I would occasionally be asked if a book would emerge from the Colonel Unthank’s Norwich blog but I had to wait until the second Covid lockdown before I had the opportunity. I rewrote selected posts, sorted out which pictures could or could not be used, wandered the city with my camera and generally saved my sanity during the great isolation. The resulting book – Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City – is a collection of articles on the history and buildings of Norwich.
All chapters are based on personal research yet this was never intended to be a straight-on history book that followed a timeline. Topics are eclectic but, as characters and buildings are encountered in different contexts, patterns emerge and – hopefully – provide a sense of how the city came to look the way it does.
One of the articles is about the city’s fine collection of Georgian doorways. In this, I followed the path of Kent and Stephenson who, in a book published in 1948, showed 20 doors that had survived the war. The fact that I was able to find 17 of the 20 might seem to give cause for optimism that we have protected our heritage. However, another survey in 1945 by photographer of vanishing Norwich, George Plunkett, showed how much we lost, not just in the war, but in the slum clearances of the twentieth century. The city’s built heritage is a fragile thing and we must question the loss of everyday items that enrich the texture of our streets. Not everything should fall into the maw of progress.
One chapter, On Golden Ball Street, never appeared as a blog post but is based on my Tweet about the sculpture outside the Eastern Daily Press building.
My very first blog post was on angels’ ears. The angel cult of the Late Medieval period fascinates me and I returned to the topic on two further occasions with Angels’ Bonnets and Angels in Tights.
The book is 144 pages long and contains 30 richly-illustrated chapters. Priced £14.99 it can be bought from:
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.
I’ve referred on several occasions to Norwich’s sense of spirited independence. We caught the briefest glimpse of this in the previous post on Parson Woodforde who, instead of describing a country facing war with revolutionary France, diverted us with a catalogue of entertainments and his meat-rich diet . In late eighteenth century Norwich there was such support for radical, even revolutionary, politics that Prime Minister William Pitt called it a Jacobin city [2,3].
As a rich and loyal city, Norwich had been given a degree of political independence by several monarchs. In 1194, Richard the Lionheart allowed the royal lion to be shown on the city’s coat of arms – a sign that marked the city’s right to elect its own Reeve in 1194. In 1404 Henry IV increased the number of MPs from two to four and granted the city the special status of a county governed by a sheriff – a status that lasted until the local government reforms of 1974. This allowed for civic matters to be decided in a common assembly composed of freemen whose fathers had been freemen, or who had been apprenticed to a freeman for seven years, or who purchased the right . Granted at a time when few common men had the right to vote, these historic freedoms paved the way for the violent political factions that evolved in the years after Henry VIII altered the relationship between the Church and the Crown. Historian Mark Knights commented that by 1681 the city was polarised between ‘two factions, the Whigs and the Tories, and both contend for their way with the utmost violence’ . In the late eighteenth century the Whigs rallied under the Blue and Buff (or Blue and White) flag, and Tories wore Purple and Orange. .To oversimplify their differences, the Whigs were originally liberal parliamentarians opposed to the absolute monarchy offered by the Catholic James II, while the conservative Tories were high church monarchists – political stances that echoed the earlier divisions between Roundheads and Cavaliers
Norwich then – unlike other big cities such as Exeter and Bristol – enjoyed a remarkably open and popular civic structure. In 1790 there were 2480 electors, 295 of whom were freeholders and the remainder presumably freemen. They could vote three times a year: for the mayor, the sheriff and the common council. In addition, Norwich freeholders could vote for two MPs. The frequency of elections ensured the political pot never went off the boil, perhaps explaining the reports of post-election fights, leading on occasion to the reading of the Riot Act .
After the Catholic monarch, James II, attempted to impose absolute rule on the country he was resisted by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which he was displaced – bloodlessly – by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary II. From this time, Norwich Tory sentiment was tinged with Jacobitism – support for the restoration of the Catholic House of Stuart (Jacobus = James). During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-6, Charles Edward Stuart’s army crossed the border, invading as far as Derby. When the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobites at Culloden the Norwich Whigs celebrated with an extravagant feast and erected a triumphal arch in the marketplace. The structure was covered in 96 yards of Persian silk that allowed candles inside to highlight painted patriotic words, such as ‘Religion’ and ‘Liberty’.
Liberty – code for political and religious independence – was the watchword for the Whigs. In 1768, Thomas Beevor stood as a Whig candidate in the Norwich parliamentary election, promising to fight against ‘all attempts upon the liberty of the Subject and every other unconstitutional measure’ . He was unsuccessful, and again in 1786 and 1790. (This would have been Sir Thomas Beevor (1726-1814) of Hethel Hall; Hethel now being the location of Lotus cars, some ten miles south-west of Norwich).
To stifle Beevor’s independence, the sitting MP – Harbord Harbord, 1st Lord Suffield of Gunton Hall – was asked to join forces, or make a ‘junction’ with, another candidate, Edmund Bacon. Five hundred Norwich freemen cried out against this chicanery .
Having only just subdued its own rebellion, England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century faced revolution on three sides: the American War of Independence (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1789-1794) and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Unsurprisingly, Norwich politics split along lines dictated by local reaction to these turbulent events. This was reflected in the career of the city’s most eminent politician of the period, William Windham (1750-1810) who was member of parliament for Norwich from 1789-1802 . The son of William Windham Senior of Felbrigg Hall in North Norfolk, Windham Jr was intellectually gifted, eloquent and charming …
… but was chronically indecisive. In 1792, Windham supported the Ministry in calling out the militia, now voting for measures of which he had previously disapproved) . Cruikshank’s parody of the MP as Weathercock Windham has him saying, “Down with the Volunteers !! … They are all Democrats!” To the right the common man says, “Why Master Whirligig … now you want us not to fight that Butcher Boneyparte...”.
In his first public speech in Norwich (1778), Windham had spoken against the American War of Independence but later opposed it [6,7]. Initially he supported the French Revolution but then became a leading anti-Jacobin*, deeply concerned about the spirit of revolution that was spreading through the kingdom. [*The revolutionary and violent left-wing Jacobin Club was so named because it met in a former convent of the Dominicans, known in Paris as Jacobins.]
Windham was an enemy of the slave trade and should have been a favourite of Norwich’s intellectual left, which included abolitionists like Elizabeth Fry and Amelia Opie – the latter having travelled to France to see the revolution for herself . However, his contradictory views on reform and his opposition to peace with France alienated the city’s Whigs. In 1794, this one-time Blue and White executed an about-turn when he became war minister on an Orange and Purple ticket . Two years later, Parson Woodforde wrote, ‘Mr Wyndham very unpopular at present amongst the Revolutionists and which are great numbers at Norwich, especially Dissenters. Knuckle of Veal and boiled tongue for dinner to day.’
