James Minns, carver


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I’ve mentioned James Minns, ‘Carver’, a few times in these pages, always as an appendage to well-known local architects like George Skipper, Thomas Jeckyll or Edward Boardman, but I keep stumbling across his work and felt it was time that ‘Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons’ [1] had a post of his own. 


James Minns. From the East Anglian Magazine [1]

James Benjamin Shingles Minns – son of Sarah Shingles and James William Minns, cabinetmaker – was born in Lakenham, Norwich, at the beginning of 1825. ‘Minns’ is not uncommon in East Anglia and can be traced back to the Protestant Dutch ‘Strangers’ who brought the name here in the C16 , when it was Mins [2]. The 1841 census shows that James had two sisters; he also had two brothers, both of whom shared their father’s trade as cabinetmaker. Young James had woodworking in his blood.

E.C. LeGrice tells us that Minns lived in a house on Westlegate [1]. This house was ‘demolished – with several others – to make room for a modern block of shops’ but an old shop in that cluster ‘still remains … under the very shadow of the tower of All Saints Church’ [1]. That remaining building sounds very much like the thatched building below. 

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Westlegate 1939, under the shadow of All Saints tower. The thatched building was once The Barking Dicky PH, now Waring’s Lifestore. The adjacent building (left) was demolished to make way for Westlegate Tower. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


(Just after this article was posted, David Vincent sent this photograph of Westlegate in 1890, as Minns would have known it before the street widening)

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Westlegate 1890, courtesy of David Vincent. Minns’ house is top left, beneath the church tower.

The census gives no clue to when Minns lived here but in 1851 he was living as a ‘visitor’ in the house of dressmaker Frances Scales (widow) at 180 Kensington Place, near the junction of Queens Road and City Road. Genealogical records show that Minns married Elizabeth Emily Thompson in 1858 and, according to the 1861 census, was living at The Steam Packet public house. Confusingly, three Norwich pubs shared the name of the Steam Packet (a small boat regularly plying between ports) but, since a William John Shingles Thompson is listed as a proprietor of The Steam Packet in King Street [3], it would appear that this is where James Minns was living with his Thompson in-laws.

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The Ferry Boat Inn (1936), formerly The Steam Packet. 191 King Street ©georgeplunkett.co.uk

Papers at the Record Office indicate that in 1864, James Minns – listed as ‘wood and stone carver’ – bought two ‘recently erected cottages, part of a row of eight’, for £150 from the builder Edward Burton [4] . Numbers 9 and 11 were in Arthur Street, a cul-de-sac off Mariner’s Lane, which at that time connected Ber Street on the high ridge down to King Street on the riverside. So Minns moved up the hill from his in-laws’ riverside pub

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Mariners Lane once connected Ber Street (red) with King Street on which the Steam Packet is marked with a star. Minns lived in a block of 8 new houses on Arthur Street (purple). 1907 OS map courtesy of https://maps.nls.uk/.

Amongst Minns’ conveyances in the Norfolk Record Office there is an interesting aside: in 1876, the Norwich and Norfolk Provident Permanent Benefit Building Society turned out not to be so permanent and went into liquidation. Minns was allowed by the liquidator, Samuel Gulley, to redeem his mortgage for £20-8s-5d.

From 1851 to 1901 Minns described himself in public records with the plain English word ‘carver’: ‘carver in wood’, ‘wood carver’ and ‘wood and stone carver’. In 1881 there was a lapse when he used the Frenchified ‘sculptor’ but by 1891 and 1901 he was a  ‘carver’ once more. This down-to-earth description of his profession was consistent with E.C. LeGrice’s description of a ‘shy and diffident woodcarver (who) had great difficulty in courteously excusing himself from being presented to his royal admirer, King Edward the Seventh’ [1].


Minn’s unflowing signature. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service [4]

James Minns was evidently no scholar, his only formal instruction being ‘a little general training which he received at the old (Norwich) School of Art when he was a youth’ [1]. An article in the Eastern Daily Press of 1904 confirmed, ‘He was no laborious school-product.’ [5]. It must have given him deep satisfaction, therefore, to have returned in his mid-sixties as Instructor in Wood Carving [6]. This was about 1890, at a time when the School of Art had rooms in the Free Library on St Andrew’s Street. In 1857 an extra storey had been added to accommodate the School: ‘On the third floor are two large rooms for the School of Art, with domed roofs and ample skylights, and four smaller apartments for classes are also provided [6].’

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The Norwich Free Library at the junction of St Andrew’s Street and Duke Street. James Minns gave instruction on the third floor. (From ref [7])

This arrangement proved unsatisfactory, for a few decades later a student committee of six men and four women petitioned for a  separate School of Art. One of the petitioners was J.W. Minns. This was James’ son John William who, like his father, became a Norwich Freeman in his twenties; he also described himself as ‘carver’ (1887) [8].

Despite his retiring nature James Minns was confident enough to instruct students in technical matters – after all, he had about 50 years of experience to pass on. He also had sufficient belief in the artistic merit of his work to submit – successfully – a carved panel to the Royal Academy’s 1897 Summer Exhibition.


11 Mariner’s Lane is suggested to have been his workshop [9]. (2017 is the catalogue number)

The Royal Academy has no photograph of this entry and for some time I had no idea of the delicacy of his work until I came across this example in LeGrice’s brief essay on Minns [1].


James Minns’ Bullfinch panel, undated. © 1958 E.C.LeGrice. 

Could this be the same bullfinch panel listed in the Norfolk Museums Collections? There is no image of that panel on the site but Samantha Johns generously tracked it down and photographed it for me, revealing this to be quite a different bunch of bullfinches (for which the collective noun is, surprisingly, a ‘bellowing’).


Bullfinch Panel by James Minns. NWHCM 1897.55. Photo courtesy of Sam Johns.

In 1958 LeGrice [1] mentioned that several Minns panels were in the possession of the Colman family. Several still are and I was kindly shown the following three panels of intricate, deeply undercut birds and foliage (although the curved glass posed problems for this amateur photographer). Amongst them was the superb bullfinch panel featured in LeGrice’s article [1]. 

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Birds nesting amongst the larch. The Bullfinch Panel. Courtesy of James Colman

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Bird panel, courtesy of James Colman

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Woodcock, courtesy of Matthew Colman

Norwich Castle Museum holds a further Minns bird carving under glass.

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‘Pigeon’ by James Minns 1877. Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1924.9

Minns’ success at the Royal Academy was not an isolated one for, as an obituary noted, ‘In competitions both at home and on the Continent he carried off some of the chief trophies of his time’ [5]. The carvings under glass quite likely represent his exhibition pieces. These high points of his artistic output contrasted with his bread-and-butter work at Gunton’s brickyard in Old Costessey. Over a long period – perhaps decades – he made moulds for decorative bricks that were turned out in their hundreds (see previous post on ‘Fancy Bricks’ [10]). 


Cosseyware chimney bricks. The rose and shamrock are from the Patriotic range. Provided by Andy Maule.

However, one-off terracotta panels, like those at  St Bennet’s – a private house in Cromer (1893) – gave Minns the opportunity to be more creative.IMG_4152.jpg

James Minns’ best known panels decorate the red brick building, part of Jarrold Department Store on London Street. Until 1946 this housed the offices of the architect, George Skipper. Although Skipper wasn’t supposed to advertise his architectural practice he installed a panel illustrating himself with three of his Norwich buildings in the background: The Daily Standard Office of 1899 in St Giles Street; The Norwich Union Building of 1904; and Commercial Chambers in Red Lion Street, 1901 [11].Skipper.jpg

In this tableau, a top-hatted Skipper points to a shield presented by a bearded workman in a dust coat, with younger carvers to the rear. The older man presenting the shield would have been the senior craftsman and, as such, is likely to be James Minns himself.

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The head craftsman (left) and James Minns (see below)

Richard Barnes informs me that the terracotta panels on the front of Skipper’s office were being completed around the time (1904 [12]) that work was starting on another of Skipper’s projects – the building of Jarrold Department Store, literally next door. Because James Minns died in 1904, Richard wonders if much of the work might have been done by Minns’ son John. We cannot know for sure but it could explain the rare sighting of this shy carver.

As we saw in a previous post, father and son were both associated with the Costessey brickyard [10].


Workers at Gunton’s brickyard ca 1900 named by Peter Mann. James Minns (red dot) and John Minns (white dot) were labelled ‘Carvers of Norwich’,  Photo courtesy of Paul Cooper

In his capacity as builder, George Gunton renovated the church at St Michael the Archangel, Booton, about six miles from Costessey. Minns carved the huge whirring wooden angels flying in the nave.IMG_2207.jpg

I haven’t been able to find objects sculpted by Minns in bronze although the St Michael over the door at Booton church is tentatively assigned to him on the racns website [11]. One specialist suggested that the sculptor was uncomfortable working with bronze [13] – perhaps someone like Minns, more used to subtractive carving than building up a maquette for casting? (See addendum at the end of this post).


 Minns’ employment with Guntons was sufficiently accommodating that he could work on his own projects for local architects and designers in materials other than baked clay. For example, Minns worked with Thomas Jeckyll [14] on the Norfolk Gates – an exhibition piece by the Norwich foundry of Barnard Bishop and Barnards (1862) that was then given as a wedding gift by the people of Norfolk to the Prince (later, King Edward VII) and Princess of Wales at Sandringham [15]. Hand-wrought ironwork dominates but the piers and their base panels were cast and this is where Minns made his contribution, bringing him to the attention of the future king. 

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Left: The Norwich coat of arms, cast iron, from the Norfolk Gates. Image ©www.racns.co.uk. Right: carved wooden panel being sold by http://www.hillhouse-antiques.co.uk. A similar wood carving of the Norwich coat of arms, labelled “pattern for cast iron”, which is held in the Norfolk Museums Collections (NWHCM: 1969.59.1), is attributed to James Minns. 

Over the years, Jeckyll worked extensively for the Boileau family at Ketteringham, including house, church, farmhouses and the estate in general. Minns is known to have carved the figures on the church tower [17] and he is likely to have provided other touches around the village.

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About 1850, Jeckyll designed the well outside ‘Wellgate’ in Low Street, Ketteringham; it bears the Boileau arms. 

James Minns also designed this logo for Colman’s mustard.Colmans Duo.001.jpeg

 The bull’s head, from LeGrice’s article on Minns [1]. ©E.C.LeGrice

He also did much of the carving in the Colman’s home at Carrow House. Helen C. Colman reminisced:

“My Father and Mother returned to Carrow House on June 7th 1861 though it was still more or less in the hands of workmen … but the wood carving in oak in the Library … was for the most part done during the ‘sixties … it was nearly all carved locally, and much of it by James Minns.” [16].

Dated 1862, the fireplace in the Old Library at Carrow House is richly carved with birds, flowers and foliage. The four human heads, however, were said by Helen Colman to be ‘carved by someone from a distance’ [16]); i.e., not Minns.

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Mantelpiece in the Old Library at Carrow House carved by James Minns, except the four small heads. Photos courtesy of Sam Johns, Norfolk Museums Service

The remodelling of Carrow House is thought to have been carried out by Edward Boardman [17] (whose son was to marry into the Colman family) and he would have been familiar with James Minns. Indeed, a footnote on Boardman’s plans for the 1891 renovation of the Manor House at Catton specifically names the Minns family of carvers [18, 19].

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The cat and tun (barrel) rebus, carved by the Minns family, on the south door at Catton Manor House, copies the older carving on the east side. Courtesy of Robert Radford. Photo: Ray Jones, Old Catton Society

Although the Colman family were Nonconformist they supported church-going amongst their workers; at St Andrew’s Trowse – a short walk from Colman’s Carrow Works – they donated a reredos of the Last Supper. It is said to be ‘a copy of an Italian masterpiece, carved by James Minns of Lakenham’ and was dedicated in 1905, a year after Minns died [20].


