ mark, a fine example of which can be seen in nearby Elm Hill.
Cley Windmill in North Norfolk also received Upcher’s attention.
In the last years of the nineteenth century, when the city was expanding beyond the city walls, the Trafford estate in the parish of Lakenham was developed on land owned by Edward Southwell Trafford. In 1919 his son, WJ Trafford, extended the estate around Eleanor and Trafford Roads and in the early 1930s Upcher designed a church for the new community. As one of the few churches built in Norwich between the wars St Albans was very much in keeping with the surrounding detached villas – comfortable yet somehow ’modern’.
Pevsner and Wilson  called the style, ‘vaguely E.E.’, although the church’s rounded arches are clearly at odds with the lancets of Early English. By adopting a ’free’ Norman style, before the incursions of the architectural Goths, Upcher may have been differentiating his new church from the work of the Gothic revivalists of the previous generation. See, for example, the recent post on the campaign of Nonconformist church-building by Norwich architect AF Scott before the Great War . Scott, incidentally, was still alive when St Albans was being built.
What the building is is vernacular. No imported stone here, its craftsmanship expressed in local materials drawn from Norfolk soil: unknapped flints with red-brick dressings. Pevsner and Wilson  described St Albans as being, ‘In the Maufe succession,’ suggesting a link with Sir Edward Brantwood Maufe (né Muff) whose first major commission was Kelling Hall in north Norfolk.
Following Norfolk’s two other butterfly houses – Happisburgh Manor in 1900 (by Detmar Blow) and Voewood in 1903 (by ES Prior) – Kelling Hall was built in 1913 for the co-owner of the Shell Oil Company, Sir Henry Deterding. Like St Albans, Kelling Hall is clad in local flint pebbles and, in making the connection with St Albans, Pevsner and Wilson are placing Upcher’s church in the Arts & Crafts tradition.
Inside St Albans, the reinforced concrete ceiling in the chancel is a thing of beauty, predating the raw concrete of Brutalism by some 20 years – perhaps less a display of modernist leanings than an expression of the ‘truth to materials’ propagated by Pugin and Morris.
The woodwork in the chancel is reminiscent of the carving at Upper Sheringham.
At the east end of the chancel is a large painting of an epicene Christ in Majesty, floating over the view of Norwich from Mousehold Heath. It was painted in 1955 by Jeffery Camp RA in response to a competition by the Eastern Daily Press to provide a work of art above the altar.
Upcher also designed the vicarage next door.
Cecil Upcher is perhaps best known for his restoration of one of the city’s most photographed landmarks: Pulls Ferry on the eastern boundary of Cathedral Close. Norwich Cathedral is faced with Caen limestone, each piece of which was shipped across the Channel. The stone was transferred to low barges behind what was to become Old Barge Yard on King Street, allowing cargo to be delivered up the narrow canal connecting the Wensum with the stonemasons’ yard inside the cathedral precinct. In the fifteenth century a flat-arched Water Gate was built over the canal and the waterway itself was filled in ca.1780 .
The crossing from the opposite bank of the Wensum was known for most of its life as Sandling’s Ferry . This watercolour by Robert Ladbrooke, co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, shows us what the ferry looked like at the very beginning of the nineteenth century.
Sandling was superseded by John Pull who operated a pub here (Pull’s Ferry Inn or Ferry House) from 1796 until his bankruptcy in 1841 . Pull’s Ferry operated until 1943 although it was already in ruin when Cecil Upcher drew the watergate in 1928.
The Norfolk Record Office holds a small collection of photographs, possibly taken by Upcher himself. Wisely, they are sealed in plastic covers (I mention this to excuse the reflections on some of the following photographs). Upcher restored the house and watergate 1948-9.
The restored Ferry House became offices for Upcher’s architectural practice but plans show that much of the space was dedicated to a two-storey flat – the only evidence of business being the small typist’s room on the ground floor and the office upstairs. The largest upstairs room, labelled ‘J.F.W.’, was allocated to Upcher’s nephew, James Fletcher-Watson. The largest room on the ground floor was C.U’s.
The photograph below, labelled ‘C Upcher’s room and armchair’, underlines how much space was dedicated to living accommodation.
Standing on the left of the photograph is James Fletcher-Watson (1913-2004), with whom Upcher shared the practice. Trained as an architect under Edwin Lutyens, Fletcher-Watson is better known as one of the finest watercolourists of his generation.
Cecil Upcher died age 88 and is buried in All Saints Upper Sheringham.
I am grateful to Kate Thaxton, Curator, Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum for background on Upcher; to John Snape and Barbara Worland for Barnham Broom history; and to Gordon Blacklock at the Norfolk Record Office for guiding me through the Upcher archive.
In the previous post on Norwich department stores I mentioned the architectural practice of Augustus Frederic Scott three times, more even than local hero George Skipper – and Edward Boardman not at all. Who was this architect whose factory building was described by Pevsner as the most interesting in Norwich and of European importance?  He was also big in Cromer where my interest had been piqued by two turreted houses that could possibly be by AF Scott.
Scott was born in 1854 in the south Norfolk village of Rockland St Peter. His father, Jonathan Scott, was a Primitive Methodist preacher. The Primitive Methodists – sometimes called ‘Ranters’ because of their enthusiastic style of preaching – proposed a return to the original form of Methodism practiced by John Wesley.
AF Scott was educated at the ‘old Commercial School’ in Norwich . This seems to have been the King Edward VI Middle School, established in St George’s Street in 1862 as an offshoot to the King Edward VI School (Norwich School) in the cathedral precinct. The aim of the Commercial School was to prepare boys for industry and trade, in contrast to the more classical education offered by the main school. The school was sited in the west range of the Blackfriars’ cloisters; it had 200 pupils, paying a tuition fee of four guineas per annum . Now it is part of Norwich University of the Arts.
This complex of buildings comes down to us as the most complete medieval friary in England . Its survival can be attributed to the fact that in 1540, during the Dissolution, Mayor Augustine Steward spent £80 to buy the site for the city. Apart from being requisitioned as stables during Kett’s Rebellion the two halls have been in municipal use ever since. St Andrews Hall was the nave of the Dominican priory and its design as a large unencumbered preaching hall ensured it remains as one our largest public spaces.
In 1861 the architect to the trustees of Norwich School, James S Benest, began renovations in preparation for the Commercial School that opened the following year. He faced the west elevation of the cloisters with polychrome brick . His additions are in the Gothic Revival style, one of very few examples of its kind in the city.
Scott continued his education at Elmfield College on the outskirts of York (92 boarders, £31 fee). It was also known as Jubilee College in recognition of the Silver Jubilee of the Primitive Methodists in 1860.
Scott was a man of strong beliefs: he would not allow his children to be vaccinated against smallpox; he was a life-long sabbatarian, and a vegetarian on moral grounds. He also abstained from alcohol, which led to him turning down invitations to design licensed premises .
But high principle seems to have tipped over into irascibility. A letter from the Carron Foundry, who were casting windows for Scott, complained that they ‘exceedingly regret to note the tone in which you write’ . Cromer historian Andy Boyce told me, “… on at least two occasions (Scott) went to court for minor assaults, usually regretting his actions and paying any costs. On one occasion he manhandled a lady when she wanted a railway carriage window shut because it was cold (he insisted it remain open)”. Scott also held back that portion of the rates used to support Anglican Schools. As a result, bailiffs would come to his house and take away his pictures but he always seems to have bought them back . In 1969 Scott’s family gave one of his paintings to the Anglican cathedral. It is by Amelia Opie’s husband, John.
Scott furthered his career as an architect by studying the practical side of the building trade with George Skipper’s father, Robert, in East Dereham . He then spent two years with John Henry Brown who – according to Pevsner and Wilson – was one of the architects responsible for meddling with the west front of the Anglican Cathedral . After two years with the Liverpool Corporation, Scott had sufficient experience to start his own practice at 24 Castle Meadow Norwich. For 17 years of this period he was also Surveyor of Cromer.
Scott remained at the Castle Meadow office from 1886-1927. He was joined by his son Eric Wilfrid Bonning in 1910 and when another son, Theodore Gilbert, joined around 1918 the practice was restyled AF Scott & Sons. In 1927 the Scotts’ offices moved to 23 Tombland .
In June 1882, Augustus Frederic Scott married Emmeline Adcock. Around 1900, Emmeline’s younger brother, Edward O Adcock, was to establish a gigantic plant nursery off Upton Road (see recent post on plant nurseries in Eaton ).
Augustus Frederic Scott was a familiar figure in his ‘wideawake’ hat with a three and a half inch brim that, from the defensive tone of his description, seems to have drawn comments. “My wide brimmed hat keeps off a certain amount of rain and sun and is of practical use. And moreover it suits me”. He was also described as an enthusiastic cyclist, although the adjective doesn’t quite describe the arduous journeys on which he embarked in the early days of cycling.
Scott claimed to have had the first bicycle in Norfolk fitted with pneumatic tyres. He cycled to Kings Lynn to catch the early train to Doncaster as well as cycling from Norwich to his office in Holborn Hall, London . John Boyd Dunlop was awarded the patent for his invention in 1888, which suggests that Scott’s long journeys were made when roads were largely unmaintained and probably unmetalled.
Despite the notable exceptions, which come later, Augustus Frederic Scott is known as the designer of numerous non-conformist chapels around the county. These are included in Norma Virgoe’s non-exhaustive list  list:
West Acre (1887), Lessingham (1891), Garboldisham (1893), East Runton (1897), Postwick (1901), Lenwade (1905), Runhall (1906), Stokesby (1907), Billingford (1908), Fakenham (1908), Attleborough (1913), and Castle Street, Cambridge (1914) Primitive Methodist (PM) chapels, as well as Reepham (1891) and Cromer (1910) Wesleyan chapels. He also designed Cromer (1901), Dereham Road, Norwich (1904) and Wymondham (1909) Baptist churches. Lingwood PM Sunday school (1878) and Queen’s Road, Norwich PM Sunday school (1887) were of his design and so, too, were Wymondham Board School (1894), Ber Street, Norwich UM mission hall (1894-5), Botolph Street, Norwich clothing factory (1903), Bunting’s Department Store, Norwich (1911), Cromer cemetery chapel.
The first in that list is at West Acre in north-west Norfolk, now the home to the West Acre Theatre.
Before about 1840, non-conformist chapels were often rectangular and plain with the long wall as the dominant facade but through the nineteenth century the short gable end became the focal point . Other denominations favoured Classical designs but through the nineteenth century until World War I the Methodists seemed to prefer the minority Gothic. And in his designs Scott showed an increasingly elaborate Gothicisation of the gable end as seen here in the Baptist church on Dereham Road. Pevsner and Wilson’s pithy entry reads: ‘Hectic Gothic front of brick and stone‘.
The same double-arched porch with a polished granite column, surrounded by Cosseyware diapering and crowned by a large window with Geometric Decorated tracery occurs repeatedly in Scott’s work. He used a very similar approach for the Methodist church in Attleborough, Norfolk, except the square tower was not extended by an octagonal lantern. Elsewhere he used variations on a theme – spirelets, pinnacles, turrets, steeples – to increase the upward movement of the gable end.
For 44 years, Augustus Scott’s father, Reverend Jonathan Scott, tended his congregation in Thorpe Hamlet, a suburb to the east of Norwich. Too poor to have their own church his parishioners were, in 1876, allowed to pray in Blackfriars Hall, once home to the city’s Dutch Protestant community (see OS map at top). Money was raised for a new Methodist church to be designed by AF Scott and dedicated to his father. The Jonathan Scott Memorial Church is perhaps Scott’s finest church, built of red brick with stone imported from Ancaster in Lincolnshire – a more magnificent version of his chapel built the same time on Dereham Road .
The original plan was even more ambitious but the steeple was never built. In 1920, Scott entered into a severe dispute with minister Percy Carden, causing the architect to sever relations with the church he’d designed to commemorate his father.
Most of Scott’s buildings were in Norfolk though he did venture further afield. He designed Primitive Methodist churches in Walberswick, Suffolk (1910), Cambridge (1914) and two Primitive Methodist churches in Lancashire, at Thornton (1904) and Fleetwood (1908) . A strong family resemblance starts to show through Scott’s gable end facades. Compare the Fleetwood church below with the Scott Memorial Church in Norwich, above.
The white clay tiles on the church in Fleetwood (below) are identical to the kind seen at Attleborough (above). Scott’s practice necessarily had a close business relationship with ‘Mr Gunton, Cossey’. Hand-written letters show the architect asking for stop ends, mullions and string courses, describing pilasters and asking Gunton to ‘proceed with the Cossey Ware in white for the chapel’ . By providing a ready shorthand for ‘Gothic’, Cosseyware had become an indispensable part of the architect’s palette.
The Guntons Brickyard at Costessey provided the Decorated tracery for instant Gothic, ‘in red or white‘.
Before leaving for Cromer, let’s look at the little Swedenborgian Church on Park Lane, around the corner from where I used to live . The Swedenborgian sect had had several homes in the city and came to this street due largely to the efforts of James Spilling, editor of the Eastern Daily Press, who lived on Park Lane. Spilling was a preacher and follower of Emanuel Swedenborg (theologian, scientist, philosopher and mystic) and raised money to build the little church. Scott was commissioned to design it in 1890. At one time Spilling preached in Glasgow: ‘Here the matter of his discourses gave the greatest satisfaction, but his East Anglian pronunciation was regarded as a drawback to his selection as its minister’ . (After posting, follower Paul Reeve commented, ‘The Swedenborgian chapel on Park Lane was eventually bought by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the 1920s, and was their Norwich chapel until 1963 when they built a new complex on Greenways, Eaton, selling the Park Lane building to the Haymarket Brethren. Eventually it was sold to the owner of the house next door, who uses the former chapel for concerts.’)