By 1802, Windham had come out as a consistent orange-and-purple voter, ensuring that the Norwich radicals would give him an uncomfortable ride when he returned to the city for parliamentary elections. The MP had recently spoken in favour of bull baiting and this satirical cartoon shows Windham as a bull being tormented by local weavers portrayed as dogs wearing their revolutionary red bonnets. Windham lost by 60 votes and this ‘Norwich Bull-Bait’ was claimed ‘a Jacobin triumph’ .
The dog collars bear the names of materials woven in Norwich: ‘Gauze’, ‘Shawl’, ‘Crape’ and ‘Stuf’, suggesting that the Norwich freemen weavers were suffering yet another downturn.
A separate strand of anti-Establishment feeling can be traced to the religious nonconformity that had been strong in Norwich since the late seventeenth century. The Act of Uniformity (1662) aimed to stifle dissent by requiring ministers to observe the rites and sacraments of the Established Church of England or be ejected for their nonconformity. In 1689, the Act of Toleration allowed Protestant nonconformists to have their own places of worship on condition they made certain oaths of allegiance. The beautiful Old Meeting House in Colegate was one of the first such tolerated places (1693) .
Politics and religious freedom were tightly interwoven, making it inevitable that dissenters would have to enter the political sphere if they were to protect their own strand of independence. The Norwich Quakers were prominent dissenters; John Gurney, father of Elizabeth Fry and partner in Gurney’s Bank, is said to have bankrolled the Norwich Blue and Whites (Gurney’s Bank merged into Barclay’s a century later). It is estimated that one seventh of the Norwich population were Protestant dissenters at the beginning of the 1700s. And, “Between 1740 and 1760 half of the serving mayors came from nonconformist backgrounds” . Dissent was prominent in the wards either side of the River Wensum, in Wymer and Norwich-over-the-Water. This was in the heart of the city’s textile industry where Jeremiah Ives and Thomas and Robert Harvey – eighteenth century mayors made rich by the wool trade – had houses on Colegate. Both had country estates in nearby Catton  and Ives’ Catton Hall is especially notable for its parkland designed by Humphry Repton.
Ives, as a Whig mayor, kept a paternalistic eye on his supporters. In return, the city’s yarn makers presented this portrait for helping their cause. And when he was elected mayor for the second time the parishioners of St Clement erected a triumphal arch spanning the end of the street, to his townhouse at number 1 Colegate .
The Harvey family were also known for their support of the weavers and for the distress of the poor. Like Ives, second-time mayor Robert Harvey was the recipient of a triumphal arch covered in evergreens and draped with flowers, its battlements concealing a music gallery . However, Harvey was less of a hero to his religious neighbours who worshipped down the street; in a political handbill he complained about the ‘duplicity of the Quakers and the cant of the Presbyterians’ . Countering this, Edward Crane, son of a Unitarian minister and himself a preacher at the Octagon Chapel, said that the city had for a long time been slave to the Ives and the Harveys who nominated all the members of the city corporation despite the fact that the city’s freemen were entitled by charter to vote in the common assembly [quoted in 3]. In this one Norwich street we see the struggle between the free church and the rich master weavers for the hearts (or votes) of the freemen weavers.
Norwich had a long history of clubs and societies whose political affiliations were so restrictive that The Loyal Society of Worsted Weavers, for example, would throw out any member who voted Tory. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Artillery Club became the armed front of Whiggism and dissent, cracking heads and giving bloody noses to opponents in the 1716 mayoral elections . Towards the end of that century, the Revolution Society was formed. In CB Jewson’s account , the society was formed to celebrate the centenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 but it was likely that its founders had their eyes fixed forwards, on events that would lead to the French Revolution (1789). The Norwich Revolution Society consisted of around 4000 members from forty subsidiary clubs whose delegates met at The Bluebell on Hog Hill (now Orford Hill).
The society was based around a nucleus of well-known dissenters including the Baptist minister Mark Wilks – a party worker for the Whigs. He preached that ‘Jesus Christ was a revolutionist’. On the second anniversary of the French Revolution he gave a sermon on ‘The origin and stability of the French Revolution’, quoting from the bible, ‘If it be of God ye cannot overthrow it’ (Acts V, 39) .
John Harvey, who was Tory mayor in 1792, was notable for introducing what was to become the famous Norwich shawl at a time when the city’s textile industry was in a major recession. That year, at a dinner in the King’s Head, he toasted: ‘May the seeds of sedition never take root in British soil. May Pain (Thetford-born Thomas Paine who had just published ‘Rights of Man’) be expelled from every British bosom’ . A week later, Harvey dined at The Maid’s Head where he referred to those who ‘… meant to delude and ensnare the lower classes of the people, from whose labours our manufactures thrive and commerce flourishes‘ . Evidently, men of business feared the effects of seditious propaganda upon their own workers.
The secretary of the Norwich Revolution Society was Isaac Saint, landlord of The Pelican [3, 13], a public House at 2 Pitt Street, at the corner of Muspole Street and what – after Pitt Street was bisected by the inner link road – became the northern end of Duke Street.
In 1793, at a convention held by the Scottish Societies of Friends of the People, it was decided to correspond with all like-minded societies in the kingdom. The Norwich Revolution Society asked London delegate, Maurice Margarot, to represent them. A few months later, when the society had become had become the British Convention of Friends of the People, its leaders were arrested. Margarot was charged with sedition and transported to Australia for 14 years. While he waited at Spithead for transportation The Norwich Revolution Society sent him £20 .
To deflect charges of disloyalty, the Norwich Revolution Society declared that class division, riot and disorder played no part in their thinking. The disclaimer proved ineffective. At a time when the country was at war with revolutionary France the government regarded a country-wide network of radical societies with the deepest suspicion and, in April 1794, two King’s Messengers were sent to Norwich to arrest Isaac Saint. The depth of the Establishment’s concern can be judged from the fact that Saint was interrogated next morning by the Privy Council headed by the Lord Chancellor and the Solicitor General. Apparently, Saint was not sentenced but, since the Habeus Corpus Act had been suspended, he was ‘detained’ for two months. The Revolution Society was dissolved soon after.
Thanks For background on revolutionary Norwich I am indebted to two sources. The first is Charles Boardman Jewson’s wonderful book on ‘The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1788-1802 (1975).’ This slim volume is fascinating for its insights into late C18 Norwich. Copies are out there on the web. The second is Mark Knights’ insightful chapter on Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 by Rawcliffe and Wilson (2004). I am grateful to Jill Wright of the Bracon Ash and Hethel website for permissions.