The Last Supper is often depicted with all figures aligned on the far side of the table, school-photograph style. Here, a second row of figures at front increases the depth. I can only find similar versions in Northern European panels. Can you identify the original?

George Skipper’s masterwork was Surrey House, headquarters of Norwich Union (now Aviva) in Surrey Street, and was completed in 1904. A 2008 conservation plan for Aviva states that H.H. Martyn & Co of Cheltenham, who specialised in woodwork and panelling, were assisted by James Minns of 11 Arthur Street, Norwich, “including the carved figures over the main doorway” [21]. The use of Minns’ correct address lends credibility although large carvings of women lolling on the pediment aren’t the usual Minns territory.IMG_2116.jpg

More in keeping with the skilfully carved foliage we saw in his bird panels are the baroque swags of  fruit and flowers hanging on the mahogany panelling. These are reminiscent of Grinling Gibbons’ work and Le Grice did, after all, confer the title of ‘Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons’ on Minns. On the other hand, reproductions of Grinling Gibbons carvings were a speciality of Martyn’s of Cheltenham [22] so we await corroboration that James Minns was the actual carver. 

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Left: Intricate carving from the boardroom, Surrey House. Right: Grinling Gibbons (1648-1721) Hampton Court Palace (by Camster2, Wikipedia, Creative Commons licence).

James Minns died on the 6th of August 1904. His death certificate gives the cause of death as cardiac syncope; he also had senile decay, which makes one wonder if this affected the quality of his work in the latter years and whether his son had to do work on his behalf. James Benjamin Shingles Minns left £200 to his son John  plus ‘effects’ – perhaps his tools. A few days later, the Eastern Daily Press wrote this tribute: “There passed away this week in Norwich a brilliant practitioner of a delightful form of art. As a wood carver Mr Minns was in the utmost sense of that term a genius [5].” 

©2020 Reggie Unthank

If you know anything about the life and works of James Minns, especially previously unrecorded carvings, please get in touch via the Contact link. Comments will not be published without your approval.


  1. E.C.LeGrice (1958). James Minns: Norfolk’s Grinling Gibbons. East Anglian Magazine vol 18, No2, December.
  2. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/08/15/going-dutch-the-norwich-strangers/
  3. http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk/norwich/snorwich/nchsp4.htm
  4. Norfolk Record Office: N/TC/D1/100/5-12
  5. Under ‘Local Topics’, an article written in the week of Minn’s death. Eastern Daily Press 12th August 1904.
  6. Marjorie Allthorpe-Guyton with John Steven (1982). ‘A Happy Eye’: A School of Art in Norwich 1845-1982. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd, Norwich.
  7. George A. Stephen (1917). Three Centuries of a City Library. http://www.gutenberg.org/files/19804/19804-h/19804-h.htm
  8. http://nfro.norwichfreemen.org.uk/detail/11785/
  9. https://sculpture.gla.ac.uk/view/person.php?id=ann_1283258555
  10. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/05/05/fancy-bricks/
  11. http://racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp
  12. David Bussey and Eleanor Martin (2012).The Architects of Norwich: George John Skipper, 1856-1948. Norwich Society publication.
  13. http://www.racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=1065
  14. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/04/15/thomas-jeckyll-the-boileau-family/
  15. http://racns.co.uk/sculptures.asp?action=getsurvey&id=540
  16. Helen C. Colman (1922) “Carrow House Past and Present”. In, Carrow Works Magazine pp51-54.
  17. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  18. Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society, personal communication.
  19. https://norfolktalesmyths.com/2020/02/11/adventures-of-the-old-catton-village-sign
  20. https://www.trowsechurch.co.uk/page/43/about-our-church-2
  21. 2008 Aviva Conservation Management Plan mentions ‘H.H. Martyn & Co. Ltd., of Cheltenham – specialist woodwork and panelling, assisted by James Minns of 11 Arthur Street, Norwich (boardroom and committee rooms woodwork including the carved figures over the main doorway)’. Courtesy of Aviva Archivist Thomas Barnes.
  22. https://www.gracesguide.co.uk/H._H._Martyn

Thanks. I am grateful to: Peter Mann, Paul Cooper and Brian Gage who provided  information on the Costessey brickyard; Richard Barnes for information on Jeckyll; Thomas Barnes, Archivist at Aviva for access and information; Robert Radford, owner of Catton Old Hall and Ray Jones of the Old Catton Society; Sue Roe for genealogy; Hill House Antiques & Decorative Arts Ltd; Byron Cooke and Mary Perrott for access to Carrow House; Samantha Johns of Norfolk Museums Service, for photographing Minns’ work; and Matthew Colman and James Colman for allowing me to photograph three superb examples of Minns’ framed bird carvings. Evelyn Simak provided James Minns’ death certificate.

Addendum 30/11/2020

Recently revisiting the carving of the Prince of Wales feathers on the Agricultural Hall I had the impression that I’d seen this way of handling feathers before. Comparison of the brick feathers with the wings on the Booton bronze shows they share stylistic traits: a rather fluffy treatment of the top of the feather and wing compared to the transverse barbs below. They could well be by the same carver/sculptor.

The Norwich Banking Circle


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From the C16 onwards, when an influx of religious refugees from the Low Countries swelled the population by up to third, Norwich became a crowded city and those who had grown rich on the worsted industry began to move out. By moving to their grand houses in the country the wealthy not only marked their new social status but also escaped the epidemics of cholera, smallpox and typhoid that swept the city. They left behind urban space that became colonised by the poor who lived in hundreds of speculative shanties. These insanitary ‘yards’ or ‘courts’, accessed down an alleyway, were a defining feature of this city that lasted until the slum clearances of the C20 [1].

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In the heart of the former textile industry, Burrell’s Yard, off Colegate, 1937. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


To see where the rich had fled I drew a circle around the city with a radius of a comfortable 30-minute carriage ride. In doing this I found I was merely following David Clarke who, in his third volume of The Country Houses of Norfolk, catalogued the mansions ringing Norwich, most of which are now being subsumed by the urban sprawl [2]. I had expected to see a greater diversity of trades but what we will see is a circle of wealth maintained by families who had become rich from weaving. ‘Master weavers’ managing dozens of looms made money directly from the woollen trade but the more successful made money by handling funds and extending credit to their fellow weavers. The most successful – like the Gurney and Harvey families – formed ‘country banks’ [3].

Old Catton was convenient for those who had business north of the river in Norwich-over-the-Water and what was once an agricultural village had, by the early C20, become ‘the best residential suburb adjoining Norwich’ [4]. This gentrification had begun in the mid-1700s when wool merchant Robert Rogers (Sheriff 1743, Mayor 1758) built Catton Place [4]. In 1816 this was to become the home of Samuel Bignold, son of the founder of Norwich Union. 

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‘The Firs’, formerly Catton Place, in 1935. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


Probably the most important house in the village was Catton Hall, built on a rise that afforded a view of Norwich Cathedral now challenged by the Anglia Square development. The wealthy worsted weaver Jeremiah Ives, moved here from No.1 Colegate [5]. In the city he had lived within hailing distance of his relatives, the Harveys, and he joined them in Catton as a fellow landowner. Here is Ives, portrayed by an artist with the improbably apt name of Catton. 


Portrait of Jeremiah Ives, Mayor of Norwich 1769, 1795, by Charles Catton. Presented by the yarn-makers of Norwich in gratitude for his opposition to an Act allowing the export of English wool [5].


It isn’t clear whether Ives purchased Catton Hall or whether it was inherited by his wife; either way, it was more than just ‘a house in the country’ for in 1778 Ives gave Humphry Repton his first paid commission to transform the surrounding 45 hectares into Catton Park [2,6].

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‘Park Scene – View of Norwich – View in Catton Park’ by Humphry Repton (1752-1818). The cathedral spire can be seen between the trees. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM : 1936.32.2

The Harveys had a considerable presence in Old Catton: Thomas Harvey built Catton House but there was also Robert Harvey at The Grange and Jeremiah Ives Harvey at Eastwood [4].

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To the north of Norwich on Faden’s map of 1797 ©Andrew Macnair. The land of J Ives Esquire is underlined in yellow. Mr T Harvey’s house in parkland is starred while Mr R Harvey and Mr Harvey owned land to the east (underlined). 

But the Harvey who built Catton House was the one who married Ann Twiss – daughter of an English merchant from Rotterdam – and whose collection of Dutch paintings had a formative influence on the co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome (see recent post [7]). 

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Catton House post-1945. Courtesy of the Old Catton Society

The Gurneys also had a presence in Catton: in 1854 Catton Hall was bought by the seriously rich John Henry Gurney Snr who had inherited the bulk of the fortune accumulated by Hudson Gurney (1775-1864) of Keswick Hall (see below). The Gurneys were Quaker weavers who, through an ‘extended cousinhood’ of alliances and partnerships, formed the country’s largest banking network outside London [3,8]. 

Financial intermediaries in the Norwich woollen trade, John and Henry Gurney established Gurney’s Norwich Bank in 1770. In 1778, Henry’s son Bartlett inherited the bank that he ran with the help of  two cousins, Richard and Joseph Gurney. Their premises were in a former wine merchant’s whose cellars proved useful for housing the safes, protected by a mastiff and a blunderbuss. Gurneys Bank was near the red well on Redwell Plain, which was renamed Bank Plain. 

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Gurneys, Birkbeck, Barclay and Buxton Bank on Bank Plain Norwich in the 1920s, here re-badged as Barclays Bank. ©Barclays Group Archives. Astonishingly, the same ornate lamp-post on the left still stands in the same spot  (see right). 

In 1896 the bank became amalgamated under the Barclays name and the present grand banking hall was built on the site in 1927 [8]. In the C19, their London branch became ‘the world’s greatest bill-discounting house’, allowing a character in a Gilbert and Sullivan operetta to sing, ‘I became as rich as the Gurneys‘. Nevertheless, in 1866 they went bust with £11,000,000 liabilities. Although this ruined several Gurneys the Norwich branch escaped significant damage [3,8].


The ‘new’ Barclays Bank built 1927, now housing ‘Open’ Youth Trust

Influenced by the Great Exhibition’s Crystal Palace, Gurney extended Catton Hall with a cast-iron Camellia House designed by local architect Edward Boardman and manufactured in Boulton & Paul’s Norwich factory. The fine cupola was removed in WWII to prevent enemy planes using it as a landmark on the way to RAF St Faith’s (now Norwich Airport) [2,4].


Catton Hall. The original cupola on the Camellia House is illustrated in the old postcard below, courtesy of the Old Catton Society.

John Henry Gurney Snr was married to Mary Jary who ran off with one of the grooms.

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Courtesy of ‘Hethersett Heritage’ by the Hethersett Society

… and, to compound JH Gurney’s woes, the bank in which he was a major shareholder (Overend, Gurney & Co.) went bust in May 1866. This triggered ‘Black Friday’ in the City and led to him selling the Hall to his cousin, Samuel Gurney Buxton, a banker at Barclays [3,4]. In 1896, Gurneys Bank was to join 10 other private banks controlled by Quakers, to form Barclays Bank. 

Mary Jary Gurney had come from Thickthorn Hall, a few miles south of Norwich at Hethersett. She had lived in this early C19 house that passed to Richard Hanbury Gurney when the owner defaulted on his mortgage. It stayed in the Gurney family until the 1930s when Alan Rees Colman, director of Colmans and second son of Russell Colman of Crown Point, bought the hall.

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Thickthorn Hall. Courtesy of Cathie Piccolo

In addition to Catton and Thickthorn the wider Gurney family also had country houses ringing the city – at Colney, Earlham, Easton, Keswick Hall and Sprowston.


