Sculptured Monuments #2


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An unintended consequence of the puritanical whitewashing of brightly coloured Catholic imagery on church walls was that it liberated vast acres to be colonised by hanging monuments. We see this at Saints Peter and Paul, Heydon, where cleaning work in 1970 revealed sequences of fourteenth century wall paintings that had been unwittingly obscured by later stone memorials.

An early C20 wall monument placed on top of a medieval series of paintings based on the Three Living, Three Dead poem [1].

In the previous post we saw the ‘kneeler’ monuments as grand floor-standing memorials but by flattening the perspective this theme could be readily adapted to slimmer wall-hung memorials. St John Maddermarket, one of the most intriguing churches in the city, contains the memorial to Christopher Layer (1533-1600), wealthy grocer, sheriff, alderman and twice mayor. On this wall monument, rich in symbolism [2], we see unbiblical motifs. The two uppermost statuettes in the niches are Roman (Pax and Gloria). The task of the slave accompanying the conquering hero on his triumph through Rome was to whisper in his ear, ‘Memento mori’ (remember that you must die). A similar purpose is served in this monument by the skull that hovers between husband and wife, warning against seduction by the transient vanities of life. The putto holding a bubble (lower left) is another much used symbol of the kind seen in Dutch vanitas paintings of the period. The reward for treading the middle way is, as we see at the top of the painting, entry into heaven.

The Layer Monument in St John Maddermarket, Norwich. ©Norwich360

Kneeler monuments were still commissioned towards the end of the seventeenth century, as in this memorial to Sir Thomas Greene in St Nicholas’ Chapel, Kings Lynn. Another merchant made good, Greene (d. 1675) was three times mayor. The effigies of Greene and his wife Susannah Barker no longer look at one another across the prayer desk. The faces are fascinating; they are clearly portraits of citizens who have done well in the world but, with puritanical restraint, are shown as plain folk, warts-and-all. The vanitas element is still present in the skull that separates the five daughters and four sons below, although the humility is somewhat checked by the splendour of the coat of arms above.

Kneeling on cushions, Thomas and Susannah Greene. With the exception of his fur-trimmed mayoral robe they are in plain puritanical garb.

Pevsner and Wilson [3] attribute the Greene Monument to London mason, Thomas Cartwright the Elder, who worked with Sir Christopher Wren. Mortlock and Roberts [6], on the other hand, suggest local architect Henry Bell, providing me with an excuse to show his sublime Customs House on Kings Lynn Quayside.

Kings Lynn Customs House designed by Henry Bell, 1683

In the same period as Greene’s puritanical kneeler, a far more sumptuous structure was erected for Sir Thomas and Lady Adams in Sprowston – now a northern suburb of Norwich. The contrast between Roundhead and Cavalier, new money versus old, is stark. Sir Thomas had been an intimate friend of King Charles II and rose to be Lord Mayor of London. Husband and wife semi-recline on separate levels with her, unusually, occupying the upper berth where she strikes a pose described as ‘precious and unrestrained’ [3]. Poor Sir Thomas suffered from the stone, something common in Norfolk and was much operated upon by Dr Rigby when the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital opened a century later. After death, Sir Thomas’ kidney stone was found to weigh just over a pound and a half.

Sir Thomas and Lady Adams, 1667, attributed to the London mason Thomas Cartwright.

Below, this sculpture from the latter part of the seventeenth century shows the lingering influence of kneeler monuments. The angel flying across the black tablet carries away a chrysom child in its swaddling cloth, sowing confusion in the minds of those trying to read the inscription. You will search in vain for Sir William Heveningham’s name, it doesn’t appear here nor on his tomb slab in St Peter’s Ketteringham. Sir William was one of the judges at King Charles I’s trial. He didn’t sign the death warrant but, after the Restoration, was convicted of high treason and his lands seized by the Crown. His life was spared and through the exertions of his wife – Lady Mary Heveningham, daughter of the Earl of Dover – the estate was recovered. She erected this family monument but her husband’s name is absent [4].

The Heveningham memorial, 1678, Ketteringham. Described as ‘curiously old-fashioned [5].

Back to Stratton Strawless and the tomb of Henry Marsham (1692); a Classical backdrop, all Corinthian columns and scrolly pediments. The kneeling figures are Henry, son Henry and Anne Marsham (plus baby Margaret, upright in her swaddling sheet) but, in order for all of them to kneel in this narrow recess, they turn to face us, causing Spencer [5] to wonder what happened to their legs and feet.

In the 1700s, chest tombs ‘faded from the picture in favour of wall monuments and tablets more restrained than those of the C17’ [3]. Elements of Classicism, already established in the previous century, came to the fore. To put this period into local historical perspective, this was a time when Holkham Hall was built in the Palladian style – a purer version of Classical than the Baroque. The outstanding London sculptors of their age, Frenchman Louis François Roubiliac (1702-1762) and the Flemish emigré, Michael Rysbrack (1694-1770), were never commissioned to build tombs in Norfolk. Roubiliac did, however, sculpt the busts of Lord Leicester, Thomas Coke (d. 1759), and his wife on their monument in Tittleshall.