We don’t read Parson Woodforde for the grand sweep of history but for the finer grain of his daily life. His diaries are history slowed. We hear in detail what ails his parishioners and of his small kindnesses but we are left to infer the causes of rural poverty for ourselves. When, in 1781, the American War of Independence depressed the export of Norwich textiles Woodforde noted laconically, ‘Trade at Norwich never worse. Poor no employment.’ It is easy to get the impression that James Woodforde is at the still centre while history crashes about him. He is, however, more forthcoming about the minutiae of his comfortable living as vicar of Weston Longville. From the ten-mile excursions he took into Norwich we learn about the texture of life in a provincial Georgian city.
In April 1775, when he and his companions arrived in Norwich at night, Woodforde had to rouse the gatekeeper to let them through St Stephens Gate and on to their accommodation at the King’s Head in the marketplace . For their journey from London they had arisen early and hired a post chaise and four through Epping Forest. This was not without peril for this is where a coachman, who shot three out of seven highwaymen, was killed by the gang. Woodforde’s party changed coach and horses at ‘The Bull-Faced Stagg’ then proceeded to Harlow; onwards to Stanstead, then to Bourne Bridge with fresh chaises to Newmarket where they dined. In fresh chaises they drove to Barton Mills (where they changed yet again) and on to Thetford, Attleborough and Norwich. I mention this to underline the effort and expense to get from the capital to what – a century ago – had been the nation’s second city. The journey cost the party eleven pounds, fourteen shillings and fourpence, of which he paid half – little more than what he was to pay a young servant maid per annum (five guineas).
The slowness of travel made vilages more isolated than they are today. In the days before the standardising effects of railway timetables, communities were necessarily more self-sustaining to the extent that cities across the country kept their own times. Woodforde evidently required more than Weston Longville could offer and was willing to drive his horse and cart the ten miles to Norwich.
In 1791, Woodforde replaced his ‘old little cart’ with ‘a new little Curricle painted a deep Green and without Springs – 9 guineas’ … like it much.’ . There were five coachmakers listed in the city around that time but it was from Adams and Bacon of 3 St Stephens Road that Woodforde made his purchase. Their premises were near the St Stephens Gate that had barred him from entering the city in 1775. The gate was demolished in 1793 but the nearby Coachmakers Arms survives – its name derived, no doubt, from the coachmaking business.
Woodforde is known to have stabled his horse at the Woolpack (he calls it the Wool-pocket) in St Giles . The Norfolk Pubs site gives the address as 25 St Giles Street from 1814, after which it became known as the Norfolk Hotel . The photograph above shows its appearance in the late nineteenth century but the building was demolished in 1904 to make way for the Grand Opera House, which then became a theatre and cinema – The Hippodrome.
George Plunkett’s photograph illustrates The Hippodrome at a time when it was showing ‘The film that London was afraid to show’. This was Morgenrot (Dawn), directed by Gustav Ucicky (which he had changed from Gustav Klimt) and approved by the Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The film depicts the lives of German sailors trapped in a U-boat during World War I. In World War II, The Hippodrome took a direct hit from a German bomb, which killed the theatre manager, his wife and a sea lion trainer. From 1966, the site was to become the St Giles car park.
The hotel on St Giles Street was only a few yards from a wine shop and druggists where Woodforde was a frequent visitor. Peck’s Norwich Directory of 1802 gives this as ‘Priest, John Fox, Chymist and Druggist, 1, St. Giles’ Broad str’. The building was approximately opposite where the City Hall (1939) now stands .
James Woodforde was friendly with the Priest family. When in the city, he would call in for tea or dine with them (when ‘dining’ meant a meal at 3pm). Once he stayed after election night and, on another occasion, paid for John Priest’s ticket when visiting the theatre. The parson was a good customer of Priests’s wine business where, in preparation for the arrival of his relatives from Somerset, Woodforde, ‘tasted some Wine and ordered a Quarter of a Pipe [a pipe of port is 60 gallons], –with 3 gallons of Rum and 3 gallons of the best Holland Geneva [gin]’ . These are staggering quantities but then Woodforde would drink a pint of port with a meal .
Parson Woodforde had befriended Old Mr Priest who was evidently succeeded by John Fox Priest. John had hoped that his son Alfred (b.1810) would follow him in his profession but Alfred left home. He returned to study with local artists Henry Ninham and James Stark and, like them, became a member of the Norwich School of painters .
The next street north of St Giles Street is Pottergate where St John Maddermarket is situated. This church was in the gift of New College Oxford, where Woodforde and his friend Henry Bathurst (1744-1837) had been undergraduates. Bathurst didn’t serve this Norwich church but he received the living, presumably leaving the day-to-day business to a curate. We previously encountered Bathurst: first, as the Bishop of Norwich who gave name to Bathurst Road, off Unthank Road ; and as the recipient of an order for £137 drawn on Kerrisons Norwich Bank . This large sum had been sent through the post by Woodforde who, on behalf of his friend, had collected the tithes* from Great Witchingham, a parish three miles from his own. The diary records that when he was at Oxford in 1775, Woodforde himself received a Norwich Bank bill from his curate for £150, ‘being part of money for Tithes received for me at Weston.’ In 1777, on his ‘Frolic Day’, when he received money for ‘tithe and glebe’, he entertained about 20 of his parishioners and fed and watered them handsomely. He received two hundred and four pounds, seventeen shillings . (*Tithes represented one tenth of the produce raised on church-owned land. Later, the monetary equivalent was paid to the Pope but when Henry VIII became head of the Church of England he fixed the cash value of tithes. When the Crown sold church land to secular institutions the tithes came with it. After 1836 tithes became replaced with the tithe rentcharge).
The Church – or more specifically the living from the parish of All Saints, Weston Longville – afforded James Woodforde the life of a gentleman and a respectable position in a hierarchical society.
It is not surprising, therefore, that the first Norwich house he visited after arriving in Norfolk in 1776 was Number 3 Surrey Street. This was the address of Robert Francis and Son, attorneys, who administered New College’s Norfolk livings, and where Woodforde, ‘called on Mr Francis Junr and talked with him a good deal.‘ Surrey Street is a fine Georgian thoroughfare, part of which was designed by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory. However, the street was badly damaged by the Baedeker Raids of 1942 and by insensitive twentieth century additions (making an exception for George Skipper’s Marble Hall for Norwich Union). We must thank George Plunkett for recording Number 3 in 1936.
After the religious upheavals of earlier centuries the late 1700s were a time of relative stability; Norwich emerged into an Age of Reason in which its polite society, with time to spare, would meet in coffee houses, promenade along Gentleman’s Walk and in Chapelfield Gardens, which had been laid out for walks since 1746. In addition to the theatre (built by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory), there were lectures, pleasure gardens, subscription to an increasing number of libraries and – the centre of gravity for the city’s fashionable – assemblies held at Chapelfield House (renovated by Thomas Ivory) . It would probably have been unseemly for the parson to attend public dances but in the evening of December 1785, Woodforde went to an ‘excellent lecture on Astronomy etc.‘ at the Assembly House. This is said to have been delivered by Adam Walker (c1731-1821) – a well-known scholar whose lectures at Syon House Academy and Eton had instilled in the poet Shelley a love of science . To instruct enlightened Norwich on the motions of the planets, Walker was aided by his eidouranion – a large mechanical orrery, some fifteen feet square, that seems to have been back-projected onto a screen. The device was still in service in the early nineteenth century when one of Walker’s sons, Deane Franklin Walker, carried on the family tradition.