Cromer became a boom town after the railway arrived in 1877 – its attraction boosted by ‘Poppyland’ columns in the Daily Telegraph in which Clement Scott (no relation) portrayed a North Norfolk idyll. George Skipper designed hotels here . AF Scott & Son also designed hotels here but they must have been outraged when, just four years after the completion of their Cliftonville Hotel, rival Skipper was invited to give it an Arts & Crafts makeover. Skipper extended the hotel and altered the sea-facing facade, adding art nouveau touches in Cosseyware carved by James Minns of Norwich.
Scott also designed the Eversley Hotel, which is now flats.
Scott was Surveyor to Cromer Urban District Council and for a while ran his private practice from Church Street . In addition to the hotels, he designed Mutimer’s department store, the old fire station, shops and houses. He also designed Cromer Cemetery Chapel, which gave him the steeple denied at the Scott Memorial Church.
In 1909-10, AF Scott built Cromer Methodist Church in red brick.
Whenever I have driven down the hill into Cromer I have been intrigued by two very similar turreted houses flanking the entrance to Cliff Avenue. Now, with my head full of the spires and turrets of AF Scott I wondered if they could be further examples of the architect’s work.
It had been suggested that this non-identical pair of houses was by Scott  but local historian Andy Boyce now believes the attribution may not be correct.
Cliff Avenue is a late Victorian time capsule of fashionable housing for the affluent. Built between 1893 and 1905, it displays hallmarks of the Queen Anne Revival style although, a decade or so after the pioneering Bedford Park in West London, it represents a comfortable, more diluted version or, as Marc Girouard called it, ‘Queen Anne by the Seaside’ . Expect to see red brick with white-painted trim, bay windows, monumental chimneys, hanging tiles and verandas.
While he was Surveyor of the Board (the predecessor to Cromer Urban District Council) Scott also designed several private houses in Cliff Avenue. Some members of the Board saw this as a conflict of interests but Scott replied that ‘When he agreed to take on the Surveyorship at such a low salary he expected that out of sympathy for him the Board would have placed private work in his way… he could not be expected to give his whole time for £45 a year’ . A letter to the local paper complained that houses on Cliff Avenue were being built for a member of the Board by the Deputy Clerk to the Board under the supervision of the Surveyor of the Board (Scott). Moreover, the houses didn’t comply with the unpopular bye-laws that Scott had helped promote. A residents’ committee wanted to remove him as Town Surveyor .
These houses for Cromer’s well-to-do were, like Scott’s churches, comfortable (that word again), even formulaic. It is hard to reconcile this side of his work with his excursions into the modern that we see elsewhere. The technology for reinforcing concrete with steel was developed in Europe and used in Britain in the 1890s. In 1903, Scott designed the first building in Norwich to be constructed with this material – Roberts’ print works in Botolph Street. Pevsner  thought it was the most interesting factory building in Norwich and an early example of European Functionalism, but this didn’t prevent its destruction in 1967 to make way for Sovereign House and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.
Listed for ‘its early contribution to the early development of the modern movement in England‘ is the old Citroën garage in Kings Lynn, formerly the Building Material Company. Heritage England say this is probably to a design by AF Scott . Constructed in 1908, this early example of a concrete-framed building boldly displays its structure without the need for disguise.
When Scott built a new department store (1912) in Norwich for Arthur Bunting  he designed a framework of reinforced concrete to which he attached a stone curtain-wall decorated – rather incongruously – with carved Adam swags. In 1942, German bombs devastated other buildings on St Stephens Plain. The non-structural walls of Buntings were blown out but the concrete skeleton withstood the blast, remaining as the basis for rebuilding. Minus the third floor and its corner cupola it is now a branch of Marks & Spencer.
There are fleeting mentions of AF Scott in his latter years. There is a suggestion  that he was the architect of the Kiltie shoe factory in Norwich-over-the-Water; more certainly he was one of four local architects (including George Skipper) who were invited in the 1920s to design houses for the Mile Cross estate just north of the city , although it isn’t known which bear his signature. Augustus Frederic Scott died in 1936 but he had not been involved in the practice for a number of years. His sons continued as A.F.Scott & Sons and it was Eric Scott who designed the Debenhams building on Rampant Horse Street in the mid-1950s. The business was amalgamated with Lambert & Innes in 1971, forming Lambert Scott & Innes who, now as LSI Architects, have offices at the Old Drill Hall on Cattlemarket Street.
Mile Cross Conservation Area Appraisal #12, June 2009. Norwich City Council.
I am grateful to Peter Forsaith, Research Fellow at The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History at Oxford Brookes University for information on Scott’s connection with Lancashire. Andy Boyce, local historian of Cromer, provided background on Cliff Avenue. Pike Partnership provided background on the Cromer Methodist Church. Stuart McPherson (The Mile Cross Man) advised on the Mile Cross Estate. Alan Theobald is thanked for discussions.
While reading about Parson Woodforde’s shopping expeditions to Norwich around 1800  I was struck by the modest scale of the places he visited in the streets around the marketplace. This was still the age of the small shop run by – and generally occupied by – the shopkeeper and family, some of whom were the parson’s personal friends. The market itself offered everyday provisions: meat and fish, fruit and veg but a few yards away, separated from the everyday hurly burly of the market stalls, the genteel could stroll along the newly-paved Gentleman’s Walk and window-shop for luxury goods. Shopping had become fashionable in its own right. Displays would be seen through windows made of multiple, small panes cut from sheets of hand-blown glass. None of those shops survive in the city. Instead there are signs of the large Victorian shops and department stores that replaced them, with their huge plate glass windows.
One of the largest Victorian stores around the marketplace was Chamberlins at the junction of Guildhall Hill and Dove Street. At a time when Norwich had 124 small businesses listed as ‘drapers’ , Chamberlins the Drapers was on a different scale, selling a wide range of soft furnishings in several departments that ran the entire length of Dove Street. Chamberlins’ also had a furnishing department that stocked ‘one of the largest assortments of carpets, linoleum, floor cloths and furniture to be sold in the Eastern Counties.’ Now, instead of window shopping in the cold and wet, the citizens of Norwich could browse in the warm and take refreshments without leaving the premises.
Another special feature of this superb establishment is the refreshment room, which is a spacious room fitted up and furnished in the most luxurious manner, and in the best possible taste. It has a buffet, well supplied by the articles in request by ladies, and the proprietors disclaim any intention of making a profit on the refreshments here supplied, the department having been provided for the convenience of the country customers, many of whom come long distances, and who fully appreciate the consideration shown for their comfort.”
Chamberlins was sold to Marshall & Snelgrove in the 1950s and the corner of the site is now occupied by a Tesco Metro.
According to Mason’s Directory of 1852, Chamberlin (Henry) Sons & Co were ‘Wholesale and Retail Drapers, Market-Place’ . Henry Chamberlin founded the business in 1815. His descendants became members of the local establishment: Mayor, Sheriff and Deputy-Lieutenant of Norfolk. Some idea of the extent of their enterprise can be judged from the centre spread of this 1910 trade book .
Chamberlins’ store was a product of the Victorian era but its factory in Botolph Street represented an excursion into modernism. Built in 1903 by AF Scott, it was described by Pevsner as the most interesting factory building in Norwich and of European importance . Scott was to go on to design a department store using modern building techniques for Buntings (now M&S) in 1912 – its steel frame disguised behind a traditional exterior . A vestigial Botolph Street lives on in the wasteland of Anglia Square but Chamberlins’ factory was demolished to make way for the blighted Brutalist HMSO building, Sovereign House.
The factory, which housed 800-1000 workers, was illuminated by electric lighting, proudly powered by a dynamo supplied by the Norwich firm, Laurence, Scott & Co . Here, Chamberlins made a variety of clothing for the police and railways but during World War I, when they turned to war production, their entire output of waterproof clothing was requisitioned by the Admiralty .
In 1898, Chamberlins was devastated by a fire that started in the premises of Hurn’s, ‘the oldest rope, twine, sack and rotproof cover manufacturer in the Eastern Counties’ – established 1812 . The entire Dove Street side of Chamberlins and part of its opposite side were destroyed along with their neighbour, the Norwich Public Library, set back on Guildhall Hill.
Hurn’s rope-making factory, with its 200-yard-long ropewalk, was in Armes Street in the suburb of Heigham but the shop where the fire started was in Dove Street at the corner with Pottergate, or so it appears from a photograph in .
After acquiring sites nearby, Hurns built new premises on Dove Street.
As a result of this disaster, water hydrants and hose reels were installed at the end of each floor of Chamberlins new building. Their ‘Ladies’ Fire Brigade’ is seen here during the First World War.
In 1860, Arthur Bunting set up a drapery in partnership with three Curl brothers at the corner of St Stephens Street and Rampant Horse Street, where Marks and Spencer stands today. The collaboration did not, however, last the year and the Curls set up on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street approximately (and we’ll come to ‘approximately’) where Debenhams is located.
As drapers, Buntings sold costumes, lace, millinery, costumes, mantles (sleeveless cloaks worn over outer garments), collars, yokes, frills, ruffles. Like Chamberlins, they had a furnishing department and a tea room. They also boasted ‘what the Americans call the mail order business … (with) the aid of well-got-up catalogues.’ Despite their motto of ‘Latest, Cheapest, Best’ , Buntings weren’t positioning themselves at the pile-’em-high end of the market for they had a Liberty Room in which the achingly fashionable Arts and Crafts of Regent Street were offered to a provincial public.
By 1913 all this was replaced by a modern four-storey building in reinforced concrete, designed by local architect AF Scott. The new Buntings was the self-styled ‘Store for All’ where customers were soothed by an orchestral trio from 12 to 6pm daily.
On the night of 29th April 1942, German planes dropped incendiary bombs. Three stores on Rampant Horse Street suffered heavily: Buntings, FW Woolworth & Co next door and Curl’s opposite.
Buntings was saved from total destruction by its reinforced concrete structure. It was refurbished but without the fourth storey and the corner cupola. In 1950 it was sold to Marks and Spencer. Its neighbour, Woolworths, was beyond repair as was Curl Brothers on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street, and both were replaced with modern buildings .
I’m not including FW Woolworth & Co as one of the big department stores: it just happened to get itself tangled up with the history of two Norwich stores on Rampant Horse Street. Woolworths was more a five and dime store (or, in this country, threepenny and sixpenny). I remember Woolies as a place to buy ‘weigh-out’ roast cashews and pick n mix sweets, and where a friend of mine shamefully bought a cover version of a Beatles record. Below, is the Woolworths building (Woolies 3) that replaced the store built adjacent to Buntings in 1929 (Woolies 2) – itself an extension of the original Woolworths store on the other side of the road (Woolies 1, see Curls below). After acquiring their neighbour in 2002, Marks and Spencer now occupy the entire west side of Rampant Horse Street, from St Stephens Street to St Stephens Church.
While the new Woolworths building on Rampant Horse Street was being built, the staff were sent to work in the Magdalen Street branch. Opened in 1934 this store was in a medieval building now occupied by Spice Valley.
When the three Curl brothers parted company with Arthur Bunting, and moved ‘opposite’, they were unable to take over the prestigious corner site of Rampant Horse Street and Red Lion Street. As this photograph shows, it was occupied by a neo-Gothic branch of Woolworths that opened for business in 1914 – the first of three Woolies on this street.
By the time of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, Woolworths were no longer located in the corner building (right). Instead, they had moved in 1929 to larger premises on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street, adjacent to Buntings. This was to be the branch of Woolies destroyed in WWII (arrowed). Saxone shoes and an insurance company now occupied the corner spot. So, could those be the awnings of Curls department store further down the street?
Curls had bought a range of buildings including the old Rampant Horse Hotel that had been known as far back as the C13 as The Ramping Horse . We have encountered this old inn several times. William Unthank (d.1800), the forefather of the Norwich Unthanks, was a peruke (wig) maker; he also owned coaches for hire. His address was given as Nos 2 and 3 Rampant Horse Street and, since the Ipswich coach left from the inn, it might possibly have been his .
Curls had departments for china, glassware, furniture, millinery (hats), costumes, wallpaper, dressmaking etc. The Outfits Department was in the former billiard room of the Rampant Horse Hotel. Curls employed over 500 staff, including those at their factory in Pottergate .
Ironically, in a city whose once pre-eminent woollen textile trade was finished off by competition from the north, Curls had a Manchester Department that sold cotton products like flannelette and shirt material. The victory of cotton over wool was won in northern power mills centred around Manchester. For centuries, Norwich woollen and silk fabrics had been produced on hand looms but by the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century the city had been too slow to mechanise and confront the challenge. Although the lighter materials manufactured in ’Cottonopolis’ were highly popular with the public, their success was to a significant extent subsidised by the slaves who picked the cotton (imported via Liverpool) in the plantations of the West Indies and the southern states of America.
A fire insurance map* provides greater detail of the layout of the site in 1894. At this stage it is clear that Curls occupied only part of Rampant Horse Street, sharing that side of the block with Green’s the Outfitters (before they moved opposite Orford Hill), while the corner with Red Lion Street housed Colman & Co hardware shop. The Brigg Street facade, however, contains departments labelled ‘Millinery’ and ‘Fancy’ and would therefore seem to belong entirely to Curls. Surrounded by Curls is the CEYMS reading room. As part of the postwar rebuilding Brigg Street was widened and the initials of the Church of England Young Men’s Society are still to be seen on the side of the postwar building that superseded Curls.