The Tittleshall monument itself is attributed to Charles Atkinson, responsible for carving most of the chimneypieces at Holkham [3].

To the right of this monument is the work of Joseph Nollekens, one of only two pieces by him in the county. Just sneaking into the next century (1805) is the bas relief to Jane Coke, wife of the great agriculturalist, ‘Coke of Norfolk’. The fashionable London sculptor Nollekens was to sculpture what Sir Joshua Reynolds was to portraiture [6].

The broken column on which Jane Coke rests symbolises her early death, aged 47.

Once apprenticed to Nollekens, the Flemish sculptor Peter Scheemakers was best known for his sculpture of Shakespeare in Westminster Abbey. His studies of Baroque and Classical sculpture in Rome helped him influence the development of modern sculpture in England [7]. His only work in Norfolk is this large monument to Susannah Hare (d.1741) in Holy Trinity, Stow Bardolph [6]. The reclining figure is rare after this date [3].

© Simon Knott

The Hare Mausoleum, built in 1624 by John Hare on the north side of the chancel of Holy Trinity Stow Bardolph, houses perhaps the most curious memorial in the county. This is the wax effigy of Sarah Hare in her mahogany case, emerging from behind curtains. She died of blood poisoning after pricking her finger while embroidering and it was her wish to be remembered in her everyday clothes. The model is unflattering and the effect of her gaze is variously described as ‘shattering’ and ‘terrifying’ – an antidote to the saccharine (or, at that time, sugar-laden) memorials that try to dissemble the reality of death.

Sarah Hare d.1744. © Simon Knott.

Norwich mayors were elected annually. In life, their parish churches would have celebrated by adding their name plaque to ceremonial sword and mace rests (and Norwich probably has more of these than anywhere outside London [8]) while in death their achievement might be recognised by a wall tablet.

A mayoral sword rest on a pillar in St George Colegate, Norwich. John Hall (top) was mayor in 1701 and 1719. His name can also appears on the wall tablet behind

Very few eighteenth-century mayors had sufficient influence in death to command floor space in their place of worship but parish churches like St George Tombland began to fill with mayoral wall monuments. Norwich is said to have had more than a score of sculptors who could produce the increasingly popular wall tablets ‘equal in standard to the best London work’ [5]. From the pool of ‘Norwich School’ sculptors Spencer picked out Robert Page (1707-1778) [9] and Thomas Rawlins (1747-1781) [10]. He excluded Robert Singleton (1706-1740) [11] from the Norwich elite only on the grounds that he came from Bury St Edmunds. However, Singleton had a workshop adjacent to the Cathedral and was master to Page the apprentice and deserves to be in this group. Another member of this top tier of Norwich monumental masons was John Ivory, nephew to Thomas Ivory, the architect of Georgian Norwich (Octagon Chapel, Assembly House).

A simple but charming wall monument by Singleton is in St George Colegate. Almost in parody of the lolling pose a cherub rests on a skull while holding an hourglass.

Monument to Thomas Pindar Senior by Robert Singleton 1722

Robert Page has been described as the best sculptor that Norfolk has produced. As we can see from this wall monument in SS Mary and Margaret, Sprowston, his work is characterised by the use of colourful marble veneers and the appearance of ‘delightful’ cherubs [5].

Nathaniel Micklethwait 1757, sculpted by Robert Page. Sprowston, Norwich.

In St Andrew’s Norwich, Page’s tablet commemorating Thomas Crowe contains three cherub heads that so pleased Noël Spencer (‘the most delightful I have ever seen’) that he employed them on the frontispiece of his book [5]. In the absence of sculpted portraits, flocks of cherubs, seen in their hundreds on Georgian and Victorian memorials, satisfied the need for a figurative presence.

Memorial to Dr Thomas Crowe, a physician who had practiced in London, d.1751. Sculpted by Robert Page.

Page was also known for carving handsome sarcophagi [5]; a particularly fine example, with detailed lions’ feet, memorialises Edward Atkyns (d.1750), Lord of the Manor at Ketteringham. The end of a sarcophagus projects part way out of the wall, showing how the narrow end of a sarcophagus or casket came to provide the format – lozenge or rectangle – for less florid wall tablets.

The sarcophagus lies at the base of a larger wall tablet to the ancestors of Edward Atkyns who had presided in the Courts of Justice in Westminster Hall.

As spotted by church warden Mary Parker when viewing an interview with the Duchess of Cornwall on TV, a near identical inscription celebrating the Atkynses of Ketteringham can be seen in Poets’ Corner of Westminster Abbey – this by Sir Henry Cheere, ‘carver’ to the abbey. Apart from the generic sarcophagus theme, this monument of 1746 is stylistically different from the one attributed to Page at Ketteringham.

