The Norwich School of Painters


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Formed in 1803 by John Crome (1768-1821) and Robert Ladbrooke (1768-1842) the Norwich Society of Artists was the first art movement to be associated with a specific British region [1,2]. It would be surprising if the history of the city hadn’t shaped the Society’s approach to landscape painting.

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Portrait of John Crome by John Opie. NWHCM: 1899.4.15. Opie was married to Amelia Opie, Norwich campaigner against slavery.

The Society’s founders had humble beginnings: Crome was apprenticed to a coach painter while Robert Ladbrooke worked with a printer and engraver. The two became friends, went on sketching expeditions, lived together in a garret (where else?), married two Berney sisters and later founded the Society as a meeting place for artists [1]. Crome remained President until his death in 1821.


Robert Ladbrooke (1768-1842), from a drawing by his son John Berney Ladbrooke. Courtesy Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM : 1940.FAP2

The first meetings are said to have been held either in Little Cockey Lane or in the Hole-in-the-Wall Inn just a few dozen yards north. Cockey is a dialect term for stream and although various routes are suggested for this water course a map from 1830 clearly shows Little Cockey Lane running along the back of what is now Jarrold’s Department Store. 

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Sir Benjamin Wrench’s Court off Little Cockey Lane was demolished in 1826 to make way for the first version of the corn exchange (red star). Hole-in-the-Wall Lane = purple star. Millard and Manning’s plan of Norwich 1830, courtesy Norfolk County Council.

In 1805 the Society’s first exhibition was held in Sir Benjamin Wrench’s Court, which was demolished when the new Corn Exchange was built in 1826 on the corner of Exchange and Little Bedford Streets. 


The ‘court’ of Sir Benjamin Wrench (d1747), physician, Lord of Little Melton. Etching by David Hodgson 1836. NWHCM: 1954:138.Todd8.Wymer.77

The Society, which ended in 1833, was outlived by second and third generation artists gathered under the umbrella term of the Norwich School of Painters. As many as 79 painters were formally associated with the School; individual styles varied but what united them was the countryside in which they painted. The French artists Nicolas Poussin (1594-1665) and Claude Lorrain (1600-1682) had had a profound influence on British landscape painting; both worked in Italy, both employed a picturesque ideal of the Italian countryside as backdrop to their classical, mythological or biblical tales. This was the epitome of ‘High Art’ … 


‘Landscape with Ascanius Shooting the Stag of Sylvia’ by Claude Lorrain (his last painting, 1682). Ashmolean Museum, Oxford.

… but the Norwich School painters adopted a humbler model closer to home – Dutch Realism [1,2]. In the second half of the C16, King Philip II of Spain embarked on a programme of violence to root out Protestantism in the Spanish Netherlands, as a result of which around a third of Norwich’s population was comprised of Dutch and Flemish religious refugees [3]. Following this dark period, Dutch painting tended to focus on small, humanistic themes as opposed to the religious subjects that still dominated art in the Catholic south. Dutch Realism was to have a strong influence on landscape painting in Norwich. The realists rejected imaginary landscape in favour of naturalistic countryside that, if it contained figures at all, contained ordinary people going about their everyday lives. Jacob Isaacksz van Ruisdael (1629-1682) was a particular influence.

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Ruisdael’s ‘A Wooded River Landscape with a Bridge, a Church Beyond’ (1650s). Courtesy Christie’s. Intriguingly, this picture was once owned by ‘Colonel Clement Unthank of Intwood Hall’ [4], presumably Colonel Clement William Joseph Unthank. The painting has been variously attributed to van Kessel III, Ruisdael or Hobbema but in 2011 Sotheby’s sold it as a Ruisdael for £181,250. 

This realistic vision of countryside adopted by the proletarian painters of the Norwich School was therefore at odds with the ‘improved’ version that landscape architects Capability Brown (1716-1783) and Humphry Repton (1752-1818) offered the English upper classes – huge private parklands in which lakes were dug, streams rerouted, trees uprooted, all in search of a classical ideal represented in paintings that their clients admired and probably collected on the Grand Tour.

Before he worked for the coach painter, 12-year-old Crome was employed by a physician, Dr Rigby, presumably delivering medicines [5]. Dr Rigby, who had an impressive art collection [1], introduced Crome to another great collector and amateur painter, Thomas Harvey (1748-1819) of Old Catton, whose town house was on Colegate. 


Harvey House in Colegate Norwich.

Harvey came from a line of wealthy merchants, ten of whom were mayors of Norwich. He married the daughter of a Rotterdam merchant and gathered a collection of Dutch masters – some directly from dealers in Antwerp – that Crome was allowed to copy [5,6]. Although Ruysdael’s pupil Meindert Hobbema (1638-1709) was not well known in his lifetime he was regarded as the ‘true inventor of the wooded picturesque landscape’ [6] and had a strong influence on Crome and the Norwich School.

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A Wooded Landscape by Meindert Hobbema 1667. Courtesy The J Paul Getty Museum


‘Norwich River: Afternoon’ by John Crome ca 1819. Considered to be one of his finest paintings, the scene is probably near St Martin’s at Oak (Oak Street). The oil was painted on mattress ticking. NWHCM: 1994.189 

Crome was one of the first English artists to paint identifiable species of tree rather than generic forms.

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The post-card-sized ‘A Wooded Landscape with an Oak’, by John Crome. Courtesy Sphinx Fine Art. This tree is recognisably related to The Poringland Oak held in Tate Britain

In 1821 Crome died at home in Gildengate Street, off Colegate. His last words were said to have been: ‘Hobbema, my dear Hobbema, how I have loved you’ [7]. He was succeeded by two sons, John Berney Crome and William Henry Crome – both notable landscape artists in their own right – and a daughter Emily who painted still-lifes.


Crome was buried in St George’s Colegate in the parish from which he rarely ventured far

Where Crome was gregarious and ebullient Ladbrooke was morose, his paintings dark. Ladbrooke’s sons, Henry and John Berney, were also considerable artists and members of the Society. In 1816, Ladbrooke formed a breakaway group, the ‘Secession’, possibly over the use of Society funds, possibly over Crome leaving the Presidency to Sillett [5].

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‘Foundry Bridge, Norwich’ (1822-1833) by Robert Ladbrooke. Courtesy Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM: 1938.26. 

The Society held annual exhibitions from 1805 until the 1830s and when Norwich-born John Sell Cotman (1782-1842) returned from London in 1807 he exhibited 20 works [1]. Several influences can be detected in his paintings including Claude and, in his more experimental paintings, Turner [6]. Cotman evolved a distinctive style, playing with perspective to produce a flattened picture plane composed of blocks of colour in which detail was carefully suppressed [2]. In 2016 I wrote about a visit to the Norwich Castle Study Centre, Shirehall, to see a favourite painting – The Marl Pit – that was no longer exhibited [8].   


John Sell Cotman, ‘The Marl Pit’ c1809-1810. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Using a limited palette Cotman built up interlocking blocks of deep watercolour separated by crisp edges. The dark green tree mirrors the cloud while other contrasts – light against dark, dark against light – guide the eye around the painting. 

In 1803-5 Cotman spent the summer with the Cholmondeley family at Brandsby Hall in Yorkshire. There he painted what the Keeper of Prints and Drawings at the British Museum thought to be ‘the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe’ [1].

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‘Greta Bridge, Yorkshire 1810’ by JS Cotman NWHCM: 1947:217.159. The British Museum has an earlier version of 1805

In 1812, the Great Yarmouth banker and collector, Dawson Turner, employed Cotman as drawing master to his wife and daughters for £200 per annum. Cotman moved his family to be near Turner and there he produced a significant number of seascapes.


In his later paintings, Cotman exchanged his crisply outlined clouds for fluid shapes. By adding flour paste to watercolour Cotman was able to apply paint that resisted running but could still be manipulated with a rag or sponge. ‘Storm on Yarmouth Beach, 1831’. NWHCM: 1947.217.210

In 1823 JS Cotman returned to Norwich where he opened a School of Drawing at St Martin-at-Palace Plain.Cotmans School.jpg

By plotting Norwich School ‘paintings on a map of Norfolk it is immediately clear that the majority were painted along the waterways’ [9]. Before the coming of the railways water was essential for trade; it also allowed the Norwich School artists access to the eastern waterlands: nowadays they would be dotted along the A47.


Acle Flats and Marshes c1830s. NWHCM: 1961.85. 

Cotman’s financial position improved in 1834 when he was appointed Professor of Drawing at King’s College School, London. With him went his son, Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858) who exhibited with the Norwich Society at age 13 and would later start paintings for his father to finish and sign [10]. JS Cotman referred to these as joint efforts and, perhaps unfairly, Miles Edmund was never entirely viewed in his own light.

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‘Gorleston Harbour’ by Miles Edmund Cotman. NWHCM: 1951.235.626. Miles, who painted numerous scenes of boats on water, is considered to have been an excellent ‘architectural’ draughtsman but less good at figure drawing.

John Sell Cotman suffered from serious depression as did Miles Edmund and his brother Alfred, who was committed to an asylum. The family illness also afflicted another son, John Joseph  Cotman (1814-1878) [10].


John Joseph Cotman ca 1860. NWHCM: 1921.21.23.1

Unlike his older brother, John Joseph eventually broke free of the house style to paint in a bold manner, rich in colour and reminiscent of Samuel Palmer’s mystical works. By the end of his life this tramp-like figure, known around Norwich as Mad John or Crazy Cotman, produced poetical landscapes that were ‘like the sight of a brightly dressed demi-mondaine at a gathering of Quakers’ [11].


John Joseph Cotman ‘Landscape with Sun Set, Haystacks and Owl’. Courtesy Mandell’s Gallery, Norwich

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John Joseph Cotman’s ‘Whitlingham Lane, Norwich’ ca 1873

Joseph Stannard (1797-1830) was considered to be the finest painters of sea and river scenes of the school and may well have achieved national status had he not died young from tuberculosis [1,5]. When asked to engage Stannard as apprentice Cotman requested an extortionate sum and the boy was taught instead by Ladbrooke, explaining why Stannard joined Ladbrooke’s Secession rather than the Society. Stannard’s work ‘tends to be bright and highly finished like the Dutch masters’ as can be seen in his most celebrated work, ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’, which recorded an event attended by nearly 20,000 people. In this large painting the central sail divides the working people on the right from the gentry at Thorpe Hall – including owner, Colonel John Harvey – to the left.


Joseph Stannard, ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’ 1825. NWHCM 1894.35.

On the extreme right is Stannard himself, looking across to the other side, probably for his money; Colonel Harvey failed to pay for this large commission, leaving Stannard considerably out of pocket [1].


Joseph Stannard. Detail from ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’

Stannard lived in the heart of the city, in St Giles Terrace off Bethel Street.IMG_1587.jpg

Like the Cromes, Cotmans and Ladbrookes, Joseph Stannard belonged to a family of painters: wife Emily, daughter Emily, brother Alfred, Alfred’s eldest son Alfred George, and Alfred’s daughter Eloise Harriet. Eloise Stannard (1829-1915) ‘was without doubt a most brilliant painter‘ [1] who exhibited at the Royal Academy. Her still lifes are judged amongst the best Victorian paintings of this genre.


Duchess Pears with Black Grapes in a Basket 1895 by Eloise Harriet Stannard. NWHCM 1933.116.1

James Stark (1794-1859) met John Berney Crome at Norwich Grammar School and became a favourite pupil of his father, John Crome. Under Crome’s tutelage Stark was immersed in Hobbema’s techniques but after painting watercolour out of doors his work became lighter. In 1828 Stark was elected Vice-President of the Norwich Society of Artists and, in the following year, President.


‘Cromer’ by James Stark c 1830s. NWHCM: 1975.688

His father’s name, Michael Stark, crops up in previous posts as the man thought to have invented ‘Norwich Red’, the dye that coloured the city’s cloth [12]. James’s son, Arthur James, was also an artist. The Starks are interred in a family plot in the Rosary Cemetery – the country’s first non-denominational burying ground [13].


The Stark family monument in the Rosary Cemetery, Norwich

George Vincent’s life was short (1796-c1835). One of Crome’s most prodigious pupils he moved to London where his grand, ambitious paintings brought the Norwich School to a metropolitan audience. He overspent what money his wife brought to the marriage, turned to drink and was sent to the Fleet Prison for debt [14]. One of his best known paintings illustrates the continuing bond between Norfolk and the Dutch.


‘The Dutch Fair at Great Yarmouth’ by George Vincent 1821. Norfolk Museums Collections GRYEH: 1956.136. The annual Dutch Fair was held on Great Yarmouth beach under the shadow of Nelson’s Monument. 

Henry Bright (1810-1873. Spouse, Eliza Brightley) was born in Saxmundham, Suffolk but moved to Norwich when apprenticed to chemist Paul Squire of London Street, a keen collector of art [1]. Bright took lessons from John Berney Crome and from John Sell Cotman but by exhibiting in London, and selling his second Royal Academy exhibit to Queen Victoria, he ensured a following among the metropolitan elite that gave him wealth beyond Cotman’s dreams. Bright’s highly finished paintings divide opinions: some say overly theatrical [8], others think none are without great merit [5].


‘Cattle and Drover before a Wind Pump at Sunset’ by Henry Bright 1849. Courtesy Mandell’s Gallery

Despite being John Sell Cotman’s brother-in-law and President of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Thirtle (1777-1839) joined Ladbrooke in forming the three-year Secession. Tuberculosis inhibited his open air painting and his output was limited yet he is still considered one of the finest watercolourists of the Norwich School [1]. 


Riverside Norwich, by John Thirtle. Courtesy Mandell’s Gallery, Norwich

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Thirtle House 26 Magdalen Street (1936) where John Thirtle carried on his business as frame carver, gilder and print seller. The house was pulled down in the late 1930s. ©

Tuberculosis also claimed John Middleton (1827-1856) – a ‘supreme tragedy for the Norwich School’ [1]. Taught by John Berney Crome in Norwich, then by Henry Bright in London, Middleton was a genius who flourished for 10 years before dying aged 29.


‘Lynmouth, North Devon’ by John Middleton. From [1].

Middleton’s freely-painted watercolours are fresh and modern; his paintings of water courses seem to me to anticipate the impressionistic river-bed paintings of the great John Singer Sargent (1856-1925), who was born the year that Middleton died.


‘Alpine Pool 1907’ by John Singer Sargent. Courtesy of

The demolition of the Norwich Society of Artists’ premises, to make way for the corn exchange, was a major factor in the group’s demise. It had been weakened by the deaths of Crome (1821) and Stannard (1830), then by the forthcoming departure of Cotman to London, but the annual exhibitions had run at a loss for some time and the Society’s members could not resist the severe downturn in the city’s economy. The last exhibition was in 1833 but later generations of Norwich School painters built upon the Society’s legacy throughout the nineteenth century [1].


The Corn Exchange built in 1828 was rebuilt in 1861 and demolished in 1964 when Jarrold’s Department Store extended to occupy the entire block between Exchange Street and what had been Little Cockey Lane. Engraving by James Sillett NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd8.Wymer.108

Dates for your diary  

From the 2nd to the 23rd of November, Mandell’s Gallery in Elm Hill is holding an exhibition of Norwich School Paintings that John Allen’s father, Geoffrey, began to collect in the 1950s. Unmissable for followers of the Norwich School.


This small painting by Henry Bright plus 12 of his drawings will be featured in the exhibition. Courtesy of Mandell’s Gallery

The portrait of John Crome by John Opie RA (‘The Cornish Wonder’), at top, records the friendship between these artists brokered by collector Thomas Harvey. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery has just acquired Opie’s double portrait of his celebrated wife, Amelia [15], which is now on public view. Afterwards, take a squiz at the Norwich School paintings in the Colman Galleries.

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Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

©2019 Reggie Unthank

Thanks: I am grateful to John Allen and Rachel Allen of Mandell’s Gallery, Elm Hill, Norwich;  Dr Francesca Vanke, Senior Curator, Norwich Museums; and Linda Martin of the Norfolk Heritage Centre.