* Charles E Goad Ltd produced detailed fire maps of most of the country and there are several sheets devoted to Norwich. At a time when high density commercial buildings and industrial processes were intermixed these maps provided important information on construction materials, water supplies/hydrants and neighbouring buildings. Every department store mentioned in this post has been been affected by fire.
This map just missed the great change to the east end of the store when, in 1902, the Curl brothers remodelled much of the shop and built a new extension along Orford Place .
All of this was to change during the Baedeker raids of 1942.
For several years after the war, the block that once was Curls was just a (very large) hole in the ground, used as a car park and a water cistern . In a remarkable act of familial cooperation, Jarrolds department store in London Street let Curls (to whom they were related by marriage) occupy the first floor of their London/Exchange Street premises. Curls then moved into property provided by Norwich Union for burnt-out businesses where they traded as ‘Curls of Westlegate’. Here, they sold children’s and ladies fashions, millinery and drapery while their furniture department remained at Exchange Street. Curls had to wait until 1956 for all departments to be reunited in the new store that had arisen on their bomb-damaged site. This steel-framed building, which Pevsner and Wilson judged to be ‘rather too bland … for its position‘, was designed by Wilfred Boning Scott(1858-1981), one of AF Scott’s two sons who followed him into the business. In the 1960s the department store was sold to Debenhams but continued trading as Curls until 1973.
Richard Ellery Garland, born in Stroud, opened his own store in London Street, Norwich, in 1862 .
At 15, Richard Garland had been an apprentice draper in the London area. His own store in Norwich was to specialise in drapery but we see from this advertisement that Garlands were also dressmakers, mantle makers and milliners who sold ‘choice furs’, ‘dainty lingerie’ and corsets.
By 1920 it had become a store with nearly 30 departments. The central bay of the London Street facade was very much as it appeared in the early 1900s but the Little London Street facade and the corner had been modernised.
In 1970, a chip pan fire in the kitchens spread to destroy the store, taking almost 70 firefighters three hours to get the fire under control . Jarrolds pensioners can still remember being on the roof of the neighbouring Jarrolds Department Store, putting out sparks from the Garlands fire.
Garlands was rebuilt in 1973 – its ‘castle-like sheer walls’ supported by a colonnade that provided covered access to the ground floor shops. Pevsner and Wilson  saw it as a ‘respectable attempt to introduce a modernist element‘. Garlands closed in 1984. The following year it reopened as Habitat, which occupied the upper floor until its closure in 2011.
In 1879, Robert Herne Bond (b 1844) from Ludham in The Broads, started his business in Ber Street, Norwich, as a ‘Cash Draper’.
He sold the now familiar stock of mantles, blouse materials, furs, ribbons etc etc, except he differentiated himself from his rivals by claiming the largest stock of millinery in the eastern counties. According to their advertisements, all the large drapers in the city focused on soft furnishings for the house and clothing for women and children. Men were catered for elsewhere, perhaps in tailor shops, of which there were 83 in 1852 .
According to George Plunkett, in the late C19 a Major Crow owned 2-3 cottages on All Saints Green that he restored and converted to the Thatched Assembly Rooms. In 1915 it opened as The Thatched cinema before becoming Robert Bond’s ballroom and furnishing hall. Bond now owned properties that extended from Ber Street through to All Saints Green.
Bonds was bombed in June 1942.
After the war, Robert Bond’s son J Owen Bond, who had worked with George Skipper, designed a new store for his father. In 1982 it began trading as part of the John Lewis Partnership.
London Street, which was originally known as Cockey Lane and London Lane, was a narrow medieval thoroughfare where pedestrians had to duck into doorways to avoid being crushed by carts . There had been talk about widening it since at least the late C18 but this only happened in a piecemeal fashion: first in the mid C19 when the arrival of the railway created demand for better access to the market from Thorpe Station, then with Edward Boardman’s scheme of 1876 at the Gentleman’s Walk end . By the time London Street had become the first pedestrianized street in the country (1967), Jarrolds – on the opposite side of the street – was the only original business remaining .
Jarrolds began life in 1770, in Woodbridge, Suffolk where 25-year-old John Jarrold opened up as a ‘Grocer, Linnen and Woollen-Draper’ in the marketplace . In 1823 his son, also John Jarrold, came to Norwich. He announced in the Norwich Mercury that he and his eldest son John James were open for business in the city as ‘Printers, Booksellers, Binders and Stationers.’ This was on the Gentlemans Walk side of London Street, which was known at that time as Cockey Lane, after the cockey or stream that ran beneath the street. In 1840, John Jarrold and his four sons moved across the street to the present location. The illustration above shows that publishing and selling books remained their main business at the end of the century, detached from the fierce competition between the other large stores who focussed on drapery and millinery etc.
In 1896 the celebrated Norwich architect George Skipper was employing around 50 staff. His offices in Opie Street were now too small so he moved to 7 London Street where he became a neighbour to Jarrold & Sons. In 1903-5, Skipper remodelled the store and some of the changes to the London Street facade can be seen below.
Inside the new-look Jarrolds, circa 1907.
Jarrolds today, in the free Neo-Classical style designed by George Skipper.
The semicircular bay above the main entrance anchors the store to the corner of the marketplace. The facade has been compared to a tiered wedding cake but is not topped off as Skipper had imagined. The architect had proposed a signature copper cupola  but in this case the clients refused to indulge him.
The Exchange Street facade had to wait until 1923 for Skipper to complete the modernisation he had begun in London Street. The remainder of the block, down to Bedford Street, was at that time occupied by the Corn Exchange.
In 1964, Jarrolds increased the size of the store when they bought the Corn Exchange and rebuilt on the site.
One of the most distinctive features of the Jarrolds building is the carved brickwork on Skipper’s former offices. Although architects were not allowed to advertise their practice, Skipper commissioned Guntons brickyard in Costessey to carve six fired clay panels celebrating his work. Look up next time you walk down London Street.
Regular readers may remember a previous post in which I described the character holding up the shield for Skipper’s inspection. Having just been sent a photograph of the shy Guntons’ carver, James Minns, I suggested that the terracotta carving represented Minns himself .
The head was a reasonable likeness of James Minns but the body was awkward and the large panel less convincing than its partner: heavy 3D modelling instead of low relief. In a further post, devoted to Minns’ life and work, I raised the possibility that this could have been an effect of the ‘senile decay’ given as one of the causes of his death in 1904 . In his recent book on Skipper, Richard Barnes provides a further twist . He cites Faith Shaw’s 1971 dissertation in which she mentions discussing the panels with one of Skipper’s foremen who recalled how, ‘everyone in the (Skipper) office shared in the carving.’ If, as it seems, the panels weren’t installed until 1903-4 it might explain why hands other than Minns’ were at work on the Cosseyware panels.
In 1775, Reverend James Woodforde came to Weston Longville, a small village north of Norwich, and remained as rector until his death in 1803. During this time he kept a diary of his life as a country parson but city-dwellers will find it intriguing for his forays into late eighteenth century Norwich.
“… we both agreed it was the finest City in England by far …”
On first visiting Norwich with a friend (1775)
I am following a fascinating booklet on Woodforde’s walks around Norwich by the Parson Woodforde Society . Much has changed across the two hundred and forty five years between his time and ours: World War II bombing raids; the Industrial Revolution; slum clearance; and fitting a medieval city around the motor car. These things changed the city but what is striking is how much of Woodforde’s Norwich still glimmers through. We start at the Marketplace but there is so much to see that we won’t wander far.
The Market established by the Normans, which supplanted the Anglo-Scandinavian trading place in Tombland, has been the thriving hub of the city for almost a thousand years. Here it is in Cotman’s illustration of 1807, not long after Woodforde’s death.
Looking back from the south end, Robert Dighton’s illustration (below) just manages to catch the medieval Guildhall (red arrow), obscured by the tall buildings to the rear of the marketplace. Centre left, the gap between the buildings is Dove Lane but note the absence of a major north exit from the far right corner. To the right of the market is a range of inns and from one of them the London coach is exiting at speed (yellow arrow).
In acknowledgment of the stables behind the coaching inns, Blomefield’s map of 1741 names the lane to the rear as Backside of the Inns.
But by 1766 Samuel King had dignified it as Back of the Inns – the name still used today. He also lists the inns along the east side.
There were inns all around the marketplace but the ones on the east side are given as The Half Moon, The King’s Head, The Bear Inn and The Angel Inn. From The Angel, Parson Woodforde is known to have caught the coach, which he refers to as the ‘London Machine’ or ‘the machine’ .
In 1775, Woodforde’s journeyed from London to Norwich, by post chaise and four (horses): ‘109 miles, and the best of roads I have ever travelled.’ Arriving after ten o’clock at night he found the city gates shut (presumably St Stephen’s Gate), reminding us that the medieval defences were still largely intact at that time. In a telling metaphor for the changes inflicted upon a medieval city by the Victorian age, the stretch of city wall to the north of St Stephen’s Gate was to be used as hardcore for the new Prince of Wales Road. Built in the 1860s, this was intended as a grand approach to connect the new Thorpe railway station with the city centre. The advent of steam was to affect other routes to the city’s markets.
Small changes to the Marketplace accrued after Woodforde died. In 1840, when Queen Victoria married, the fifteenth century Angel Inn was patriotically renamed The Royal. In 1899 it would be demolished and replaced with a fashionable arcade designed by George Skipper . Moulded in marble-like Carrara Ware by Doulton’s WJ Neatby, the figure above the Back of the Inns entrance commemorates the original Angel Inn. As the Royal Inn was disappearing (1896-7), Edward Boardman was building a new Royal Hotel on Agricultural Hall Plain, close to various livestock markets around the Castle, and closer to the railway station.
The fronts of these inns were separated from the Norman Great Market by what appears on King’s Plan of 1766 as ‘Nether Row or Gentleman’s Walk’. ‘Nether’ refers to a lower row of market stalls arranged outside the inns but as early as 1681, Thomas Baskerville had written about ‘a fair walk before the prime inns and houses of the market-place…called gentlemen’s walk or walking place…kept clear for the purposes from the encumbrances of stalls, tradesman and their goods’. Evidently, the walkway outside the inns had become an acceptable place for members of an increasingly polite and enlightened society to promenade, separated from the hurly-burly of the market. An early photograph from 1854 shows The Walk as a paved boulevard set apart from the market by a line of posts .
Newman’s lithograph provides a sense of the fashionable shops along the east side of the marketplace – an early shopping parade.
Woodforde is known to have visited John Toll’s draper’s shop in the Marketplace. He paid seven shillings and sixpence for a pair of cotton stockings for his niece Anna Maria (Nancy) who was his housekeeper and companion . At the shop of Mr Tandy (a ‘Chymist and a Druggist’) he spent three shillings on an ounce of ‘Rhubarb’, presumably tincture of rhubarb, taken for digestive complaints. For thruppence he also purchased Goulard’s Extract, used for inflammation of the skin, although this was later discontinued as it was found to cause lead poisoning.
Although Parson Woodforde drank coffee at The Angel he did not often stay there, preferring to lodge at The King’s Head. It was from here that the Norwich mail coach departed for Yarmouth . And from 1802, two mail coaches left here daily for London, one via Ipswich and one via Newmarket .
Below, Newman’s painting of 1850 shows key changes to the Marketplace as Woodforde would have known it.
In Woodforde’s time there was no wide street exiting the square at the north-east corner but, in 1832, Exchange Street was cut through, connecting the market to St Andrew’s Street then over the newly erected Duke’s Palace Bridge and on towards North Norfolk . On the map above, the purple arrow points to something that would have rocked Parson Woodforde’s world.
In 1812, Alderman Jonathan Davey – Baptist Radical of Eaton Hall –announced in a council meeting that he would put a hole in the king’s head. These apparently seditious words were taken sufficiently seriously for a guard to be placed upon his house but what he actually intended was to put a hole in Gentleman’s Walk. He bought the King’s Head Hotel at auction, demolished it and in place of Woodforde’s preferred coaching inn built a shop-lined thoroughfare that connected those attending the livestock markets around the Castle with the Marketplace . Along with Exchange Street, Davey Place is one of the rare post-medieval streets of Norwich.
The ‘Davey Steps’ connecting Davey Place to Castle Meadow provided a barrier to animals, although the stairway was not insurmountable. In April 1823: “A man who sold sand about the streets of Norwich drove his cart and pair of horses up the flight of ten steps, leading from Davey Place to the Castle ditches. The horses did it with much ease and without receiving any injury, to the astonishment of the spectators” .
Running westward from the Guildhall, at the back of the market, was the fish market.
Here, Woodforde bought soles from Mr Beale, which were sometimes less than fresh . In the days before refrigeration he would take home oysters from the market, although he could also buy them from ‘an old man of Reepham’ . The insanitary Fish Market was replaced in 1860 by a Neoclassical building approximately where the Memorial Gardens are today. This building is at centre of the photograph below. To the right, the building with roof lucams is The Fishmonger’s Arms, a Youngs, Crawshay and Youngs house.
All the old buildings at the back of the market were cleared as part of the construction of City Hall and the Memorial Gardens (1938).
In 1914 the Fish Market was transferred out of the Victorian building and re-sited to Mountergate.