The Norwich lecture may, however, have been given by Walker’s son William .
Adam Walker was sufficiently famous to have had his portrait painted by the most fashionable artist of the day, George Romney, and to be portrayed by the great caricaturist, James Gillray. In the background of Gillray’s cartoon we see a portrait of Joseph Priestley FRS, top left, while Adam Walker delivers a lecture at his house in Conduit Street, London. Priestley was a natural philosopher (nowadays, a scientist) famed for his writings on electricity and his experimental chemistry.
Walker and Priestley agreed upon the importance of dispelling ignorance by educating the public about the composition of the world and its place in the universe. Walker’s lectures on planetary motion inspired Romantics with a sense of the sublime – that they were part of something greater. Woodforde’s terse comment was that he ‘was highly pleased with it’, but beneath his anodyne words darker forces ran. The toleration of Nonconformity and the rise of Evangelism – all quite alien to an Anglican parson – had created a climate of intellectual and political Dissent such that, ‘Norwich was the most active intellectual hotbed outside London in the 1790s’ . Contemporary events in France were dividing loyalties between the wealthy and the industrious poor; there was fear of revolution and Norwich was known as the Jacobin city – the city of radical republicanism . Epitomising the city’s radical spirit, Amelia Opie went to see the results of the French Revolution for herself. This mixture of discovery and political ferment threatened this country’s established order. The same cartoonist who drew Adam Walker (with Priestley in the background) was also caricaturing the sans culottes of the French Revolution and there was fear that the disease could spread. Priestley publicly supported the revolution and in response his house in Birmingham was burned down by the mob, leading him to escape to the United States.
Parson Woodforde’s diary is not entirely silent about the mob. On the evening of June 9th 1778 he witnessed ‘a great Riot upon the Castle Hill between the officers of the Western Battalion of the Norfolk Militia and the common soldiers and Mob.’ The officers had refused to pay the men a guinea each; some of the soldiers had refused to take up arms and were put into the guard room. When the mob insisted on hauling them out a great riot ensued: the mob threw stones, some were wounded by bayonets but no-one was killed. Woodforde left around 11 o’clock. Next morning, a great riot was expected when the mob reassembled but Woodforde saw the militia march out of town, peaceably enough.
Circling back to the St Stephens Gate, Woodforde’s port of entry to the city, we know that the parson visited a pleasure garden on what is now the south-west side of the roundabout. Before Marsh Insurance, and before that the Victoria railway station, the site was occupied by Quantrell’s pleasure gardens that we saw in a previous post , and which the parson helps brings alive for us. It was here on June 20 1780 that Woodforde:
near 6 o’clock ...walked to Quantrells Gardens by myself, heard a sad Concert and saw the Fireworks which were very good and worth seeing gave on going [one shilling] for which you have 6d worth of anything at the Bar. I supped and spent the evening there
and stayed till 12 o’clock. For my Supper and Liquor pd [one shilling and sixpence] A very heavy Storm fell about 9 o’clock. A prodigious number of common girls [i.e., prostitutes] there and dressed. The Fire Works began about 11 o’clock and lasted about an hour. In it, a representation of the Engagement between the English and French
Fleet under Sir George Rodney.
The owner, Quantrell, was originally employed as a fireworks engineer so the pyrotechnics are likely to have been spectacular. This was part of the competition between the city’s various pleasure gardens that tried to ape the post-Restoration venues in London. In Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, Becky Sharpe visited the capital’s fashionable Vauxhall Gardens but Norwich had its own Vauxhall; also, Quantrell’s Gardens were at one time named Ranelagh Gardens after the London venue . Woodforde’s visit was in 1780; in the 1790s the Ranelagh/Quantrell’s Gardens were to erect a version of London’s Pantheon but this was a pale copy – a country cousin of the glorious structure in Oxford Street .
In 1795, on the riverside near King Street, Parson Woodforde visited the New Spring Gardens that was renamed Vauxhall in the late eighteenth century. There he saw the Sons of Neptune go down the river by boat, accompanied by ‘a very good band’ . But it was back in Quantrell’s that he saw Mr Decker and Major Money ascend in their lighter-than-air balloons. This was the age of Balloon Mania. When the intrepid local aeronaut, Colonel Money (whose military career had started in the Norfolk Militia), took off, he ‘… went almost over my Head’, wrote Woodforde, as he saw it over Bracondale. This was some seven weeks before the colonel’s balloon famously deposited him in the sea for several hours off Yarmouth .
Joseph Decker (or Deeker) visited Norwich before travelling to Bristol then taking his balloon to America. His balloon was 25 feet in diameter, beneath which was suspended, not a basket, but a gold and silver gondola (which became the name for the passenger compartment). The high ground with the windmill in the distance could be Mousehold Heath.
Other amusements mentioned in the diary include the ‘Man Satire’ (satyr) that the parson saw on Castle Hill with his friends, the two Priests. Having laid out sixpence he was most disappointed: it ‘was nothing more than a large Monkey … It did not answer our Expectations at all.’ He was, however, ‘highly Astonished’ with the life-size wax doll on show in St Stephens since the automaton could answer, and pose, questions . But the highlight is to be found in the entry for December 19th 1785. This was the day the parson attended Walker’s lecture on astronomy in the evening but that same afternoon he ‘went and saw the learned Pigg at the rampant Horse in St Stephens.’ In bracketing the sublime and the wonderfully ridiculous, Woodforde’s day illustrates the uncritical nature of public spectacle in the Age of Enlightenment: ‘the desire for mystery rather than elucidation, and the accompanying perception of science and technology as magical rather than empirical disciplines’ .
We have encountered the Rampant Horse Inn several times in this blog – a large medieval building to the rear of where Curls (later Debenhams) store was to be built on Rampant Horse Street.
There have been many clever pigs but this animal, ‘Toby, The Amazing Pig of Knowledge’, was the pig trained by Samuel Bissett . After Bissett died as a result of being assaulted by a man with a sword, Toby was bought by a Mr Nicholson who brought him to Norwich.
For his shilling, Woodforde saw the animal ‘with a magic Collar on his Neck. He would spell any Number from the Letters and Figures that were placed before him.‘ But advertisements suggested Toby was capable of much more than typographical tricks: he could reckon the number of people present, tell the hours and minutes of a watch, distinguish between the married and unmarried and divine any Lady’s Thoughts.