Clockwise from Catton Hall (Gurney) at 12 o’clock, banking families were associated with: Sprowston Hall (Gurney), Whitlingham Hall (Harvey), Crown Point (Harvey), Keswick Hall (Gurney), Eaton Hall (mistakenly labelled Easton Hall by Faden; Easton Lodge was briefly owned by a Gurney but is actually a few miles west), Earlham Hall (Gurney) and Colney Hall (Barclay). From Faden’s Map of 1797 ©Andrew Macnair.

The mid-C16 Sprowston Hall was acquired by the Gurneys in 1869 – bought by John Gurney, the eldest son of John Gurney of Earlham Hall (see below) [2]. Gurney employed Wymondham architect Thomas Jeckyll to re-design it in an Elizabethan Revival style. Jeckyll, however, could not resist inserting an of-the-moment gate in the Aesthetic Style that he helped champion.

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Jeckyll’s ‘japonaise’ gate at Sprowston Manor. See previous post.

But if we’re following the money it’s impossible to avoid the gravitational pull of Keswick, south of Norwich. The worsted weaver Joseph Gurney came to Keswick Old Hall in 1747 but when the fabulously wealthy Hudson Gurney (who inherited brewing as well as banking money) took over the estate in 1811 he built a new Keswick Hall in the Regency style [2].

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The ‘dashing smart’ Hudson Gurney in an etching by Mrs Dawson Turner from a painting by John Opie RA. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1832.39.1

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Keswick Hall, south front in 1990. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


When Hudson Gurney died in 1864 his estate passed to his nephew John Henry Gurney of Earlham who had been tainted by the collapse of Overend, Gurney & Co Ltd. Much later, Keswick Hall was to become the new home of trainee teachers who had been displaced from their training college in Norwich’s College Road when it was bombed in the Baedeker Raids of 1942.


The 1892 Diocesan training college for school mistresses on College Road, Norwich, was bombed in WWII and the students moved to Keswick Hall

Earlham Hall, just west of the city,  is another Gurney residence now associated with education [2]. For over a century the house was rented from the Bacon family during which time it was occupied by the banker John Gurney (1749-1809) and his family. Not all of his 13 children survived but Samuel, Daniel and Joseph John lived on to become bankers. Joseph John Gurney was also a Quaker minister and, like his sister Elizabeth Fry (née Gurney), was active in social and prison reform.


Earlham Hall as it was in the early C19. Now, much changed, it houses the UEA Law School. Courtesy landscape.uea

The easternmost house I underlined on Faden’s map is Whitlingham Hall on the Crown Point Estate. The Hall was built for Sir Robert Harvey Harvey 1st Baronet by architect H E Coe, a pupil of Sir George Gilbert Scott. The local practice of Edward Boardman and Son supervised the building of this large Elizabethan-Revival mansion with its spectacular ornamental conservatory [9]. 


Whitlingham Hall, which superseded  Crown Point Hall. ©Rightmove

Five years later, as one of the proprietors of what began as Hudson and Hatfield’s Bank, Harvey was to build the grand Classically-styled Norwich Crown Bank; this was on Agricultural Hall Plain, within sight of Gurneys’ (later, Barclays) Bank on Bank Plain [10]. Unfortunately, Sir Robert had been speculating on the stock exchange and tried to disguise his heavy losses as debts owed by fictitious customers. When the scandal broke in 1870 Harvey shot himself. Somewhat ironically, in view of their own recent financial uncertainty, Gurneys Bank bought the goodwill of the Crown Bank in order to quell local panic [3]. The Crown Point Estate was sold to JJ Colman and in 1955 it became Whitlingham Hospital, now private apartments.

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Norwich Crown Bank

The name ‘crown’ associated with this building is sometimes thought to be associated with its later use as the city’s Head Post Office (until 1969).  IMG_1918.jpg

The name, however, traces back to Major John Money who built Crown Point Hall, which was torn down when Sir Robert Harvey built Whitlingham Hall [2]. Money served in the Army during the North American Campaign [2] where he was based at Fort Crown Point –  “the greatest British military installation ever raised in North America.” [11]. You may remember Major Money from a previous post [12] that describes his perilous balloon flight of 1785 when he took off from Quantrell’s Pleasure Garden (near Sainsbury’s on Queens Road); he landed in the sea off Yarmouth from which he was rescued several hours later. 1024px-Major_Mony's_Perilous_Situation_When_he_fell_into_the_Sea_July,_23,_1785,_off_the_Coast_of_Yarmouth_NASM-745A8AFD32D22_001.jpg

Bonus track: The Harvey family portrait [13]

You know that dream where you meet all your ancestors in some celestial picnic spot; you know, grandparents, distant aunts and uncles and a posse of strangely familiar faces? Well, here it is, several blog posts rolled into one. There’s Robert Harvey who founded the family bank (#3 in the portrait). And there’s John Harvey (#5) from the Street Names post [14] who gave his name to Harvey Lane; he also appeared in the Norwich School of Painters post in Stannard’s painting, Thorpe Water Frolic [7]. There’s even Charles Harvey MP (#6) who took the surname of his uncle Savill Onley in order to secure an inheritance, as we saw in Street Names [14], together with his son Onley Savill Onley. (#7) And don’t forget that Onley became an Unthank name (hence, Onley Street) through marriage [15]. These are just some of the connections implicit in the portrait by Norwich School artist Joseph Clover – a friend of Amelia Opie’s husband John who we encountered  in the previous post, Behind Mrs Opie’s Medallion [16].

Harveys numbered.001.jpg

The Harvey Family of Norwich, by Joseph Clover c 1821. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and At Gallery  NWHCM: 1985.435. 1= Robert Harvey ‘Father of the City’ (1679-1773); 2= Sir Robert Harvey Harvey; 3=Genl Sir Robert Harvey b.1785, founder of Harvey’s Bank; 4=Robert Harvey of Catton and St Clements ?1730-1816;  5= John Harvey of Thorpe Lodge 1775-1842; 6= Charles Harvey who took the name of Savill Onley 1756-1843; 7= Onley Savill Onley d.1890; 8= Roger Kerrison of Brooke House, Norfolk. Father-in-law of John Harvey (#5) and bank owner 1740-1808.

©Reggie Unthank 2020


  1. Frances and Michael Holmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  2. David Clarke (2011). The Country Houses of Norfolk. Part Three: The City and Suburbs. Pub: Geo R Reeve Ltd, Wymondham.
  3. Roger Ryan (2004). Banking and Insurance. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550’ by Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  4. Old Catton Society (2010). Historic Houses of Old Catton. Pub: Catton Print, Norwich.
  5. http://www.norwich-heritage.co.uk/monuments/Jeremiah%20Ives%201729%20-%201805/Jeremiah%20Ives%20younger%201729.shtm
  6. http://www.cattonpark.com/about/park-history.html
  7. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/09/15/the-norwich-school-of-painters/
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gurney%27s_Bank
  9. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001480
  10. AD Bayne (1869). A Comprehensive History of Norwich. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich. Now available online:https://www.gutenberg.org/files/44568/44568-h/44568-h.htm
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fort_Crown_Point
  12. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/01/15/pleasure-gardens/
  13. Andrew Moore and Charlotte Crawley (1992). Family and Friends: A Regional Survey of British Portraiture. Pub: London: HMSO and Norwich: Norfolk Museums Service.
  14. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/10/15/street-names/
  15. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/01/30/colonel-unthank-and-the-golden-triangle/
  16. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2020/01/15/behind-mrs-opies-medallion/

Thanks to David Clarke of City Bookshop, Norwich, for his advice; his Country Houses of Norfolk is the standard work. I am grateful to Dr Giorgia Bottinelli and Jo Warr of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery for providing the information on the Harvey portrait. Thanks also to Ray Jones, archivist to the Old Catton Society for providing images and to Cathy Piccolo for information on, and the photo of, Thickthorn Hall.

Behind Mrs Opie’s medallion


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Few women in the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century were able to achieve national celebrity, but Amelia Opie did [1]. As a young Norwich woman she became a well-known author, publishing several novels and works of poetry. Her luminous friends included Lady Caroline Lamb, Mary Wollstonecraft (A Vindication of the Rights of Woman), Sir Joshua Reynolds, JMW Turner, Richard Brinsley Sheridan, Sir Walter Scott, Maria Edgeworth, Elizabeth Fry; and in later life, when she became a Quaker, her name headed the list of 187,000 women petitioning for the abolition of slavery [2].

On a recent visit to Norwich School I was shown a medallion of Amelia Opie in her high Quaker bonnet. I wrote briefly about her in Three Norwich Women [1] but I’m revisiting because the medallion – or at least the back of the medallion –  opens a small window on Norwich in Amelia’s time. I call her Amelia because that’s what her biographer, Ann Farrant [2], called her but, still, I hesitate since she was a stickler about forms of address:

… do not call me Mrs Amelia Opie. I am not Mrs Amelia Opie but Mrs Opie or among friends Amelia Opie … Mrs Opie, Norwich is my lawful and proper designation’ [2].


Mrs Opie’s medallion. Courtesy of Norwich School

The name ‘David’ is inscribed beneath the sitter’s shoulder. Napoleon was known by the single name but the only artist with sufficient celebrity to be known by a single name was Jacques-Louis David, the foremost painter in revolutionary France. The ‘Opie’ David, however, refers to the sculptor Pierre-Jean David, from the town of Angers, who made medallions of more than 500 well-known figures. When Pierre-Jean entered the studio of Jacques-Louis David he differentiated himself from his patron by adopting the name of David D’Angers.

After Britain and France declared peace in 1802 Amelia travelled to France. As the granddaughter of a Dissenting minister, daughter of a doctor with radical sympathies, and travelling with companions who supported the French Revolution, there seems little doubt that Amelia intended to see France’s new society for herself. In the group was her husband, John Opie RA, one of whose attractions as a suitor was that he’d agreed to live in the Opie household if Amelia proved averse to leaving her beloved father [2].


John Opie self-portrait 1789. His wife was to outlive him by 46 years

Amelia had been taught French by her great friend, the Reverend John Bruckner from Leiden in The Netherlands, who was pastor to the city’s French-speaking Protestants at St Mary-the-Less in Queen Street (and, later, to the Dutch Strangers in Blackfriars’ Hall). She is said to have insisted that John Opie paint a portrait of Bruckner as a condition of their marriage. 

Amelia had an ‘almost obsessive interest in Napoleon’ and once, when she contrived to see him passing by, ‘saw him very near us, and in full face again.’ But two years later Amelia became an unbeliever when Napoleon snatched the crown from the Pope, placed it on his own head and declared himself Emperor; as she said, ‘the bubble burst’ [2]. 


Napoleon Crossing the Alps, by Jacques-Louis David (1801)

It had been thought that Amelia met David D’Angers on this visit but her biographer, Ann Farrant, makes it clear that it wasn’t until 1829, when Amelia was a widow and a Quaker with a high Quaker bonnet, that she first met David D’Angers in person [2].

David D'Amgers BM.jpg

Portrait of David d’Angers ©British Museum. 1006,U.2424

When Amelia revisited France she formed a strong friendship with David D’Angers. She was pleased her portrait on the medallion was ‘like’; she also noted that he’d managed to make the Quaker bonnet look a little like the classical Phrygian cap that the French revolutionaries wore as their bonnets rouges [2].

Cap Duo2.001.jpeg

Left: the Phrygian cap worn by Attis, second century AD. Right: a French revolutionary with bonnet rouge, by Anne-Louis Girodet de Roussy-Trioson. The Phrygian cap is said to have been worn by liberated slaves in Greece and Rome. 