As the Back of the Inns followed the curve of Castle Meadow it flowed into medieval London Lane. This route was narrow and far from ideal. The opening of Norwich (later, Norwich Thorpe) railway station in 1844 created demand for better access to and from the market and London Street was widened accordingly. Most of the medieval buildings familiar to Woodforde were demolished. He would, though, have known this grand doorway from the house of John Bassingham, a goldsmith from Henry VIII’s time, now inserted into the Magistrate’s Entrance of the Guildhall .
The premises of Edward Freeman were in Back of the Inns. We previously encountered this family of cabinet makers when looking at a framed medallion of Amelia Opie . Freemans made high quality picture frames and furniture for country houses like Felbrigg and Blickling Halls but Woodforde’s requirements were more humble: he paid a guinea deposit for two mahogany chests of drawers and half a dozen ash kitchen chairs.
Cockey Lane was at the Guildhall end of London Street, just around the corner from Back of the Inns, and this is where Woodforde visited his upholsterer, James Sudbury. In 1793, two of Sudbury’s workmen – Abraham Seely and Isaac Warren – are claimed to have carried a ‘large New Mohogany Cellarett’ and a sideboard ‘on the Men’s shoulders all the way’; that is, nine miles to Weston Longville . For this Herculean feat Woodforde fed and watered the men and gave them a shilling tip but I can’t help wondering if Sudbury’s cart was hidden down the lane.
Kerrison’s Norwich Bank in the Back of the Inns was where Woodforde brought tithe money collected on behalf of his friend Henry Bathurst (later, Bishop of Norwich) who was then non-resident parson of a neighbouring parish . Woodforde would exchange bills and cash for a banknote that he sent by post to his friend in Oxford. On one occasion he celebrated his good deed by dining at the King’s Head on a mutton chop and a bottle of wine. Five years after Woodforde’s death, Sir Roger Kerrison was to die in an apoplectic fit after which his bank failed, unable to pay the Government the money he had collected as Receiver-General .
In 1793, Parson Woodforde banked £2-12s-0d, collected at Weston Longville for emigré French clergy. These refugees from the French Revolution joined a line of French Protestants who had been finding sanctuary here since the sixteenth century . Just south of the Marketplace, in the smaller Haymarket (and Cheese Market), Woodforde had his watchspring repaired by master watch-maker Peter Amyot, a descendant of French Huguenots . In his diary, Woodforde also mentions other descendants of immigrants: like James Rump, grocer and tallow chandler (whose name had been anglicised from Rumpf ); Elisha de Hague, attorney; and the influential Martineau family, underlining the contribution that newcomers made to this city’s commerce.
Thanks to Alan Theobald for introducing me to the booklet, ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’. Copies are available firstname.lastname@example.org. I am grateful to Martin Brayne of the Parson Woodforde Society for his assistance. To learn more about Parson Woodforde and the society in which he lived, visit https://www.parsonwoodforde.org.uk. I am grateful to Clare Everitt for permission to use images from the wonderful archive of local photographs: Picture Norfolk. Thanks, also, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s photographs of Norwich and Norfolk: www.georgeplunkett.co.uk
London has its famous residential squares, built to enclose green space and clean air against the awfulness outside. These enclaves mainly arose during the Georgian and Victorian periods and from the outset were part of the designed urban landscape.
Norwich, on the other hand, has very few formal, rectangular spaces. In this second post on Norwich Plains we try to define these irregular spaces by contrasting them with more formal squares.
The Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace, Tombland (meaning empty space), and the Norman marketplace that superseded it, are both rectangular but neither of these was called a ‘plain’ for they pre-dated the arrival of the Dutch who gave the name to our open spaces. And although we can point to several isolated Georgian gems there was never sufficient development within the confines of a medieval street plan (if ‘plan’ is the word) to add up to an eighteenth century square. The nearest thing to a London-like square is the Cathedral Close.
Before the word ‘close’ was appropriated by twentieth-century developers for their suburban cul-de-sacs, the name related more specifically to the area around an ecclesiastical building enclosed – cloistered – behind the precinct gates. It may never have been an appropriate name for the more casual, un-green places outside the cathedral walls. Norwich plains are irregular, rather tentative spaces that seem to have arisen where several medieval streets collide. Some plains have been so eroded by tramways, traffic-bearing roads, World War II and general ‘improvement’, that we may wonder whether they existed at all.
St Catherine’s Plain is one such open space. It was the land surrounding the pre-Conquest church of St Catherine that was given to the nuns at Carrow by King Stephen. Now it is one of Norwich’s lost churches and its demise can be traced to the plague that almost depopulated the parish; by the time of the historian Blomefield (1705-1752) it consisted of just one house .
At the southern end of Queen’s Road, between the twentieth century junction with Surrey Street (formerly St Catherine’s Lane) and the following junction with Finkelgate, is a treed area still marked with an older-style cast-iron sign.
Finkelgate connects with the south end of Ber Street, which was once called St. Catherine’s Street . The map below also shows a St Catherine’s Lane and a St Catherine’s Hill, emphasising that the district of St Catherine’s was at one time more extensive than we may now realise.
Walking down Surrey Street to the junction with All Saints’ Green we come to a fine building designed by local architect Thomas Ivory who is responsible for several of the high points of Georgian Norwich. This is his St Catherine’s Close (1780) – a name once given to the place where the parsonage had stood  . The Adam-style porch was damaged when the area was bombed during World War II and is a replacement .
Just east of this house is All Saints Green that, as marked by the yellow star in the 1830 map above, was once known as All Saints Plain. On Samuel King’s map of 1766 this open space is labelled All Saints Green – a name by which it is known today. It appears there was a fluidity in naming places. King’s map also gives the space the alternative name of ‘Old Swine Market’ but by 1806, when Blomefield’s History of Norwich was published, the hog market had moved to the castle ditches.
Born 1844 in Ludham, Robert Herne Bond owned a shop in Ber Street and bought adjoining properties that allowed him to extend through to All Saints’ Green . One of these buildings started life as the Thatched Assembly Rooms before being converted to a ballroom then a cinema. Bond converted it back to a ballroom for his staff and it was also used as a restaurant and furnishing hall. The ‘Thatched’ was destroyed by incendiary bombs in 1942. Immediately the war ended, Bond’s son, the architect J Owen Bond, replaced this collection of vernacular buildings with a Streamline Moderne department store. In 1982, Bonds of Norwich was taken over by John Lewis .
St Giles’ Plain. The provisional nature of some of the Norwich plains is apparent from Richard Lane’s book The Plains of Norwich. White’s Directory of 1845 does not, he writes, list St Giles’ Plain in the street guide despite several traders giving their address there . Nor could I find it on the 1884 OS map, the Millard & Manning 1830 map, Cole’s 1807 and King’s 1766. This is not to say that the plain didn’t exist but that locals were more ready than mapmakers to use the local name for these open spaces.
The church stands at the intersection of Upper St Giles and St Giles Streets, Cow Hill and Bethel Street, with Willow Lane to the rear. The area outside the church would have looked more tranquil before the 1970s when Cleveland Street joined the plain, bringing traffic off the Grapes Hill roundabout and the Inner Link Road.
Until the Conquest, the settlement’s main axis ran north-south, from Magdalen Street, through Tombland, to King Street. The Normans changed this by developing the ‘French Borough’ westwards from their Castle and Marketplace. Two Norman streets from the market converged at St Giles: Lower Newport (now St Giles Street) and Upper Newport (now Bethel, formerly Bedlam, Street).
The church is situated on a hill, 85 feet above sea level. If you were to stand on top of the magnificent tower you would be 205 feet above the sea; not as tall as the county’s high point, Beeston Bump (344 feet), but still dizzyingly elevated for Norfolk. Two thirds up the tower the single clock-face points down St Giles’ Street to the Guildhall, next to the marketplace. With a diameter of ten feet the dial should have been easy to see although visibility was improved in the mid-C19 by the addition of a six and half feet minute hand.
Facing the south side of the church, across the plain, is Churchman House built in 1727 for Alderman Thomas Churchman and remodelled in 1751 by his son Sir Thomas. According to Pevsner &Wilson this is ‘the very best Georgian house in Norwich’ .
For two years (1875-7), Churchman House was the first home of the Norwich School for Girls before it moved to the Assembly House and then to its present location on Newmarket Road in 1933 . After the girls moved out in 1877, Churchman House was bought by Dr Peter Eade, sheriff and three times mayor. Dr Eade was an eminent citizen, being Chief Physician at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, on St Stephen’s Road. He was also first President of the Norwich Medico-Chirurgical Society at a time when meetings would be held on the night of a full moon to help members return home safely.
Dr Eade was also embroiled in the affair of Sir Thomas Browne’s skull, that I recently wrote about . Physician and philosopher Thomas Browne, the city’s most famous citizen of the seventeenth century, was buried in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft. In 1840 his skull was stolen when his coffin was broken open during the burial of the vicar’s wife. After some years the skull was bequeathed to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital Museum where, despite numerous requests for its return, it stayed until 1922. Peter Eade ‘must have been one of the leading figures behind the hospital’s refusal to return the skull’ . At the time, skulls of the famous were used for phrenology, the pseudo-scientific name for ‘reading the bumps’ – the dubious procedure for deducing personal characteristics from the shape of the cranium. Yet while Eade the Physician fought against the restoration of the skull, Eade the Mayor championed the commission for Browne’s statue, which was installed in the Haymarket in 1905 .
St Mary’s Plain feels more of an open space than others in Norwich-over-the-Water, possibly because of the borrowed elbow room provided by the large churchyard.
The plain takes its name from St Mary-at-Coslany, Coslany (or island with reeds) being one of the four original Anglo-Saxon settlements on which the city is based. On the belfry, the double openings with the recessed shaft reveal the church’s Anglo-Saxon origins. It is probably the oldest in Norwich .
Until the late C19 the area consisted of ‘noxious courts and alleys’  but all this was to change dramatically in the following century. Norwich-over-the-Water housed many light-industrial factories and was bombed several times during the Baedeker Raids. In 1942 the church was badly damaged by incendiaries.
Above, just visible to the left, is St Mary’s Baptist Chapel. It dates from 1951 although various versions had stood on this site since 1745. Below, is the chapel on the 12th of September 1939.
War had been declared against Germany on the 3rd September 1939. A week later, fire swept through the Baptist church but this was not caused by enemy action – a hint of the damage can be seen on the roof. Rebuilt to the original design, the church was opened again a year later but in June 1942 was completely gutted, this time as a result of the Baedeker bombing campaign. The church we see today was opened in July 1951 (see  for the detailed history of this area and of wartime bomb damage).
The Baedeker raids of 1942 also claimed medieval Pykerell’s House, named after an early C16 Sheriff and three-times mayor. Extensively restored, it is one of only six thatched houses left in Norwich. Surprisingly, I can find no reports that its conjoined but unthatched neighbour – Zoar Strict and Particular Chapel – suffered any damage in the blaze. In evading the Luftwaffe’s incendiary bombs the church was echoing its biblical namesake, Zoar, one of the five cities of the plain (the Dead Sea Plain) to escape the fire and brimstone that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah.
It is intriguing that Zoar, a small Baptist chapel, should be sited so close to the large, general Baptist Chapel further along the plain. This break-away branch of the Baptist faith is ‘strict and particular’ in allowing only those baptised by immersion to receive communion.
The shape of the plain as we saw it on King’s map of 1766 was further changed in the 1920s. Then, old slum dwellings were demolished to make way for St Mary’s Works, home to Sexton, Son and Everard, one of the city’s large shoe-making factories. But it, too, was extensively damaged in 1942 by the summer bombing campaign. The building was restored but the business closed in 1976 and now it awaits redevelopment.
In researching the city’s open spaces I came across an article that gave insight into the extent to which the cathedral’s brethren fulfilled their moral obligation to feed the poor .
Almary Green is not named for the Virgin Mary but because of its proximity to the Almonry. The Almoner’s House and Almonry Green are situated in the south-west corner of The Close conveniently near the paupers soliciting alms at St Ethelbert’s Gate. Here, the almoner had his own granary, distinct from the priory’s Great Granary. This separation ensured that the needy were fed mainly rye or ‘horse’ bread to accompany their soup or pottage based on pulses while wheat from the other store was used to make the white bread eaten by the brethren. From the accounts, the monks appeared to have eaten and drunk in ‘truly heroic quantities’. Bread and ale comprised about half their diet while fish and meat (but little dairy and no fruit and vegetables) made up the other half. Modern nutritional guidelines suggest the paupers had the better deal.
In 1422, on Maundy Thursday, sufficient supplies were distributed to feed 5,688 poor. And on the anniversary of the death of the founder, Herbert de Losinga, around 10% of the annual allocation of rye, peas and barley was doled out in one day. It is not clear how the remainder was distributed throughout the rest of the year. In 1310-11, 33,000 loaves, 28,500 portions of pottage and 216,000 gallons of weak ale were given to the poor. If no food was distributed outside the charity season then the soup kitchen could have catered for around 1350 persons, possibly served by the monks. If, however, food was provided throughout the year then the almoner could have fed around 500 paupers a day . Despite the fact that Norwich was a relatively wealthy city it is clear that a large part of the population required social care and it was the church that provided it before the Elizabethan Poor Laws.
The main source for this post has been Richard Wilson’s excellent book on Norwich Plains. As ever, I am grateful to Jonathan Plunkett for generously allowing access to his father’s collection of C20 photographs of Norwich.