  1. Josephine Walpole (1997). Art and Artists of the Norwich School. Pub: Antique Collectors’ Club
  2. Anna Green (2013). The Norwich School of Artists. In, A Vision of England: Paintings of the Norwich School, edited by Georgia Bottinelli. Pub: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.
  5. Harold Day (1979). The Norwich School of Painters. Pub: Eastbourne Fine Art.
  6. Andrew Moore (2013) Origins and Equals. In, A Vision of England: Paintings of the Norwich School, edited by Georgia Bottinelli. Pub: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.
  7. William Cosmo Monkhouse (1888). Crome, John (1768-1821). Dictionary of National Biography 1885-1890 vol 13. See,_John_(1768-1821)_(DNB00)
  9. Giorgia Bottinelli (2013). City and Country. In, A Vision of England: Paintings of the Norwich School, edited by Georgia Bottinelli. Pub: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.
  10. Geoffrey R Searle (2014). Pub: ‘Miles Edmund Cotman (1810-1858)’. Lasse Press, Norwich.
  11. John Young (1989). ‘A Cotman Drawing of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital’. The Norfolk and Norwich Institute of Medical Education Journal vol 7, pp37-39.
  14. Giorgia Bottinelli (2013). Fame and Fortune. In, A Vision of England: Paintings of the Norwich School, edited by Georgia Bottinelli. Pub: Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service.




Going Dutch: The Norwich Strangers


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Norwich grew rich from the export of worsted, the fine woollen fabric that took its name from the nearby village of Worstead, but between 1535 and 1561 there was a rapid decline, probably due to the success of lighter foreign fabrics known as the New Draperies [1]. To revive the city’s textile trade, the mayor persuaded the Fourth Duke of Norfolk in 1566 to ask permission from Queen Elizabeth I to invite ‘thirty Douchemen of the Low Countreys of Flaunders’ each with up to 10 members of family or servants [2]. Some had already come to London and Sandwich and the group of 24 ‘Dutchmen’ and six French-speaking Walloons that arrived in Norwich represented a new wave of immigrants – Strangers – whose name lives on around the city.

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Strangers’ Hall, now a museum. By William Large 1904. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections 1937.118.2

The mayor, Thomas Sotherton, played a key part in inviting the master weavers to Norwich in expectation that they could introduce New Draperies that were becoming difficult to import from the Low Countries. However, the council refused to sanction what they saw as competition and so the mayor was forced to admit the foreign weavers under his own seal. There is evidence that at least one family of Strangers rented accommodation in his house, which later became known as Strangers’ Hall [1].


A room used by the Sotherton family in Strangers’ Hall

‘Stranger’ is derived from the Old French for foreigner – étranger. Although the word is now synonymous in Norwich with the immigrants from the Low Countries (and, a century later, the French Huguenots), ‘stranger’ had previously applied to anyone who came from outside the city.

Sotherton was buried in the church just behind his house, St John Maddermarket. We have previously encountered the Maddermarket in connection with the dye, madder, used for dyeing textiles Norwich Red [3]. This is part of the Charing Cross district previously known as Shearing Cross [4] where woven cloth would be sheared to remove surface fibres and level the nap.


Monument to Thomas Sotherton 1608 in St John Maddermarket by James Sillett (1764-1840). Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1951: 235.1234.1324.  

This was not the first wave of immigrants: the historian Blomefield stated that Flemings came to nearby Worstead in the C12; then in the C14 Phillippa, Queen of Edward III, encouraged her ‘good and trew weevers‘, the Flamands (French Flemish), to come to Norwich and Norfolk [5]. By 1400, trade between Norwich and the Low Countries was deeply entrenched, 137 ‘aliens’ were recorded as living in the city c1440, in 1426 John Asger from Bruges was Norwich Mayor [6] … and Brice the Dutchman left his mark in the form of the Green Man roof boss in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral [1]. 


In 1467 ‘Brice the Dutchman’ was paid four shillings and eight pence to carve this foliate head in Norwich Cathedral cloisters [1]

But in 1567, the year following the arrival of the 30 families, there was a far greater influx, this time of religious refugees. Philip II of Spain was determined to eradicate Calvinism from that part of the Holy Roman Empire over which he ruled – the Spanish Netherlands.

John Calvin, the French theologian, proposed a variety of Protestantism in which some were predestined for salvation by God while the rest were condemned to eternal damnation.

The Spanish Netherlands comprised ‘most of the states of modern Belgium  and  Luxembourg, as well as parts of northern France, southern Netherlands, and western Germany with the capital being Brussels’ [7]. To enforce the Inquisition the brutal Duke of Alba led 10,000 Spanish soldiers, killing hundreds of Protestants and forcing thousands to flee. 


The Spanish Netherlands (grey) in 1700. Courtesy Wikipedia

Possibly mindful of religious zealotry, Queen Elizabeth I commanded the Bishop of Norwich in 1568  ‘to make a detailed return of the whole body of strangers.’ The census showed that 1,480 of the arrivals were Dutch speakers (the Dutch language being a lower form of the German language, Deutsch) and 339 French-speaking Walloons [1]. However, the majority of the ‘Dutch’ came from Flanders while some of the Walloons also came from Flanders as well as what is now northern France [1, 2]. Boundaries have changed but we are talking about an area oscillating around modern Belgium. Indeed, an oration to Queen Elizabeth I on the reverse of Braun and Hogenberg’s map of Norwich (1681) refers to ‘Belgic friends’. 

By 1571 the Norwich Strangers numbered just short of 4,000 [2]. There was no corresponding census of native English but it is thought that the immigrants comprised about a third of the population. A letter home urged a family member to bring ‘two little dishes to make up half a pound of butter … for here it is all pig fat’ [2]. Another reported, ‘You would never guess how friendly the people are together’ … but these were early days.

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The influence of the Low Countries can be seen here in the crow-stepped and Dutch gables of Norwich Cathedral Close and around the east coast

The mayor succeeding Sotherton, Thomas Whalle (1567-8), was not supportive of the Strangers ‘for they did but sucke the lyvinge away from the English’, but he failed to expel them [1]. A more disturbing event occurred in 1570 when John Throgmorton, gentleman of Norwich, conspired ‘to expulse the strangers from the city and the realm.’ Upon ‘the sound of a trumpet and beat of drum’, men recruited at Harleston midsummer fair and at ‘Bongey and Beccles’ would march upon Norwich and fund their enterprise by stealing the mayor’s plate. Only 21 years after Kett’s Rebellion it is jarring to read that a member of Kett’s family, Thomas Ket, should have betrayed his co-conspirators, resulting in Throgmorton and two others being hanged, drawn and quartered [8,1].

The two languages continued to separate the Dutch speakers and the French speakers. The Dutch worshipped in St Andrew’s and Blackfriars Halls, which had been bought for the city  by Augustine Steward after the Reformation. For a while they also worshipped at St Peter Hungate [1], which had been the Pastons’ church when they lived in Elm Hill.


The Dutch church at Blackfriars’ Hall, from Samuel King’s plan 1766. 

The French were permitted to worship in the chapel of Bishop Parkhurst, who had gone into exile under Queen Mary’s reign and would have been especially sensitive to religious intolerance. In 1637, however, these Walloons moved to St Mary-the-Less in Queen Street, Norwich.


The ‘hidden’ church of St Mary-the-Less, its entrance (far right) currently blocked by scaffolding

Elizabeth’s census of 1568 shows that although the Dutch population was predominantly associated with weaving it contained a self-sufficient community of potters, bakers, school teachers, doctors, gardeners etc [8,1]. They also had their own pastors and perhaps the most well-known was Johannes Elison. When he and his wife returned to Amsterdam their wealthy son commissioned Rembrandt to paint their portraits – two of only three full-length portraits that he painted.

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Johannes Elison and his wife Maria Bockenolle/Bonkenell 1634 by Rembrandt. Courtesy of Museum of Fine Arts Boston

The two communities were also divided by the kind of material they wove; these stuffs had ‘more hard names than any Apothecary hath upon his Boxes or Gallypots’ [9]. The Dutch were only allowed to make baytrie, ‘wet greasy goods’ that had been wetted, cleaned and thickened: the Walloons produced ‘dry woven goods’ known as caungeantry woven from yarn composed of long, combed, parallel fibres [1,8]. These fibres of worsted could then be woven with lighter yarns like flax or silk. While the new ‘Norwich Stuffs’ produced by the Walloons grew in popularity demand declined for the thicker, plain ‘bays’ produced by the Dutch.  


The name ‘baize’ for the cloth used to cover snooker tables derives from the worsted-weave ‘bays’, Old French = baies. This gives a sense of the type of material. It could be dyed a variety of colours including dun-coloured ‘bay’. Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

There was strict control over standards. In 1571 a ‘Book of Orders for the Straungers of the Cittie of Norwiche’ laid down 24 articles for the manufacture of textiles; in addition, ‘Sealers’ or ‘Searchers’ were appointed to inspect every piece of fabric in Sealing Halls [5]. Whoever contributed to less than perfect material (dyer, weaver, finisher) was fined and very poor goods were torn in two. Satisfactory goods produced by Norwich citizens received a lead seal with the city arms (castle and lion); Norfolk fabric was sealed with the castle but on faulty material the name was placed in a ring. Strangers had neither castle nor lion and their faulty material was sealed with ‘aleyne’  or alien in a ring.

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Drawings of Walloon lead seals, from [10]. The ship was sometimes used for ‘alien’ work.

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A C17 Norwich lead cloth-seal. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Service

The city carefully regulated the Strangers’ lives and trade: for example, they could not stay out after the striking of St Peter Mancroft’s eight o’clock bell and they could lodge no other Stranger for more than a night without obtaining the mayor’s permission. In response the Strangers sent a letter to the Queen’s Privy Council numbering the advantages they brought, including: manufacture of textiles not previously made in the city; increased employment; the money they paid the council (and they paid double the national tax or ‘subsidy’); they were law-abiding and God-fearing and looked after their own poor. The Privy Council informed the council that the Strangers had royal endorsement: ‘the Quenes Majestie … (praise) you to continue your favoure unto them’ [8].

In 1578, Queen Elizabeth I came to see her new subjects for herself. Upon entering St Stephen’s Gate she was greeted with a pageant performed by the ‘artizans strangers‘. This took place on a long platform on which young girls spun worsted yarn surrounded by loyal  mottoes and paintings representing aspects of textile manufacture [2]. The Dutch minister presented the Queen with a very curiously and artificially wrought silver-gilt cup’, worth £50 and in return the Queen gave £30 for the poor Strangers. 

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Elizabeth I is said to have watched a pageant from a rear first-floor window of Augustine Steward’s house in Elm Hill. Just visible to the left is Blackfriars’ Hall that Steward, one-time Mayor and Sheriff of Norwich, bought for the city [11]. Steward’s House is now the Strangers Club, founded in the C20 to entertain guests from out-of-town.

Despite the friction the Norwich textile trade continued to flourish, the Strangers married into local families and their otherness gradually faded. ‘Outlandish’ names on the original list of 30 incomers, such as Jerusalem Pottelbergh and  Ipolitè Barbè, either died out or were anglicised.

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Left: A ‘Jan/John Dutchman’ headstone late C18 from St Mary’s Hickling; right: was ”Ditchman’ a local variant? St Stephen’s Norwich

Dutch names mutated towards the English; James Minns the Victorian carver, whose name crops up in previous posts [12], was a descendant of Mins; the Muskett family into which Clement William Unthank married were originally Mosquaert; and Goez and Rumpf became Goose & Rump printers.


Goose and Rump later became Goose & Son when Agas Goose went into partnership with son Arthur. Advertisement ca 1910.

The Huguenots:  When Phillip of Spain was harrying Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands, including French-speaking Walloons, the French monarchy was persecuting its own Protestants. Following the St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre (1572) in which 5,000-30,000 Parisians were killed the Edict of Nantes granted religious toleration but this was withdrawn in 1685 and many fled the country. Some settled in England and some came to Norwich, including the well-known Martineau family [see 13]. These refugee French Protestants – the Huguenots – are associated with the development of  ‘Norwich crape’, a mixture of worsted and silk, but though they have weaving in common with the incomers of the 1500s these later arrivals represent a different historical strand.


St Bartholomew’s Day Massacre, by François Dubois. The Huguenot leader, Admiral Coligny, is seen hanging out of a window. Wikipedia

Bonus track: Norwich is known for its interest in things botanical. This may derive from the Dutch who imported Florists Feasts (floral competitions) that became an annual event by the time of Charles I [14].  In discussing the Norwich Dutch the historian Thomas Fuller wrote, “the Rose of Roses [Rosa mundi] had its first being in this City”  [15]. Certainly, this ancient striped rose was associated with Norwich as illustrated by this seventeenth century cushion.Screenshot 2019-07-27 at 11.22.23.png

Turkey-work cushion showing the Norwich City coat-of-arms surrounded by striped Rosa mundi roses. Twelve of these cushions were presented in 1651 by the mayor to be used by aldermen when Blackfriars’ Hall was used as a council chamber [see ref 14]. Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1904.60.1

©2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. Frank Meeres (2018). The Welcome Stranger. Pub: Lasse Press, Norwich.
  2. R.W. Ketton-Cremer (1957). The Coming of the Strangers. Chapter in, Norfolk Assembly. Pub: Faber & Faber.
  4. Helen Hoyte (2017). The Strangers of Norwich. Pub: Red Herring Publishers.
  5. Walter Rudd (1923). The Norfolk and Norwich Silk Industry. In, Norfolk Archaeology XXI, p245.
  6. Penelope Dunn (2004). ‘Trade. Chapter in, Medieval Norwich. Eds Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  8. Francis Blomefield, (1806). ‘The city of Norwich. Chapter 27 Of the city in Queen Elizabeth’s time’. In, An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I (London, 1806), pp. 277-360. British History Online
  9. John Taylor (1650). A Late Weary, Merry Voyage and Journey pp17-18. London.
  10. Geoffrey Egan (1987). Provenanced Leaden Cloth Seals. PhD thesis University College London.
  14. Ruth E Duthie (1982). English Florists’ Societies and Feasts in the Seventeenth and First Half of the Eighteenth Centuries. Garden History vol 19, pp 17-35.
  15. Thomas Fuller (1840). The History of the Worthies of England vol II. Pub: Thomas Tegg, London.

Thanks: I appreciate the kind assistance of Bethan Holdridge, Assistant Curator, Norfolk Museums Service.

This post is dedicated to my Dutch friends Maarten and Eva Kleiweg de Zwaan.

The Captain’s Parks


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In the 17th and 18th centuries, visitors to Norwich were surprised at the amount of open ground within the walls of a thriving city [1]. But by the early twentieth century the city had burst its confines and green space was needed in the suburbs to counter-balance the Victorian terraces and the vast council estates that followed. This month I focus on the man who created the city’s C20 parks, generating work for the many who were still unemployed after World War I.


From “Norwich Parks: Summer Handbook” ca 1947. Starred: Eaton, Heigham, Wensum and Waterloo Parks.

From the C16 onwards, when accommodation had to be found for the influx of weavers from the Low Countries, the large houses of the rich textile merchants were subdivided into cheap tenements and their courtyards filled with shoddy speculative buildings. These ‘yards’ housed the Norwich poor and were the object of slum clearances from the late C19 to well into the C20 [2]. It was to this ‘land fit for heroes’ that soldiers returned from WWI and many found themselves out of work:

“In 1921, there was no doubt action was needed in Norwich. The City had 7000 unemployed people with another 1040 on short time, 1500 married men and 1200 single men were registered for relief work.” AP Anderson [3].

In 1919, just after he was demobbed from the Army, Captain Arnold Edward Sandys-Winsch (1888 – 1964) applied for the job as Parks Superintendent in Norwich [3].


Courtesy of [3]

Before the war Sandys-Winsch had trained with landscape architect and garden designer, Thomas Hayton Mawson, whose interest in town planning and public parks is likely to have played a part in gaining Sandys-Winsch the position.


Thomas Mawson ©Chris Mawson

In 1900 Mawson had published The Art and Craft of Garden Making, linking his name to the Arts & Crafts approach to gardening pioneered by the partnership between gardener Gertrude Jekyll and architect Edwin Lutyens [4]. Sandys-Winsch’s designs for Norwich would emerge out of these formative influences.


Plan by TH Mawson, from ‘The Art and Craft of Garden Making’ (1900), courtesy of [5].

When The Captain was appointed, Norwich only had Chapelfield Gardens, Gildencroft, Sewell Park (funded by relatives of Anna Sewell, author Black Beauty) and the largely unreconstructed pleasures of Mousehold Heath (given to the citizens of Norwich by The Church in 1880 [6]). It was quickly suggested to Sandys-Winsch that he could put the unemployed to work by making new parks [7, 8].