The back of the frame is equally interesting. IMG_2012.jpg

Freeman’s of London Street was founded by Jeremiah Freeman but the Freeman in the time of the Opie medallion would have been his son William (1783-1877). He is listed as proprietor of a ‘General Furnishing Warehouse and Repository of Arts’ at Number Two London Street.

freeman portrait.jpg

William Freeman, Mayor Norwich 1843-4, Sheriff 1842. By Frederick Sandys, dated 1848. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1949.102

Describing Freeman as a proprietor of a general furnishing warehouse seriously underplayed his business for he employed 63 men, women and apprentices producing  furniture and gilt frames of the highest quality. As a frame-maker he would have been in competition with Norwich School artist James Thirtle who also made picture frames, notably for his brother-in-law, John Sell Cotman [3].


Early C19 Rococo Revival composition mirror by William Freeman of Norwich ca 1825. Courtesy Farrelly Antiques, Oxon


The label on the mirror gives Freeman’s address as ‘London and Swan Lane’. The wording implies the existence of a London branch but may simply mean his London Lane shop not the capital. Swan Lane is off present-day London Street. Courtesy Farrelly Antiques, Oxon

Freeman made furniture for Norfolk’s grand country houses, including Felbrigg  Hall and Blickling Hall.

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Gilt and gesso console table with an Italian marble top, by Freemans of Norwich 1825-1850.  ©BlicklingHall@National Trust/Sue James

Three generations of Freemans were embedded in the artistic life of the city. Jeremiah (1763-1823) was President of the Norwich Society of Artists in 1818 – a post held by William himself two years later. William’s son, William Philip Barnes Freeman (1813-1897), went to Norwich School with John Crome’s son and was taught drawing by John Sell Cotman. In 1854 the first meeting of the Norwich Photographic Society was held on their premises [4].

Freeman Jr.jpg

The River at Thorpe Reach by William Philip Barnes Freeman (1813-1897), a late member of the Norwich School of Painters. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1969. 301.3

In addition to Freeman’s label on the reverse of the medallion, a faded inscription has been preserved: Amelia Opie cast from a macet (i.e., maquette or preliminary model) by David of Paris during her visit in April (and here the original paper is torn). Presented by Wm Freeman Magistrate to the N …” but this and the following tangle of letters are difficult to decipher. The final line has just the date,“1851”, two years before Amelia’s death.



My first impression was that the difficult-to-decipher word beginning with ‘N’ was ‘Noverre’. This turns out to be incorrect but, as my old maths master insisted, I’ll show my workings, if only for the glimpse they give into contemporary Norwich society.


The Noverres were a Swiss-French Protestant family who lived in The Chantry adjacent to the Assembly House. Augustin had been ballet master at Drury Lane Theatre London, with David Garrick while brother Jean-George, back in France, had been dancing master to Marie-Antionette. One evening, just as he left the stage, Augustin was caught up in an anti-French fight. He mistakenly thought he had run an assailant through with a sword and fled to Norwich where he is said to have been sheltered by French Huguenot silk weavers [5].

Augustin Noverre.jpg

Augustin Noverre (1779-1854) by Norwich School artist, Joseph Clover. Norwich Assembly House

Augustin’s son Francis (1773-1840) – who had been born in Britain – came to Norwich to teach dance, deportment and aspects of cultural refinement required in polite society. He built the west wing of the Assembly House for his ballroom. Long before she became a Quaker, the adolescent Amelia was an enthusiastic dancer; a friend recalls dancing ‘from seven to eleven’ at a reception for Prince William Frederick held at Amelia’s father’s house [2]. Amelia certainly knew of the Noverres since her husband John painted a portrait of the two Noverre children.

Opie children.jpg

Augustin and Harriet, children of Francis and Harriet Noverre. Painted by John Opie ca 1805.

Public assemblies in the Assembly Rooms weren’t all stately minuets and cotillions for at the end of the evening the ladies would retire to remove the hoops from their skirts in readiness for country dancing. ‘At Assize Week in Norwich, the double doors between ballroom, card-room, and tea-room were opened up, and country dances danced along the length of the three rooms’ [6].

Country Dance.jpg

Country Dance, by William Hogarth. From, The Analysis of Beauty Plate 2. Wikimedia Commons

At some stage, the original inscription on the reverse of the medallion was glued to a new backing without closing the horizontal tear that runs along the penultimate line. On a print, I cut out the tear and joined the original edges. What I’d unconfidently construed as ‘Noverre’ can now be seen to be part of ‘Norwich’; however, the short final word (4-5 letters, florid italic capital) defeats my crossword-solving app and leaves Mr Freeman’s intention opaque.

Noverre2 3.jpg

After excising the gap (above) the two halves of ‘Norwi-ch’ could be rejoined (below).

The Norwich School medallion resembles the bronze plaque by David D’Angers in the National Portrait Gallery. The profile reappears on the marble bust by David D’Angers  that forms the centrepiece of a display of anti-slavery artefacts in Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Amelia’s support for the abolitionist cause originated with her mother who, after her parents had died, became very attached to her black nurse [2].

Opie Duo.001.jpeg

Left: The Opie medallion ©National Portrait Gallery, London. Right: Marble bust of Amelia Opie by Jean-Pierre David D’Angers, Paris 1836. When the bust was delivered to Amelia from Paris she didn’t dare open it for three weeks in case it was frightful [2].  Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

IMG_4213 2.jpg

In 1825, in her mid-fifties with both husband and father dead, Amelia joined the Society of Friends. Now, she worshipped in the Friends’ Meeting House in Upper Goat Lane instead of her father’s chapel, the Octagon in Colegate [1]. Her high Quaker bonnet made Amelia a distinctive figure amongst those who attended the 1840 Anti-Slavery Society Convention.

opie circle.001.jpg

A key to ‘The Anti-Slavery Society Convention 1840’ by JA Vintner, based on the painting by BR Haydon. ©National Portrait Gallery

There is a description of a lost photograph of Amelia: ‘in her Quaker dress, in old age, dim, and changed, and sunken, from which it is very difficult to realise all the brightness, and life, and animation which must have belonged to the earlier part of her life…’ [7].  Some of this youthful spark was captured by John Opie just after he and Amelia were married.


Amelia Opie 1798, painted by John Opie RA. Courtesy of National Portrait Gallery, London. Creative Commons Licence.

This was the painting on which Mrs Dawson Turner based her etching of Amelia in 1822. Mary Turner was the wife of Dawson Turner FRS (1775-1855) – banker, botanist, art collector – who had employed JS Cotman as drawing master to his family in Yarmouth. This etching of Amelia, which prettifies the Opie portrait, was made towards the end of Cotman’s time at Yarmouth by which time Mrs Dawson Turner would have been familiar with his etching techniques [3]. 

Dawson Turner of Opie.jpg

Mrs Opie, 1822. Etching by Mrs Dawson Turner from John Opie’s painting (above). Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery.

Long before she renounced fashion and adopted plain Quaker garb the 21-year-old Amelia had published an anonymous work on the Dangers of Coquetry. It therefore comes as a surprise to learn that she asked the Norwich School painter Joseph Clover to ask Mrs Turner to modify the likeness. To achieve this to Amelia’s satisfaction Mary Turner went through five iterations [2]. 

With its emphasis on the elaborate hair style the Turner etching may well have been the model for Amelia Opie on a new mural in Norwich Market. One hundred and sixty six years after her death it is this image of a vibrant, unbonneted woman that endures.

Opie in Market.jpg

From a mural on the shutters of a stall in Norwich Market, by Lucie Knights for Norwich Norwich Business Improvement District (BID)

©Reggie Unthank 2020

This post is respectfully dedicated to Amelia Opie’s biographer Ann Farrant, who died in 2019.


  1. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2017/03/15/three-norwich-women/
  2. Ann Farrant (2014). Amelia Opie: The Quaker Celebrity. Pub: JJG Publishing, Hindringham, Norfolk.
  3. Josephine Walpole (1997). Art and Artists of the Norwich School. Pub: Antique Collectors’ Club
  4. http://www.earlynorfolkphotographs.co.uk/Photographers/William%20Freeman/William_Freeman_photographer.html
  5. Tom Roast (2018). Ten Musical Families from Norwich. Pub: Gateway Music Norwich.
  6. Marc Girouard (1990). The English Town: A History of Urban Life. Pub: Yale University Press.
  7. Miss Thackeray (1883). A Book of Sibyls. Pub: Bernhard Tauchnitz, Leipzig. Mentioned in Anne Farrants biography.

Thanks to Cheryl Wood, archivist Norwich School, for showing me the Opie medallion. I am grateful to Victoria Nieto Felipe of Norwich BIDS for information on the mural of Amelia Opie in Norwich Market







Norwich: shaped by fire


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Fire has been a potent force in shaping where we live – a lick here, a conflagration there – especially when buildings were made of timber and thatch. In the period before the Conquest, near a low river crossing, a defended Anglo-Scandinavian settlement evolved on the north bank of the River Wensum. This was the North Wic whose name is recorded on coins minted there during the reign of the first English king, Athelstan (925-939). But in 1004 the Danish king, Sweyn Forkbeard, took vengeance for the death of his sister during the St Brice’s Day Massacre by burning the northern settlement [1].

“This year came Sweyne with his fleet to Norwich, plundering and burning the whole town.”  (The Anglo-Saxon Chronicles).


From the bronze doors of Norwich City Hall. James Woodford 1938

Two ‘lost’ churches on the north bank, in the Magdalen Street area of Norwich, had suffixes referring to fire: St Mary’s Unbrent (unburnt) and St Margaret’s in Combusto or, in Combusto Loco. The qualifier, ‘in combusto loco’, identifies them as survivors of a conflagration but by the Reformation both had disappeared. The local historian Blomefield [1] avoided blaming the Danes for this fire; instead he suggested it was ‘in the time of the Conqueror’, although it is hard to get a definitive answer. Whether the north wic was too devastated to be rebuilt as a regional capital or whether they preferred to be inside the protective loop of the Wensum, the Normans radically transformed the topography by re-settling Northwic on the south of the river. Here, they built their cathedral, castle and marketplace from which the new French Borough pushed westward.


Sr Mary Unbrent (red star) and St Margaret In Combusto (yellow) were in the part of Norwich-over-the-Water ravaged by fire. The new French Borough changed the city’s north-south axis by expanding westwards from the new Castle. Map: ‘How the city of Norwich grew into shape’ by Wm Hudson 1896. Courtesy Norfolk Museums NWHCM:1997.550.50:M

In August 1272 a quarrel erupted at the annual Tombland Fair over whether stall-holders should pay fees to the city or the priory. The prior’s armed men claimed that the old Anglo-Scandinavian marketplace outside the cathedral gates was under their jurisdiction, not the city’s, and in the ensuing fight a citizen was killed with a crossbow [1]. The belligerent prior, William de Brunham, fled to Yarmouth and returned with barges of armed men who ‘fell upon citizens with fire and sword’ [1]. While the priory men  barred the monastery gates and fired crossbows at passing citizens, citizens on the tower of St George Tombland shot slings of fire that set the monastery ablaze, destroying much, including the library.


The tower of St George Tombland, in Princes Street, from which the townsmen hurled fire towards the cathedral spire.

Thirteen priory men were killed [2]. When he heard about this, King Henry III – who was attending his parliament at Bury St Edmunds – condemned 34 young townsmen to be drawn by horses around the city until dead. Others were hanged, drawn and quartered and their bodies burned, according to the old Anglo-Saxon penalty for arson. The woman who set fire to the gates was burned alive. Though the prior was acknowledged to have instigated the riot he got off lightly: he was committed to the bishop’s prison and the priory’s manors were seized by the Crown. 

Ethellred Gate.jpg

For burning the old Saxon church of St Ethelbert the king ordered the citizens to build the Ethelbert Gate (restored in the C19) to the cathedral precinct. While the presence of St George in the left-hand spandrel could be fulfilling a traditional protective (apotropaic) role it can’t help reminding us of the Tombland Riot.