I recently came across that quotation by Dorothy Parker about members of the Bloomsbury Group living in squares, painting in circles and loving in triangles. They couldn’t have done that in Norwich for although we have circles and triangles we don’t have squares. Instead, we have plains, an import from the Low Countries.
Plains aren’t restricted to Norwich for you’ll stumble across them in Norfolk and Suffolk; I came across this one in Great Yarmouth.
It was in 1566 that the Fourth Duke of Norfolk requested Queen Elizabeth’s permission to invite ‘thirty Douchemen’ to help revive Norwich’s flagging textile trade. The following year this trickle became a flood when Protestants from the Spanish Netherlands escaped the religious intolerance of Philip II of Spain . But the word ‘plain’ for an open space predated these arrivals: Nicholas Sotherton’s eye-witness account of Kett’s 1549 rebellion refers to ‘the playne before the pallace gate’  so the word was an earlier introduction, part of the city’s already long association with the Low Countries.
St Martin at Palace Plain – now the site of the Wig & Pen pub and John Sell Cotman’s house – was the site of a pitched battle between the King’s forces and Robert Kett’s men.
Lord Sheffield fell from his horse and, as was the custom, he removed his helmet expecting to be ransomed. Instead, he was bludgeoned to death by a butcher named Fulke. Sheffield and 35 others were buried in the adjacent church.
In his book The Plains of Norwich, Richard Lane wrote that only five of the fifteen Norwich plains are officially marked by a street sign; St Martin’s at Palace Plain is one of them as is Agricultural Hall Plain, at the east end of Castle Meadow .
At one time the castle was ringed by various livestock markets for which the Agricultural Hall of 1882 provided formal focus. The sloping plain outside the Hall stands at the top of Prince of Wales Road, a wide, curving street. It was built in 1865 to connect Norwich Thorpe Railway Station to the city; it was never finished as planned and is only graceful in parts. However, the buildings on the plain at the top of the road ‘dignify the new entry to the city’ . From the left (below) we see: part of Barclays Bank – a huge banking hall designed like a Roman palazzo by the local firm of E Boardman & Son with Brierley & Rutherford of York (1929); next, a monument to the Boer War – the statue of Peace sculpted by George and Fairfax Wade (1904); then the Royal Hotel, another local masterpiece by the Boardmans (1896-7), decorated in moulded red brick from Gunton’s Costessey Brickworks . To the right we get a glimpse of the Agricultural Hall itself. It was built in 1882 in local red brick and alien red Cumberland sandstone, again relieved with decorative Cosseyware.
The Agricultural Hall was inaugurated in 1882 by the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, who was Patron of the Norwich Fat Cattle Show Association. This was the year that Oscar Wilde started his lecture tour of America where one of his topics was ‘The House Beautiful’. Two years later he came to the Agricultural Hall to deliver the same lecture, no doubt well received by cattlemen on both sides of the Atlantic.
Just visible to the left is the former Crown Bank of 1866 built by Sir Robert Harvey. As we saw in The Norwich Banking Circle, Harvey named his Crown Bank after the Crown Point estate, just outside the city at Whitlingham. The estate was bought from the aptly named Major Money – intrepid balloonist and someone who had served in the army at Crown Point fort in North America.
Before we leave Agricultural Hall Plain we should take some cheer from knowing that Laurel and Hardy stayed in the Royal Hotel in 1954.
Looking out from the Hall (now Anglia TV), across Agricultural Hall Plain, is its conjoined twin – Bank Plain.
On the site now occupied by the former Barclays Bank stood its predecessor, Gurney’s Norwich Bank, established in the late C18.
At the time, the open space was called Redwell Plain but after Gurney’s opened it became known as Bank Plain. The well is still commemorated in Redwell Street, which runs between Bank Plain and St Andrew’s Street.
Today, it is possible to travel to St Andrew’s (Hall) Plain by following the bend in the road down the hill to Suckling House/Cinema City. But, as the map shows, this extension of St Andrew’s Street did not exist in 1884; it was created so that the new electric trams, which ushered in the twentieth century, could avoid the tight corner where Redwell Street meets Princes Street.
Garsett House – also known as Armada House since it was reputedly built from the timbers of a ship wrecked during the Spanish Armada – was bisected in the process.
St Andrew’s Hall is the nave of what was the Blackfriar’s or Domican church of Norwich – the most complete surviving medieval friary in England. Present-day Blackfriars Hall was formerly the friars’ chancel and, as the map above indicates, was also once the church of the Dutch-speaking community .
The engraving by Wenceslas Holler (1607-1677) shows the nave and chancel meeting beneath an octagonal tower that collapsed in 1712. Home to the ‘Order of Preachers’, as the Dominican Friars are known, the large internal volume of St Andrew’s Hall was designed for spreading the word . Outside, St Andrew’s Plain was also used as a preaching yard but during Kett’s Rebellion it witnessed less peaceable activity for it was on the plains, rather than the tortuous medieval alleyways, that pitched battles could be fought. Sotherton saw the rebel bowmen let loose ‘a mighty force of arrowes’… ‘as flakes of snow in a tempest’ but Captain Drury’s band of arquebusiers, with their early versions of the musket, replied with ‘such a terrible volley of shot (as if there had been a storm of hayle)’, leaving about 330 dead . St Andrew’s Hall was used as stables until the uprising was quelled.
Maddermarket Plain is one of the city’s smaller plains . It is situated at the junction of St Andrew’s Street, Duke Street, St John Maddermarket (formerly St John’s Street) and Charing Cross. The latter two names provide a thumping clue to the history of this district. ‘Charing Cross’ is thought to be a corruption of ‘shearing’ – the process where the raised pile on woollen cloth was cut to a standard height with shears. ‘Madder’, of course, refers to the red/deep pink dye derived from madder roots and used to colour fabric the famous ‘Norwich Red’.
The Charing Cross/Westwick Street area was at the heart of the textile industry  and the river was where its waste products ended up. Just above Charing Cross on the map is Fuller’s Lane – fulling being a process in which cloth is cleaned. In a previous post  we saw that in the C19 the master dyer Michael Stark emptied his dye vats into the Wensum from his factory next to the Duke’s Palace Bridge but this kind of pollution had been happening for centuries. On his journeys through England in 1681 Thomas Baskerville noted that the duke’s great townhouse was ‘seated in a dung-hole place’, surrounded by tradesmen cleaning and dyeing cloth . The palace was later abandoned.
At the beginning of the 1500s, Norwich had been devastated by two fires that destroyed over 1000 houses . The extent of the damage was such that some 70 years later the mayor was discussing how to deal with unrestored plots. When Queen Elizabeth I visited Norwich in 1578 she commented on the number of derelict properties despite the steps taken to shield her from the worst. To convey her from the Marketplace to the Cathedral (centuries before Exchange Street was open) the east wall of St John’s Maddermarket was rebuilt in order to widen the street .
In his book, Richard Lane  skips forward a few centuries to end with the last recorded plain of the twentieth century. This is University Plain, the site of the University of East Anglia where Sir Denys Lasdun built his 1960s paean to concrete. You might imagine the plain to be an open meeting space, such as the amphitheatre-like Central Court, but it appears to refer to the large site as a whole.
The use of the word ‘plain’ continues into the twenty-first century. In 1771 William Fellowes, a wealthy and philanthropic squire, built in Shotesham (ca. eight miles south of Norwich) what is claimed to be the earliest cottage hospital in England. Benjamin Gooch was the first surgeon and he, together with Fellowes, went on to propose a new general hospital for the city of Norwich. Designed by local architect William Ivory, the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was built just outside the city wall at St Stephen’s Gate on land provided by the council at a nominal rent. Fellowes laid the foundation stone in 1771 and it was completed in 1775.
In 2003 a new hospital was built on the outskirts of Norwich at Colney leaving the old N&N site to be developed for housing by Persimmon Homes on the newly-coined Fellowes Plain .
The word ‘plain’, as applied to Fellowes Plain, seems to refer to the entire site although three open spaces within this are named ‘plain’ in their own right. The first is Kenneth McKee Plain, dedicated to Ken McKee CBE (1906-1991), orthopaedic surgeon at the N&N who pioneered the total hip replacement.
The second is Edward Jodrell Plain. Dozens of searches provide no insight beyond repeating the salient fact that he was a major benefactor. The Jodrell family of Bayfield Hall, near Holt, were known to have been benefactors to the N&N . As far back as 1814 Henry Jodrell left £200 to the hospital in his will. His nephew Edward (1785-1852) and Edward’s son Captain Edward Jodrell have the necessary forename but it was Captain Jodrell’s youngest son Alfred who seems best remembered for his philanthropy. He sent baskets of fruit and vegetables each week to the hospital and at Christmas gave 40 oven-ready chickens and the same number of turkeys, underlining the Jodrells’ tradition of giving to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.
The third plain on the site of the old hospital is the large green known as Phillipa Flowerday Plain.
Before being employed by Colmans at their Carrow Works, Phillipa Flowerday (1846-1930) trained and worked as a nurse at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital. According to Rod Spokes, former Colmans manager, when the company’s dispensary was founded in 1864 a man was employed to visit male employees at home and report on cases of need. In 1872, Phillipa was employed to visit the families of the workpeople as well as assisting the doctor in the dispensary. She is therefore celebrated as the first industrial nurse in the country .
Thanks: I was inspired to write this post by Richard Lane’s excellent book on Norwich Plains and I have drawn upon it freely. I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permissions and the George Plunkett website for the use of photographs. I am grateful to Rod Spokes for information about the Colmans dispensary.
The confrontation between the Classical Revival (based on Greco-Roman principles of symmetry and proportion) and the Gothic Revival (based on the pointed arches and pinnacles of English medieval cathedral-building) dominated this country’s architecture in the nineteenth century. There is very little Victorian Gothic in Norwich but the Classical influence endured well into the twentieth century as the preferred style for temples of commerce. It took World War II and the post-war clearances before the modern took hold.
At the beginning of the century, George Skipper designed his masterwork for Norwich Union: “Without any doubt … one of the most convinced Edwardian office buildings .
George Skipper’s Surrey House for Norwich Union (now Aviva) 1904
In 1926, FCR Palmer and WFC Holden designed a ‘splendid’ building for the National Westminster Bank in London Street. Pevsner and Wilson wrote that it was modelled on a Wren city church: “One would assign a much earlier date to it .”
A Wren-like church in the first pedestrianised street in the country. Now the Cosy Club.
And as late as 1929 “a kind of Renaissance ” style was employed for the large Barclays Bank on Bank Plain that replaced the C18 bank of Gurney & Co, formed as an amalgamation of Quaker banking interests.
Designed for Barclays Bank by Edward Boardman & Son with Brierley & Rutherford of York, it was last used by the Open Youth Charity, now in liquidation.
Below, the Stuart Court apartments in Recorder Road show that the Arts and Crafts Movement also survived into the C20. These were built in the manner of almshouses by ET Boardman; he had married into the Colman family and designed the Dutch-gabled houses in memory of his brother-in-law James Stuart who had been concerned about the poor quality of housing for the elderly. The Dutch gables are a perfect example of vernacular revival in a city whose population at one time contained one third or more religious refugees from the Spanish Netherlands.
Stuart Court, designed by ET Boardman in 1914 but not completed until after the war
Behind the traditional facade the Stuart apartments were built around reinforced concrete but this material, and metal framework, had been used in the Boardman practice for decades. In fact a more forward-looking kind of architecture – neither Gothic nor Classical but proto-modern in the suppression of detail – had been introduced to the city by Boardman Senior with his factory buildings nearly half a century earlier.
Haldinstein and Bally shoe factory (1872) by E Boardman 2-4 Queen Street
In 1912, Bunting’s Drapers and General Warehousemen of St Stephen’s Street was constructed by Norwich-based architect AF Scott using non-traditional techniques. Here, an internal steel support was clad with stone curtain-walling but there was still a diffidence in giving it a more modern external appearance. Instead, the building was decorated in a genteel Classical Revival style, the stone panels beneath the windows carved with ‘Adam’ swags.
The structure was topped by a cupola of the kind that George Skipper had used as a signature on his buildings around 1900 .
‘Buntings’ site at the corner of St Stephens’ and Rampant Horse Streets is now occupied by Marks and Spencer, minus the dome. The more modern infill to the right is the former site of F W Woolworth.
After WWI the city’s priority was to build, in Lloyd George’s words, “homes fit for heroes”. This involved massive slum clearance followed by a programme of local authority house-building that led to 40% of the population living in council houses by the end of the 1950s . The most notable of the municipal estates was at Mile Cross, north of the city centre (1918-20). This was the council’s first foray into large estate building, for which they engaged Stanley Adshead, the first Professor of Town Planning at University College London, who laid out the estate on Garden City principles .
Variety was achieved by modifying standard house plans. Local architects such as George Skipper (a long way from his ‘fireworks’ of the turn of the century) and AF Scott (better known for his work on Methodist chapels) adapted these to reflect early C19 Norwich neo-Georgian housing; others incorporated Arts and Crafts details, such as pin tiles on the first floor elevation that seem more reminiscent of Kent and Sussex than Norfolk .
While social housing was adhering to the traditional, a revolutionary new international movement was evolving. In 1927 the Bauhaus, founded in Germany by Walter Gropius, began teaching a new kind of architecture in which reinforced concrete was used to produce sweeping layers, its minimalist horizontal lines emphasised by long runs of ribbon window.