In 1906, using funds provided by the Norwich Playing Fields and Open Spaces Society [7, 8], the council bought 80 acres from the Church Commissioners comprised of four large grazing fields between Eaton Hall and Earlham Hall. This rough area to the south-west of the city was at one time the site of the Royal Norfolk Agricultural Show; during WWI it served as a practice ground for trench warfare but between 1924 and 1928 Sandys-Winsch employed 103 men to transform it into Eaton Park [7,8,9].


Capt Sandys-Winsch’s 1928 plan for Eaton Park [Oddly, the compass arrow points south, not true north]. The 400 yard scale bar, lower left, makes the park over a mile long. Norfolk Record Office ©Norfolk County Council

The ‘third field’ (red star) near Bluebell Road was left as rough grass to accommodate circuses until after WWII. Now it contains the pitch-and-putt golf course [7,8].


Eaton Park 1928. The ‘third field’, now the golf course, is starred.

Other recreational features included tennis courts, cricket squares, bowling greens and a model yacht pond. Eaton Park was The Captain’s prestige project and considerable effort went into the structural elements: mainly the radial plan of the large formal gardens and a centrepiece provided by quadrant pavilions surrounding a domed bandstand.


A colonnade being made from reconstituted stone. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The park was opened in 1928 by Edward, Prince of Wales with Captain Sandys-Winsch in close attendance.

Opening NCC.jpg

The tall figure of The Captain stands behind Prince Edward with stick in hand, 1928. Photo George Swain ©Norfolk County Council. Courtesy of Archant.

A 29 second movie of this visit survives. PRESS HERE

Screenshot 2019-06-27 at 10.04.41.png

Courtesy of British Pathé

At a time when few people had cars, finances were tight and ‘holiday at home’ was the watchword, the parks enjoyed a popularity that is difficult to appreciate today. Correspondence between the Parks and Gardens Committee and the Norwich Electric Tramways Company mentions cheap fares to Eaton Park during band performances on Sundays, 2-6pm [10].

Eaton Park band playing in bandstand [B290] 1932-05-16.jpg

A military band concert in Eaton Park, 1932. ©


Eaton Park bandstand today

The buildings in Eaton Park show a restrained Italianate classicism although there is said to be an Indian Mogul influence [8]. The closest approximation to an Indian structure would be the domed bandstand, which can be traced through Mawson’s designs to the dome-shaped ‘chattri’ pavilions [11] used in Indian architecture and repeatedly employed by Lutyens in his designs for New Delhi.


From the New Delhi office of Sir Edwin Lutyens 1912, based on a model of a ‘chattri’ roof.  Courtesy RIBApix

One of the quadrant pavilions now houses the excellent Eaton Park café whose sandwiches give a humorous nod to the park’s creator.


By comparison, the menu from Sandys-Winsch’s time as Parks Superintendent seems joyless. Probably printed in the tail of post-war austerity (WWII), the no-frills tariff offered a ‘set tea’ of bread and butter with jam, a pastry and a pot of tea, enjoyed in clouds of Churchman cigarette smoke.


Eaton Park Café ‘tariff’ from, I guess, the 1950s.

A dozen or so years earlier the pavilions had been used for a less happy purpose. In 1940, Britain was at war and the Council was preparing trenches in parks and gardens across the city to afford some shelter against air attack.  IMG_1047.jpg

Surface shelter in Norwich parks against bombing. Norfolk Record Office N/EN 1/73

For Eaton Park the Air Raid Precautions Committee had drawn up plans to convert the pavilions to air raid mortuaries.


Plan by City Architect LG Hannaford (3.2.1940) to adapt Eaton Park Pavilion to air raid mortuaries. Norfolk Record Office N/C 1/195

North of the city, Waterloo Park was used as a temporary mortuary after two German bombers – a Dornier 17 and a Junkers 88 – dropped bombs during the first air raid in 1940 [12]. There was no warning siren; 27 were killed, including 10 at Boulton & Paul’s Riverside Works and five women on Carrow Hill who had just clocked off at Colman’s Carrow Works. By a curious twist a Dornier DO17, which had been shot down over Duxford, was displayed at Eaton Park in 1940.

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The Dornier ‘Flying Pencil’ displayed in Eaton Park, 1940. Courtesy of Friends of Eaton Park [3], reprinted from the Eastern Evening News ‘Letters’ Dec 5 1985. 

Less than a mile north-east of Eaton Park lies Heigham Park. Its survival amongst the blizzard of terraced house-building can again be attributed to the foresight of The Norwich Playing Fields and Open Spaces Society [7, 8, 13]. In what became the Golden Triangle, they had bought a large plot of land so that children at Crooks Place School (now Bignold) and the nearby Avenue Road School could take part in sports and recreation. In 1909 the mayor inaugurated Heigham Playing Fields by kicking off a soccer match between these schools [7]. But by 1920, with encroaching suburbanisation, architect George Skipper was proposing to build four terraces around half of the field while the other half remained a recreation ground for the Church of England Young Men’s Society football team – the forerunner of The Canaries. 


The fourth (upper) side of the proposed building site (red) around Heigham Park was never built, leaving The Avenues to bisect the larger field and to pass without too much of a dogleg down Avenue Road. Courtesy NRO N/EN 24/138


The CEYMS premises at Brigg Street, Norwich

Heigham Park, opened in 1924, was the smallest of Sandys-Winsch’s parks and the first ‘modern’ park opened in the city [7, 8]. Heigham Park had room for tennis courts, bowling green, floral beds and a general play area but lacked the large built structures that characterise Eaton Park.


Heigham Park today

What it does possess is a timber pergola on stone pillars, one of Mawson’s signature features. IMG_1098.jpg

The tennis courts at Heigham Park were once distinguished by wrought iron gates with railings in the form of sunflowers designed in the 1870s by Wymondham’s Thomas Jeckyll (no relation to Gertrude). The subject of an earlier post [14], the sunflower became emblematic of the Aesthetic Movement that celebrated the impact of Japanese design upon Western art. Now, reproductions of these sunflowers form the gates at  Eaton Park and Chapelfield Gardens (and provide the header for my local history site on Twitter).Screenshot 2019-06-24 at 10.31.18.png

The original Heigham Park sunflowers were some of the 73 sunflowers, three feet six inches tall, that formed the railings around the oriental pagoda in Chapelfield Gardens. The pagoda was an exhibition piece, of international acclaim, that Jeckyll designed for Barnard Bishop and Barnards’ Norfolk Iron Works in Coslany but it was dismantled after WWII [14].

Chapelfield pagodaPixlr.jpg

The Chapelfield Pagoda. The sunflower railings can just be seen surrounding the base of the pagoda. Courtesy

In 1897 the Norwich Playing Fields and Open Spaces Association leased, from the Great Hospital Trust, land that would become Waterloo Park in the north of the city [7,8]. Originally named Catton Recreation Ground, Waterloo Park was redesigned by Sandys-Winsch and opened in 1933 [15]. This, his second largest project, was structurally more complex than Heigham Park. 


Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office ©Norfolk County Council 

As at Eaton, this park provided for active recreation with grass tennis courts, football pitches, bowling greens and  a children’s playground. In addition, there were formal gardens (with the longest flower border in the city), pergola walks, a bandstand, a pavilion and those colonnades. IMG_1118.jpg

In 2000, AP Anderson  suggested that the ‘small central feature’ at top centre of the pavilion was not intended for a clock but a sculpture of the heads of three city’s worthies [8]. During the Heritage Lottery Fund-sponsored renovations of 1998-2001, a sculpture was commissioned of the three wise monkeys.


‘See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.’ Artist: Alex Johanssen 2000

In 2017, after the pavilion had been closed for 15 years, it reopened as Park Britannia, a café run by serving and ex-offenders who have turned this into a popular and vibrant place to visit. Try it.


The Britannia Café’s ice-cream van ‘Meghan’

Wensum Park emerged out of an abandoned project to build a swimming pool and paddling pool on the banks of the River Wensum [7,8]. After work ceased in 1910 the site became a refuse dump but in 1921, with a 40% government grant, the council set the workless to turn it into a garden park, which opened in 1925. Perhaps because of its gentle slope to the river, which made it unsuitable for playing fields, Sandys-Winsch decided to make this one of his less formal gardens. Unlike Heigham Park it did contain a building: a balustraded viewing terrace with a pavilion/shelter beneath.IMG_1108.jpg

George Plunkett’s photograph of 1931 shows that the pool and fountain have been lost, as has the paddling pool by the riverside.

Wensum Park fountain and shelter [B155] 1931-00-00.jpg

The circular pool with fountain jets, seen here in 1931. © 

The last of the Sandys-Winsch Five is Mile Cross Gardens. In the 1920s Professor Adshead of Liverpool University set out a ‘modern housing estate of quality’ [7] and from the outset the gardens were an integral part. Sandys-Winsch implemented the planned twin gardens, each one-acre. While Eaton, Heigham, Waterloo and Wensum parks are Grade II* listed, Mile Cross Gardens are Grade II and, unlike the others, did not receive Heritage Lottery funding in 2000. This secondary status is reflected in the dereliction of the two small pavilions and the loss of S-W’s stone and timber pergolas (although vestigial bases remain). IMG_1136.jpg


Minor works: The much more substantial pavilion at Sloughbottom Park was also designed by Sandys-Winsch.IMG_1130.jpg

Probably the greatest contribution to the general wellbeing of Norwich’s citizens are the 20,000 trees that  Sandys-Winsch planted around the city’s roads. Minutes of the Parks and Gardens Committee [10] show that this was part of an unemployment scheme; one small project employed  15 men for 20 weeks [10]. In doing this the Council took advantage of Ministry of Transport grants to plant trees on Class I and II roads. Another scheme drawn up by Sandys-Winsch involved Newmarket, Aylsham and Dereham Roads (all Class I) and Earlham Road (II) at a cost of £900, £408 of which was grant-aided. The trees immeasurably improve the quality of life in this city.


Newmarket Road

©2019 Reggie Unthank


  2. Frances and Michael Holmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  3. (Do visit this great website).
  7. Geoffrey Goreham (1961). The Parks and Open Spaces of Norwich. Self-published, Norwich. Available for reference at Norwich Millennium Library.
  8. A.P. Anderson (2000). The Captain and the Norwich Parks. Pub: The Norwich Society.
  10. Minutes of the Parks and Gardens Committee 1921-1928. NRO N/T 22/2
  13. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. See

Thanks. For providing photographs I am grateful to: Helen Mitchell, Friends of Eaton Park; Jonathan Plunkett of the website; Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk; Rosemary Dixon, Archant Photo Library. Thanks, too, to Sarah Scott.

Norfolk’s Napoleonic Telegraph


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At one time Britain’s sea defences faced south, towards France and Spain, but when Napoleon occupied Holland our sights turned eastwards to possible invasion from the North Sea and Baltic. To counter this a naval base was established at Great Yarmouth in 1796 and rapid communication with the Admiralty in London required something more than flags and burning barrels of tar [1].


Courtesy Gareth Fudge. Creative Commons

In the C17 a scientific hero of mine, Robert Hooke, suggested that the recently invented telescope could be used to read secret messages. I can’t show you a portrait of Doctor Hooke for he fell out with Sir Isaac Newton – President of the recently-formed Royal Society – about his contribution to the Theory of Gravity and a vengeful Newton is claimed to have ensured that no image of Hooke remained [but read 2].

Hooke was one of the first to use a compound microscope – a microscope based on two or more lenses. He is known to cell biologists for coining the term cell for the ‘holes’ he saw in sections of plant material – these reminded him of monks’ cells in a monastery.


Perhaps the first drawing of plant ‘cells’ (actually the holes left in cork by dead cells). Robert Hooke, ‘Micrographia’ 1665.

Hooke is probably more generally known for having drawn a flea using his microscope, underlining the point that these experiments in optics took place in the year of the Great Plague. 


The first successful practical use of the telescope to convey messages over long distances was developed by the Frenchman Claude Chappe, who coined the term ‘semaphore’ (Greek: sēma = sign; phoros = carrying) [3,4]. At the beginning of the C19 the French could communicate rapidly between Paris, Lille and Brussels using Chappe’s telegraph that eventually covered the whole of France and extended to Amsterdam and Venice [3]. Each station consisted of a tower from which protruded a mast holding movable arms; the next station, some 10-20 miles away, read the code by telescope and relayed the message down the line [5].


Chappe’s telegraph. Courtesy Wikipedia

In 1795 Lord George Murray, who was Bishop of St David’s in Wales,  offered a different model to the British Admiralty, for which he was rewarded £2000 [6]. This consisted of a six-metre-high shutter frame with three pairs of panels, each about a metre square. Each swivelling panel could be pulled by ropes and flipped between edge-on or face-on, producing sixty four combinations. Unlike the Chappe system, in which each setting corresponded to a coded message, Murray combinations corresponded to single letters and could spell out words (although some combinations denoted predetermined sentences) [3].


The Murray shutter telegraph. Shutter 6 is in the horizontal position. Courtesy Wikipedia.


A shutter station. Courtesy of [6]

Stations might consist of a living room, a room for operations, a small garden and coal shed [7]. Four to six naval men ran the station in twos or threes with one manning the shutters while the other(s) looked through high-power telescopes [8]. 


Dollond’s achromatic telescope, late C18. Courtesy @sciencemuseum

Because the component colours of ‘white’ light (think rainbow) have different wavelengths it is difficult to focus them to the same point through a lens, resulting in blurred images with a colour fringe. But John Dollond (1706-1761) – son of a Huguenot silk weaver in Spitalfields, London – patented a compound lens that improved the telescope [9]. He cemented a concave lens of flint glass to a convex lens of crown glass, which largely overcame chromatic aberration. The Admiralty shutter telegraph used Dollond* telescopes, possibly their top-of-the-range ‘Twelve Guinea’ instrument.

*[Dollond’s optical business became Dollond and Aitchison in 1927 and merged with Boots Opticians in 2009].

Evidently, the system worked but I still found it surprising that naval telescopes of 1800 could discern shutter patterns from 10 miles away. Alex Pietrow of Stockholm University simulated what a Dollond telescope should be able to see. His calculated degradation shows that an experienced operator could still make out the code.


Simulation of the degradation of shutter patterns over 10 miles. Courtesy Alex Pietrow, Stockholm University

The first experimental station, built in 1795 above Portsmouth, was the start of the  line to Deal consisting of 15 relay stations; it took another 10 years to extend to Plymouth. Relay stations were 7-10 miles apart but the 1808 line to Great Yarmouth involved intervals up to 11.7 miles [1] and required three right-angle bends, including one at Norwich.mask2.001.jpg

Anticipating problems of mist and fog over low-lying ground the contractor, George Roebuck, avoided a line through Essex. Instead, he turned north-west out of London to the Chilterns, before heading north-east into East Anglia [3].

The first station inside Norfolk was in East Harling. But before searching for the site I visited the church and its many treasures of the Late Middle Ages. The east window contains the best rural collection of C15 stained glass from John Wighton’s Norwich workshop, which also made the stained glass for St Peter Mancroft, Norwich. By 1460 the workshop was run by John Mundeford, from a family of Dutch emigrés, whose father William had also led the Wighton workshop [10]. 


Painted glass ca 1440-80 by the Wighton workshop from SS Peter and Paul East Harling

Hidden away in the tracery of the east window is a fuzzy squirrel whose siblings can be seen on the shield of a Lovell family tomb-chest. Squirrel Duo.001.jpg

The animal provides a clue to the identity of the woman who sat for Holbein’s enigmatic  ‘Portrait of a Lady with a Starling and a Squirrel’.


By Hans Holbein the Younger ca 1526-28. Courtesy of National Gallery London.

David King the historian of stained glass, who comes from a family of Norwich glass restorers, recognised the squirrel as an emblem of the Lovell family. He also suggested that the starling was a pun on East Harling, which could be spelled Estharlyng in the C16. The sitter could therefore be Anne, wife of Sir Francis Lovell (d. 1551), who – as Esquire to the Body of Henry VIII – was well-placed to have commissioned Holbein on his first visit to England [11].

The former site of the shutter telegraph station (1808-14) was up a gentle East Anglian slope about a mile out of town. The first edition OS map shows that a Telegraph House stood nearby [3].


Telegraph Hill East Harling (TM0085)

Next, on to Carleton Rode and the shutter station whose location is commemorated in the name, Telegraph Farm. The farm is situated two miles north-west of the village but the station itself is given as Telegraph Pit to the SE of the farm itself [12].IMG_0938.jpg

Driving across this unrelievedly flat land forces one to think how shutters on top of a hut could ever be seen ten miles away. To address this, Bernard Ambrose plotted the cross-sections between stations using the contours on OS maps [3]. The fact that a line of sight was possible only if modern-day shrubs and hedges were removed gives a sense of how difficult it is to see across these flatlands (and explains the preoccupation of East Anglian painters with big skies). 