A century and a half before the Great Fire of London, much of Norwich was to be devastated by its own Great Fires. First,  in 1505, “was grete part of the cyte of Norwich brent” [1]. Two years later, two more fires consumed the city centre, helping to explain why so few timber-framed and thatched medieval buildings survived into the modern period [2]. The first of the 1507 fires started on Easter Tuesday and, over four days, 718 buildings burned: Norwich was ‘almost utterly defaced’ [1].  

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The 1507 fire map. Redrawn from ©BS Veriod 1986 [3]


The fire is said to have started at The Popinjay Inn on Tombland, home to the Popinjay or Papingay family (popinjay = parrot) [1, 4]. 

Tombland 29 site of Popinjay Inn [4659] 1962-03-28.jpg

Site of the Popinjay Inn 1962, Number 27 on the SE corner of Tombland. The corner building was demolished to make way for an unsympathetic modern structure now occupied by All-Bar-One.  ©www.georgeplunkett.co.uk


On Ascension Day – the fourth of June 1507 – a second fire started in the house of a French surgeon in the Colegate area; it raged for two days and a night, destroying a further 360 houses. Stone-built churches survived but very few timber-framed and thatched houses did (the city’s remaining thatched buildings are shown at the end). Almost half the city’s houses were destroyed. In Elm Hill, the Britons Arms stood alone [2]. IMG_1995.jpg

Britons Arms of 1347 [5] was originally a beguinage that housed lay sisters associated with St Peter Hungate (in the background). Now it is a coffee house and restaurant.

After the fires, Augustine Steward – sheriff, mayor and wealthy wool merchant, whose wonky house is around the corner in Tombland – rebuilt much of Elm Hill. This included Paston House, now home to the Strangers’ Club (see previous post [6]). 

Paston House Norwich.JPG

Paston House in Elm Hill, rebuilt by Augustine Steward after the 1507 fires. Blackfriars’ Hall is glimpsed at the end of the street.

Blackfriars’ Hall itself had been ravaged by fire in 1413 and was rebuilt over a 30 year period (1440-70) [7]. The family of Sir Thomas Erpingham – whose kneeling effigy still supervises entry through the cathedral’s Erpingham Gate – paid generously towards the restoration of the Blackfriars’ buildings while the Paston family paid for the hammer-beam roof in the nave now known as St Andrew’s Hall [6]. After the Reformation, Augustine Steward bought St Andrew’s Hall on behalf of the city and it comes down to us as ‘the most complete English friars’ church’ [7].

In 1509 the city authorities eventually decreed that all new buildings should have roofs of thaktyle (tile) and not thakke (thatch) [3,2]. Curiously, this ordinance was repealed in 1532, allowing houses to be roofed in ‘slatte, tyle or reeyd’ but sense prevailed and in 1570 Norfolk-reed thatch was again forbidden, changing the roofscape of Norwich at the stroke of a pen [3]. In The Netherlands and Flanders, thatch had already been banned in favour of pantiles that were now being imported all along the east coast of England and Scotland [8].

‘Pan’ is Dutch  for ’tile’ but it also refers to the pan you put on the stove, so ‘roof tile’ in Dutch is ‘dakpan’.

Another survivor of the 1507 fires was the C14 Suckling House, named after the mayor of 1564. In 1923 it was bought by Ethel and Caroline Colman. They added Stuart Hall as a cinema (to the left) and presented a renovated Suckling House to the City of Norwich, “for the advancement of education … in its widest sense” [9]. Cinema City is now an arts cinema with bar and restaurant.

Suckling House2.jpg

The pantiled great hall of Suckling House is at centre. Stuart Hall (left) was given to the city by the Colman sisters in memory of their sister Laura Elizabeth Stuart (see previous post). 

Decades later, the city still hadn’t risen from the ashes. To hasten the resurrection an Act of Parliament in 1534 declared that if the properties were not rebuilt or at least enclosed within two years: ‘the chief lords of the fees (or ‘the mayor &c’) may enter upon them, and rebuild or enclose them in one year’s time’ [1]. In 1578, in readiness for the visit of Queen Elizabeth, the mayor repaired and beautified the streets although this didn’t stop the monarch from commenting on the number of derelict properties.

The city ordinance of 1570 that specified tiled roofs represented an important turning point for it also outlined steps to fight fires. For instance, every carrier and brewer had to be prepared to convey vessels of water until a fire had been extinguished. 

For a fire alert the carriers and brewers were to be called by a peal of bells rung ‘auk’ or ‘auker’ [4].  ‘Auker’ is an elusive word (awkward?) but an inscription on the 7th bell at St Ives, Cambs provides an explanation: ” When backwards rung we tell of fire/Think how the world shall thus expire” [11]. That is, the call to action was a peal rung backwards.

There was also an inspection regime to ensure that church wardens and aldermen maintained sufficient buckets and tall ladders, or else be fined [4]. The thatched St Augustine’s church had to have six buckets and a ladder, while St Peter Mancroft was a 30-bucketer [10]. 

In 1577 the city had its first supply of pumped water, from New Mills, although it took until 1742 for the entire city to have access to water from cisterns. In 1720 a mechanism was installed that raised water into a cistern known as ‘The Tombland Waterhouse’ [3].


The Tombland Obelisk (and water fountain), erected in 1860 by JH Gurney on the site of the water cistern.

In 1668, just two years after the Great Fire of London, Norwich had its first fire engine, kept in St Andrew’s Hall; by 1750 the other city parishes had these manual appliances [3]. After the Great Fire, insurance companies sprang up as a hedge against financial loss but it wasn’t until 1797 that Thomas Bignold was to set up the ‘Norwich Union Society for the Insurance of Houses, Stock and Merchandise from Fire’, later the ‘Norwich Union Fire Insurance Company’.

Screenshot 2019-11-27 at 13.44.01.png

Norwich Union fire mark of the early 1800s. Such plaques marked which houses were to be rescued by the company’s own fire brigade

At that time, the insurance companies’ own trained fire brigades probably offered better fire-fighting than the parish.

Screenshot 2019-11-24 at 14.19.01.png

Note the fire engine and the Norwich City arms. Norwich Union header of the late 1700s. Courtesy: Aviva

The ‘fire timeline’ [3] for Norwich in the C19 presents a catalogue of fires in commercial premises: Hubbard’s the cabinet makers (1815); Neal’s coachmakers (1820); St James factory (later Jarrolds’ print works, 1846); the Steam Flour Mills (1855); Tilyard and Howlett’s Shoe Factory (1862); JJ Colman’s Carrow Works (1881) etc etc. In 1829, there was a major fire at Squire & Hills Vinegar Brewery on the Wensum – a large factory of 125,000 square feet (11,600 sq metres).

OS 1905:1908 VinegarWorks.png

The Vinegar Works. Ordnance Survey map 1905/8

The presence of a gin distillery made for an explosive mixture and this was captured in a sketch by John Sell Cotman.


Fire at the Vinegar Works on the River Wensum by John Sell Cotman. Courtesy of The British Museum 1905,0520.2

Where Norwich goes, London follows: five years later JMW Turner had his own Vinegar Works.

JMW Turner.jpg

The Burning of the Houses of Parliament by JMW Turner ca 1834-5. Tate Britain, Creative Commons

In 1835 Norwich City Council was allowed to levy a rate to pay for combatting fire, and in 1840 they formed their own fire brigade. Norwich Union’s fire brigade disbanded in 1858 and passed on their equipment to the city [3]. 

But large companies still maintained their own fire brigades. In 1876, by the time the City Fire Brigade arrived at a fire in Albion Mills (now apartments) in King Street, JJ Colman’s fire brigade were already in attendance. Later that year they were again first attenders when a large fire devastated Boulton & Paul’s factory, further upriver at Rose Lane [3]. 


Colman’s Carrow Works Fire Brigade at work on the Wensum. Jets of water from the steam engine could be used to propel the fire team along the river. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk 


A horse-drawn steam engine of ca 1881 used by Colman’s Carrow Works Fire Brigade until 1945. Now in The Museum of Norwich at The Bridewell

The city’s fire station had originally been in the medieval Guildhall but in September 1898 a new station was opened in Pottergate. It may have been financially favourable to convert council-owned property but it meant that horse-drawn (and later, motor) fire engines had to negotiate their way through narrow medieval lanes. 

OS 1905:7. FireEnginePtrgte.png

The 1898 fire station in a yard off Pottergate. The Old Norfolk and Norwich Library is marked with a star. Ordnance Survey map 1905/7

The new fire station yard was accessed through an archway.

Pottergate 12 to 16 fire station entrance [B504] 1933-03-26.jpg

The fire station sign marks the archway into the yard of 12-16 Pottergate. The firemen’s quarters were in a fine Georgian-fronted building opposite (No 17). The shop at the end of the street was a fish restaurant in 1933 and remains as such today – the Grosvenor Fish Bar. The near left side of the street was rebuilt after WWII. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


One month before the Pottergate station was opened, a fire broke out in the premises of Hurn the rope and sail maker in nearby Dove Street (see map above). The municipal fire brigade was assisted by brigades maintained by two of the city’s big four breweries (Bullards and Steward & Patteson) but they were unable to prevent the spread of fire to the warehouse of Chamberlin’s the drapers, which occupied most of the block, nor to the Norwich Public Library. (For the history of Norwich libraries, and their fires, see [12]).


The Norfolk and Norwich Public Library in 1955. It was rebuilt following the major fire of 1898 and was until recently The Library restaurant. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk

In 1935 the fire station moved to Bethel Street, in purpose-built premises designed by Stanley Livock of London Street. Its style is akin to the ‘Post-Office Georgian’ employed on public buildings of the inter-war years. Its subdued decoration complements the Scandinavian-influenced City Hall, designed in 1931 but not completed until 1938.  

1934-05 construction almost complete [0093] 1934-05-10.jpg

The new fire station in Bethel Street, six months before the official opening. The chimney pots to the left are in Lacey & Lincoln’s builders’ yard, once the Old Skating Rink, and now Country & Eastern. Far right are houses at the corner of Bethel and St Peter’s Street that were soon to be demolished to make way for the City Hall, opened in 1938. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


Other cities may have had separate fire brigades but in Norwich, the Chief Constable remained in charge of ‘police/firemen’ until the late 1940s [3]. This explains the presence of both police and fire helmets carved above the original entrance to the police station in Norwich City Hall. 


A fireman’s and a policeman’s helmet mark the old entrance to the police station in City Hall (1938) before it was moved to the SW corner. Designer: H Wilson Parker.

In 1994, with a horrible symmetry that recalled the 1892 library fire, the new Central Library (1960-2) burned down, one hundred yards from the fire station [see 13].


St Peter Mancroft (far left) separated by a car park from the Central Library – a part of which is glimpsed extreme right. Circa 1969. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Housed in The Forum the new Millennium Library (2001), designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, is claimed to be the most visited in the country. This building relates to St Peter Mancroft, across a piazza, far more successfully than its predecessor did across that cheerless car park.


The piazza forms a successful pedestrian space, shared between St Peter Mancroft and The Forum.

In 2013 the fire station became Sir Isaac Newton Sixth Form and the city was served by three stations, not in the historic centre but on the perimeter at Carrow, Sprowston and North Earlham.

Bonus track: the six remaining thatched buildings

Thatched 6.001.jpg

Top row: Pykerell’s House C15, rebuilt after WWII, St Mary’s Plain; Thatched cottage C17, formerly the Hampshire Hog, St Swithin’s Alley off St Benedict’s Street; The Hermitage, 52-54 Bishopgate, dating from the C15. Bottom row:  Britons Arms C14, Elm Hill; 2-4 Lion and Castle Yard, C17, Timberhill; Waring’s Lifestore, late C16, formerly The Barking Dickey (Braying Donkey) Inn, Westlegate. Read more about these thatched buildings on the web page by Evelyn Simak, assiduous photographer of Norwich and Norfolk [13].