The uncluttered International style of the Weissenhof estate housing designed by Le Corbusier in 1927. Photo by qwesy qwesy. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported licence
It would be some years before the International style took hold in Norwich. Diffident nods towards Modernism were provided by the rounded steel windows of the Streamline Moderne version of Art Deco: first at the former Abbey National Building Society offices in London Street …
Designed in the 1930s by FH Swindels of the Boardman office who also helped design Barclays Bank to the left
… and in the Pottergate Tavern.
The Pottergate Tavern, now The Birdcage, 1930s
Pevsner and Wilson  presumed the pub to have been designed by J Owen Bond, a protégé of George Skipper, possibly because of the much larger building he is known to have designed with similar Streamline Moderne influences. J Owen, third son of Robert Bond, designed this replacement for his father, whose department store was damaged by bombing in WWII. A follower on Twitter said that her neighbour could see the flames from Arminghall, to the south of the city.
Bond’s of Norwich (now John Lewis) designed by J Owen Bond. One of the first modern buildings to spring up after the war (begun 1946).
By sticking with its medieval Guildhall throughout the C19, Norwich missed out on the grandiose Victorian town halls erected by its competitors in the industrial north. In the late 1930s Norwich did build a new city hall and Pevsner and Wilson  wrote that it “must go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars.”
Norwich City Hall designed by CH James and SR Pierce in 1931, completed 1937-8
The essentially plain style was borrowed from the Swedish Classical of Stockholm’s City Hall with the colonnaded portico of that city’s Concert Hall. But, because of these backward-looking references, architectural historian Stefan Muthesius felt that the term ‘modern’ didn’t quite apply to Norwich City Hall .
Instead, Muthesius awarded the accolade for the city’s first real International Modern-style to David Percival’s City Library, opposite the City Hall. Percival had come from Coventry in 1954, “then the hot-bed of civic-minded modernism”; as Norwich’s new City Architect he designed the new library, which was completed in 1962 and burned down in 1994.
Percival was responsible for introducing mainstream Modernism into Norwich’s postwar public buildings though he strove to soften its hard edges with regional references, especially on domestic-scale projects. By tempering Modernism with the local spirit, Percival is credited with pioneering the Vernacular Revival style . The impact of massed concrete panels on the library, for example, was moderated by pre-cast panels of split-flint cladding (although a glance at the nearby Guildhall shows just how far this was from vernacular techniques).
Perhaps the most famous example of Vernacular Revival in Norwich’s public housing is the Camp Grove scheme off Kett’s Hill. Here, Tayler and Green’s signature decorative brickwork and patterned bargeboards – combined with changes in roof pitch, four different pantiles and 16 types of brick and flint – provide an unexpected degree of variation .
St Leonard’s Road 1973-6.
In contrast to the City Hall, Norfolk County Hall – built in 1966 in the International Modern style – never attracted much praise. Pevsner and Wilson dismissed it as “an ordinary steel-framed office tower.”
Norfolk County Hall 1966 by Reginald Uren. Photo: Keith Evans geograph.org CC BY-SA 2.0
Other forays into the International Style, such as the eight-storey block to the right of Skipper’s building for Norwich Union in Surrey Street, were also poorly received. Never one for mincing his words, Ian Nairn thought it “a completely anonymous slab” . Evidently not a style for an ancient county town.
The 1945 City Plan envisaged a post-war Norwich in which the car played a major part . In 1971 the inner ring road split Norwich-over-the-Water: the two halves were to receive different treatments. The northern half was to be the site of the Anglia Square development with a large cinema, offices, multi-storey parking plus that symbol of the new age – a pedestrian shopping precinct. Her Majesty’s Stationery Office at Sovereign House was a key part of the scheme and it was this New Brutalist building that marked the rise and fall of the site as a whole – the HMSO pulling out well short of its 40-year lease, leaving the building derelict by the new millennium.
The raw concrete and glass of Sovereign House by Alan Cooke and Associates 1966-8.
Currently, we await the outcome of a planning application to redevelop the entire Anglia Square site with 12-storey blocks and a 20-storey tower. The scale of the proposal shows that no lessons have been learned from the brief history of Anglia Square in which an ‘out of scale’  development was imposed upon a historic site. For an appreciation of the Gildencroft area see .
There was no such grand project on the city side of the inner ring road and this part of Norwich-over-the Water fared better.
Inside the inner ring road, looking westward: in the distance, St Mary’s House; the glass and concrete St Crispin’s House; and the red brick of Cavell House.
In this snapshot from the evolution of office building, the 1960s curtain-walling of St Mary’s House on the far side of the St Crispin’s roundabout was succeeded by the 1970s layers of concrete and glass in St Crispin’s House, built for HMSO when permission was denied for an extension to Sovereign House at Anglia Square. A starker contrast was between the Brutalist concrete of St Crispin’s House juxtaposed against the red brickwork of 1990s Cavell House. This was part of what has been recognised as a “welcome softening of approach since the late 1980s”  for, as part of the Postmodern credo, Cavell House reacted against Modernism by providing local context missing from Anglia Square. Here, the windows on the upper floor referenced the long through-light weavers’ windows once common in this, the heart of the city’s textile trade. The flat arches heading the lower windows were borrowed from Sherwyn House, an old brush factory (now renovated apartments by Feilden & Mawson) further down St George’s Street. (See  for more about this district).
C20 Cavell House above, C19 Sherwyn House below
There was no such confrontation between new and old at the University of East Anglia where Denys Lasdun in the 1960s (replaced by Bernard Feilden in 1969), and Rick Mather in the 1980s, were able to build on a green-field site without planning constraints . A Teaching Wall snaked through the original scheme, separated from the residential blocks by a first-floor walkway. Lasdun’s residences consisted of a cascade of study/bedrooms forming the ziggurats that have become emblematic of the UEA.
Denys Lasdun’s concrete ziggurats of 1966-7
As part of the second-phase of the masterplan, Rick Mather’s Constable Terrace echoed the serpentine form of Lasdun’s original layout but its smooth white rendering was a deliberate break from the hardline grayness of the earlier student housing.
Rick Mather’s highly energy-efficient Constable Terrace of 1991-3
Facing Constable terrace is the Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts (1974-8). Designed by Norman Foster and Wendy Cheeseman, the tubular steel exoskeleton represents what is probably this country’s first use of High-Tech industrial architecture applied to a museum or gallery. The superstructure encloses a magnificent open space, some 130 metres long, that accommodates Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury’s art collection, along with university teaching areas.
The High-Tech Sainsbury Centre by Foster & Associates. The glass bridge is a continuation of the pedestrian walkway that winds at first floor level along the university’s spine.
Just squeaking in at the close of the twentieth century The Forum, funded by the Millennium Commission, was begun in 1999. Designed by Hopkins and Associates the Forum replaced David Percival’s flint-clad Central Library of the 1960s, destroyed by fire. This ‘Son of High Tech’ building  houses BBC studios, a restaurant, a café and what has become the most popular library in the country. The jaws of the horseshoe-shaped plan are closed by a glazed wall that – in a display of good manners – withdraws from, rather than confronts, the glorious St Peter Mancroft opposite.
Knighted by King Charles II in St Andrew’s Hall, Sir Thomas Browne (1605-1682) was probably Norwich’s most famous inhabitant of the seventeenth century. He was born in London, the son of a silk merchant and, after being educated in Oxford, Padua, Montpellier and Leiden, settled in Norwich where he practiced as a physician until he died .
Sir Thomas Browne, from St Peter Mancroft, Norwich
He was famed as a polymath whose writings reveal an inquisitive mind that explored subjects as diverse as: the fault line between his training as a physician and the Christian faith (in Religio Medici, 1643); his debunking of myths and falsehoods (Pseudodoxia Epidemica, 1646); the incidence of the number five in patterns in nature (The Garden of Cyrus, 1658); and his celebrated and lyrical musings about death, prompted by the discovery of funerary urns in a Norfolk field (Hydriotaphia, or Urne-Buriall, 1658).
This was at a time when modern science was in its infancy. The scientific method, promoted by Sir Francis Bacon (1561-1626), involved framing hypotheses based on observations viewed through the filter of scepticism.
Sir Francis Bacon 1561-1626. From Gainsborough Old Hall, artist unknown
Browne was appropriately sceptical in his examination of Vulgar Errors (Pseudodoxia Epidemica) like: Does a carbuncle give off light in the dark? and, Do dead kingfishers make good weathervanes? He even attended the trial in Bury St Edmunds of two women who were hanged for witchcraft. But the Enlightenment had barely got going and the proto-scientist Browne found himself straddling two worlds that had yet to drift apart – even Sir Isaac Newton sought the philosopher’s stone that would turn base metal into gold.
My first encounter with Sir Thomas was when I was trying to understand how plant cells and other solid bodies pack together . I had gained some insight from another early scientist, Stephen Hales (1677-1761). By squashing a pot of pea seed then counting the number of flat faces impressed onto each seed by its neighbours, Hales came up with the number 12. You can make a dodecahedron by joining together 12 pentagons, making one of only a handful of ‘ideal’ solid bodies (another is a cube made of six squares). Plato knew this .
Rotating dodecahedron. By André Kjell, Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
But in real life, the shapes of plant cells are far from perfect and don’t pack together neatly like Platonic Lego. Instead, they tend, on average, to be 14-sided and each side tends, on average, to be a pentagon . Nevertheless, this idea of fiveness took me back a further century to fellow citizen Thomas Browne.
Frontispiece to The Garden of Cyrus (1658). The founder of the first Persian Empire, Cyrus, is believed to have based the optimal spacing lattice for planting trees on the quincunx.
In The Garden of Cyrus or The Quincuncial Lozenge (1658)  Browne developed his ideas about the quincunx – the X-shape with four points forming a square or rectangle with a fifth point in the centre.
Browne saw this pattern throughout nature; he saw the quincunx on the trunk of the ‘Sachell palme’ and in the fruits of pineapple, fir and pine. In ragweed and oak he also noted that successive leaves followed a spiral, with every fifth lined up along the stem. These were, before the word, explorations into phyllotaxis or the pattern in which leaf buds emerge from the shoot tip (paired, alternating, spiral). Now, more than 300 years later, the spiral pattern is known to be far more complex than the quincunx. The number of intersecting left-handed-and right-handed spirals tend to be successive numbers on the Fibonacci series, usually 5 and 8, or 8 and 13. (Fibonacci’s series is 0,1,1,2,3,5,8,13,21 etc, where the next number is the sum of the last two). Browne may not have been correct but he was there in the first flush of modern science and deserves credit for offering a mathematical basis for patterns in nature.
Many of the words from Sir Thomas Browne’s writings have found their way into the Oxford English Dictionary; indeed, he stands 25th in the list of contributors . Sadly, ‘retromingent’ – for peeing backwards – never made it into the OED but many others did, including:
electricity, pubescent, polarity, prototype, rhomboidal, archetype, flammability, follicle, hallucination, coma, deductive, misconception, botanical, incontrovertible, approximate, and an early example of ‘computer’.
Despite the scepticism required of a follower of Bacon, and ‘the scandal of my profession‘, Browne remained a convinced Christian who examined his spiritual beliefs in his most famous book, Religio Medici .
1736 edition of Browne’s Religio Medici. Courtesy of Glasgow University Library
He was surprisingly tolerant for his time. In the first unauthorised edition of Religio Medici (The Religion of a Physician) in 1642, Browne expressed unorthodox religious ideas including the extension of toleration to infidels and those of other faiths. When the authorised version appeared the following year some of the controversial views had been excised but this didn’t prevent its inclusion on the papal list of prohibited books.
Browne’s major works were written in Norwich, at his house near St Peter Mancroft, close to the Norman marketplace.
Browne’s world. Cole’s map of 1807 shows Thomas Browne’s house (red) and St Peter Mancroft (yellow) with the Haymarket between.
Thomas Browne’s House off the Haymarket, by AW Howlings 1907. This version is changed little from a drawing of 1837 when the pairs of windows either side of the corner pillar were bow-fronted. Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1907.33.2.
The fireplace and overmantel from Sir Thomas Browne’s House by Miss Ellen Day and Mrs Luscombe 1841.Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: FAW19.
After posting this article, Wayne Kett of the Museum of Norwich informed me that this overmantel was in storage as part of their collection. One source had indicated that the coat of arms was that of James I but it seems to be that of Charles II, which makes mores sense since – as we will see – it was he who knighted Browne.
In 1671, the royal court of Charles II came to Norwich. The diarist and gardener John Evelyn was part of the entourage and wrote, “His whole house and garden is a Paradise & Cabinet of rarities, & that of the best collection, especially Medails, books, Plants, natural things” … “amongst other curiosities, a collection of the Eggs of all the foule & birds he could procure … as Cranes, Storkes … & variety of waterfoule” . What Evelyn saw was the first attempt at listing the birds of Norfolk.
The house was demolished in 1842 but we know – because a green plaque tells us so –that it stood approximately where Pret a Manger is now housed in Haymarket Chambers, at the junction with Orford Place. Historian AD Bayne confirms that ‘Sir Thomas Browne is supposed to have lived in the last house of the southern end of the Gentleman’s Walk, where the Savings Bank now stands’ . But the bank stood in the way of progress.
To allow the new trams to turn the corner more easily into Orford Place, the Norfolk and Norwich Savings Bank was demolished and replaced with Skipper’s curved design. The corner-cutting is shown on the 1884 OS map that we’ll bear in mind while trying to figure out where Browne’s Garden House lingered on from 1844 to 1961.