The Learned Pig achieved fame. Putting England’s most famous scientist in his place, the poet Southey (1807) said that the pig was, ‘a far greater object of admiration for the British nation than ever was Sir Isaac Newton.’ The animal gained a mention in Wordsworth’s Prelude (1805): ‘The horse of knowledge, and the learned pig’. He even crops up in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, in which Mr Bennet says that their pig is not related to the Learned Pig of Norwich (except these words do not belong to Jane Austen but to screenwriter Deborah Moggach).
Thanks. This post was inspired by the booklet, ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’, copies of which are available from email@example.com. To learn more about Parson Woodforde and the society in which he lived, visit https://www.parsonwoodforde.org.uk. For permissions I am grateful to the British Newspaper Archive, Clare Everitt and Richard Bristow. Thanks, also, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s photographs of Norwich and Norfolk: www.georgeplunkett.co.uk
The previous post  on the Victorian plant nurseries concentrated in a single Norwich parish seems to have struck a chord in this city with a long history of horticulture. The feedback has been tremendous and, since personal reminiscences and comments brought the topic alive, I felt they deserved to be recorded. The scale of some of the nurseries was astonishing: Adcock’s glasshouses ‘totall(ed) a quarter of a million square feet of glass’. One reader said she’d heard gardeners on Upton Road remarking on how much broken glass they keep digging up. Another, whose garden backs onto the site of Adcock’s nursery, found a subterranean cistern underneath her garden. As we’ll see, other comments provide a fascinating insight into the seed shops maintained by nurseries in the city centre.
On Twitter, Huw Sayer made the comparison between Adcock’s nursery and the subject of an article in the Eastern Daily Press. More than a century after Adcock, a giant tomato glasshouse is being built just outside Norwich, using ‘More glass than the Shard.’ 
The only surviving nursery lives on as Notcutt’s Garden Centre. As we saw , this started as Mackie’s nursery, which was so large that clients could drive around in their carriages. It became the Townclose Nurseries and, after being sold to the Daniels brothers was bisected in the 1930s by the Daniels Road portion of the ring road.
I show the Daniels Bros receipt (1892) again as a reminder that in addition to their out-of-town seed grounds and nurseries around Newmarket and Ipswich Roads, they had city centre warehouses in Exchange Street and Bedford Street. This latter area, around the north-west corner of modern-day Jarrolds Department Store, provided a shop window for out-of-town nurseries. The location is perhaps not surprising since the Corn Exchange was built at this junction between the two streets. The area was therefore a focus for the gardening as well as the farming seed trade.
In 1854, Mason’s Directory records that William John Ewing of the Royal Norfolk Nurseries, Eaton, had a seed warehouse at 9 Exchange Street, while Mackie’s and Stewart had a ‘seed establishment’ next door at 10&11 . Correspondent Don Watson provides a link with the Daniels store around the corner: ‘I remember Daniels’ shop in Bedford Street because, being at school in Norwich, it became my job to buy the vegetable seeds there – much better quality than Bees Seeds from Woolworths (so I was told). That establishment was one of a few which still in the 1950s had only a beaten earth floor’.
Dick Malt confirmed this recollection: ‘Don Watson is quite right, the shop stood about opposite Little London Street and became The Granary when Daniels left. The facade is still the same as it was.’ … ‘The Bedford St premises were where, at that time, seeds were cleaned and dressed for sale, both horticultural and agricultural. The cleaning floor was the topmost, under the roof. By the time I remember it, that aspect of the business had ceased and orders were packed there for posting out. There was a sack hoist from the ground floor and the warehouse manager’s office on the first floor was connected by a speaking tube to the upper floor’.
Simon Gooch said, I ‘thought you might be interested in a little more information about The Granary in Bedford Street, filling in a bit of a missing link between Daniels seedsmen and Jarrolds taking over. My late father Michael Gooch (who was in partnership with my mother Sheila as M & S Gooch, Architects, in Norwich) converted the warehouse into a new shop for the owners Chapman & Pape in 1971-2. They called it The Granary, and at a time before Habitat or John Lewis had arrived in the city it was a bit of a mecca for good furniture and kitchenware.I have a couple of black & white photos taken just after the shop opened, showing the smart typography of the name on one of the windows; the ground floor facade was painted a dark colour, I think purple (though being the Seventies it might have been chocolate brown). The interior’s handsome pine beams and supports were exposed, and the wood and steel staircase inserted.’ The building is now Jarrolds’ modern furniture and design store and they retained the name, The Granary.
Dick Malt’s account continues: ‘This picture of Bedford St [2 above] shows the shop in the 1960s. It had a long mahogany counter which had almost certainly come from the Arcade.My father, A.E. (Jim) Malt was the firm’s manager and later managing director, having spent his working life in the horticultural and agricultural seed trades, beginning as an apprentice to Daniels. The shop was then in the Royal Arcade – I still have the keys!’
‘My father was born in 1909, so was most likely apprenticed to the firm in about 1923. Some of the time he had to work on the firm’s farm at Tunstead, near Coltishall, where seeds were grown … He had to collect the keys to the Arcade from the Guildhall on his way to open up the shop. One sharp March morning he found the lock on the gates frozen up – a policeman thawed them out with a blow lamp’.
‘Daniels Bros, ‘The Royal Norfolk Seed Establishment’, had a shop at 16-20 Exchange Street (as seen on the printing block image (below) – reversed for ease of reading) …
The plate shows the building was originally five storeys high but numbers 16-20 are now much reduced.
The discrepancy is explained by George Plunkett’s photograph of the collapse in 1991 of the north-west end of the street.
Dick Malt suggests that Daniels may have moved to the Royal Arcade ‘when it was opened in 1899’. Below, Stuart McPherson’s ‘ghost’ photo, shows the location of Daniels’ shop in the arcade.
Holders of the Royal Warrant awarded by King Edward VII advertise their prestigious address in the newly-opened Royal Arcade.
The list of Daniels’ locations from a 1939-40 catalogue indicates the firm owned seed farms at Tunstead and Ashmanhaugh. It also shows they still maintained the Royal Arcade address up to the Second World War.
‘The shop moved to the Daniels Road nursery site in 1967 – a new phenomenon then – a Garden Centre – and the Bedford St premises became ‘The Granary’.’
The two seated celebrities were Percy Thrower (the country’s most famous gardener) and Ted Moult (farmer, radio and TV personality).
There is a short history of the firm in ‘Norfolk Fair’ magazine Vol.5, No.11, 1973, does anyone have access to a copy?
Thanks. I am grateful to the readers who made comments and those who provided further information, especially Dick Malt whose father’s working life is commemorated in this piece.