The next station was at Wreningham, ‘on high ground near the church’ [8] – again, straining the definition of ‘high’.


Wreningham All Saints

Ambrose [3] calculated that a shutter station near Wreningham All Saints would have to have been raised about 16 metres. Instead, he proposed that a lost church – St Mary’s, formerly marked on OS maps – was the actual site of the station. Even so, another problem was the inconvenient presence at Ashwellthorpe of a large ancient wood, blocking the line of sight between Carleton Rode and Wreningham.

Old Wood.jpg

Ashwellthorpe Wood from Faden’s map of 1797. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council 

But Bryant’s map shows that by 1826 a drive had been cut through Ashwellthorpe Wood. Bernard R Ambrose suggests this was done to provide a line of sight for the shutter telegraph [3].


From Bryant’s map 1826 showing the now-bisected Ashwellthorpe Wood. Note Knevet’s Grove –  Knevet or Knyvet crops up later.

Ashwellthorpe Wood, mentioned in the Domesday Book, has endured since the Anglo-Saxon period but in 2012 the silent invasion of ash dieback disease from the continent initiated sudden changes. The wood contains 40% ash trees so even if some are resistant the balance of native broadleaved trees will be transformed, as it was some decades ago by Dutch elm disease. I recall the rookery in the giant elms louring over my daughter’s kindergarten. Once, when I drove in late, spraying gravel over the carpark, the commotion catapulted birds out of their nests. “Look,” my daughter said, “pepper in the sky.” The elm are gone and now the ash of Ashwellthorpe are heading that way. 


Dr Anne Edwards of the John Innes Centre, and a volunteer at Ashwellthorpe Woods, used molecular techniques to establish the presence there of ash dieback disease, the first in the UK. Photo: ©

From Wreningham, the telegraph line continues north-east to Norwich. In 1803 a commercial telegraph station had been erected on top of Norwich Castle for signalling to Yarmouth but this earlier project was abandoned because smoke from the city affected visibility [8].


‘Norwich Castle 1793-1809’. The artist is ‘unattributed’ but the watercolour is based on an engraving by Robert Ladbrooke for ‘Bell’s Antiquities of Norfolk’. Could the structure on the battlements be part of a previous semaphore system? ©Norfolk Museums Collections

In Norwich Castle Museum there is an echo of Ashwellthorpe in the form of a triptych by the Master of the Magdalen Legend (ca 1483-ca 1530). Also known as the Seven Sorrows of Mary, the Ashwellthorpe Triptych was commissioned by Christopher Knyvet of Ashwellthorpe when Henry VIII sent him to The Netherlands. Christopher is seen in the left-hand donor panel while his wife Catherine kneels on the right [13], both accompanied by their name saint: St Christopher – patron saint of travellers – carries a child on his shoulder, and St Catherine holds the spiked wheel on which she was martyred.  


The Ashwellthorpe Triptych NWHCM 1983: 46 ©Norfolk Museums Service. Ashwellthorpe Church contains a photographic replica.

The actual site of the Admiralty telegraph in Norwich was near the present-day water tower at the top of Telegraph Lane in Thorpe St Andrews, ca 2 km east of the city centre and 15 km north-east of Wreningham. TelegraphLaneEast.jpg

In the vicinity of the water tower the 1886 OS map shows two features with the name ‘telegraph’: Telegraph Cottages and Telegraph Plantation.


The high ground in Thorpe Hamlet, 2km east of Norwich city centre. 1886 OS map courtesy of the National Library of Scotland under a Creative Commons licence.

In the Norfolk Record Office I found a plan of Telegraph Cottage, Thorpe, owned in 1858 by the Harvey family of Crown Point. This may well have been the shutter station and, if so,  gives a rare indication of the layout. The building of brick and weatherboard is comprised of three storeys (basement, ground floor and chamber) and is only 20 feet wide and 13 feet deep. Windows are placed along the east-west axis.


Plan of Telegraph Cottage, Thorpe Hamlet, Norwich. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office MC91/2/14

This ridge of high ground to the immediate north-east of Norwich would have been ideal for visual signalling. At around 220 feet this ridge is – in East Anglian terms – high enough; think of steep Gas Hill nearby and Kett’s Heights from which Robert Kett’s rebels fired down upon the city in 1549.


The site of the Norwich shutter station on Telegraph Lane, Thorpe, is marked with a black star. A conjectural station near Honingham to the west is marked with a blue star.  ©openstreetmap

In his survey of the Norfolk telegraph line Ambrose [3] suggested that the Thorpe station might have been hampered by smoke from the city or by mists over low-lying ground to the south. He therefore proposed that a reserve shutter station was sited on Telegraph Hill (blue star above) near Honingham, to the west.

Hon Map.jpg

Bernard R Ambrose proposed a reserve station to the west of Norwich, at Honingham. From [3].


Telegraph Hill, ca 2 miles north of Honingham village.

Ambrose’s hypothesis has the virtue of explaining Telegraph Hill but signals from that station would still have to penetrate the atmospheric pollution over Norwich city in order to be read by the Norwich station at Thorpe. So perhaps mists over the low-lying riverland south of Norwich were really the problem. But whichever way they arrived at Norwich, signals from the south had to be redirected eastwards to Yarmouth and to achieve this the shutters were either larger than usual (so that they could be seen at an angle) or the station had two shutter frames facing different directions [1, 3].

The last shutter station before Yarmouth was at Strumpshaw where there is a tump – a proper hill just south of the church. This hill, previously the site of sand and gravel extraction, is now a recycling centre. Driving down the west side of this wooded slope I found a waypost pointing westward to a distant Norwich.IMG_0895.jpg

Even without a tripod, my bridge camera could make out landmarks on the Norwich skyline; for example, St Peter Mancroft.


St Peter Mancroft, Norwich (arrowed) from Strumpshaw Hill. The Thorpe shutter station would have been somewhere on the right

In 1798, King George III sent a message to both Houses of Parliament stating that preparations were being made by the French for the invasion of this kingdom [14]. That was seven years before the Battle of Trafalgar and 17 years before Waterloo and it is hard for us now to appreciate the widespread fear of a Napoleonic invasion, especially on the east coast. In response, the Yarmouth Corporation voted £500 towards the town’s preparations and granted the Admiralty a piece of ground on the South Denes “for the convenience of naval officers and men to attend the signals” [14].

Screenshot 2019-06-09 at 10.17.44.png

Yarmouth’s South Gate, arrowed. Map courtesy of Sue Walker White

Great Yarmouth has one of the best-preserved medieval town-walls, dating back to 1261 when Henry II granted the right to enclose the town. Eleven defensive towers remain, including the South-East Tower.


However, the South Gate – where the shutter station was based – has not survived. Palmer’s History records, “A small wooden hut was erected, which after the war was occupied by the inspecting commander of the coast guard”; this hut would appear to be illustrated below [14]. A private residence, Telegraph House, was later built on the enlarged site and demolished in the 1950s.

South Tower.jpg

Lantern slide of the South Gate, Great Yarmouth, with shutter telegraph, ca 1816. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office 530/1/43

In 1814 the shutter stations were sold after Napoleon was defeated and banished to Elba. When Napoleon escaped, the Portsmouth and Deal shutter lines were replaced with a semaphore system but not the Yarmouth – London branch, marking the diminished threat to Norfolk shores after the defeat of the French Navy at Trafalgar.

In 1817-19, the 44-metre high Nelson Monument was raised not far from the Yarmouth shutter station. Nelson’s column in Trafalgar Square is topped by the man himself while at Yarmouth we have Britannia looking inland, supposedly towards Nelson’s birthplace at Burnham Thorpe, North Norfolk [15].IMG_0888.jpg

©2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. J.B. Fone (1996). Signalling from Norwich to the Coast in the Napoleonic Period. Norfolk Archaeology vol XLII Pt III. pp 356-361.
  3. Bernard R. Ambrose (2001). The Shutter Telegraph. The Journal of the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society pp 17-29.
  8. H.V. James (1977). The London-Yarmouth Telegraph Line 1806-1814. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXXVII pp 126-129.
  10. D. J. King. (2006) The Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford.
  14. C.J. Palmer (1854). Edited and updated version of Manship’s History of Great Yarmouth. vol 2. Pub: L.A. Meall, Gt Yarmouth.


I am grateful to Alex Pietrow of Stockholm University, Neil Handley at The College of Optometrists, and Sam H and Bart Fried of the Antique Telescope Society Forum. I thank Dr Anne Edwards and Professor Allan Downie of the John Innes Centre, Norwich, for discussions on ash dieback. I am grateful to staff of the Norfolk Record Office for their cheerful assistance. And thanks to Theo for navigating.


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Catherine Maude Nichols


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I first came across Catherine Maude Nichols in a book published in 1910 called ‘Citizens of No Mean City’, a Jarrolds trade book containing over 360 potted biographies with accompanying photographs of ‘Norwich Citizens of To-day’ [1], some of whom probably paid for advertising their business on the facing page. I was attracted by the fact that Kate Nichols was one of only three women … and by the flamboyant hat.CM Nichols.jpg

Although she herself was not a major figure her artistic life is fascinating for spanning the last days of Crome and Cotman’s Norwich School of Artists and the emergence of English Impressionism.


From [1]

Kate was born in 1847 behind this fine Georgian doorway at 32 Surrey Street, Norwich, where she was looked after by a nanny and a nurse.

Surrey St 32 Regency Georgian doorway [0468] 1935-04-19.jpg

The Regency doorway at 32 Surrey Street ©

This was on the opposite side of the street to the tall terrace, built in 1761 by Thomas Ivory (Assembly House, Octagon Chapel), where Sir James Edward Smith of Linnean Society fame lived from 1796 to 1828 [see previous blog post 2]. Unfortunately, this fashionable Georgian street was bombed in WWII and the even-numbered houses on the east side no longer exist. Fortunately, George Plunkett recorded No 32 in 1935.

Surrey St 30 to 34 [1028] 1936-06-14AA.jpg

30-34 Surrey Street 1935. ©

Kate Nichols’ father was born into a wealthy Norfolk farming and landowning family who lived at Alpington Hall, a few miles south of Norwich [3].

Alpington Hall.jpg

Alpington Hall. ©Evelyn Simak. Creative Commons

Her father, William Peter Nichols, was related to the Musketts. Regular readers may recall that when Colonel C. W. Unthank married Mary Anne Muskett and moved into her family home at Intwood Hall, a few miles south of the city, he started selling off his own land on which much of Norwich’s present-day Golden Triangle was built [4].

Kate’s father trained in London as a surgeon and returned to Norwich in the 1820s. In the 1850s he was appointed one of the four surgeons at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital where he specialised in removing bladder stones – something once common in Norfolk.

N&N Hospital.jpg

The north-east wing of N&N Hospital, built by Thomas Ivory’s son William in the 1770s. Most of Ivory’s hospital was rebuilt by Edward Boardman 1879-1884 [5]. 

At various times William Peter Nichols was to be mayor and local magistrate as well as surgeon to the police, to the prison and to the Bethel Hospital. The latter was opened in 1713 by Mary Chapman as an asylum for the curable mentally ill and may well have been the first purpose-built asylum in the country. In 1836 Nichols bought Heigham House as a ‘private lunatic asylum’ for ladies and gentlemen. We previously encountered this mansion at the junction of Old Palace Road and Heigham Street when trying to discover which of several Heigham Houses/Halls was home to the Unthank family [6]. This mental asylum was in competition with the genteel Heigham Retreat whose tree-lined avenue is commemorated by Avenue Road.

The Retreat.jpg

Etching of Heigham Retreat by Henry Ninham ©Norfolk Record Office MC279/6. Avenue Junior School now occupies part of this site. 

Nichols and two other doctors bought out Heigham Retreat but closed it in 1859 after it was involved in scandal. In 1852 a curate from Hethersett, Reverend Edmund Holmes, was accused of raping a young girl but, because of his family’s standing in the county, Holmes was promptly admitted to The Retreat by Dr Nichols in order to evade arrest. Nichols then appointed Holmes as chaplain to the asylum [7] and boasted that he had rescued one of his class from the clutches of the law [3].

In 1870, Sir Robert John Harvey, senior partner in Norwich Crown Bank on Agricultural Hall Plain, shot himself after bankrupting the business. Hard to believe but in a letter to the Eastern Daily Press dated 1960 the correspondent recalls tales of a suicide being buried with a stake through the heart at a crossroads in Heigham [8]. Although such roadside burial was repealed in 1823 those who committed self-murder whilst still in control of their faculties could only be buried in cemeteries between 9pm and midnight, and without ceremony. William Nichols was the Harvey family’s doctor and it was his diagnosis of hereditary ‘excitement’ (i.e., whilst the balance of his mind was temporarily disturbed) that allowed Sir Robert a Christian burial.

Crown Bank Norwich.jpg

Norwich Crown Bank on Agricultural Hall Plain. After the Harvey affair the goodwill and building were bought by Gurneys Bank, the forerunner of Barclays.

It was into this wealthy and politically involved family that Kate was born. And when, in Dr Nichols’ mayoral year (1866), the Prince and Princess of Wales visited Norwich together with the Queen of Denmark it was Kate who presented the princess a book of Norwich photographs on behalf of the women of the city [7].


The royal party at the music festival held at St Andrew’s Hall in aid of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

That evening Kate accompanied her parents to a ball held at Costessey Hall where the royal party stayed for three days with the Jerninghams in their never-completed Gothic fantasy.

Costessey Hall.jpg

 Costessey Hall. A C19 Neo-Gothic fantasy made of Gunton Bros ‘fancy bricks’ from the nearby Costessey Brickworks [9].

Costessey Hall was made of ‘Cossey’ brick, baked from Jerningham clay by the Gunton family who went on to supply decorative and carved bricks that can still be seen around the city [see previous post 9].

Guntons chimneys Norwich.jpg

Guntons’ Tudorbethan chimneys on a house in Chapelfield North

There seems to have been something Walter Mitty-like about Kate Nichols. She was to describe herself as a spinster with no close relatives but in so doing she ignored two brothers, three nieces, two nephews and a dozen cousins [3]. She would also tell others that she was a self-taught artist despite: having a drawing mistress at school; studying with David Hall McEwan, a member of the Royal Society of Watercolour Artists; and at age 27 studying for two terms at the Norwich School of Art where she probably learned etching and won a prize in the Advanced Division. Indeed, the Head of the NSA stated that Kate Nichols and George Skipper were the two best students during his 25-year tenure [3].

George Skipper.jpg

Not recorded as such but this is an excellent likeness of George Skipper, Norwich’s flamboyant architect, sitting on top of his Commercial Chambers in Red Lion Street [see 10].

There was an artistic strand in the Nichols family for her four aunts had been taught at Alpington Hall by co-founder of the Norwich School of Artists, John Crome, some of whose landscape paintings hung in Kate’s home in Surrey Street [3].

Almost always described as ‘etchings’ most of Kate’s output was actually dry point engraving. Unlike etching, which involves ‘eating’ into a copper plate with acid, dry point engraving involves incising lines directly onto a copper sheet with a sharp tool; this raises a ‘burr’ that – when inked – is pressed onto paper to create an impression. Because printing produces a mirror image the original scene should be drawn in reverse but for some reason Kate did not do this for ‘Tombland’.

Tombland duo.001.jpg

Left: Tombland Alley with the house of Augustine Steward, which was used by Royalist troops during Kett’s Rebellion of 1549. Right: ‘Tombland’ drypoint by CM Nichols courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Kate’s first dry point engraving for which there is a record, ‘College’, was made in 1875 when she was 28. There was something about this linear technique that suited Kate’s fondness for landscape for she seems to have been less accomplished with the rounded forms of the human body [3].


‘College’ (which appears to be St John’s Cambridge) 1875. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1969.557.63

Here we see the gardens of the Bethel Hospital, where her father was surgeon.