Green star = Green’s Outfitters; red Star = Star Inn; yellow line = Livingstone Hotel; purple line = Green’s Orford Place branch; blue circle = approximate site of Browne’s Garden House. OS map 1884
According to George Plunkett, numbers 3-5 Orford Place (Little Orford Street on above map), which was demolished in 1956, had a stone inscription stating that this was the site (probably the side) of Thomas Browne’s house . But Plunkett placed Browne’s timber-framed garden house a little distance from the main house, between the Livingstone Hotel (yellow line) and Green’s shop (green star). He said, ‘only the peak of its tall attic gable visible above the roof of the adjacent Lamb Inn’. So it couldn’t have been in Lamb Inn yard, adjacent to the former site of Browne’s house.
Later, Green’s the Outfitters, whose main shop faced the Haymarket, opened a branch next door to the Livingstone in Orford Place and this will furnish us with an eye-witness description of Browne’s Garden House. In 1961, both buildings were demolished to make way for a Littlewoods Department Store, in turn replaced by Primark.
On the opposite (Haymarket) side of this block of buildings, Green’s main branch stood adjacent to Skipper’s Haymarket Chambers. The slight bend in the building line marks where, around 1900, Green’s expanded into the former Star Hotel.
Green’s in 1959. The upper floors of Skipper’s Haymarket Chambers are just visible, right, separated from Green’s by the entrance to the Lamb Inn. Photo courtesy of Archant Library.
Browne’s main house disappeared long before modern ideas of conservation, but the loss of his garden house in 1961 now seems an inexcusable loss. His botanical garden had been admired by John Evelyn and ‘Fellows of the Royal Society (thought it) well worthy of a long pilgrimage’ . Our Protestant Dutch refugees – who held annual competitions called Florists’ Feasts  – imported a love of plant breeding and it would be surprising if, in such an environment, Browne’s garden was restricted to medicinal plants.
In 1950, Noël Spencer visited Greens when they ‘were using the Livingstone as a shop and, while making a purchase there (i.e., Green’s Orford Place branch), I noticed an ancient building in the yard behind, and obtained permission to draw it .’ This places the Garden House in the yard marked with a blue dot on the 1888 map.
Further confirmation for the location of Browne’s Garden House came after this article was posted. On Twitter, Bethan Holdridge – Assistant Curator at Strangers’ Hall Museum – replied, mentioning that two of Browne’s Garden House doors in the museum were listed as being given by ‘Messrs Littlewood’ 1961. Also, ‘lying behind former Livingstone Hotel, Castle Street; part of premises of Messrs Green, outfitter 9 and 10 Haymarket.’
To supplement his home garden Sir Thomas leased a plot of land from the Cathedral, known as Browne’s Meadow. In his Adventures of Sir Thomas Browne in the 21st Century, Hugh Aldersey-Williams writes that Browne ‘let it go’, to see what would grow if untended . After Browne died, the ground was used to produce vegetables for the Cathedral, then used as allotments for residents of Cathedral Close. Now it is a car park.
‘Browne’s Meadow’ on the south side of the Cathedral Close
In his book, Urn Burial (1658), Browne explored thoughts prompted by the discovery of funerary urns in a field some 12 miles north of Norwich: ‘Life is a pure flame, and we live by an invisible Sun within us’.
Frontispiece of Sir Thomas Browne’s Hydriotaphia, Urn Burial 1658
This was in the parish of Brampton, near the Pastons’ Oxnead Park where Sir Robert Paston had dug up urns containing ashes and coins (perhaps to pay the ferryman). In the early 1800s the historian Blomefield visited the field where he observed that urns were buried close enough to the surface to have been skimmed by the ploughshare. He observed that this site was near a fortified Roman town and that the Roman name Brantuna meant ‘the place where bodies were burned‘ .
Sir Thomas Browne died on the 19th October 1682. One claim is that he died, having eaten too plentifully of a Venison Feast  but others believe this was out of character for such an abstemious man. He was buried in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft, some 200 yards from his house.
Sir Thomas Browne’s wall monument in the chancel of St Peter Mancroft. The lower panel records that he lies near the foot of this pillar.
In 1905, equidistant between his house and church, the city commemorated an adopted son by unveiling one of its rare statues. From his vantage point above the old hay market, Browne holds the base of a Romano-British funerary urn and meditates on death.
Browne asked, “… who knows the fate of his bones, or how often he is to be buried? Who hath the oracles of his ashes, or whither they are to be scattered? … To be gnawed out of our graves, to have our skulls made drinking-bowls, and our bones turned into pipes to delight and sport our enemies, are tragical abominations .” This turned out to be a premonition.
Sir Thomas Browne lay undisturbed until 1840 when workmen are said to have broken the lid of the lead coffin with a pickaxe while digging the grave of Mrs. Bowman, wife of the then Vicar of St. Peter Mancroft. Mr Fitch, a local antiquarian, was suspiciously at hand and it is not clear whether the desecration was accidental or deliberate. Either way, the sexton, George Potter, removed the skull and some hair. The skull came into the possession of the surgeon, Edward Lubbock, upon whose death it passed to the old Norwich and Norfolk Hospital Museum on St Stephen’s Road (read various explanations of this dubious episode in 12-15). Despite requests from the church, the skull remained on display at the hospital and was only reunited with Browne’s bones in 1922.
At the time of the reinterral the registrar recorded Browne’s age as 317.
Sir Thomas’s coffin plate, which had broken in two during attempts to remove it, had also been ‘mislaid’. One half of this 7×6 inch brass plate lies with other Browne memorabilia in a glass case in the St Nicholas Chapel of St Peter Mancroft.
The accompanying text makes interesting reading, stating that it was collector and antiquary Robert Fitch who further disturbed Browne’s peace by removing his skull.
An impression of the coffin plate revealed an inscription probably composed by his eldest son Edward, physician to Charles II, and President of the College of Physicians .
Impression from the coffin plate of Sir Thomas Browne .
The inscription ends, ‘With the dust of this alchemical body he converts lead into gold’ – something denied even the great Sir Isaac Newton.
Thomas Browne’s knighthood: Ambiguity surrounds the circumstances of Thomas Browne’s knighthood. In 1671 King Charles II and his court came to Norwich where he stayed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace off present-day Duke Street (causing the famous indoor tennis court to be converted into kitchens). The corporation paid £900 for a sumptuous banquet at the New Hall (now St Andrew’s Hall) after which the king conferred honours.
The New Hall, where Browne was knighted, once belonged to the Black Friar’s but was bought for the city from Henry VIII. The Duke’s Palace is to the left. From Samuel King’s map, 1766
According to some accounts Browne was unexpectedly knighted when the mayor, variously named as Henry Herne or Thomas Thacker, ‘earnestly begged to be refused’ and so the honour passed along the line. This played into the idea that a promiscuous monarch with several mistresses was as free in conferring honours as he was lax in his private life. Apparent confirmation of the king’s fickleness came within 24 hours when King Charles knighted 13-year-old Henry Hobart at Blickling. But Trevor Hughes picked out inconsistencies between various accounts, such as uncertainty about the name of the reticent mayor . A more sympathetic interpretation was given by historian Philip Browne who wrote: ‘After dinner his majesty conferred the knighthood on Dr Thomas Browne, one of the most learned and worthy persons of the age. The mayor, Thomas Thacker esq. declined the honour’ . That is, the internationally famed Dr Browne was not accidentally knighted but honoured in his own right.
Recently reprinted. ‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’ contains much more about the development of the Golden Triangle than covered in my blog posts, including photographs of the Unthank family.
This was going to be something quite different but in this fifth week of isolation I haven’t been able to take new photographs, the library and record office are closed, so I’m revisiting a few of my favourite buildings to remind us of life outside this bubble.
Possibly my favourite building, the Pantheon in Rome was completed around 126AD by the emperor Hadrian. The generous classical portico leads into a rotunda of staggering beauty. The coffered (sunken) panels reduced the weight of the roof, helping it remain the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome for nearly 2000 years. On our visit, no-one seemed to mind when the rain came in.
Local pride compels me to mention that Norwich had its own Pantheon , although with a modest diameter of 74 feet – about half the Pantheon’s – it would have caused proportionately fewer jaws to drop.
The Pantheon in Ranelagh Gardens, just off the St Stephen’s roundabout, became the booking office of Norwich Victoria Station (1913). Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk
Another stunner is the great dome of Hagia Sophia in Istanbul, its diameter only marginally less than that of the Pantheon.
To construct what was, in AD 537, the largest building in the world, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian I commissioned a geometer/engineer (Isodore of Miletus) and a mathematician (Anthemius of Tralles). Literally, their task was to square the circle: how to support the circular base of the dome on top of a square base? To make this transition they made innovative use of pendentives – curved triangular segments that allowed the weight of the dome to be spread over the four supporting pillars.
Image courtesy of Buzzie.com
Hagia Sophia at sunset
Another sunset. Approaching Ely from the south, one of the great sights of East Anglia emerges as you crest the brow of a hill and the ‘Ship of the Fens’ rises up.
In 1322 the Norman tower at the central crossing collapsed and when it was realised that it was unfeasible to rebuild in stone the King’s Carpenter, William Hurley, was drafted in . The 70 foot span was beyond the capacity of available timbers so, first, he erected an outer wooden octagon, which was painted to resemble the eight stone piers on which it stood. Then, at the centre of this platform, he constructed a lantern around a vertical octagon of eight timbers. Each a prodigious 63 feet long, these beams were obtained from Chicksands Priory in Bedfordshire .
The central light well, the lantern, is based on an outer octagon of wood painted to look like stone. Photo credit: David Ross and Britain Express
King’s College Chapel Cambridge – another East Anglian treasure – also gives joy. John Wastell built the beautiful fan-vaulting, giving the chapel the unified appearance of a building completed in a single campaign, but it was started by a Plantagenet (Henry VI) and completed by a Tudor (Henry VIII), with the Wars of the Roses in between (1446-1515).
The chapel has ‘the largest fan vault in the world’. (‘world’ meaning England, for fan vaulting was a native invention). The skin of the stone fans is surprisingly thin and their radiating ribs largely decorative. The main work of supporting the prodigious vault is performed by the transverse arches and tapering external buttresses topped with heavy stone finials to counteract the outward thrust . This external support – no flying buttresses here – creates the illusion of internal lightness, a single space tented with a delicate lacework of something less than stone.
The world’s largest fan vault, King’s College Chapel Cambridge. Creative Commons Licence BY-SA 4.0 by ‘Cc364’
King’s College Chapel. CC BY-SA 3.0 by Dmitry Tonkonog
Even closer to home is the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts on the UEA campus, a bike-ride away. Here there is no illusion, for the superstructure that supports this vast open space is in plain view. Fascinated by the fibres that wrap around plant cells I remember looking up to the SCVA’s tubes and struts, waiting (unproductively, as it happens) for architectural inspiration.
All these buildings offer solutions for enclosing and defining large spaces. This negative space is a fundamental element of architecture that Rachel Whiteread captured in her sculpture ‘House’ (1993). She made a concrete cast of the inside of the house in East London then demolished the skin brick by brick. Jonathan Jones of The Guardian said it was: ‘The solid trace of all the air that a room once contained.’
‘House’ by Rachel Whiteread, 1993. It was decided to demolish the sculpture the day she won the Turner Prize. Photo: Apollo Magazine
The first building to make an impression on me was Cardiff Castle, a Gothic fantasy built on the profits from Welsh steam coal.
The Clock Tower, circled with figures representing the planets
The designer William Burgess restored the castle for the Third Marquess of Bute at the height of the Gothic Revival. On his last visit (1881), Burges worked on the Arab Room with its fabulously intricate ceiling lined with gold leaf. ‘Billy’ Burges built this room in homage to the influence of Moorish art on medieval design. It is considered to be his masterpiece .
The Arab Room, Cardiff Castle.
If Rachel Whiteread were to cast the space inside this room it would resemble a Victorian jelly.
Victorian jelly mould. Credit: loveantiques.com
After the Muslims conquered Spain they used the site of a shared Muslim/Christian church to build and extend (C8-C10) the Grand Mosque in Cordoba. When Christian rule was reestablished a Renaissance cathedral was constructed in the middle of the Muslim complex.
Perhaps the most inspiring aspect of the mosque is the enormous space punctuated by 856 columns rescued from Roman buildings. The innovative double arches allowed for a greater ceiling height above the relatively short columns.
Of the three buildings in the Piazza dei Miracoli in Pisa, the one on the left fascinates me most.
The Baptistery, Duomo and Leaning Tower, Pisa
The Baptistery was begun by Duotisalvi in 1153 but wasn’t completed for over 200 years, allowing us to see the transition between the rounded Romanesque and the pointed Gothic.
The immense interior is surprisingly plain.
Photo: Tango7174. CC BY-SA 4.0
I last saw Charles Rennie Mackintosh’s masterpiece in 2012, before the disastrous fires of 2014 and 2018.
Glasgow School of Art, 1896. The compositional asymmetry of the Renfrew Street entrance, pictured here in 2012
Photo: Robert Perry/TPSL/Camera Press
Mackintosh’s unique buildings were filtered through a range of influences. For example, the parade of window frames on the north front are reminiscent of Elizabethan ‘prodigy houses’ with their runs of rectlinear windows …
Mackintosh’s reputation was highest in Austria. When he and his wife Margaret Macdonald were invited to design a room for display at the 8th Secessionist Exhibition of 1900  students paraded them through Vienna on a cart garlanded with flowers, and architect and designer Josef Hoffman– co-founder of the Wiener Werkstätte – described Mackintosh as the leader of the modern movement. This high point contrasted starkly with the latter part of his career when commissions declined and he descended into alcoholism.