In these covid times I cycle. Along the celestial Unthank Road to the junction with Newmarket Road, down the hill to Eaton and out to open countryside. Before the crossing is a house with two intriguing names carved in stone on the gate pillars. The first is badly spalled and its few remaining letters … CRO … would be unknowable except for a modern house-plate, Hillcroft. Although a few of its letters are obscured the other sign can only be for the Royal Norfolk Nurseries.
I was curious to look into this because for several years I’d wondered about the clear, unbuilt-upon spaces on the early maps marked ‘nursery ground’ or ‘garden ground’. The OS map of 1879-86 shows that the Royal Norfolk Nurseries occupied sites from the junction with Unthank Road (yellow) down the hill to Bluebell Road (blue) and a larger area between Bluebell Road and the river, now in the shadow of the A11 Eaton flyover/bypass (green).
Much of the land, from the Unthank’s estate east of Mount Pleasant in Norwich  down to Eaton, was owned by the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral; this applied to the village itself with the notable exception of a few oases, including the 12 and 17 acre plots owned by the Corporation of Eaton.
The 1838 tithe map and accompanying apportionment record (1839) gives the name of landowners liable to pay church tithes and, within the two outlined areas, William Creasey Ewing (1787-1862) owned most of the individual numbered plots.
The son of William Creasey Ewing, John William Ewing (1815-1868), evidently inherited the land from his father and is listed as Nurseryman, Florist, Lime burner (and there is a lime pit on the site) and Seedsman .
Below is The Old House, Church Lane, Eaton (formerly known as Shrublands) where William Creasey Ewing lived. The National Census records his son John William living there in 1851 .
Prior to this census return, John William Ewing lived in Shepherd’s House near Mackie’s, the city’s long-established and foremost nursery, founded in the 1700s on Ipswich Road . We’ll come to Mackie’s shortly.
Between 1833 and 1840, John William Ewing and Frederick Mackie entered into a partnership, forming Mackie and Ewing’s Nurseries, but in 1845 the partnership was dissolved. A newspaper advertisement to this effect places JW Ewing in Ewing’s Nursery at Eaton, indicating that JW Ewing was managing the nursery when he was 30, if not before.
A year later, (incidentally the year his son and successor was born) an invoice from JW Ewing, Nurseryman and Seedsman, shows that the Eaton Nursery was selling ‘Forest & Fruit Trees, Flowering Shrubs etc’ and, in smaller script, ‘Garden & Agricultural Seeds, Dutch Bulbs, Russian Mats (anyone?)*, Mushroom spawn etc.’ *(A reader, Lyn, provided the answer. Russian Mats, exported via the port of Archangel, were closely woven from the leaves of aquatic plants and used to protect fruit trees and young plants etc).
When he died, Ewing’s Royal Norfolk Nurseries were inherited by his son, John Edward Ewing (1846-1933), but when John left Norwich in 1893/4 the business at Eaton was lost.
In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917), Walter Rye wrote that ‘the chief trade of the village is now growing fruit trees and roses for the market’ . He went on to say that other well known Eaton nurseries are the three rose nurseries of C Morse, E Morse and RG Morse and the ‘old-established nursery of Mr Hussey in the Mile End Road.’
Ernest Morse appears in this 1910 book of local worthies and businessmen  advertising himself as a grower of fruit, cucumbers and grapes. His older brother Henry took out a full page advert announcing his 20 acres of rose bushes and fruit trees in the Westfield Nurseries, Eaton.
John Ewing’s partnership with Mackie’s was dissolved in 1845, leaving Mackie’s to stand alone as the city’s predominant nurserymen.
The industrial scale of Mackie’s operations made it one of the largest provincial nurseries [5, 6]. Bryant’s 1826 map (above) shows Mackie’s 100 acre site was situated around the crossroads where present-day Daniels Road intersects Ipswich Road but the business can be traced back to John Baldrey’s nursery in the city where, around 1750, he was selling plants and trees on a wholesale basis. In 1759, this was taken over by the Aram family – who were selling ‘Scotch firs’ at ten shillings per thousand – and in 1777 John Mackie joined the business. This was around the time the nursery moved to what, in its final days, was to be known as ‘the Daniels Road’ site.
Parson Woodforde knew Mackie:
“Mackay, Gardener at Norwich, called here (the parsonage at Weston Longville) this Even’, and he walked over my garden with me and then went away. He told me how to preserve my Fruit Trees etc. from being inj’ured for the future by the ants, which was to wash them well with soap sudds after our general washing, especially in the Winter.”(from Parson Woodforde’s diary, July 13 1781).
As Louise Crawley describes in her essay on the Norwich Nurserymen, Mackie’s site was so extensive that clients recorded being driven around it by carriage . Mackie’s was to remain in the family for four generations until it was sold in 1859 when they emigrated to America [5, 6].
Fifty years after this map was made the Ordnance Survey recorded that a portion of Mackie’s Nursery at Lakenham had become the Townclose Nurseries. Later still, this was to be purchased by the Daniels brothers.
Daniels was sold to Notcutts in 1976. By superimposing modern roads on the nineteenth century map we can see how construction of the Daniels Road portion of the ring road in the 1930s (circled in red) bisected the Townclose Nurseries, with the ‘Notcutts’ portion on the south-western/left side.
In 1849 Mackie’s ventured beyond the parish of Eaton when they bought The Bracondale Horticultural Establishment, situated in the crook between City Road and Bracondale. Patrons were welcome to visit the nurseries but orders could be placed at Mackie’s warehouses in Exchange Street where customers could also buy seeds and catalogues.
A print in JJ Colman’s album shows Read’s Bracondale windmill (1825-1900). Photographed from the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment it shows a plot with supporting canes and, in the background, heated glasshouses.
The trade card, below, from around 1830, shows the extent of the glasshouses that Mackie inherited when he bought the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment from JF Roe. Their exotic produce appears in the foreground: grapes, melons, ‘forced fruits’ and – most romantically foreign – the pineapple.
As a young boy, before I knew words like ‘epicurean’, I visited Cardiff Castle and was shown a table with a hole through which a pot-grown vine would be placed for the Marquess of Bute’s family to snip their own grapes. Unless, of course, they are peeled for you, grapes are pretty low down on the totem pole of self-indulgence since they can be readily grown outdoors or in an unheated glasshouse. But in previous times the seriously rich would grow pineapples in hothouses, as much a show of wealth as a token of their hospitality. Indeed, from the sixteenth century onwards there was something of a pineapple mania. Large country estates with heated glasshouses and staff could afford to grow their own tender fruit and plants. Norfolk estates may have produced pineapples, but this would have been beyond the dreams of the villa-owning classes in the Norwich suburbs  who looked instead to commercial nurseries like Mackie’s to provide their hothouse products.