Bethel Duo.001.jpg

Dry point and oil painting of the Bethel Hospital. Undated but after 1882. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections. NWHCM : 1940.75.19 and NWHCM : 1940.75.8

Kate Nichols was single and adventurous, dropping in – apparently – on artists she admired, such as Lord Leighton and John Everett Millais [3]. She travelled alone to France and from 1876-8 visited Barbizon, south of Paris, to join others painting there. This was a generation after the original founders of the Barbizon school, such as Corot and Millet, had painted landscape from nature in the manner of East Anglian John Constable. Future Impressionists like Monet, Renoir and Sisley also went to Barbizon and although Kate may not have met them she at least mixed with ‘hundreds of artists’ who were also paying their dues [3]. In 1879, she stayed in Newlyn – the Cornish counterpart to Barbizon – and this time she was not too late to catch the wave: now  she was amongst painters out of whom the ‘Newlyn Group’ of artists would emerge with their impressionistic style.

Cornish scene AN01231428_001_l Crop.jpg

Old Houses, Cornwall 18979 ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Back home, Kate was to draw from the countryside around Norwich as well as the urban landscape of the city itself. She exhibited widely and between 1877-1908 some of her engravings were shown at the Royal Academy. The first was of Ber Street, Norwich, which illustrates animals being driven towards the livestock market around the castle.

Ber stNorwich.jpg

Ber Street 1878 ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kate was influenced by the Norwich School painters whose work had hung in her family home [3]. In 1907 she was to produce a folder of prints entitled ‘After Crome’.

Oak Duo.001.jpg

Left: ‘The Poringland Oak’ (1880-1820) by John Crome. The Tate, Creative Commons Licence. Right:  ‘Poringland Oak (After Old Crome)’ by CM Nichols. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk


Oil painting ‘Old Norwich River’ by CM Nichols (her drypoint of this scene is labelled ‘Widdow’s Ferry’. Could this be Pull’s Ferry since Pull married Widow Sandling and took over Sandling’s Ferry?). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM 1952:125 

She was obviously fond of the area around Cow Hill.


Left: Drypoint of Cow Hill 1883, exhibited at The Royal Academy and reproduced in The Studio; courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk. This looks up to great St Giles with the morning sun spilling down from Willow Lane. 

The houses in Willow Lane, off Cow Hill, are largely as Kate must have seen them, though not all of the houses on Cow Hill survive.

WillowLane Duo.001.jpg

Left: Willow Lane by CM Nichols. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

She drew George Borrow’s House half way up the hill between Pottergate and Willow Lane. 


Left: The C17 George Borrow’s House, Willow Lane by CM Nichols. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk. Right: the house today, viewed through a modern archway. 

George Borrow (1803-1881) was a larger-than-life character: a boxer, a spinner of tales, a gipsy traveller and a linguist who taught himself Old Norse and Welsh. He was born in Dereham but his family lived for a while in Norwich where George was taught at Norwich Grammar School alongside Kate’s father and uncle [3]. In 1913 Kate was to provide engravings of the interior of the Borrow house for a souvenir booklet produced a decade late for Borrow’s centenary

Borrow booklet.jpg

The George Borrow centenary souvenir booklet with cover by Alfred Munnings, who painted scenes of gypsy life. Courtesy of [11].

The Society (later the Royal Society) of Painter-Etchers was formed in 1880; two years later Kate submitted a diploma piece, Scotch Firs, for which she was elected the first female fellow.

ScotchFirsDiploma Work.jpg

Scotch Firs 1882. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1965.82.1

In 1882 Kate was baptised into the Catholic faith, causing a rift with her family. In 1891 she is recorded as living a few doors away at 12 Surrey Street and by 1900 she had ventured further along the road to Carlton Terrace.

Surrey St 47 to 79 Carlton Terrace [6461] 1987-05-19.jpg

Carlton Terrace at the south end of Surrey Street. George Plunkett’s photograph was taken in 1987, eight years after Edward Skipper and Associates restored the 1881 terrace for Broadland Housing Association. Kate Nichols lived at the far end. ©

Before St John’s Catholic Church (later Cathedral) was completed in 1910 Kate worshipped at the Old St John’s Chapel (1794), which is now the Maddermarket Theatre.

maddermarket Duo.001.jpg

Left: Off St John’s Alley, The Old St John’s Catholic Chapel pre-1900 (from [12]). Right: Converted to the Tudor style Maddermarket Theatre in 1921. 

For the frontispiece of a book celebrating Catholicism in Norwich Kate painted the new Catholic church from Chapelfield North [12].


Frontispiece of ‘A Great Gothic Fane’ by CM Nichols. From [12].

In this book Kate appears on a photographic plate of notable Catholic women.


Kate age 66. From [12].

Kate Nichols’ closest friend was the wealthy Mary Radford Pym who lived in an exotic Tudor Revival house in Chapelfield (once home to my dental practice).

St Marys Croft Norwich.jpg

St Mary’s Croft (1881) in Chapelfield North

Mrs Pym was philanthropic. She funded the clocktower in Sheringham and gave land on Earlham Road to be used as a park. She also gave money to the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital for a nurses’ home; this funded Pym House on the corner of Unthank and Christchurch Roads [3].


Pym House, purchased in 1927. A plaque records that this was for the use of the Jenny Lind Children’s Hospital on the opposite side of Unthank Road, now the site of the Colman Hospital and prior to this the Priscilla Bacon Lodge.

In 1889, Mrs Radford Pym arranged for her good friend Kate to be installed as President of the newly-founded Woodpecker Art Club, a title she held  until her death 34 years later. The Woodpeckers  – who included Alfred Munnings among their members – were so named because they chipped away at wooden engraving blocks, unlike Kate who inscribed metal. In addition to outings the club held an annual meeting upstairs in ‘Princes’ high-class confectioners in Castle Street, owned by Margaret Pillow a friend of Mrs Pym.


From [1]

Kate died in 1923 and in her memory Mrs Pym arranged for a portrait, painted 20 years earlier by neighbour Edward Elliot, to be bought and donated to the Castle Museum. It was presented by Prince Frederick Duleep Singh, who succeeded Kate as President of The Woodpeckers (Frederick was son of the last Maharaja of the Sikh Empire, Maharaja Sir Duleep Singh, a favourite of Queen Victoria who lived in exile at Elveden Hall, near Thetford).


Miss Nichols by Edward Elliot. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1923.75. This captures Kate  around the late 1890s when overblown leg-of-mutton sleeves were fashionable.

In 1927 the Woodpeckers merged with the Norwich Art Circle (est. 1885), which continues as the Norfolk and Norwich Art Circle[13]. 


The colophon of Jarrolds of Norwich who printed Kate Nichols’ later drypoints


© 2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold, Norwich.
  3. Pamela Inder and Marion Aldis (2015). ‘A Forgotten Norwich Artist: Catherine Maude Nichols’. Pub: Poppyland Publishing, Cromer.
  5. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England: Norfolk I.Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. Letter by CC Lanchester to the Eastern Daily Press 20.9.1960.
  12. A Great Gothic Fane: The Catholic Church of St John the Baptist, Norwich (1913). Pub: WT Pike and Co., Brighton.


I have relied for background on ‘A Forgotten Norwich Artist: Catherine Maude Nichols’ by Pamela Inder and Marion Aldis – a model of local historical research (and still available).  I also thank Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permission to reproduce photographs (try the site: Thanks, too, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s invaluable collection of Norwich photographs:

The Norfolk Botanical Network


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There was a time when investigating the world around you could be a dangerous thing: think of Galileo’s unpleasantness with the Inquisition for suggesting that the Earth might not be the centre of the Universe. Locally, on a more humble scale, a group of Norfolk botanists [1] were at the forefront of systematic plant classification; they may have thought they were simply revealing God’s plan but this was part of a larger movement from which the Theory of Evolution emerged, undermining the idea that all living things were made on just two days of Creation. 


The Meaning of Life. © Universal Pictures

Not long after the Galileo Affair, the Norwich physician Sir Thomas Browne (1605-82) was making systematic observations on the natural world, leading to the first attempt at listing Norfolk’s birds. He was succeeded by a network of local collectors who did the same for plants. 


Sir Thomas Browne, not far from his house in Haymarket, Norwich, contemplates a Roman burial urn found in a field at Brampton, Norfolk

In the C18 Robert Marsham (1708-97), son of a Norfolk landowner, began to make ‘natural calendars’ in which weather and temperature could be correlated with the arrival of birds and the emergence of plants [1]. Over a 60 year period Marsham maintained tables of ‘Indications of Spring’, helping to establish the science of phenology that deals with seasonal and cyclic effects of climate on the natural world.


‘The Father of Springtime’. Robert Marsham FRS (1708-1797). ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Once, my wife – who planted trees for a living – made an excursion to the church in Stratton Strawless (gravelly soil, poor crops, no straw) to pay homage to Marsham who had presented papers to the Royal Society on the cultivation of trees in poor soils. By chance, this was where a favourite piece of Norwich stained glass (the subject of my first blog post [2]) is also situated, so we could both pay homage.IMG_2014.jpg

Marsham shared this interest in botany and climate with his friend Benjamin Stillingfleet [3], born in Wood Norton, tutor to William Windham (1702-71) of Felbrigg Hall. When attending a women’s literary discussion group in London it was said that  Stillingfleet was too poor to wear the black silk stockings of formal dress so came instead in his everyday blue worsted stockings [3]. As a consequence, the literary group started in the 1750s by Elizabeth Montagu, Elizabeth Vesey and friends, became known as the Bluestocking Society [4] – the word now a reminder of women who value a life of the mind (despite satirical attempts to undermine them).


‘Breaking up of the Blue Stocking Club’ by Rowlandson

Stillingfleet may have been the first in this country to use the classification system of the Swede, Carl Linnaeus [5]. The Linnean system was a hierarchical one in which organisms were divided between the Animal and Plant Kingdom and then filtered – according to similarities or differences in the structure of their sexual parts – through increasingly finer family groupings of class, order, genus, species, until the two names of genus and species were sufficient to identify any plant. For example, the fine structure of  Bellis perennis allows the observer to differentiate between the common daisy and all other daisies. Stillingfleet’s friend and neighbour in London, the apothecary William Hudson, was another early adopter of the Linnean system in Flora Anglica (1762) [6]. However, in his foreword, Norwich-born Sir James Edward Smith makes it clear that this book was “composed under the auspices and advice of Benjamin Stillingfleet” [6].


Benjamin Stillingfleet of Wood Norton, Norfolk (1702-1771) by Johann Zoffany

James Edward Smith is a major figure in the intellectual life of this city but he has already had a post of his own [7] so, in brief: Norwich-born Smith persuaded his wealthy father to provide 1000 guineas for him to buy Linnaeus’s library and collection of dried plants. Smith Junior used this collection to start the Linnean Society of London, of which he was President, but in 1797 he retreated to Surrey Street in Norwich, bringing the collection with him. Scholars from around the world travelled to Norwich to see Linnaeus’s collection of ‘type specimens’ – permanent references for each named species. Sir James Edward Smith FRS became the foremost British botanist of his day, producing numerous scholarly works such as Flora Brittanica, The English Flora and the 36-volume English Botany


 Former home of the Linnean Collection, JE Smith’s house 29 Surrey Street Norwich (at right) 

In his Letters, Smith acknowledged ‘a small circle of experienced observers at Norwich’ for propagating the principles of theoretical botany [8,9]. This, he thought, could be attributed to the love and cultivation of flowers imported by Protestant refugees from the Low Countries – our famous ‘Strangers’ [9]. 

As dispensers of herbal medicines, apothecaries had professional reasons for identifying plants. Hugh Rose (1707-1792), an apothecary of Tombland, collected the Linnean names of edible plants. Together with Reverend Henry Bryant, Rose produced a translation of Linnaeus’s Elements of Botany to which they added an appendix on Norfolk and Suffolk plants [9]. Rose and Bryant weren’t isolated figures but part of The Norwich Botanical Society, founded ca. 1760 [10].


An apothecary. Wikimedia Commons

The surgeon-apothecary, John Pitchford, came to Norwich in 1769 where he was “last of a school of botanists of this city, among whom the writings and merits of Linnaeus were perhaps more early, or at least philosophically studied, than in any other part of Great Britain”[8]. Sir James Edward Smith recorded that this Norwich and Norfolk circle was comprised of Rose, Bryant, Pitchford and Stillingfleet (supplemented by correspondence with Londoner Hudson) and that these were “the founders of Linnean botany in England [9].”

Though not a Norwich man, nor a botanist primarily interested in flowering plants, the wealthy Yarmouth banker, Dawson Turner FRS (1775-1855), was to have a profound influence on this Norwich circle [11].


Gurney and Turner’s Yarmouth Bank – later Barclays Bank – on Hall Quay, Gt Yarmouth

Dawson Turner was a good friend of James Edward Smith and succeeded him as President of the Linnean Society [5]. Turner had wide-ranging interests and Gudrun Richardson’s essay, ‘A Norfolk Network within the Royal Society,’ acknowledges his central importance in maintaining a web of Norfolk scientists [8]. Of course, Turner’s network stretched beyond Norfolk: one of his correspondents was the eminent Welsh botanist Lewis Weston Dillwyn FRS (1778-1855), owner of the Cambrian Pottery [12] and co-author of ‘The Botanist’s Guide through England and Wales’. 


Swansea creamware botanical plate ‘Sweet pea’. Dillwyn & Co ca 1815

Turner’s wife Mary was also an ardent botanist although 11 children hindered her full participation. She was a skilled artist and made engravings of drawings from her husband’s collection. 


JE Smith as a child. Engraved by Mrs Mary Dawson Turner from a drawing by T Worlidge. Courtesy Wellcome Collection, Creative Commons CCBY

A year after Mary’s death, Dawson Turner married the widow Rosamund Duff – a marriage deplored by his children. Turner forbade Rosamund’s sister to visit his house but, after finding her hiding in a kitchen cupboard, discovered she had been secreted about the house for a fortnight [13]. Uproar ensued.


Dawson Turner 1837, age 52. Artist unknown

The friendship between Dawson Turner and JE Smith was close: no doubt some wry Victorian humour was being conveyed when Smith wrote to thank Turner for the loan of a rhinoceros horn that was being returned by Norwich School artist, John Sell Cotman [8]. The blue plaque outside Bank House commemorates polymath Turner solely as a ‘Distinguished Great Yarmouth Art Collector’. Indeed, Turner may now be best remembered as person who employed Cotman as painting master to his family and who sponsored Cotman’s painting expedition that produced ‘Architectural Antiquities of Normandy’. 


‘Normandy Harbour’ by John Sell Cotman. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1951.235.267

Turner studied non-flowering plants like algae, mosses, ferns and fungi that reproduce by spores instead of seeds. A young botanist born in Magdalen Street, Norwich – William Jackson Hooker – discovered a rare moss in a fir plantation in nearby Sprowston so Smith introduced him to Dawson Turner [14] who was to employ Hooker’s excellent draughtsmanship to illustrate his Natural History of Fuci (brown seaweed) [5]. Hooker became Director of the Royal Botanic Garden at Kew from 1840 to 1865. He married Turner’s daughter Maria, and their son – Joseph Dalton Hooker – succeeded his father as Director of Kew (1865-1885) [7].

 JD Hooker was Charles Darwin’s closest friend and confidant. Another of Darwin’s inner circle was Professor John Stevens Henslow who had been his tutor at Cambridge and became his life-long mentor, helping Darwin gain his place on HMS Beagle. Completing the triangle, Hooker was to marry Henslow’s daughter [15].


JD Hooker ca 1852, by WE Kilburn (Wikipedia. Public domain)

Twenty years after the Beagle (1836), Darwin was still painstakingly amassing evidence to support his big idea that organisms born with natural variations, which allow them to adapt to environmental change, are more likely to survive and pass on those successful traits to offspring. That is, species are not fixed but evolve. Various arguments have been put forward for Darwin’s tardiness: a parasitic disease contracted in South America; hypochondria; bereavement; religious scruple; or a determination to accumulate an irrefutable weight of evidence to support such a revolutionary idea.


Charles Darwin 1809-1882

However, the Welsh naturalist and explorer, Alfred Russel Wallace, independently came up with the idea of natural selection and, after he sent a summary to Charles Darwin, Darwin’s friends rallied round to ensure that he wasn’t scooped. It was JD Hooker who, with geologist Charles Lyell, arranged the joint publication of Darwin’s and Wallace’s papers [15].


Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913). Is that a Darwin-like ape in the background? ©Peter Von Sholly

According to the Theory of Evolution organisms continue to evolve over time and, if this were true, all species that had ever lived could not have been minted once-and-for-all on a single day (Day Three of Creation for plants and Day Six for animals). This formed a clear challenge to religious orthodoxy, prompting the historic Evolution Debate in Oxford, 1860 [16].  Bishop Wilberforce of Oxford (named ‘Soapy Sam’ after Disraeli called his manner, “unctuous, oleaginous, saponaceous”) is said to have asked ‘Darwin’s bulldog’ TH Huxley if he was descended from a monkey on his grandfather’s or his grandmother’s side. Huxley replied that he wouldn’t be ashamed to have a monkey as an ancestor but would be ashamed to be related to a man who used his great gifts to obscure the truth. But in his letter to Darwin, Hooker claims to have landed the more significant punches [16].

On an early Spring morning I followed the Hooker Trail in Halesworth, Suffolk. From the small museum I walked through the town, past Hooker House, ending up at the Memorial Garden & Arboretum. There I found labels bearing the names of some of the plants named after the Hookers: Inula hookeri, Crinodendrum hookerianum, Sarcococca hookeriana, Deutzia hookeriana and Rosa ‘Josephine Hooker’ (JD Hooker’s  grand-daughter who lived to 103). On my return down the high street I bought the essential Hooker tea towel.HookerTtowel.jpg

Not all of the Norwich circle were high-born or wealthy for although John Lindley (1799-1865) was educated at Norwich School his father was a nurseryman from nearby Catton [17]. 


John Lindley in 1848. From, The Makers of British Botany (1913). Wikipedia

Hooker introduced Lindley to the President of the Royal Society, Sir Joseph Banks, who employed him in his herbarium. This was the start of Lindley’s ascent. Although he hadn’t been to university Lindley became Professor of Botany in non-denominational University College where he insisted on teaching Botany as an independent subject, not as an adjunct to Medicine. And as Secretary of the Royal Horticultural Society he revived its fortunes; if you have visited the RHS headquarters in London you will have seen the Norwich man commemorated by the Lindley Library, the largest horticultural library in the world [18].


RHS Lindley Library London. (Credit:

Botanical research continues in Norwich, home to the John Innes Centre [19].


The John Innes Centre, Norwich. Courtesy of John Innes Centre

In 2000 this world-leading centre for plant science research took part in decoding, for the first time, a plant’s genetic blueprint (its genome). Now, the genomes of well over 200 flowering plants have been published worldwide making it possible to line up these DNA sequences, to see the extent of their relationship, and to estimate how far back in time they diverged – the molecular counterpart of Darwin’s Tree of Life.

© 2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. Susanna Wade-Martins (2015). The Conservation Movement in Norfolk. Pub: The Boydell Press.
  5. Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (2004). Pub: OUP.
  8. Gudrun Richardson (2012). A Norfolk Network within the Royal Society. Notes and Records of the Royal Society of London. Vol. 56,  pp. 27-39.
  9. James Edward Smith (1832). Memoir and correspondence of the late Sir James Edward Smith, edited by Lady Pleasance Reeve Smith. Vol 1, available online:
  10. Paul A. Elliot (2010). Enlightenment, Modernity and Science. Pub: I.B.Tauris, London.
  11. Anne Secord (2007). Nature’s Treasures: Dawson Turner’s Botanical Collections. In, Dawson Turner: A Norfolk Antiquary and his Remarkable Family, pp43-66 Ed., Nigel Goodman. Pub: Phillimore, Chichester.
  13. Papers of the Turner, Palgrave and Barker families. Hudson Gurney (1775-1864). Norfolk Record Office. NROCAT 2847/N2/4/1-17.

Thanks to: Dr Tony Irwin, Research Associate, Norfolk Museums Service; Dr Anne Secord, Editor, The Darwin Correspondence Project, Cambridge University Library; Sarah Wilmot, Archivist, John Innes Historical Collections; Professor John Snape, former Head of Crop Genetics, John Innes Centre, Norwich; and the staff of Halesworth and District Museum.

City Hall Doors # 2


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The Normans left Norwich a magnificently tangible legacy of Castle and Cathedral but traces of their Scandinavian cousins – the Vikings – are harder to find.

Roundel 4A: The Vikingsvikings.jpg

For the first roundel in this ‘second half’ of his plaques on the City Hall doors (1936-8), James Woodford acknowledged the significance of the Viking invasion to the development of proto-Norwich. The Great Heathen Army first invaded East Anglia in 865AD but there is little physical evidence that Scandinavians settled in Norwich until the C10 [1]. Then, there is evidence of an Anglo-Scandinavian settlement – a North wic on the northern side of the Wensum, centred along modern-day Magdalen Street, defended by a looping, 13-foot-deep ditch and probably topped by bank and fence. This may have been constructed in response to Anglo-Saxon pressure from Edward the Elder of Wessex who overcame the East Anglian Danelaw in 9 I 7.


Anglo-Scandinavian Norwich outlined in red. Dotted lines mark the known defensive ditch. Blue triangle = St Clement Colegate; yellow diamond = Tombland marketplace. Map courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service, redrawn from Philip Judge’s map in [1].

This protected settlement was sufficiently important and stable in the C10 to have its own mint making Anglo-Saxon ‘Nordwic’ coins. 


Æthelstan, Anglo-Saxon King of Wessex. Penny minted in Nordwic ca 930AD.  © CNG 2019 

Scandinavian influence can be detected in the naming of churches: St Clement – the patron saint of sailors – was much favoured by the Scandinavians and his churches occur at rivers or portals as here, at St Clement’s on the corner of Fye Bridge Street and Colegate. Norwich also had two churches named after St Olave or Olaf, the Norwegian king canonised in 1030.IMG_0357.jpg

St Clement’s Fye Bridge/Colegate, perhaps pre-Conquest, now mostly C15/16 

The Anglo-Scandinavian settlement was not confined to the northern bank for it extended southwards to form a double burh joined across the river by a wooden causeway where Fye Bridge now stands [1]. A few hundred yards south of the river was the marketplace in Tombland, from the Danish word täm for open space and it is from their word ‘gata’ meaning street that we have inherited Finkelgate, Fishergate, Pottergate, Colegate, Mountergate etc. What may have caused Nordwic to abscond to the south bank was the raid in 1004 when Sweyn Forkbeard – whose sister Gunhilde had been amongst the hundreds of  Vikings killed in the so-called St Brice’s Day Massacre – laid waste to Norwich. When the French descendants of the Vikings – the Christianised Normans – arrived a few decades later they established their presence on the south side with their cathedral of stone and a castle overlooking a re-sited marketplace. 

Roundel 4B: Textiles and agriculture


The middle roundels 3B and 4B on the central pair of doors

On roundel 4B Woodford presents us with much the same layout he used on the facing roundel (3B, see previous post): the wool comb could be a mirror image of the comb on the left-hand roundel, there is another yarn winder and, again, a stand – this time a candle holder seemingly warming a tool clamped above (anyone?). Again, an object at the bottom breaks the weaving sequence but here it is not specifically related to Norwich industry but to Norfolk in general. The wheels on this plough reduce friction so that one ox could draw it through the light Norfolk soil and as such the image refers to Thomas Coke, 1st Earl of Leicester (1754-1842), who was first to have harnessed rather than yoked oxen. From his Holkham estate on  the North Norfolk coast Coke is credited with sparking the British Agricultural Revolution [2].

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The Leicester Monument (1845) at Holkham Hall, in memory of the 1st Earl. Between the wheeled plough and the ox are sheep, referring to the ‘English Leicester’ – an improved breed promoted by Lord Leicester. © racns [3]

Roundel 4C: Kett’s Rebellion

Here hangs Robert Kett from the walls of Norwich Castle. IMG_0270.jpg

The success of the Norwich weaving trade, and the rising price of wool, led to rich landlords enclosing common land in order to graze their own sheep. In 1549 Robert Kett, a tanner from Wymondham, sided with those uprooting hedges and fences. Under his leadership the uprising swelled to about 15,000 ‘rebels’ encamped on Mousehold Heath. Kett’s men defeated forces led by the Marquess of Northampton but were finally overcome at the Battle of Dussindale. Robert Kett was hanged from a gibbet erected on the battlements of Norwich Castle and “left hanging, in remembrance of his villany, till his body being consumed, at last fell down”. His brother was left hanging by chains from the steeple at Wymondham [4]. The C18 historian Francis Blomefield wrote that Kett’s army contained the ‘scum of Norwich’ but, of course, one man’s rebel is another man’s freedom fighter and a plaque on the castle walls expresses a more enlightened view:

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

Roundel 5A: Chocolate and crackers


We know this represents Caley’s, rather than other confectioners, because of the combination of chocolate-making and Christmas crackers that we see arranged around the perimeter of this roundel. Twelve years before James Woodford drew this design Caley’s installed 44 chocolate-piping machines [5] so the worker is piping chocolate in their Fleur-de-Lys Factory in Chapelfield.

Caley's TM2.jpg

Registration of Caley’s trade mark ‘The Prentices Christmas in the Snow’ (1899). Note ‘Ye Sign of ye Fleur de Lys’. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office BR266/119/2

Between the 1864 and the 1883 editions of Kelly’s Directory, chemist and druggist Albert Jarman Caley – ‘manufacturer of aerated & mineral waters, & ginger ale’ – had moved from London Street to Chapelfield (1883), presumably to take advantage of a nearby deep well with the purest water in the city [7]. His sodas were bottled in an old factory in Chapelfield that had made cloth for glove-making but this was just the beginning of Caley’s expansion.

Caley's Lined latest.001.jpeg

Caley’s Fleur de Lys works 1928 now the site of Chapelfield shopping mall. Chapelfield Gardens are to left and, below, is the triangle of The Crescent where Alfred Caley lived

In order to provide year-round employment for his summer workforce, Caley started to make drinking chocolate in 1883 and three years later began to make chocolate confectionery using milk from a farm in nearby Whitlingham [6]. In 1932 Caley’s was sold to Mackintosh’s, the toffee-makers from Halifax, who modernised the factory and produced new lines, like the chocolate-toffee combos ‘Rolo’ and ‘Quality Street’ assortment. The factory was rebuilt after being badly damaged in the 1942 Baedeker Raids. In 1969 the business was acquired by Rowntree’s and then by Nestlé (1988) who sold the site to be redeveloped as intu Chapelfield shopping mall (2005). Have I mentioned the aroma of chocolate over the city, usually – it seemed – on Sunday mornings?

Round thing.jpg

This stone roller once used for grinding cocoa beans is now used as a seat at the Chapelfield Road entrance to the intu Chapelfield mall where Caley’s once stood

In 1899 the Caley’s fancy box department expanded into making Christmas crackers – some of the boxes decorated by a young Alfred Munnings who had recently graduated from the Norwich School of Art. Tom Smith, inventor of the Christmas cracker [8], opened his factory on Salhouse Road in 1953, too late to be considered an influence on Woodford’s roundel.


Caley’s Christmas cracker boxes ca 1900. Some, such as the first two, bear Munnings’ signature. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections


Roundel 5B: Livestock marketsAnimals.jpg

Norwich was the trading centre for a major agricultural county and, since at least the time of James II, livestock was brought to the Castle Ditches or Dykes for sale [9]. The ‘Market for Horses Cows Sheep & Swine’ is clearly marked on King’s C18 map. Also marked are Old Horse Fair, Haymarket, Hog Hill (Orford Hill near the Bell Hotel), Horse Market (now Rampant Horse Street) and the Old Swine Market on All Saints’ Green – all contributing to a sense of the city as a hub for the county’s agriculture.

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Samuel King’s New Plan of Norwich 1766. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

After the coming of the railways, cattle would be driven from Norwich Thorpe Station, up the new, wide Prince of Wales Road to various sites around the castle commemorated in the street names: Cattlemarket Street, Market Avenue, Farmer’s Avenue.

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Norwich Cattlemarket from Market Avenue, 1960. This is to the rear of the Agricultural Hall with the cathedral spire just visible, right of centre. Courtesy of

Here we see the Cattlemarket in 1877. Today, this is the site for the garden and glazed roof of subterranean Castle Mall. In 1960 the Cattlemarket was taken out of town to Hall Road.


Sheep sale at the Cattlemarket at a time when the castle was Norwich Prison. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Roundel 5C: Shoe-making

The City Hall stands on the site of a former Start-rite shoe factory and it is shoe-making that is celebrated in this roundel.


Preparing soles

By the 1840s the city’s textile trade was in decline but the same pattern of work – production by outworkers controlled by garret-masters – was inherited by the city’s rapidly expanding boot and shoe manufacturing trade. Soon, this piecemeal form of production was overtaken by large-scale manufacture in factories. Numerous small businesses became consolidated into the Big Five companies that dominated Norwich’s boot and shoe trade: Edwards & Holmes; Howlett & White (later the Norvic Shoe Co.); Haldinstein’s (later the Bally Shoe Co.); James Southall (later Start-rite); and H. Sexton & Sons (later Sexton, Son & Everard). About the time that Woodford was designing this roundel the Norwich boot and shoe trade was employing about 10,000 workers, although none of the major factories are operating now [10, 6].


The former Norvic Shoe Co at the corner of St George’s Street and Colegate was once the biggest shoe factory in the country

Roundel 6A: Soldering mustard tins

Here, the worker is soldering tins with what appears to be a pool of molten lead; a soldering iron is highlighted on the left. He would have been working on a production line at Colman’s of Carrow, famous worldwide for producing mustard. This company’s yellow tins of mustard powder were emblematic of the city and it is a great sadness that the factory will close in 2019 after over 150 years at the old Carrow Abbey site.Roundel 6A.jpg

Roundel 6B: More livestock

Roundel 6B.jpg

This image is paired with the ‘livestock’ roundel on the facing door (5B above).

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The Hill at Norwich on Market Day, by Frederick Bacon Barnwell (1871). Looking down Cattlemarket Street at the ‘back’ of the Castle, separating into Market Avenue to the left and, to the right, down Rose Lane to a distant Thorpe Hamlet  

Roundel 6C: Silk weaving

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This plaque almost certainly refers to the firm of Francis Hinde & Hardy who employed several hundred people in St Mary’s Works on Oak Street [6].


Silk weaving at Hinde’s St Mary’s Mill at Oak Street. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In the 1550s and 60s Dutch and Belgians Protestants fleeing from religious persecution settled in Norwich, eventually comprising a third of the city’s population. These ‘Strangers’ revived our flagging textile trade and helped develop New Draperies that included silk. Even in the C19, when the textile trade was in serious decline, Norwich silk shawls and ‘Mourning Crape’ kept business alive [11]. In the 1920s Hindes expanded, taking over other Norwich silk weavers and building a silk-weaving mill at Mile Cross; they also owned another silk mill at Oulton Broad. In the 1920s and 30s Hindes were experimenting with nylon and an artificial silk (Rayon) so the roundel may depict the weaving of artificial yarn [12]. Later, Hindes’ produced parachute fabric in WWII.


1949 advertisement. Courtesy [13]

In 1964 Hindes was bought by the giant Courtaulds; the factory closed in 1982, ending 700 years of textile manufacture in the city [6].

The 19th roundel 

For the final – the 18th – roundel, Woodford chose to illustrate silk weaving but  his designs indicate that his original intention was to show tubes being filled with toothpaste [3]. I did read that the toothpaste was ‘Odells’ but it turns out to have been ‘Odol’ by Cranbux Ltd of 103 Westwick Street – a firm owned by Coleman & Co Ltd [14]. Remember Coleman’s (with an ‘e’), the wine-bottling company from Westwick Street that we saw on roundel 1A?


When Norwich had its own toothpaste. ‘Odol’ marketed by Cranbux, owned by Coleman & Co Ltd, Norwich.  Photo courtesy of [14]

We have to ask whether these roundels gave a fair reflection of the city. Well, it’s rather puzzling why Woodford even considered the filling of toothpaste tubes when he could have chosen the famous home-grown insurance business, Norwich Union (now Aviva). Woodford’s vision was decidedly backward-looking but who in 1936 anticipated the war and could imagine what post-war life would be like in a post-industrial Britain? Now, Norwich is a city of literature and science, amongst many other things, but it would take a brave person to commission another set of roundels to fix this moment in time.

(That was to have been my ending but, serendipitously, I came across someone who did have the courage to predict the city’s future. In 1935 an Art Master at CNS School, Walter Watling, drew ‘Norwich in AD 2035’. In his prophetic dream he was introduced to someone over the “televisophone” who “promised to send along the glasses and in another minute they arrived by the pneumatic tube delivery service [15].” Quite a good stab at the smartphone and Amazon, no?)