©2019 Reggie Unthank

A suggestion for the Christmas stocking: some copies of the fourth – and probably final – printing of the Unthank book remain. They can be bought from Jarrolds Book Department or the City Bookshop in Davey Place.  (“An ideal companion for the fireside”. The Norwich Mardler).


  1. Francis Blomefield (1806). An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I. Originally published by W Miller, London. Online: https://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/.
  2. Frank Meeres(2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore.
  3. Bryan S Veriod (1986). A History of the Norwich City Fire Brigade. Pub: BS Veriod, Norwich
  4. http://www.norfolkpubs.co.uk/norwich/pnorwich/ncpjy.htm
  5. http://www.britonsarms.co.uk/history.html
  6. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2017/12/15/the-pastons-in-norwich/
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. https://flemish.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/2013/12/13/crowsteps-in-fife-the-flemish-connection-part-2/
  9. Ethel M Colman and Helen C Colman (1961). Suckling House and Stuart Hall Norwich. Pub: Trustees of the Laura Elizabeth Stuart Memorial Trust, Suckling House.
  10. http://www.staugustinesnorwich.org.uk/Church_3.html
  11. Thomas North (1878). The Church Bells of Northamptonshire. Online: https://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=nyp.33433075903801&view=1up&seq=9
  12. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/06/15/norwich-knowledge-libraries/
  13. https://www.geograph.org.uk/article/Thatched-buildings-in-the-city-of-Norwich

Thanks: to Eva Kleiweg for correcting my Dutch for ‘pantile’; Jim Mearing for the booklet on Suckling House; Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk (https://www.norfolk.gov.uk/libraries-local-history-and-archives/photo-collections/picture-norfolk) and Jonathan Plunkett (https://www.georgeplunkett.co.uk) for permissions.



Street Names #2


, , , , , , ,

Valpy Avenue NR3

The founders of the Norwich Society of Artists, John Crome and Robert Ladbrooke, both sent sons to Norwich Grammar School (now Norwich School, in the Cathedral Close). Crome’s son, John Berney Crome, was a distinguished pupil – a classicist – and in 1813 he became School Captain and delivered a Latin oration to the Mayor of Norwich on Guild Day [1].


From [2]

This was during the headship of Reverend Edward Valpy, author of a Latin text book, who oversaw a rapid rise in pupil numbers from four or five until ‘he got nearly 300‘ [1,3]. The unusual name ‘Valpy’ is said to trace back to a family named Vulpi who emigrated to Jersey from Lucca in the C16, ‘Vulpi’ deriving from the Italian word for fox [1].


In the absence of a portrait of Reverend Valpy, an Italian fox. Courtesy The Telegraph

George Borrow Road NR4

The novelist and traveller George Borrow (1803-1881) was also a student at Norwich Grammar School during Valpy’s headship. As a sixteen-year-old he would go to the Romani encampment on Mousehold Heath, visit fairs and Tombland Market with them and he even learned the Romani language. In recognition of his linguistic skills the gypsies called him Lav-engro, or Word Master. They also called him Cooro-mengro for his pugilistic skills learned from a fighter, John Thurtell, who was hanged for murder [4].


Portrait of George Borrow, 1843, by Henry Wyndham Phillips. Courtesy, National Portrait Gallery.

Perhaps as a result of his disaffection with school and immersion in Romani life, Borrow is said to have stained his face to darken it, prompting Reverend Valpy to ask, “Is that jaundice or only dirt, Borrow?”[4]. George Borrow’s fame derived from novels based on his wide travels through Europe. Evidently, Borrow was not a star pupil (no prize orations for him) yet he went on to gain a working knowledge of 100 languages, including a passion for Welsh [5]. Despite his rackety life, Borrow’s name is included on a school memorial naming Valpy’s pupils who made good [3].

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An early photographic portrait of George Borrow by Henry Pulley, Norwich 1848. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Binyon Gardens NR8


Laurence Binyon by William Strang 1901

Binyon is a surprising name to be found in the luminous company of Shakespeare, Byron, Keats and Dryden on a late C20 estate in the Norwich suburb of Taverham. Laurence Binyon (1869-1943) wrote a poem about The Blitz during WWII, The Burning of the Leaves, but it is for the war (or, rather, peace) poem he wrote in World War I that he is best known: he wrote For the Fallen in response to the high number of casualties already apparent in 1914 [6]. For the Fallen was one of three of Binyon’s poems on which Edward Elgar based his choral work, The Spirit of England. The fourth stanza is read on Remembrance Sunday:

They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old,
Age shall not weary them, nor the years condemn.
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them. 

But we previously came across Binyon – then unnamed – in September’s post on the Norwich School of Painters when he was cited as the Keeper of Prints at the British Museum who thought John Sell Cotman’s Yorkshire paintings, ‘the most perfect examples of pure watercolour ever made in Europe’ [7].


‘Castle in Yorkshire’ by John Sell Cotman. Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM : 1951.235.138

Waldeck Road NR4

Unthank Road, like the rest of England, is divided in two: the city end, from Tesco Express to the ring road, and the posh end from the ring road down to Waitrose. Waldeck Road is off the second half, although it looks much like the terraces nearer the city. Robert Webb contacted me about the derivation of ‘Waldeck’ and between us we came up with an explanation. Pim Waldeck – a recent Dutch Ambassador to Great Britain, who visited Norwich – arrived a century too late to receive the accolade but the Germanic-sounding name does provide a clue. Princess Helena of Waldeck (a German principality) was married to Prince Leopold, Duke of Albany, the youngest son of Queen Victoria [8].


Princess Helena on her wedding day in 1882. Courtesy of Wikipedia

Leopold inherited his mother’s gene for haemophilia and died of a fall two years after his marriage, ensuring that ‘Waldeck’, ‘Leopold’ and ‘Albany’ would linger in the minds of those distributing patriotic street-names. However, an 1898 edition of the Norfolk Chronicle contains a record of a council meeting in which over-zealous street-naming had to be corrected.

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Norfolk Chronicle 28-5-1898

It appears that the road originally named Avenue Road was changed to Waldeck Road because it clashed with Avenue Road off Park Lane. The names of Albany Road and Leopold Road also appear in this piece, clearly grouping the street names with Queen Victoria’s unfortunate son and his wife. Royalty provided a favourite riff for naming streets: another of Queen Victoria’s sons (Prince Arthur, Duke of Connaught who was stationed in Norwich with his regiment, the 7th Hussars) was commemorated in Connaught Road, off Dereham Road, next door to Helena Road named after his German sister-in-law.  

An interesting postscript is that Harry Barnes, who developed most of Waldeck Road, lived in Brunswick Road [9] named after the German Duchy. Barnes applied to build his own house on Brunswick Road in 1906, not long before WWI when the Royal Family changed its own name from Saxe-Coburg Gotha to Windsor. 

Trafford Road NR1 (and several others)

Next time The Canaries play Manchester United at Old Trafford, remember the connection with a Norwich street name, based on the estate developed by the Trafford family.


Spotted in the window of Bowhill & Elliott in London Street, Canary Yellow co-respondent shoes – a must for all Norwich City supporters (called The Canaries after the birds kept in the windows by immigrant Dutch weavers).

The Trafford family can be traced back to Anglo-Saxon landowners and are said to have taken their name from the village of Trafford, now part of Greater Manchester [10]. The great Norwich historian, Walter Rye [11], suggests that the real name of the family is Boehm after a male Boehm married a female Trafford in the C17. In the C18, however, the marriage of Sir Clement Boehm Trafford of Dunton Hall in Tydd St Mary, Lincolnshire and his wife Jane Southwell did not last and they separated in 1764. In 1790 Jane re-took the name of Southwell when she inherited from her brother Edward. Jane’s son Sigismund adopted the name of Trafford Southwell and it is he who bought the estate at Wroxham where the family still live. Sigismund died in 1827 and his splendid Gothic Revival mausoleum can be seen in the churchyard of St Mary’s Wroxham.Mausoleum.jpg

The Trafford Mausoleum, designed by Anthony Savin

The family lived in Wroxham Hall. It was erected in 1781 re-using stairs from the Great Tower at Caister Castle, built by Sir John Fastolf, the inspiration for Shakespeare’s Falstaff [11]. Wroxham Hall was demolished in the 1960s


Wroxham House (not Hall) ca 1890. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The Trafford family owned land in the parish of Lakenham, to the east of Ipswich Road. In the mid-1890s the surveyor George Fitt drew up plans on behalf of Edward Southwell Trafford for laying out roads on the Trafford building estate. In 1919 his son, Major William Joseph Trafford, continued development by extending Trafford and Eleanor Roads.

Trafford 2.jpg

‘The Trafford Building Estate’ of Edward Southwell Trafford with the suggested road layout of 1893, updated (red) in 1906. Newmarket Rd (dotted black line); Ipswich Rd (dotted yellow); Cecil Rd (dotted blue). The star marks Southwell Lodge. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office N/EN/24/62

Edward Southwell Trafford and his wife the Honourable Eleanor Mary Petre had 12 children, one of whom was Cecil Edward Trafford; another was Sigismund who married Lady Elizabeth Constance Mary Bertie, known as Betty; another was Eleanor Mary Josephine Southwell Trafford. And there, in addition to Trafford Road, we have Southwell Road,  Sigismund Road, Lady Betty Road and Cecil Road. As for the origin of Lady Mary Road, Mary was a common name in Catholic families like the Traffords, except there was no Lady Mary. Local historian Andrea Smith suggested to me that Lady Mary Road might have been named after the daughter of builder/developer, Albert Frost. Consistent with this, Frost did name streets off Trafford Road after his children (Brian, Patricia, Christopher, Josephine) . 

A diversion around Southwell Lodge

On the map above, Southwell Lodge appears at the corner of Ipswich and Cecil Roads, now subsumed under City College.

30129034687948Southwell Lodge.jpg

Demolition of Southwell Lodge (date unknown). This was to give way to City College’s Southwell Building, itself demolished in 1972 to make way for student accommodation, also known as Southwell Lodge. Photo George Swain, courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Southwell Lodge became the home of John Willis JP. In 1870 he married Mary Esther Colman whose brother was Jeremiah James Colman, manufacturer of English mustard, philanthropist and the man whose art collection forms the basis of the Norwich School galleries in the Castle Museum.

In the next generation the Colman women were active in campaigning for women to get the vote: in 1909 John Willis’ daughter Edith was Honorary Secretary  of the Norwich Women’s Suffrage Society while her cousin Laura Elizabeth – JJ Colman’s eldest daughter – was President [12]. And as Mayor of Norwich, JJ Colman’s second daughter, Ethel Mary, became the first woman to hold such a post in this country.

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Edith Willis of Southwell Lodge. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council

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Campaigners for female emancipation on Prince of Wales Road

Stuart Road NR1

The Colmans were an influential family whose presence is still strong around the city (despite the recent closure of their mustard factory, Carrow Works). Laura Colman married James Stuart (1843-1913) whose name is commemorated in a row of workers’ cottages a few hundred yards from Carrow Works.

Screenshot 2019-10-29 at 13.34.31.png

Between Carrow Hill (green) and King Street (blue) lie the cul-de-sacs, Stuart Road (underlined in red) and Alan Road (purple). Colman’s Carrow Works are starred. OS map of Norwich 1905/1907. Courtesy National Library of Scotland

Stuart was the first Professor of Mechanism and Applied Mechanics (now Engineering) at Cambridge. His support of extension courses for adults, especially women, did not find favour with the university and he left to become  Liberal MP for Hackney and then Hoxton in London. But when his father-in-law died in 1898 Stuart became a director of Colman’s. Like JJ Colman, Stuart was an enlightened employer; in addition to adult education he supported female suffrage and established a pension scheme for Colman’s employees.

james stuart.png

James Stuart MP drawn by Harold Wright for Vanity Fair 1899

James Stuart and Laura Colman married at the Princes’ Street Congregational Chapel designed by one of its deacons, the Norwich architect Edward Boardman. It was in this Nonconformist chapel that Boardman’s son, Edward Thomas Boardman (also an architect) was to marry Laura’s sister, Florence Esther Colman [14].