On a national basis, however, Mackie’s reputation rested not with fancy fruit and bedding plants but with the quantity of their arboricultural stock. In 1849 they auctioned ‘one million forest trees’ and in 1796 they were able to send 60,000 trees to an estate in West Wales. The journey from Norwich to Pembrokeshire required the trees to be carted to London then onwards by sea: such transportational hurdles would be largely overcome by the arrival of the railways. When trains came to Norwich in the 1840s, Mackie’s were able to offer ‘instant arboretums’ of 650 varieties of trees and shrubs for £35 .
In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917) , Walter Rye mentions ‘the old-established nursery of Hussey in the Mile End Road.’ An advertisement from 1869 shows that their Mile End Nursery was, like its larger competitor (Mackie’s) on the other side of the Newmarket Road, offering trees and roses.
In 1885, Husseys occupied much of the area between Unthank(s) Road and Newmarket Road, stretching from the Mile End Road (now ring road) to what would become Leopold Road.
By the time of the 1908 Ordnance Survey (though for clarity I show the 1919 map), Hussey’s had another nursery on its doorstep. What had been open ground to the west/left of Upton Road was now occupied by large structures, longer and wider than the terraced roads that had arisen on Hussey’s land.
In the period between the 1885 and the 1908 Ordnance Surveys, EO Adcock had bought the open land to the west of Upton Road and established a nursery producing plants on an enormous scale. Meanwhile, Hussey’s had contracted, a good part having been sold to build Waldeck, Melrose and Leopold Roads. The remainder was still accessible through the entrance off Mile End Road .
Edward O. Adcock started as an amateur cucumber grower with eight glasshouses at a time when a dozen cucumbers commanded £1 . To put this in perspective, in 1900 the pound was worth over a hundred times what it is today (although cucumbers are still 95% water).
In an article eulogising Adcock as one of the ‘Men Who Have Made Norwich’ , he is said to have had 125 glasshouses, each 120 feet long, totalling a quarter of a million square feet of glass. As well as cucumbers, Adcock grew chrysanthemums and, by selling 300,000 per annum, he was claimed to be the largest grower in the world.
Twenty two acres were devoted to asparagus. Adcock also grew tomatoes in prodigious quantities: in one day his staff picked and packed over two tons of tomatoes to be dispatched by rail .
What fascinates is the sheer scale at which fruit, vegetables and flowers were produced in just one small part of Norwich. Adcock’s were operating well into the steam age and were evidently able to supply their produce around the country in reasonable time. On a less industrial scale, maps of nineteenth century Norwich give tantalising hints of allotments and other small nurseries such as: Cork’s nursery ground; Allen’s Nursery around Sigismund and Trafford roads in Lakenham; the nursery ground off Dereham Road; the Victoria Nursery in Peafields, Lakenham; George Lindley’s nursery at Catton. Long before refrigerated transport and the concept of food miles it was this web of horticultural enterprises that, together with our farms and markets, fed Norwich.
If you liked this article you may like the Norfolk Gardens Trust Magazine. Membership of the NGT is only £10 per annum, £15 joint, and for this you will receive two copies of the magazine annually, invitations to visit gardens not always open to the public, and talks by leading figures on gardens and the history of designed landscape. Click the link to see more:https://www.norfolkgt.org.uk/membership/
Thanks My main source for information on Mackie’s was Louise Crawley, postgraduate researcher at UEA, and I am grateful for her generosity in sharing her researches into ‘The Norwich Nurserymen’. Local historian Vivien Humber kindly shared information on nurseries in the parish of Eaton. I am also grateful to Pamela Clark, Susan Brown, Sally Bate, Tom Williamson and Beverley Woolner. Thanks to the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society for allowing me to reproduce the Adcocks photographs, to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, and to the George Plunkett archive.
In two recent posts [1,2] I wrote about Norwich’s ‘plains’, a loan-word from the Dutch for the city’s open spaces that were largely established before the fashion for urban squares. Only five of the 15 Norwich plains identified by Richard Lane in his book, The Plains of Norwich  are recognised by a formal street sign, some of the others don’t appear on early maps and some of this final six may not seem to you like defined spaces at all.
The 1884 Ordnance Survey map appears to show St Margarets Plain occupying much the same space as it does today, although Richard Lane  notes that Westwick Street ‘used to widen slightly at this point until pre-war demolition and German bombs altered the northern side completely.’ The demolished houses to the west of St Margarets churchyard are marked with the red star.
In general outline, a similar open space appears on King’s map of 1766 but I wonder if this northern end of the churchyard was lost to pedestrianisation.
St Margaret is purported to be the figure carved in the left hand spandrel above the porch.
The crossroads in the main shopping area, dominated by Marks and Spencer, and Debenhams, is St Stephens Plain. St Margarets Plain was treated kindly by history but St Stephens’ Plain has been pulled hither and yon by planners, trams and the Luftwaffe.
Here is St Stephens Plain on Braun and Hogenberg’s map of 1581.
When Queen Elizabeth I came to Norwich on one of her royal progresses she entered at St Stephens Gates. Here she was met by the Mayor and a demonstration of Norwich weaving featuring religious refugees from the Low Countries whose immigration had been supported by the queen. The area was badly damaged in the bombing of WWII. Some buildings survived but the opportunity was taken to demolish the entire south side of St Stephens Street – including The Boar’s Head – in order to widen the road.
Red Lion Street, the road on the north side of St Stephens Plain, had already been widened at the very end of the nineteenth century in order to accommodate the new electric trams, whose city hub was in Orford Place. Built in 1900, the south side of Red Lion Street was comprised of buildings designed by Edward Boardman and Son or by George Skipper.
Looking down Westlegate towards St Stephens Plain we come to Marks and Spencer, a department store built for Buntings in 1912 by local architect AF Scott . It was badly damaged in WWII but, probably due to its steel-framed construction, it survived and was rebuilt without its attic storey and corner cupola. Opposite is Debenhams department store and one wonders about the fate of purpose-built department stores now that the occupiers are in receivership.
To see what the plain looked like at the end of the nineteenth century we rotate ourselves 90 degrees clockwise so that, below, we walk down St Stephens Street with Buntings (now Marks and Spencer) on our left. The red star marks The Peacock pub at 1 St Stephens Plain. The narrow street straight ahead is Red Lion Street before it was widened to take the new electric trams.
The ‘Debenhams’ site was originally occupied by a collection of buildings that became the Curl brothers’ department store. As the 1884 OS map shows (above), the site once contained The Rampant Horse Inn, which gave name to the street.
Curls was badly damaged in the 1942 air raids and was rebuilt from 1953 to 1956. In the 1960s the store was bought by Debenhams but still traded as ‘Curls’ until the 1970s. Below, we look across the building site to the south side of Red Lion Street designed by Boardman and Skipper in the early 1900s.