Norwich2035 copy.jpg

‘Norwich in AD 2035’ by WT Watling [15, 16]. 

©2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. Brian Ayers (2004). The Urban Landscape. In, Medieval Norwich (Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  4. Francis Blomefield (1806).  ‘The City of Norwich’ Ch 25, online at:
  5. Norfolk Record Office BR266/93.
  6. Nick Williams (2013). Norwich: City of Industries. Pub: Norwich Heritage Economic and Regeneration Trust.
  7. Barry Pardue (2005). Norwich Streets. Pub: Tempus.
  10. Frances and Michael Holmes (2013). The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  11. Gillian Holman (2015). Made in East Anglia: A History of the Region’s Textile & Menswear Industries. Pub: The Pasold Research Fund
  12. Communication from Cathy Terry, Senior Curator at Strangers’ Hall Museum, Norwich.
  15. Walter T Watling (1935). ‘Norwich AD 2035: A Prophetic Fantasy’. In, The Norwich Annual 1935.

Thanks: to Cathy Terry of the Strangers’ Hall Museum for information on silk weaving; Cathy acknowledges the research of Thelma and Alan Morris. I am grateful, as ever, to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permission to reproduce images. I also thank Derek James of the Eastern Daily Press for kindly sending me the Watling illustration. See his article on Walter Watling in [16].


City Hall Doors # 1


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The northern mill towns that had put Norwich’s centuries-old textile industries out of business celebrated their new prosperity in a Victorian campaign of civic building that passed our city by. In the 1930s, by the time Norwich got around to replacing the medieval Guildhall, the city had reinvented itself as a centre of light industry that could advertise its modernity, not with Town Hall Gothic or Georgian Classical, but with the clean lines of Scandinavian Art Deco. This made Norwich City Hall “the foremost English public building of between the wars” [1] – the figurative roundels on its bronze doors providing a snapshot of Norwich in this inter-war period.3xDoors.jpg

In 1934, James Woodford had designed magnificent bronze doors for the Royal Institute of British Architects headquarters in London …

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James Woodford’s bronze doors for the Royal Institute of British Architects at 66 Portland Place London1934 ©RIBApix

… and was subsequently commissioned to design three pairs of bronze entrance doors for Norwich City Hall [2]. Unveiled in October 1938 the 18 roundels – three per door – paid homage to history, trade and industry.

Woodford image.jpg

James Woodford’s design for the left-hand side pair of doors. ©Norfolk Museums and Archaeology Service

Roundel 1A.Bottling wine *[The three pairs of doors are numbered 1-6 and the three roundels on each door are labelled A-C, downwards].

Pic A.jpg

Incidentally, all 18 of Woodford’s designs are repeated – albeit in a simplified form and without the Art Deco influence – around the top floor of Chapelfield Mall (2005).


Coleman & Co Ltd – not to be confused with Colman’s of mustard fame, who took them over in 1968 – bottled wine that arrived in tankers from various European countries. The factory on Westwick Street/Barn Road occupied a large area centred around Toys R Us (but even this landmark closed in 2018) [3]. Another first for Norwich: Coleman’s were the first company in the UK to make wine-in-a-box. From the 1880s Colemans also made Wincarnis, the name describing a mixture of fortified wine and carne, meat, from a time when this pick-me-up contained beef stock.


From, The Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell

Coronation Westwick St Wincarnis works [1623] 1937-05-13.jpg

The Wincarnis Works in Westwick Street 1937, destroyed by the Luftwaffe in an incendiary attack 1942 ©


Wine being bottled and labelled by hand, not by a man in a cap as in the roundel, but by female workers at Coleman & Co Ltd. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk. 

Roundel 1B illustrates building the base of the City Hall using blocks of stone with rusticated (set-back) edges. Incidentally, when buying a suit (a rare occurrence) in London the shop assistant told me that his grandfather, a master mason, travelled to Norwich each week to help build the City Hall. Pic B.jpg

Roundel 1C. The city’s aeronautical industryPic C.jpg

This roundel celebrates one of our largest industries of the time, mainly based around Boulton and Paul’s engineering works on Riverside where they made aeroplane parts. B&P were used to making prefabricated structures like sheds and bungalows; in 1915 this led them being awarded government contracts to build planes [4]. The roundel also acknowledges another Norwich firm, formed by Henry Trevor and his step-son John Page. Trevor, Page & Co. had made furniture since the 1850s and in WWI were contracted by the government to make wooden propellers.


Staff of Trevor, Page & Co (registered at Upper King Street) with two wooden propellers. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Trevor is perhaps best known locally for his transformation in the 1850s of a disused quarry on Earlham Road into the wonderful Plantation Garden.


Henry Trevor’s Plantation Garden on Earlham Road

The planes were assembled and tested by Boulton & Paul on Mousehold Heath, which became Norwich Municipal Aerodrome in 1933. 30129032936909Boulton&PaulHangar.jpg

One of Boulton and Paul’s hangars on Mousehold Heath. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

The Municipal Aerodrome was opened in 1933 by the Prince of Wales who inspected a flight of B&P’s medium bomber, the Sidestrand – a twin engined biplane.


The Sidestrand. Picture: Ian Burt

Towards the end of WWI, the Sopwith Camel became the country’s most successful fighter (and 50 years later Snoopy’s biplane of choice). Boulton & Paul are said to have made more Sopwith Camels than any other company. Here is the production team with what may well have been one of their last Camels.


Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

In 1936, at about the time that Woodward was designing the City Hall doors, Boulton and Paul’s aeroplane division moved to Wolverhampton [4] leaving the old aerodrome to become the Heartsease housing estate. In 1971 the old RAF Bomber Command airfield at Horsham St Faith was redeveloped as Norwich Airport.

Roundel 2A: the filling of soda siphons. Door2A.jpg

Each of the big four Norwich breweries (Bullards, Youngs Crawshay & Youngs, Morgans, and Steward & Patteson) marketed their own soda siphons. In addition, Caley’s produced table waters from 1862, which were its main product until they began manufacturing drinking and eating chocolate some 20 years later [5]. Caley’s Fleur-de-Lys works in Chapelfield, which was destroyed in the Baedeker raids of 1942, was rebuilt  only to be demolished in 2004 to make way for the intu Chapelfield shopping mall. For a few years, from 1958, Caley’s marketed their table waters under the Delecta brand.


Delecta soda siphon Norwich ©

The Mineral Water Works (red star) was situated inside what is now the Theatre Street entrance to Chapelfield Mall.

New Map.001.jpeg

Red star = Caley’s Mineral Water Works; Blue star = Assembly House (formerly the Girls’ High School; Yellow star = St Stephen’s Church. The red line = the walk through St Stephen’s Churchyard. 1885 OS map hosted by courtesy of

Roundel 2B. The brewing industry. Door2B.jpg

Although Norwich is famed for having so many medieval churches, this number (‘one for each week of the year’) was dwarfed in the late C19 by 655 licenced houses, far more than the well-rehearsed ‘and one for each day of the year’ [2]. Most of these were eventually brought under the umbrella of the big four Norwich breweries; all, of course, now gone: Bullards on Anchor Quay [2]; Morgans at the Old King Street Brewery – the site now being redeveloped for housing as St Anne’s Quarter; Steward and Patteson’s Pockthorpe Brewery on Barrack Street; and Youngs Crawshay and Youngs on the Wensum Lodge Adult Education site, King Street. Walking down historic King Street today you would never realise it was once home to two large breweries.

Roundel 2C: Making wire netting.Door2C.jpg

In 1844 Charles Barnard invented a machine for making wire netting based on weaving looms that would still have been a common sight and sound around the city. His Norfolk Iron Works [see previous post 6] was on the north side of the river, opposite Bullards’ Anchor Quay Brewery.

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Charles Barnard’s wire netting loom in The Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell.

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The advertisement underlines the point that Barnards were the originators of wire netting and warns against being misled by other brands. Who might they be?

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In 1903, Boulton & Paul stocked over 700 miles of wire netting

Across the city, Boulton and Paul were also making wire netting. In WWII – a few years after Woodford designed his roundels – B&P were producing the ‘Summerfeld’ wire-netting track, used as temporary runways for aircraft [7].

Roundel 3A: Building the Castle.Door3A–Altv.jpg

If we had to guess the location of this scene from the scant clothing and hair styles alone we would be excused for placing these men somewhere between the Nile and the Tigris rather than cold old Norwich. This would at least be consistent with Woodford’s Assyrian designs for the two flagpole bases [2] in the Memorial Gardens opposite City Hall where figures ‘walk like an Egyptian’: torso twisted, face in profile.Flagpost2.jpg

The roundel illustrates blocks of stone being hoisted up to a building with rounded Norman arches. However, something more efficient than the cranked windlass illustrated here would have been needed to lift large stone blocks (although the treadwheel only seems to have appeared in the mid-C13 [8]). Whatever … it is stone that is being celebrated here for there is none in this desert of flint and chalk, and to raise both castle and cathedral the Norman conquerors imported their own stone at great expense from Caen in Normandy. Norwich Castle was ‘architecturally the most ambitious secular building in western Europe’ [9] and, as the only royal castle in Norfolk and Suffolk, this assertion of Norman power made Norwich the regional capital [10].


Blind arcading on Norwich Castle, which was re-faced with Bath stone in the 1830s

On the roundel we can just make out that the space beneath the rounded arch, which frames the left-hand worker, is filled in with blocks of stone. Such blind arcading is a common decorative element in Norman architecture but the fact that a utilitarian building like the castle has external decoration at all is “remarkable”. As Pevsner and Wilson wrote, “France e.g. has nothing to compare with Norwich” [1]. Hurrah!

Roundel 3B: ‘Historical implements’ [11]Roundel3B.jpg

The wool comb on the right is for carding wool; that is, disentangling it and  drawing it into parallel fibres ready for spinning the thread. A denser comb with shorter nails would be needed to produce finer yarn used for worsted. Worsted is a smooth cloth without a nap that was particular to Norwich and the surrounding villages (e.g., Worstead); the manufacture of worsted was probably the city’s major industry throughout the late middle ages [12]. The whirligig in the centre is an ‘umbrella swift’ for winding yarn – either silk or wool [13]. The stand on the left holds two yarn winders on which the thread is spooled ready for weaving. The simplicity of these implements emphasises the pre-industrial nature of the early textile business, often conducted in small workshops and attics by family groups [13].

I was surprised that the final object, seen at the bottom of the roundel, was a cobbler’s bench [2] because, surely, Woodford wouldn’t interrupt his textile cycle by including a different trade? Well, there it is at The Bridewell Museum, a turnshoe maker’s bench.  shoemaker's bench1.jpg

Roundel 3C: The Black DeathRoundel 3C.jpg

According to the historian Francis Blomefield the bubonic plague first arrived in Norwich on January 1st 1348 [14] but it was to return intermittently over the next three centuries. In the years preceding the first outbreak the city’s numbers were swelled hugely by the arrival of land-starved peasants coming in from the country to seek work [15]. The Black Death reduced this jam-packed population by about a third to a half and wasn’t to return to its original level until the late C17 [15]. Bodies were buried in communal pits in the Cathedral Close and the churchyard of nearby St George Tombland; in the Great Plague of 1665-6 Chapelfield was used as a mass grave [16]. High and low were struck down alike.


The last British example of the Dance of Death in stained glass. St Andrews, Norwich ca 1510.

Next month, the other nine roundels

©2019 Reggie Unthank

Contains Photographs of the Unthanks and material not included in the blog. From Jarrolds Book Department or online (click here) and the City Bookshop, Davey Place, Norwich (or click here).


  1. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  2. Richard Cocke (photography by Sarah Cocke) (2103). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk. Pub: Liverpool University Press.
  7. Boulton and Paul (1947). The Leaf and the Tree: The Story of Boulton and Paul Ltd 1797-1947. Pub: Boulton and Paul.
  9. T.A. Heslop (1994). Norwich Castle Keep: Romanesque Architecture and Social Context. Pub: Centre of East Anglian Studies, UEA.
  10. Bryan Ayers (2004). The Urban Landscape. In, Medieval Norwich. Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  12. Penelope Dunn (2004). Trade. In, Medieval Norwich. Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  13. Ursula Priestley (1990). The Fabric of Stuffs: the Norwich Textile Industry from 1565. Pub: Centre of East Anglian Studies, UEA.
  14. Francis Blomefield’s history of the City of Norwich (1806) available online at:
  15. Elizabeth Rutledge (2004). Economic Life. In, Medieval Norwich. Eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.

Late Extra: The Norwich Pantheon


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Once, I stayed in a hotel next to the Pantheon in Rome. Constructed some 2000 years ago it is a breath-taking example of the Roman genius for engineering – its circular rotunda spanned by the world’s largest unreinforced concrete dome. Surely, anything bearing that name in Norwich could only be a much-diluted version of the Roman Pantheon so what was ours really like? Two weeks after my previous post [1] I received fascinating correspondence that I show here in order to set the historical record straight. First, a brief recap.


The portico of the Roman Pantheon with the rotunda behind


The dome was coffered with diminishing panels to lighten the weight. The central oculus is open to the weather. Built ca 100AD

In my previous post on Norwich Pleasure Gardens I mentioned London’s Pantheon  – an impressive structure that prompted the building of our provincial version. The 1000-seat Norwich Pantheon was erected in New Spring Gardens – later called Vauxhall Gardens – on the riverside, off King Street.


The clues to Norwich’s own  Pantheon are few and start with Hochstetter’s map of 1789.


Hochstetter’s plan of 1789, courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

This map clearly shows that the Norwich Pantheon on Riverside was originally octagonal, as does Cole’s map of 1807.

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Cole’s plan of 1807 with The Pantheon at centre. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Service

However, Cole is thought to have based his map on Hochstetter’s earlier survey [see 2] and in 1807 he wrongly drew The Pantheon in this riverside location from which it had been absent for about a decade. In the 1790s Samuel Neech had bought the defunct Vauxhall gardens, including its Pantheon, and used the building materials to construct a new rotunda (for which he retained the old name of The Pantheon) in his own Ranelagh Gardens. This rival garden – situated just off the present-day St Stephens roundabout – now had a building that is said to have accommodated 2,000 persons [3]. (These pleasure gardens had various owners who gave them different names but for simplicity’s sake I will call them ‘Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens’ here.)RanelaghPantheon.jpg

In 1849 the Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens were bought by the Eastern Union Railway Company who repurposed the existing buildings [3]. Fortunately, Norwich Victoria Station survived well into the C20 so photographs exist.


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

I ended the previous post by asking if we could be looking at The Norwich Pantheon, a ghost from over two centuries ago.


It was at this stage that Bill Smith – a railway enthusiast who had come to Victoria Station from a different angle – asked if there was evidence that the above building was  the fabled Pantheon. The booking office in the photograph approximates to a circular form rather than the distinct octagon shown in Hochstetter’s map. Might it therefore be a different building, such as the ‘amphitheatre’ that a previous owner is said to have constructed eight years before The Pantheon appeared on the site [3]? Unfortunately, Hochstetter’s plan shows no large buildings on the Ranelagh/Victoria site.


Ranelagh Gardens from Anthony Hochstetter’s Plan of 1789. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

But, using the excellent Norfolk Map Explorer (, Bill had downloaded the 1842 tithe map that does show a building on the Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens plot. It is hard to make out whether the building is circular or octagonal.

1840 Victoria station site Clive2.jpg

Building 230 on the 1842 tithe map. ©2012 Norfolk County Council

However, the 1830 map by WS Millard and J Manning gives a clearer view. Ignoring the flaps fore and aft the main building appears as an octagon, or is that a rectangle with rounded corners? Those rounded corners turn out to be useful.

Clive 3.jpg

From the 1830 Plan of Norwich by WS Millard and J Manning. Courtesy Norfolk County Council

By the time Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens had become Victoria Station the main garden building, now wider, was situated between the two platforms. Here, Bill has placed the rotunda on a 1905 OS map.

1905 Norwich Victoria plan rotunda2.jpg

 OS map, redrawing courtesy of Bill Smith.

On a more detailed map of 1880 Bill was able to scale the rotunda to fit two circular segments of the building (the ’rounded corners’) and, using the 56½-inch gauge of the railway tracks as a standard, to calculate the rotunda’s diameter at around 74 feet.

Rotunda large scale2.jpg

The rotunda sized by Bill Smith to fit the rounded corners.