Fig1 Wedding.jpg

The marriage of Edward Thomas Boardman to Florence Esther Colman in 1898. Courtesy of ludhamarchive.org.uk

The Colman family burial plot is in The Rosary, the country’s first non-denominational cemetery [15]. In 1915, the Colman family commissioned Boardman and Son architects to design the Stuart Court apartments on Recorder Road in remembrance of Stuart. James Stuart had been concerned about the quality of housing for the elderly and this, according to Pevsner and Wilson [16], explains the almshouse feel of the apartments. They thought the Dutch-style gables slightly outdated but although late in terms of Arts & Crafts style (e.g., the ‘Pont Street Dutch’ of the 1880s) these features are entirely consistent with the Dutch gables brought to this city from the C16 onwards by religious refugees from the Low Countries [17]. See examples in nearby Cathedral Close.


Stuart Court almshouses in Recorder Road. They were built around reinforced concrete, one of the first such examples in the city.


The initials EMC and HCC recognise Ethel Mary and Helen Caroline Colman’s initiative in this project


Opening of the James Stuart Garden (1922) on Recorder Road was delayed by the Great War

Alan Road NR1

JJ Colman’s wife Caroline was born a Cozens-Hardy and she passed these names on to their son Alan. Sadly, Alan Cozens-Hardy Colman (1867-1897) was to die young on a Nile boat near Luxor while convalescing from TB. Eight years on, Ethel and Helen Colman arranged for Daniel Hall of Reedham, on the Norfolk Broads, to build the pleasure wherry ‘Hathor’ in memory of the boat on which their brother had died. It is still available for hire [18].

Hathor Trio2.jpg

The interior of Hathor, decorated in an Egyptian style designed by ET Boardman. ©2018 http://www.broadsnet.co.uk. Courtesy of Peter Cox.

© 2019 Reggie Unthank


  1. The Graphic. January 21, 1922 No. 272 vol CV. The Dynasty of Dominies/The Valpys by One of Them (available in the Norfolk Heritage Centre, Norwich).
  2. Richard Harries, Paul Cattermole and Peter Mackintosh (1991). A History of Norwich School. Pub: Friends of Norwich School.
  3. HW Saunders (1932). A History of the Norwich Grammar School. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd., Norwich.
  4. Edward Thomas (1912). George Borrow: the Man and his Books. From: http://www.gutenberg.org/files/18588/18588-h/18588-h.htm
  5. https://www.georgeborrowtrust.org.uk/Georgeborrow.php
  6. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Laurence_Binyon
  7. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/09/15/the-norwich-school-of-painters/
  8. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Princess_Helena_of_Waldeck_and_Pyrmont
  9. Norfolk Record Office  NROCAT N/EN 12/1/6223
  10. The Trafford Family in, EA Handbook (1808). Norfolk Millennium Library CTRA 048.
  11. http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?MNF8068-Site-and-remains-of-Wroxham-Hall&Index=7550&RecordCount=56881&SessionID=7f476775-83b1-42ed-acd3-903e5e32df18
  12. https://ww1norfolk.co.uk/wwi-women-of-norfolk/test-page/suffragettes-suffragists/
  13. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/James_Stuart_(scientist)
  14. James Stuart Reminiscences (1911). Privately printed by the Chiswick Press, London.
  15. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/10/15/the-norwich-way-of-death/
  16. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and the North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  17. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/08/15/going-dutch-the-norwich-strangers/
  18. https://www.wherryyachtcharter.org/hathor.php


I am grateful to Robert Webb for providing information on Waldeck Road. For permissions, I thank Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Nigel Pope of the Ludham Community Archive Group and Peter Cox of Broadsnet. Andrea Smith, local historian, provided useful background to the street names on the Trafford estate.

Street names


In a city as old as Norwich some of the more interesting glimpses into its past are to be found in the historically significant names given to streets.

Hotblack Road NR2  (off Dereham Road)

The uncommon name, Hotblack, which conjures up images for me of road-laying, tar, and snooker on the telly, commemorates the family of John Hotblack who was a boot and shoe manufacturer in the C19 when Norwich was still one of the country’s major shoe producers. Hotblack’s factory was in Mountergate, off Rose Lane, not far from the large Co-op shoe factory.


At top, one of the very few weavers’ windows remaining in the city

The Hotblack family lived next door in St Faith’s House. 

Mountergate St Faith's House [1168] 1936-07-27.jpg

St Faith’s House in Mountergate 1936, home to the Hotblacks around the 1890s ©georgeplunkett.co.uk

John Hotblack’s son, Major-General Frederick Elliott ‘Boots’ Hotblack was decorated six times in the First World War and mentioned in despatches five times. ‘Boots’ was in charge of the Reconnaissance Department of the Tank Corps and had laid a trail of tape for the tanks to follow the next day. However, the trail was obscured by overnight snow so, under fire, he walked across the battlefield, showing the tanks the way [1]. Since Hotblack Road is given on the 1907 OS map it would appear that the street was named for the shoe-making family rather than the war-hero son.


‘Boots’ by Sir William Orpen 1917. Courtesy of the Imperial War Museum

Lyhart Road NR4

In 1463, lightning struck the central tower of Norwich Cathedral, setting fire to the roof in the crossing, causing the spire to crash down into the nave. In the 1470s the Bishop of Norwich, Walter Lyhart, replaced the wooden roof with a vaulted roof of stone, using some of his own money to employ stonemason Reginald Ely, who had worked on King’s College Chapel, Cambridge [2]. Lyhart’s contribution is commemorated in his rebus of a hart lying on wa(l)ter.


Another lying hart can be seen amongst the wonderful collection of roof bosses in the cloisters. The cloisters were damaged in the riots of 1272 and the restoration, which was halted by the Black Death, stretched over the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries. lyhart cloisters.jpeg

Bishop Lyhart also oversaw the installation in the nave of 255 stone bosses that mark the intersection of short lierne ribs with the main ribs of the vault. The bosses represent biblical scenes, from the Creation to the Last Judgement. A favourite of mine is the overthrow of the Pharaoh in the Red Sea; it shows the Pharaoh’s chariot – looking more like a farm cart – in a literally red sea.IMG_6445.jpg

There was a time when Lyhart’s rebus could be seen in the tower screen at Yaxley, Suffolk [3]. In the same screen was another piece of stained glass depicting the head of a bishop. Could this have been Walter Lyhart himself?

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From ref [3]. 1932

Lound Road NR4

Major figures of the Norwich School of Painters (see previous post [4]) are well represented on road signs – for example, Cotman Road NR1, Crome Road NR3, Ladbrooke Place NR1 – but each time I travel clockwise around the ring road I am reminded of a less-well-known artist, Thomas Lound.


Early collodion positive of Thomas Lound 1850s

Lound (1802-1861) was a painter and etcher of local landscape but instead of scrabbling for a living, as many members of the Norwich Society of Artists did, he worked as a manager in the family brewing business and actually died with money in the bank. He was employed by the brewery of Tompson, Stackhouse & Co on King Street [5]. In 1844, Tompson’s was sold to the Morgan brothers, one of whom, Walter, drowned in a brewery vat [6]. Morgan’s was one of the ‘Big Four’ Norwich breweries in the first half of the C20.

Lound was taught by John Sell Cotman, whose influence can be seen in Lound’s paintings, though he probably followed more in the footsteps of Thirtle, whose work he collected avidly [7]. 


View from Old Barge Yard by Thomas Lound (1850) shows the back of  what is now called Dragon Hall, near his home in King Street. The open door (centre) is part of the original C14 doorway within the larger C15 ‘blind’ door-surround installed by Robert Toppes when the building was used as his wool-trading hall.

In 1839, six years after the demise of the Norwich Society of Artists, Lound became  co-founding President of the Norwich Art Union [8] that – if it was anything like the Art Union of London – used subscriptions to buy works of art to be distributed amongst members by lottery. Lound was also involved in the Norwich School of Design (1846), a predecessor of the Norwich Technical Institute (1899) on St George’s Street, which is now part of the Norwich University of the Arts (NUA). In its first year the Art Union held an exhibition in its gallery at The Bazaar near the corner of Bridewell Alley and St Andrew’s Street [8].

Politechnic exhibiton Norwich copy.jpg

The Great Hall of the Polytechnic Institution, The Bazaar, Norwich. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

(Added 5/10/2019) The Classical façade of The Bazaar is highlighted on this mid-Victorian  photograph.


St Andrew’s Street with The Bazaar, arrowed. The tombstones are in the churchyard of St Andrew’s. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

The Bazaar is long gone but by one of those pleasing circularities its former site on the corner of Bridewell Alley and St Andrew’s Street is now occupied by NUA’s East Gallery.

NUA gallery.jpg

East Gallery, site of former Royal Bazaar. Courtesy of NUA

Thomas Lound was also on the committee of the Norwich Photographic Society. In 1856 he exhibited five of his own photographs including one of Norwich Fish Market [8].


The Fish Market, Norwich by Thomas Lound, reissued as a postcard by AE Coe Opticians and Photographers. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Bathhurst Road NR2 

Bathurst Road at the city end of Unthank Road was built on the Heigham Lodge Estate that once belonged to Timothy Steward of Steward & Patteson’s Brewery. In 1877 architect Edward Boardman divided Steward’s former land into lots for sale. Three roads were laid around the estate, one of which – temporarily named Grove Street North – was renamed Bathurst Road after Bishop of Norwich, Henry Bathurst (1744-1837).

OS MapStewardsAreaNew.jpg

Bathurst Road (red) runs parallel to Unthank Road (yellow). Ordnance Survey 1883

As described in Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle [9], Heigham Lodge was mistakenly thought to have been the home of William Unthank, who had bought 60 or so acres in Heigham to establish the Unthank Estate. William Unthank and Bishop Bathurst both died in 1837.


Memorial statue to Bishop Bathurst in north transept of Norwich Cathedral

After the Reformation, Dissenters were banned by the Church of England from burial in their parish church. But in 1821, Bathhurst licensed Norwich’s Rosary Cemetery as the first non-denominational burial ground in the country (see [10] for The Norwich Way of Death). This chimes with the Henry Bathurst’s reputation as the only liberal bishop in the House of Lords and as someone who supported Catholic Emancipation.

Since their Oxford days, Henry Bathurst had been friends with Parson James Woodforde (1740-1803) of Weston Longville, about seven miles north-west of Norwich. When Bathurst was non-resident Rector of nearby Great Witchingham, Woodforde would collect surprisingly large tithes on his behalf. In his absorbing Diary of a Country Parson, Woodforde wrote:

About noon took a ride to Norwich … and dined, supped and slept at the King’s Head. As soon as I got to Norwich I went to Kerrison’s Bank and there recd. for cash etc a Note of £137 (about £8,000 today) which I immediately inclosed in a letter to Dr Bathurst, Oxford. I walked to the Post Office, and put the letter into the Post which sets for London this evening at 10 o’clock. I then went to the King’s Head and eat a Mutton Chop and before I had quite dined Mr Hall came to me, and we smoked a pipe and drank a Bottle of Wine [11].

Harvey Lane NR7

… named after Colonel John Harvey (1755-1842) who moved from the city centre to Thorpe, a few miles east of the city [12]. Harvey came from a long line of wealthy Norwich textile merchants who had turned to banking: he himself was a leading partner of Harvey & Hudson’s Bank. Like nine of his relatives, Harvey became Mayor of Norwich (1792) but in his mayoral portrait he chose to be portrayed as colonel of the local militia.