Walking westwards, Rampant Horse Street merges into Theatre Street, the site of Theatre Plain. An advertisement placed by Francis Noverre gives the address of his first annual ball as being in the Assembly Rooms on Playhouse Plain. Neither Playhouse Plain nor Theatre Plain seem to refer to the theatre immediately west of the Assembly House.
Millard and Manning’s map of 1830 shows Theatre Plain occupying the forecourt of the Assembly House.
Somewhat ironically for a city claiming to have plains instead of squares, White’s Directory of 1845 refers to the space as Theatre Square . This may be because we were now in an age when squares – unlike the irregular medieval spaces where streets collided – had been made fashionable by the development of polite Georgian London.
The Assembly House occupies a site established around 1250 as the College of St Mary-in-the-Fields. After the Dissolution, the church itself was demolished and in 1573 the remaining buildings converted by Sir Thomas Cornwallis into a town house, second only in size to the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace . In 1609 the mansion was bought by the Hobart family who, in 1753, leased the building for public assemblies, for which purpose it was converted the following year by Thomas Ivory, the architect of Georgian Norwich. Rather than demolishing the old house, as once thought, it appears that he used a significant part – its central part and wings – in remodelling the ‘House of Assemblies’ .
In contrast to the popular entertainment offered in some of the larger inns around the marketplace, the Assembly House was where the gentry could come for a game of cards, a glass of wine and sometimes dance the minuet in polite surroundings. However, in Assize Week ‘the double doors between ballroom, card-room and tea-room were opened up, and country dances danced along the lengths of all three rooms’ . Some scorned country dances as half an hour of standing still as long lines of paired dancers took their turn to run the gauntlet. But imagine the fun of galumphing the whole 143 feet beneath candle-lit chandeliers.
St Paul’s Plain no longer exists; it could have been restored after being damaged in the Blitz but was marked for destruction by the City Engineer’s 1944 plan for the inner and outer ring roads. The church was founded in the twelfth century as a hospital for poor strangers. It was also recorded in the sixteenth century being used as a bridewell (prison) before William Appleyard’s house took over that function in what is now Bridewell Alley .
The octagonal top of the tower, rebuilt with white bricks around 1819, survived the incendiary bombs in 1942. Had it been been saved it would be the largest of the city’s five round towers (just as St Benedict’s tower stands alone) but it stood in the way of post-war improvement and the site was cleared in preparation for the St Crispin’s Road flyover and the Barrack Street roundabout.
The site is now a small public garden and children’s play area. The evidence, though, for calling the space ‘St Paul’s Plain’ is slim. White’s Directory of 1845 describes it as ’the square called St Paul’s plain’  and – surrounded by streets on four sides – it does look on Samuel King’s map of 1766 more like a square, albeit somewhat on the huh. ‘Square’ may work in this instance but is a poor definition of the other variously irregular open spaces we have seen. George Nobbs’ explanation comes closer: ‘In Norwich the term Plain is usually used to describe the area of a meeting of streets’ .
In his short book on Norwich Plains, Richard Lane  generally found White’s Directory of 1845 to be a useful source of addresses as supplied by trade subscribers but he found no mention of St Benedict’s Plain. He wrote that one unnamed author mentioned it as the square where Pottergate, Willow Lane, Cow Hill and Ten Bell Lane met; ‘others’ defining it as the widening of Pottergate from Ten Bell Lane westwards. These two spaces are conjoined in the map below.
However, the National Archives records that the Norfolk and Norwich Eye Infirmary stood on St Benedict’s Plain from 1823-1854 . And there is an early C20 watercolour entitled ‘St Benedict’s Plain’ by a local painter .
The Norfolk County Council’s Picture Norfolk site has a photograph labelled ‘St Benedict’s Plain/Pottergate’.
This photograph looks down to the plain from the junction of Cow Hill and Willow Lane …
… while this shows where Pottergate widens to the west of Cow Hill.
The legitimacy of St George’s Plain is beyond question for it is enshrined in Pevsner . It is a part of Colegate, on which the Late Medieval and Georgian houses of the rich wool merchants still stand. On the 1886 OS map the plain appears as a widening of the road between a block labelled ‘Boot and Shoe Manufactory’ and the churchyard of St George’s Colegate.
The ‘Boot and Shoe Manufactory’ was Howlett and White’s factory, once the country’s largest producer of footwear under one roof. Viewed from the west end of Colegate, the seven bays up to the tower were built by Edward Boardman in 1876; left of the tower is Boardman’s extension of 1894, making a facade of 200 feet . In 1909 the company introduced the brand name Norvic and in 1935 the business itself was renamed the Norvic Shoe Company Ltd . Norvic, short for Norvicensis, is the address adopted by each Bishop of Norwich but it can be traced back to a time before the Normans raised the cathedral. In the preceding Anglo-Scandinvian period, this defended trading settlement, or wic, on the north bank of the river was sufficiently stable to mint its own coins and to stamp them Norvic. Colegate is part of that north wic.
That carved brick canopy, probably by Guntons of Costessey, contains an upright anchor not to be confused with the tilted anchor of Bullards Brewery across the river. The expansion of the factory absorbed two lanes that had led down to the riverside; the upright anchor commemorates Water Lane, marked on the OS map above.
On the north-east corner of this expanded area of Colegate, adjacent to St George’s churchyard, is a piece of street furniture that we’ve seen before – a public water fountain with a marble basin for people and troughs below for dogs .
The red brick wall to the left of the fountain marks the junction between Muspole Street and St George’s Plain. A little way up Muspole Street, on the opposite side, is a pub whose various names relate to the wool that made Norwich wealthy: Crown and Woolpack (1740s); Wool Packet (1760s); Old Woolpack (2016) and The Gatherers (opened 2020). This was once the site of the town house of the Augustinian Priory of Our Lady of Walsingham, conveyed to John the Prior in 1298. The present building is Georgian with a nineteenth century pub front .
From the late nineteenth century, the employment provided by factory-based shoe-making took over from the more fragmented weaving industry that had sustained the city for centuries but by the early 1800s our textile trade was being outcompeted by the power mills of the north. Below, the two trades are represented by the pub and its association with wool, and by the saw-tooth roofline of the Norvic-Kiltie shoe factory that overlooks it. Howlett & White had bought the business from local shoe manufacturer SL Witton Ltd. , completing their domination of this part of Norwich-over- the-Water.
St George Colegate (c1459) is a fine church with austere Georgian furnishings. It was one of the few things in the city that architectural commentator Ian Nairn could persuade himself to like. John Crome, co-founder of the Norwich School of Artists, is buried here.
Something for the Christmas stocking?‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’, which describes the development of south Norwich by the Unthank family, has been recently reprinted and can be ordered by mail by clicking these links: Jarrold’s Book Department (firstname.lastname@example.org) and City Bookshop (citybookshopnorwich.co.uk).
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 email@example.com. 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.