The panelled conical ceiling with its roof light therefore sits on what is almost certainly a circular rotunda, not an octagonal one. Samuel Neech may have recycled material from the old Norwich Pantheon for his own building but it seems quite clear that he didn’t stick to the original’s octagonal floor plan. Bill’s evidence strongly indicates that The Pantheon was the large circular building so an ‘amphitheatre’ has to be something else. Indeed, Fawcett supports the idea of two separate buildings when he describes the layout after the Eastern Union Railway Company took over the gardens in 1849: “Station platforms were laid on either side of the Pantheon … The Amphitheatre became a ticket office and luggage room.” The amphitheatre would therefore be the rectangular building behind, and extending either side of, the entrance portico.


Norwich Victoria Station in the early 1900s. Behind the entrance portico is situated the Amphitheatre. The roof light of the Pantheon (arrowed) peeps out to the rear. Wikipedia, Creative Commons

Below, this aerial photograph from 1935 provides interesting insight into the layout of the station inherited from the Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens. First, to the left, is the entrance off St Stephens Road as shown in the photograph above. Next, perpendicular to this, comes the Amphitheatre with a pitched roof; this is followed by the rotunda/Pantheon; followed by a smaller building with a pitched roof; then a glimpse of the triangular garden illustrated in the larger scale map (two images above).

Rotunda 1935.jpg

1935 aerial map, ringed by Bill Smith to show the Pantheon at Norwich Victoria Station. From Flickr user ‘mira66’ [4], Creative Commons Licence CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

In 1946, just after the war, the buildings in the station complex were roofless, providing an accidental glimpse into the internal layout, illustrating the large rotunda/Pantheon at centre.

Rotunda 1946.jpg

1946 aerial survey ©Norfolk County Council

Update: After posting this article, Grant Young recommended another 1946 aerial photograph from ‘Britain from Above’, which shows the roofless station complex in greater detail [5].

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The red star indicates the postwar Victoria Station on the site now occupied by Marsh Insurance. Below, the enlargement clearly shows the circular section of The Pantheon. ©Historic England/Britain from Above EAW001999

Bill then outlined the main compartments as far as possible.

1946 aerial outline.jpg

The plan drawn by Bill Smith

With this plan in mind it is now possible to walk ourselves through the rooms of the Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens as described in 1849 [3]:

“Two sides of the spacious area which presented itself on passing the entrance, to the west and the north were occupied with “boxes”, or “arbours”, where parties could sit, and enjoy their refreshments, or sip their wines, while they listened to the instrumental or vocal music … On the South, was a large room … used as a “Nine-pin-room”. It opened into a spacious and excellent bowling green. To the eastward, and nearly in the centre, of the grounds, stood a building, called ‘The Pantheon’. Over the entrance was an orchestra; and on each side of the entrance-passage were rooms, from the windows of which refreshments were supplied. The passage led to a spacious and lofty saloon, often converted into a ballroom; beyond this was an arena, which was, in the Assize-weeks, used as a Concert-room; at other times it was occasionally used as a circus … and anon a theatre … Beyond the Pantheon, the grounds were tastefully laid out, and several walks for promenading were constructed … The palmy days of these gardens is now fading fast … but there was a time, when they were the resort of our fashionable aristocracy; and the public breakfasts … were amongst the most gay and pleasant assemblages, that it was ever our good fortune to encounter.”

The illustration below gives a sense of these Gardens when they were ‘the resort of our fashionable aristocracy’.  [Added 7th March 2019]. 

Victoria Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens.jpg

©2019 Reggie Unthank


  2. Raymond Frostick (2011). The Printed Maps of Norfolk: a Carto-bibliography. Pub: Raymond Frostick.
  3. Trevor Fawcett (1972). The Norwich Pleasure Gardens In, Norfolk Archaeology vol 35, Pt 3, pp382-399.

Thanks. The idea for this supplementary post was prompted by Bill Smith’s key insights into Victoria Station and the buildings it had inherited from the Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens. Bill worked out where the Pantheon fitted into the station’s building plan and calculated its size; I am grateful to him for letting me reproduce his ideas. I also thank Grant Young for suggesting the final aerial view and Rosemary Dixon of the Archant Archives for the final print of Victoria Gardens.

Pleasure Gardens


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For over 200 years, Norwich’s pleasure gardens provided public recreation, from bowls and leisurely walks in the C17th to Pablo Fanque’s Fair in the C19th.


Pablo Fanque and steed from The Illustrated London News

I ended the previous post with a passing mention of My Lord’s Gardens, a relic of the Dukes of Norfolk. Here it is, on Samuel King’s map of 1776, some 100 years after the gardener and diarist John Evelyn designed it for Henry Howard who – now that the dukedom had been restored by Charles II – was keen to re-establish his family’s presence in Norwich. This was to be the first of several pleasure gardens in Norwich.


Between King Street and the bend in the river opposite the modern-day railway station were My Lord’s Gardens (outlined in red, the name underlined in green) and Spring Gardens (blue). From, A New Plan of the City of Norwich, by Samuel King 1766. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Service.

The Sixth Duke rebuilt his family’s frequently-flooded riverside palace near the present-day Duke St Car Park [see previous post] and, to compensate for its lack of recreational space, Evelyn was to lay out a garden on the other side of the city. Around 1663 the duke paid £600 for a plot on the site once occupied by the Austin Friars. This plot off King Street was to become the first pleasure garden outside London. Throughout the 1700s Norwich was one of a handful of cities, like Bath and Tunbridge Wells, where the rising ‘middling rank’ could enjoy provincial imitations of London’s fashionable pleasure gardens [1].

Dr Edward Browne (son of philosopher Thomas Browne) said My Lord’s Garden contained: “a place for walking and recreations, having made already walkes round and crosse it, forty foot in breadth. If the quadrangle left bee spatious enough hee intends the first of them for a fishpond, the second for a bowling green, the third for a wildernesse, and the forth for Garden.”

In 1681 Thomas Baskerville arrived at the garden by boat and ascended ‘some handsome stairs’ to be served ‘good liquors and fruits’ by the gardener. He saw a fair garden with a good bowling-green and many fine walks. We have no image of the garden in those early days and must glean what we can from later maps. Looking west towards King Street from the Thorpe side, this prospect of 1741 shows the area in the bend of the river occupied by My Lord’s Garden. The major feature is the formal parterre of what appear to be low hedges and shrubs in a ‘Union Jack’ pattern separated by densely-planted trees from the houses behind (King St). However, the map’s key reveals the barely visible ‘9‘ at the centre of the parterre to be Spring Gardens rather than My Lord’s Garden. Could the Bucks have been mistaken for none of the other maps show the smaller competitor occupying so much of the riverside leading up to King Street [1]?S&N Buck 1741Clipped2.jpg

Samuel and Nathaniel Buck’s 1741 prospect of Norwich from the south-east. King Street runs left-right behind the garden. NWHCM:1922.125.4:M

Perhaps the gentlefolk surveying the city from high on the east bank would have been the sort of clientele attracted to My Lord’s Garden in the C18. S&N Buck Folk.jpg

Fifty years later, well after the Dukes of Norfolk had retreated to Arundel in Sussex, the portion of My Lord’s Garden closest to Howard House (red star) appears as a cluster of rectangular gardens with a large lawn. The bowling green was still around in 1770 [1], so might the rest of the now-public garden also adhere to the original plan or had it become kitchen gardens?

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My Lord’s Gardens (red) in 1789. Red star marks Howard House now being restored on King Street. Spring Gardens in blue, with the octagonal Pantheon marked with a blue star. Anthony Hochstetter’s map courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.

In 1772 the owner of My Lord’s Garden tried to outflank his newer competitors by building an artificial cascade modelled on the one at London’s Vauxhall, for public gardens now featured performance. There, water cascaded down to turn a watermill; the sound of rushing water was made by ‘mechanics’ turning a wheel to which tin panels were attached, making a noise that was sufficiently realistic to impress Charles Darwin’s grandfather Erasmus [2]. Norwich claimed a better cascade with the addition of swans while the sun and moon were made to move across the sky.

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Vauxhall Gardens, from The Microcosm of London (1808-10). Courtesy [2].

The only remaining vestige of My Lord’s Garden may be the wall on King Street, which George Plunkett [3] suggested to be the original boundary wall of the Austin Friars.


Howard House. Left: 1934; right, 2018. The gateway has been walled in but the same pattern of tumbled-in stone remains in the flint wall to the left.

In 1739, John Moore designed the neighbouring New Spring Gardens as a place where ladies and gentlemen could promenade or take a pleasure boat and enjoy wines and cider, cakes and ale.

Spring Gdns.jpg

Map of Spring Garden(s) by City Surveyor WS Millard, early 1800s. The inlet was the East Creek that defined a boundary. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office

Moore named his garden after London’s New Spring Gardens [1], which were mentioned by Samuel Pepys and later – when renamed Vauxhall – visited by Becky Sharpe in Vanity Fair. Following suit, Norwich Spring Gardens were renamed Vauxhall Gardens in the late C18. Initially, Moore’s was a ‘rural garden’ where people could stroll through “a very curious Transparent Arch built in the Gothick taste”, no doubt aping London’s Vauxhall. But in 1768, in response to competitors, Moore’s widow began illuminating the garden and entertaining guests with music and fireworks.  Around 1776 the gardens were acquired by performer and scene painter James Bunn, which gives an idea of the increasing theatricality now expected of public pleasure gardens: what had started as a fashionable stroll had now become commodified entertainment. Bunn responded by building an octagonal 1000-seater Pantheon, named after the building on London’s Oxford Street [1].


Bunn’s octagonal Pantheon in New Spring Gardens, from Hochstetter’s map of 1789.

The Oxford Street Pantheon, designed by James Wyatt, was demolished as late as 1937 and is now the site of Marks and Spencer [4].


The Pantheon, Oxford Street, London. Probably by Wm Hodges with added figures by Zoffany. The coffering (recessed panels) in the roof copy those in the Roman Pantheon. Wikimedia Commons

Situated on the hill between Bracondale and King Street, high above present-day Carrow Bridge, The Wilderness became the city’s third public garden – leased to Samuel Bruister in 1748, [1]. His wrestling matches would have attracted a less genteel clientele but in a few years – during Assize Week when circuit judges came to town – The Wilderness had raised its sights, competing with New Spring Gardens with public breakfasts and music. In practical terms a ‘wilderness’ suited the hilly terrain but was also more in tune with ideas of naturalistic landscape expounded by Capability Brown. However, when part of The Wilderness was re-opened as Richmond Hill Gardens ca 1812 it was primarily as a venue for fireworks [5].

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The Wilderness Public Gardens were just inside the city walls on the east side of Bracondale, on the hill above King Street. There was a gravelled Long Walk beneath the city walls, up to the Black Tower and the Wilderness Tower. Norwich 1789. ©The Historic Towns Trust


The Walk under the wall on top of Carrow Hill (entrance at top of Carrow Hill). The Black Tower in the distance

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The ‘Wilderness Tower with Black Tower behind. ©

Between present-day Sainsbury’s on Queen’s Road and the St Stephens roundabout the fourth pleasure garden was to become the city’s most popular.


Quantrell’s Gardens (later Victoria Gardens) on Hochstetter’s map of 1789. The circle marks present-day St Stephens roundabout, the star marks the old Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Widow Smith’s Rural Gardens started ca 1763 as a nursery garden [1] but when she began to illuminate the grounds on Guild Days and to sell cider and nog, she set two men at the gate to keep out disagreeable persons; she also employed William Quantrell as engineer for her firework shows and before long he owned Quantrell’s Gardens. Competition was intense: My Lord’s Garden  had installed complex machinery to represent land and sea battles; The Wilderness had a “grand Piece of Machinery … to run 680 Yards upon a Line”; but Quantrell had Signor Pedralio’s “Globe 21 feet in Circumference which will turn round its Axis, and fall into four parts, and will discover Vulcan inside, who will be attended by his Cyclops … Vulcan’s (pyrotechnic) Cave and Forge and the Eruption of Mount Aetna.” When Spring Gardens poached Signor Pedralio, Quantrell’s riposte was to get Signor Antonio Batalus to “Fly across the Garden with Fire from different Parts of the Body [1].” Who wouldn’t pay good money to see that?

After the first manned balloon flight was made in France in 1783, England experienced Balloon Mania. The following year Bunn’s balloon floated quite happily inside his Norwich Pantheon, but when taken outside was quickly lost in a shower of hail.


Vincento Lunardi’s balloon in the London Pantheon. Wikimedia Commons

In 1785, Quantrell won this contest by hosting a balloon ascent by Norwich man James Decker with a 13-year-old girl as passenger. The balloon was damaged in a squall, Miss Weller was left behind but Decker ascended and came down safely near Loddon [1]. In his diary, Parson Woodforde mentions that the balloon passed over him as he stood on Brecondale (sic) Hill.Quantrills30129065958846.jpg

Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

And it was from Quantrell’s that Major John Money made his famous balloon flight in 1785. In trying to raise funds for the nearby Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, the major took off only to be carried away by an ‘improper current’. He descended into the sea off Yarmouth in which he was immersed for seven hours before rescue [see earlier post 6].


Proto-windsurfer Major John Money, off the coast of Yarmouth. 

At the end of the C18 Quantrell’s Gardens came into the hands of Samuel Neech who renamed it Ranelagh Gardens, after the pleasure gardens in Chelsea. From Canaletto’s painting of the London resort it is hard to believe that its Norwich counterpart was anything like as ambitious.


The interior of the Rotunda, Ranelagh Gardens, London. c1751 Canaletto.

Confusingly, the advertisement below places the Norwich Pantheon in Ranelagh and not at the Vauxhall/Spring Gardens but this was because Neech had bought The Pantheon from the defunct Norwich Vauxhall and erected it on his own site, to add to his Amphitheatre.


Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

Just before Ranelagh Gardens closed it had contained a circus operated by William Darby of Ber Street, known as Pablo Fanque, whose circus was celebrated in The Beatles’ Sergeant Pepper album – ‘Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite’ [7]. Rather wonderfully, his name is commemorated in the new Pablo Fanque House on All Saints Green, providing student accommodation.


Pablo Fanque House in All Saints Green, opposite John Lewis. Portrait of equestrian and circus owner William Darby aka Pablo Fanque

In 1849, Ranelagh Gardens (Royal Victoria Gardens since 1842) were closed and sold to the Eastern Union Railway Company who built platforms either side of The Pantheon.


Top left, Quantrell’s Gardens 1789; Centre, OS map of Victoria Station 1905; Lower right, Marsh Insurance Ltd C21. The St Stephens roundabout (red circle) with Queen’s Road to the right. Latter two images reproduced by permission of the National Library of Scotland


The Booking Office of Norwich Victoria Station 1913. Could this be The Norwich Pantheon? Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

Other smaller pleasure gardens grew up around Norwich in the C19: some as tea gardens, some attached to public houses; e.g., The Mussel Tea Gardens in Telegraph Lane, Thorpe; The Greyhound Gardens on the east side of Ber Street; The West End Retreat, Heigham; The Gibraltar Gardens, Heigham Street – all providing breathing space from the crowded city, [8]. Prussia Gardens at Harford Bridge was a popular venue where, in 1815, balloons were still in fashion: a Mr Steward took off but only ‘skimmed and skimmed and skimmed and skimmed’, to stop 500 yards away. In WWI some soldiers removed the pub sign bearing the King of Prussia’s head, prompting the patriotic change of name to the King George. It is now the Marsh Harrier.


The Marsh Harrier PH, the site of Bensley’s Rural Gardens at the King of Prussia. Was it Glen Miller who took over the piano one night during WWII? [9].

A clue to the demise of public pleasure gardens in general can be found in the demise of Norwich’s Ranelagh/Victoria Gardens, literally subsumed beneath the railway that led to the rise of seaside resorts and changed the public’s perception of leisure.

©2019 Reggie Unthank

Now in its fourth printing, available from Jarrolds Book Department or online (click here) and the City Bookshop, Davey Place, Norwich (or click here).


  1. Trevor Fawcett (1972). The Norwich Pleasure Gardens. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXXV, part III pp382-399. (The well-researched standard text).
  2. (An excellent blog post about The Cascade at London’s Vauxhall Gardens by Rachel Knowles).
  5. Sarah Jane Downing (1988). The English Pleasure Garden 1660-1860. Shire Publications.
  8. Walter Wicks (1925). Inns and Taverns of Old Norwich, With Notes on Pleasure Gardens. Pub: Page Bros (Norwich).

Thanks to Jill Napier (née Quantrell) for suggesting this post about her ancestor. I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permission to use images.