John Harvey.jpg

Colonel John Harvey 1792, painted by John Opie RA, fashionable portrait artist and husband of  Norwich abolitionist, Amelia Opie. Presented by the Norwich Light-Horse Volunteers. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: Civic Portrait 33

We encountered Colonel Harvey last month in the large oil painting he commissioned from Joseph Stannard: ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’ (1825) [4]. Harvey instigated The Frolic in 1821, largely as a sporting event for the gentry, but opened it up to the working population two years later when city weavers were given a day’s holiday. 10,000 are said to have attended: polite society on the Thorpe side, workers on the opposite bank [12]. Last time, I focussed in on Stannard on the right bank, peering across to the gentry but here we see Harvey peering back from the left. 


A fragment of ‘Thorpe Water Frolic, Afternoon’ by Joseph Stannard, showing the white-haired colonel in his Venetian gondola. Courtesy Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery

Harvey did not live on the riverside in Old Thorpe Hall – only parts of which remain – but at Thorpe Lodge, a five-bayed house that he built on the other side of the highway, re-routing the Yarmouth Road in the process [12]. In the 1930s the central third storey was removed and the east wing demolished; it now houses the Broadland District Council.

Thorpe St Andrew Thorpe Lodge [5423] 1974-09-14.jpg

Thorpe Lodge 1974 ©georgeplunkett.co.uk. In the 1930s the curved east wing was removed along with the third storey of the central bay.

Colonel Harvey is thought to have brought old doors from family properties in Norwich to install in the garden wall of Thorpe Lodge [12]. Two plaques – one dedicated to Robert Harvey (1696-1773) the other to Thomas Harvey (1710-1772) – mark fine Georgian houses in Colegate, in the heart of the Norwich weaving quarter, but the Tudor door below comes from neither of these. The garden-wall doors at Thorpe seem to have disappeared in the 1970s but, fortunately, Arnold Kent photographed this door at Thorpe Lodge in 1948 [13]. The flat-arched Tudor oak door came from Mayor George Cocke’s home (1613) at Bacon’s House in Colegate.


Photographed in the garden wall of Thorpe Lodge 1948, a Tudor door from the home of Mayor George Cocke (1613) at Bacon’s House, Colegate.  The left-hand spandrel contains the Grocers’ arms, the right contains Cocke’s initials as part of his merchant mark. From [13].

Towards the end of the C18 a downturn in the  Norwich textile trade brought increasing unemployment [14]. But business took an upturn when Harvey started making highly patterned silk ‘fillover’ shawls that could now be woven-in instead of having to be filled-in/embroidered by hand. These expensive items (12-20 guineas each) were the height of fashion and a counterpane shawl, twelve feet square and woven on Harvey’s looms, was presented to George III and his wife Queen Charlotte [14].

In 1792 the Royal Mint was unable to obtain sufficient silver for coinage. Harvey responded by minting Norwich trade tokens from base metal, their value no doubt backed by the Harvey & Hudson bank. This can be seen as a philanthropic way of keeping the city’s trade flowing although the loom on the reverse of the coin would also have served to advertise Colonel Harvey’s role in the local economy during his mayoral year [15].

harvey token.jpg

The reverse of a Harvey token shows a hand-loom, the obverse shows the Norwich City coat of arms, the rim is impressed with Harvey’s name. Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM : 2006.79.1

Onley Street NR2

The Harveys were related to the Unthanks but to understand the origins of this street name we have to untwist the limbs of the Harvey family tree.

Colonel Harvey’s brother Charles (1757-1843) dropped the surname Harvey when he inherited Stisted Hall in Essex from his uncle, the Reverend Onley. The Reverend had himself adopted his wife’s family name, Savill, making him a Savill-Onley. Double-barrelled names were often adopted to preserve a family name that would otherwise have died out due to lack of male heirs or, in the case of Reverend Savill-Onley, ‘in appreciation of the fortune (£33,000) his wife had brought with her’ [16].

Charles Harvey.jpg

Charles Harvey, MP for Norwich, later Savill-Onley. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections THEHM:DS.25

When Charles Savill-Onley died his son adopted the name of Onley Savill-Onley [17].


Onley Savill-Onley Esq 1795-1890. From [16].

Onley Savill-Onley had a daughter, Judith Sarah, and it is she who connects us with the Unthanks by marrying Colonel Clement William Joseph Unthank of Intwood Hall [9]. Their eldest son was Clement William Onley Unthank (1874-1900). Sadly, when only in his twenties, he died of a polo accident while serving in India.


Clement William Onley Unthank ca 1900. From [9].

When Colonel CWJ Unthank and his wife moved to her family house at Intwood Hall, CWJ started selling off the Unthank estate in what is now Norwich’s Golden Triangle. Over the years the estate was developed from Trinity Street down to Mount Pleasant and, in memory of their son, one of the later side-roads off Unthank Road was named Onley Street [9].

To be continued …

©Reggie Unthank 2019


‘An excellent Christmas-stocking filler’. The book Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle, which contains more about the Unthank family and describes the development of the the streets either side of Unthank Road, is still available from: Jarrolds’ Book Department (https://www.jarrold.co.uk/departments/books); or City Bookshop in Davey Place (http://www.citybookshopnorwich.co.uk/); or direct from me via the contact form (https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/contact/).


  1. https://www.edp24.co.uk/features/norfolk-war-hero-who-was-too-brave-1-4801801
  2. Paul Hurst (2013). Norwich Cathedral Nave Bosses. Pub: Medieval Media, Norwich.
  3. Christopher Woodforde (1932). The Medieval Glass in Yaxley Church. Suffolk Institute of Archaeology and Natural History vol XXI pt 2.
  4. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/09/15/the-norwich-school-of-painters/
  5. https://suffolkartists.co.uk/index.cgi?choice=painter&pid=4128
  6. https://www.norridge.me.uk/pubs/names_/brewers/morgan.htm
  7. Josephine Walpole (1997). Art and Artists of the Norwich School. Pub: Antique Collectors’ Club.
  8. http://www.earlynorfolkphotographs.co.uk/Norwich%20Photographic%20Societies/Norwich_Photographic_Societies.html
  9. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. ISBN 978-1-5272-1576-4
  10. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/10/15/the-norwich-way-of-death/
  11. https://archive.org/stream/in.ernet.dli.2015.227134/2015.227134.The-Diary_djvu.txt
  12. Trevor Nuthall (2014). Thorpe St Andrew: A Revised History. Pub: Trevor Nuthall ISBN 978-0-9543359-1-5.
  13. Arnold Kent and Andrew Stephenson (1948). Norwich Inheritance. Pub: Jarrolds and Sons Ltd.
  14. Walter R Rudd (1923). The Norfolk and Norwich Silk Industry. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXI, pp245-282.
  15. Katy Barrett. Eighteenth Century ‘Hand-Loom’ Token. Analysing the English Collections at the Pitt Rivers Museum. https://england.prm.ox.ac.uk/englishness-token.html
  16. Reverend A J Nixseaman (1972). The Intwood Story. Printed in Norwich by RR Robertson.
  17. https://www.jjhc.info/harveyjohn1842

Thanks. I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, Ken Skipper of Cork Brick Gallery Bungay and the George Plunkett archive (www.georgeplunkett.co.uk). 

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.

John Crome by Opie.jpg

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. 

1830 Plan of the City of Norwich 1.jpg

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.

hobbema 2.png

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.

Screenshot 2019-08-14 at 14.51.08.png

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].

Foundry Bridge, Norwich.jpg

‘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].

Greta Bridge Cotman.jpg

‘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.


John Sell Cotman. 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.

miles edmund cotman.jpg

‘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

Magdalen St 26 Thirtle House to 34 view N [0880] 1936-04-12.jpg

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. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk

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 http://www.johnsingersargent.org

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.
  3. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2019/08/15/going-dutch-the-norwich-strangers/
  4. https://www.christies.com/lotfinder/Lot/jan-van-kessel-iii-amsterdam-1641-1680-1911613-details.aspx
  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 https://en.wikisource.org/wiki/Crome,_John_(1768-1821)_(DNB00)
  8. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/02/17/two-east-anglian-artists/
  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.
  12. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/tag/norwich-red/
  13. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/10/15/the-norwich-way-of-death/
  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.
  15. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2017/03/15/three-norwich-women/

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.

1904 Wm Large  NWHCM - 1937.118.2.jpg

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.

Gable Duo.001.jpg

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.

Elison Duo.001.jpg

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.

lead seal 1i CWL.jpg

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. 

Paston House Norwich.JPG

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.

Dutchman Duo.001.jpg

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.
  3. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/07/15/the-bridges-of-norwich-1-the-blood-red-river/
  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.
  7. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Spanish_Netherlands
  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 http://www.british-history.ac.uk/topographical-hist-norfolk/vol3/pp277-360.
  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. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1349956/4/488665%20full.pdf
  11. http://www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Norwich/elm.htm
  12. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/05/05/fancy-bricks/
  13. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2017/03/15/three-norwich-women/
  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

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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. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk


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 http://www.racns.co.uk.

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. ©georgeplunkett.co.uk 


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


  1. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2018/09/15/norwich-city-of-trees/
  2. Frances and Michael Holmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects.
  3. http://friendsofeatonpark.co.uk/captain-sandys-winsch/. (Do visit this great website).
  4. https://www.greatbritishgardens.co.uk/garden-designers/35-thomas-mawson-1861-1933.html
  5. https://merl.reading.ac.uk/news-and-views/2014/05/discovering-the-landscape-5-mawsons-the-art-craft-of-garden-making-1900/
  6. https://www.edp24.co.uk/norfolk-life-2-1786/norfolk-history/46-mousehold-heath-1-214282
  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.
  9. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001282
  10. Minutes of the Parks and Gardens Committee 1921-1928. NRO N/T 22/2
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Chhatri
  12. http://www.georgeplunkett.co.uk/Website/raids.htm
  13. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. See colonelunthanksnorwich.com
  14. https://colonelunthanksnorwich.com/2016/01/06/jeckyll-and-the-sunflower-motif/
  15. https://historicengland.org.uk/listing/the-list/list-entry/1001348

Thanks. For providing photographs I am grateful to: Helen Mitchell, Friends of Eaton Park; Jonathan Plunkett of the georgeplunkett.co.uk 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.

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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: ©edp.co.uk

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].

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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.
  2. https://blogs.royalsociety.org/history-of-science/2010/12/03/hooke-newton-missing-portrait/
  3. Bernard R. Ambrose (2001). The Shutter Telegraph. The Journal of the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society pp 17-29.
  4.  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Claude_Chappe
  5. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Semaphore_telegraph
  6. http://www.douglas-self.com/MUSEUM/COMMS/telegraf/telegraf.htm
  7. http://www.icknieldwaypath.co.uk/WEB%202%20-%20The%20London%20to%20Yarmouth%20Telegraph%20System%20.pdf
  8. H.V. James (1977). The London-Yarmouth Telegraph Line 1806-1814. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXXVII pp 126-129.
  9. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/John_Dollond
  10. D. J. King. (2006) The Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford.
  11. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Portrait_of_a_Lady_with_a_Squirrel_and_a_Starling
  12. http://www.heritage.norfolk.gov.uk/record-details?MNF14978-Site-of-post-medieval-telegraph-station&Index=14037&RecordCount=57338&SessionID=b29b5abb-334d-48d6-b9ac-06d7f37666ad
  13. https://vads.ac.uk/large.php?uid=85353&sos=0
  14. C.J. Palmer (1854). Edited and updated version of Manship’s History of Great Yarmouth. vol 2. Pub: L.A. Meall, Gt Yarmouth.
  15. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Britannia_Monument


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.

VISIT LOWER WOOD, ASHWELLTHORPE, MANAGED BY THE NORFOLK WILDLIFE TRUST. https://www.norfolkwildlifetrust.org.uk/wildlife-in-norfolk/nature-reserves/reserves/lower-wood,-ashwellthorpe

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