The Secession Building designed by Josef Maria Olbrich, Vienna, 1898. Locals refer to the dome as the golden cabbage.
Back in Norfolk, King’s Lynn possesses ‘one of the finest late C17 buildings in provincial England’ . The beautifully proportioned Customs House was commissioned by a local wine merchant, Sir John Turner MP, and designed by local architect, Henry Bell. It was built as a merchants’ exchange at a time when the town was one of the nation’s busiest ports and a hub for trade with Europe.
The Customs House, 1683
On the opposite side of the county, the ‘only one remarkable building’ of Great Yarmouth, (according to Pevsner and Wilson ) is Fastolff’s House. I have written about it previously  but it is a neglected gem, one of few buildings in the art nouveau style in this country, and I have been back a few times since.
Fastolff’s House, Great Yarmouth. Designed by RS Cockrill 1908
The building is made of red brick but what transforms it is the facade of white faience. Fastolff’s House is elevated by its applied decoration just as the exterior of Norwich’s Royal Arcade was transformed by WJ Neatby’s Carraraware tiles. Carraraware was developed in Doulton’s Lambeth factory by the head of their architectural department, Neatby, as a weatherproof facade resembling marble. It is not known who made the Yarmouth tiles but the panels of leaves and fruit are in the restrained form of art nouveau – as opposed to the sinuous variety favoured on the Continent – illustrated on the front cover of The Studio around the end of the nineteenth century.
Above, the art nouveau frieze in white faience (red rectangle) echoes, below, the cover design of The Studio from a dozen years earlier.
To lose one spire may be regarded as a misfortune but to lose two looks like carelessness. In 1362, the wooden spire of Norwich Cathedral was blown down in a gale; in 1463, its replacement was struck by lightning. The ferocity of the resulting fire destroyed the wooden roof of the nave and turned the Caen stone pillars pink. Bishop Walter Lyhart – whose rebus of a hart lying on water is dotted around the nave – replaced the roof with a stone vault decorated with short lierne ribs. Completed in 1472, the result was a remarkable 14-bay-long vault designed by Reginald Ely not long after he had finished working on King’s College Chapel. Where ribs intersected he placed 255 stone bosses depicting biblical scenes, from the Creation to Doomsday .
The lierne vault of the nave. Beneath it, the massive Norman piers had been turned a pinkish colour by the fire
From the C16 onwards, when an influx of religious refugees from the Low Countries swelled the population by up to third, Norwich became a crowded city and those who had grown rich on the worsted industry began to move out. By moving to their grand houses in the country the wealthy not only marked their new social status but also escaped the epidemics of cholera, smallpox and typhoid that swept the city. They left behind urban space that became colonised by the poor who lived in hundreds of speculative shanties. These insanitary ‘yards’ or ‘courts’, accessed down an alleyway, were a defining feature of this city that lasted until the slum clearances of the C20 .
To see where the rich had fled I drew a circle around the city with a radius of a comfortable 30-minute carriage ride. In doing this I found I was merely following David Clarke who, in his third volume of The Country Houses of Norfolk, catalogued the mansions ringing Norwich, most of which are now being subsumed by the urban sprawl . I had expected to see a greater diversity of trades but what we will see is a circle of wealth maintained by families who had become rich from weaving. ‘Master weavers’ managing dozens of looms made money directly from the woollen trade but the more successful made money by handling funds and extending credit to their fellow weavers. The most successful – like the Gurney and Harvey families – formed ‘country banks’ .
Old Catton was convenient for those who had business north of the river in Norwich-over-the-Water and what was once an agricultural village had, by the early C20, become ‘the best residential suburb adjoining Norwich’ . This gentrification had begun in the mid-1700s when wool merchant Robert Rogers (Sheriff 1743, Mayor 1758) built Catton Place . In 1816 this was to become the home of Samuel Bignold, son of the founder of Norwich Union.
Probably the most important house in the village was Catton Hall, built on a rise that afforded a view of Norwich Cathedral now challenged by the Anglia Square development. The wealthy worsted weaver Jeremiah Ives, moved here from No.1 Colegate . In the city he had lived within hailing distance of his relatives, the Harveys, and he joined them in Catton as a fellow landowner. Here is Ives, portrayed by an artist with the improbably apt name of Catton.
Portrait of Jeremiah Ives, Mayor of Norwich 1769, 1795, by Charles Catton. Presented by the yarn-makers of Norwich in gratitude for his opposition to an Act allowing the export of English wool .
It isn’t clear whether Ives purchased Catton Hall or whether it was inherited by his wife; either way, it was more than just ‘a house in the country’ for in 1778 Ives gave Humphry Repton his first paid commission to transform the surrounding 45 hectares into Catton Park [2,6].
‘Park Scene – View of Norwich – View in Catton Park’ by Humphry Repton (1752-1818). The cathedral spire can be seen between the trees. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1936.32.2
The Harveys had a considerable presence in Old Catton: Thomas Harvey builtCatton House but there was also Robert Harvey at The Grange and Jeremiah Ives Harvey at Eastwood .
But the Harvey who built Catton House was the one who married Ann Twiss – daughter of an English merchant from Rotterdam – and whose collection of Dutch paintings had a formative influence on the co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome (see recent post ).
Catton House post-1945. Courtesy of the Old Catton Society
The Gurneys also had a presence in Catton: in 1854 Catton Hall was bought by the seriously rich John Henry Gurney Snr who had inherited the bulk of the fortune accumulated by Hudson Gurney (1775-1864) of Keswick Hall (see below). The Gurneys were Quaker weavers who, through an ‘extended cousinhood’ of alliances and partnerships, formed the country’s largest banking network outside London [3,8].
Financial intermediaries in the Norwich woollen trade, John and Henry Gurney established Gurney’s Norwich Bank in 1770. In 1778, Henry’s son Bartlett inherited the bank that he ran with the help of two cousins, Richard and Joseph Gurney. Their premises were in a former wine merchant’s whose cellars proved useful for housing the safes, protected by a mastiff and a blunderbuss. Gurneys Bank was near the red well on Redwell Plain, which was renamed Bank Plain.
In 1896 the bank became amalgamated under the Barclays name and the present grand banking hall was built on the site in 1927 . In the C19, their London branch became ‘the world’s greatest bill-discounting house’, allowing a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to sing, ‘I became as rich as the Gurneys‘. Nevertheless, in 1866 they went bust with £11,000,000 liabilities. Although this ruined several Gurneys the Norwich branch escaped significant damage [3,8].
The ‘new’ Barclays Bank built 1927, now housing ‘Open’ Youth Trust
Influenced by the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace, Gurney extended Catton Hall with a cast-iron Camellia House designed by local architect Edward Boardman and manufactured in Boulton & Paul’s Norwich factory. The fine cupola was removed in WWII to prevent enemy planes using it as a landmark on the way to RAF St Faith’s (now Norwich Airport) [2,4].
Catton Hall. The original cupola on the Camellia House is illustrated in the old postcard below, courtesy of the Old Catton Society.
John Henry Gurney Snr was married to Mary Jary who ran off with one of the grooms.
Courtesy of ‘Hethersett Heritage’ by the Hethersett Society
… and, to compound JH Gurney’s woes, the bank in which he was a major shareholder (Overend, Gurney & Co.) went bust in May 1866. This triggered ‘Black Friday’ in the City and led to him selling the Hall to his cousin, Samuel Gurney Buxton, a banker at Barclays [3,4]. In 1896, Gurneys Bank was to join 10 other private banks controlled by Quakers, to form Barclays Bank.
Mary Jary Gurney had come from Thickthorn Hall, a few miles south of Norwich at Hethersett. She had lived in this early C19 house that passed to Richard Hanbury Gurney when the owner defaulted on his mortgage. It stayed in the Gurney family until the 1930s when Alan Rees Colman, director of Colmans and second son of Russell Colman of Crown Point, bought the hall.
Thickthorn Hall. Courtesy of Cathie Piccolo
In addition to Catton and Thickthorn the wider Gurney family also had country houses ringing the city – at Colney, Earlham, Easton, Keswick Hall and Sprowston.
The mid-C16 Sprowston Hall was acquired by the Gurneys in 1869 – bought by John Gurney, the eldest son of John Gurney of Earlham Hall (see below) . Gurney employed Wymondham architect Thomas Jeckyll to re-design it in an Elizabethan Revival style. Jeckyll, however, could not resist inserting an of-the-moment gate in the Aesthetic Style that he helped champion.
But if we’re following the money it’s impossible to avoid the gravitational pull of Keswick, south of Norwich. The worsted weaver Joseph Gurney came to Keswick Old Hall in 1747 but when the fabulously wealthy Hudson Gurney (who inherited brewing as well as banking money) took over the estate in 1811 he built a new Keswick Hall in the Regency style .
The ‘dashing smart’ Hudson Gurney in an etching by Mrs Dawson Turner from a painting by John Opie RA. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1832.39.1
When Hudson Gurney died in 1864 his estate passed to his nephew John Henry Gurney of Earlham who had been tainted by the collapse of Overend, Gurney & Co Ltd. Much later, Keswick Hall was to become the new home of trainee teachers who had been displaced from their training college in Norwich’s College Road when it was bombed in the Baedeker Raids of 1942.
The 1892 Diocesan training college for school mistresses on College Road, Norwich, was bombed in WWII and the students moved to Keswick Hall
Earlham Hall, just west of the city, is another Gurney residence now associated with education . For over a century the house was rented from the Bacon family during which time it was occupied by the banker John Gurney (1749-1809) and his family. Not all of his 13 children survived but Samuel, Daniel and Joseph John lived on to become bankers. Joseph John Gurney was also a Quaker minister and, like his sister Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), was active in social and prison reform.
Earlham Hall as it was in the early C19. Now, much changed, it houses the UEA Law School. Courtesy landscape.uea
The easternmost house I underlined on Faden’s map is Whitlingham Hall on the Crown Point Estate. The Hall was built for Sir Robert Harvey Harvey 1st Baronet by architect H E Coe, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. The local practice of Edward Boardman and Son supervised the building of this large Elizabethan-Revival mansion with its spectacular ornamental conservatory .
Five years later, as one of the proprietors of what began as Hudson and Hatfield’s Bank, Harvey was to build the grand Classically-styled Norwich Crown Bank; this was on Agricultural Hall Plain, within sight of Gurneys’ (later, Barclays) Bank on Bank Plain . Unfortunately, Sir Robert had been speculating on the stock exchange and tried to disguise his heavy losses as debts owed by fictitious customers. When the scandal broke in 1870 Harvey shot himself. Somewhat ironically, in view of their own recent financial uncertainty, Gurneys Bank bought the goodwill of the Crown Bank in order to quell local panic . The Crown Point Estate was sold to JJ Colman and in 1955 it became Whitlingham Hospital, now private apartments.
Norwich Crown Bank
The name ‘crown’ associated with this building is sometimes thought to be associated with its later use as the city’s Head Post Office (until 1969).
The name, however, traces back to Major John Money who built Crown Point Hall, which was torn down when Sir Robert Harvey built Whitlingham Hall . Money served in the Army during the North American Campaign  where he was based at Fort Crown Point – “the greatest British military installation ever raised in North America.” . You may remember Major Money from a previous post  that describes his perilous balloon flight of 1785 when he took off from Quantrell’s Pleasure Garden (near Sainsbury’s on Queens Road); he landed in the sea off Yarmouth from which he was rescued several hours later.
Bonus track: The Harvey family portrait 
You know that dream where you meet all your ancestors in some celestial picnic spot; you know, grandparents, distant aunts and uncles and a posse of strangely familiar faces? Well, here it is, several blog posts rolled into one. There’s Robert Harvey who founded the family bank (#3 in the portrait). And there’s John Harvey (#5) from the Street Names post  who gave his name to Harvey Lane; he also appeared in the Norwich School of Painters post in Stannard’s painting, Thorpe Water Frolic . There’s even Charles Harvey MP (#6) who took the surname of his uncle Savill Onley in order to secure an inheritance, as we saw in Street Names , together with his son Onley Savill Onley. (#7) And don’t forget that Onley became an Unthank name (hence, Onley Street) through marriage . These are just some of the unspoken connections in the portrait by Norwich School artist Joseph Clover – a friend of Amelia Opie’s husband John who we encountered in the previous post, Behind Mrs Opie’s Medallion .
The Harvey Family of Norwich, by Joseph Clover c 1821. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and At Gallery NWHCM: 1985.435. 1= Robert Harvey ‘Father of the City’ (1679-1773); 2= Sir Robert Harvey Harvey; 3=Genl Sir Robert Harvey b.1785, founder of Harvey’s Bank; 4=Robert Harvey of Catton and St Clements ?1730-1816; 5= John Harvey of Thorpe Lodge 1775-1842; 6= Charles Harvey who took the name of Savill Onley 1756-1843; 7= Onley Savill Onley d.1890; 8= Roger Kerrison of Brooke House, Norfolk. Father-in-law of John Harvey (#5) and bank owner 1740-1808.
Thanks to David Clarke of City Bookshop, Norwich, for his advice; his Country Houses of Norfolk is the standard work. I am grateful to Dr Giorgia Bottinelli and Jo Warr of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery for providing the information on the Harvey portrait. Thanks also to Ray Jones, archivist to the Old Catton Society for providing images and to Cathy Piccolo for information on, and the photo of, Thickthorn Hall.