Atkyns memorial in Westminster Abbey, by Sir Henry Cheere. 1746. © 2021 Dean and Chapter of Westminster.

Edward Atkyns (d.1794), a later lord of the manor at Ketteringham, scandalised the county by marrying an Irish actress, Charlotte Walpole, who performed at Drury Lane.

Miss Charlotte Walpole as ‘Nancy of the Dale’ in ‘The Camp’, Drury Lane Theatre, 1778. Frontispiece to [12]. Courtesy of Trustees of the British Museum.

Shunned by the local squirearchy, they moved to France where she became friends with Marie Antoinette and is said to have squandered the family’s money in plots to release the queen and her son, Louis XVII, from prison. In one account Charlotte – reprising her performance at Drury Lane – dressed as a soldier of the National Guard in order to free the unfortunate queen. The romantic story of her escapades in Paris appears in the book ‘Mrs Pimpernel Atkyns’ by EEP Tisdall [12].

Later, the Boileau family of Ketteringham Hall, Prince Frederick Duleep Singh and others installed this wall tablet in St Peter’s Ketteringham

Trained in London, Thomas Rawlins worked from 1743 to 1781 as a monumental mason in Norwich, based in Duke’s Palace Yard on the site of present-day St Andrews Car Park. Rawlins’ work was thought to be among the best, not just locally, but on the national stage [13]. This blowsy wall monument to the wonderfully named Hambleton Custance in St Andrew’s Norwich, shows the contemporary fascination with coloured marble and cherubs.

Hambleton Custance, Mayor and High Sheriff for Norfolk d.1757.

The Georgian wall monument by Rawlins in St George Colegate commemorates two-times mayor Timothy Balderston (d.1764). The mayor’s sword and mace lie behind the cherub who points to Balderston’s eulogy on the scroll.

John Ivory (1730-1805/6) – ranked by Pevsner below Page and Rawlins [3] – took over Page’s shop and yard at the corner of King Street and Tombland, just outside the cathedral’s Ethelbert Gate. Now the site of the All Bar One restaurant, this was roughly where the Popinjay Inn stood, the origin of the great fire of 1507 that burned 718 buildings [14]. Probably Ivory’s best monument (‘a very fine architectural tablet’ [3]) was made for Charles and Mary Mackerell in St Stephen’s Norwich.

To Charles (d.1727) and Mary (d. 1747) Mackerell, by John Ivory, in the dark recesses of St Stephen’s Norwich

After I had written this post I unexpectedly found St Giles Norwich open and snapped this wall tablet by Sir Henry Cheere with my ancient phone. It commemorates Sir Thomas Churchman (d 1747) who lived in ‘One of the finest houses in Norwich’ [3] – Churchman’s House on the opposite side of St Giles Plain. Both this and the Ivory monument above were made around 1747. They follow a very similar pattern, allowing the work of one of the city’s leading sculptors to be compared favourably with the output of Westminster Abbey’s carver.

At the very end of the eighteenth century, Ivory carved ‘a pretty memorial’, with vases straight out of the Wedgwood catalogue. This monument to Mary Evans, daughter of the man who had Salle Park built in 1761, is to be found in SS Peter and Paul, Salle.

The Classical influences that dominated the Regency period lingered until the time of Queen Victoria’s accession (1837) after which, according to Spencer [5], there was an aesthetic decline. He named three sculptors most representative of this period: John Bacon the Younger (1777-1859); Sir Richard Westmacott RA (1775-1856); and John Flaxman (1775-1826), most widely known as a modeller for Wedgwood.

The Apotheosis of Homer’ Vase 1790, designed by John Flaxman for Wedgwood. Wikimedia Commons, Photo Daderot

A favourite motif of Flaxman’s, a young woman carried heavenwards, appears on the elegant memorial for Harriot Peach (d.1825) at Ketteringham church. It is reminiscent of the Nollekens group that we saw at Tittleshall.

John Bacon Junior had been a child prodigy, sculpting monumental works from the age of 11 [13]. Here, he sculpts Lady Maria Micklethwait of Sprowston and her journey to heaven (1805). Compare this with the pared back simplicity of Flaxman’s similar theme, above.

John Bacon Jr also carved a fine monument in St George Colegate to Mayor John Herring (d.1810). A plain-speaking man, Herring twice declined to be knighted by the king, declaring himself unworthy of the honour.

Sir Richard Westmacott RA sculpted this monument to Edward Atkyns (d. 1794) and his son Wright Edward Atkyns (d. 1804) in one of Norfolk’s most fascinating churches – St Peter’s Ketteringham. The scene depicts a young woman mourning at the foot of a broken column crowned by weeping willow [3]. The martial symbols refer to the younger Atkyns’ career as Captain of Dragoons.

From its inception in the 1830s, the Anglo-Catholic Oxford Movement raised ideological objections to large and boastful monuments, creating the climate for a countrywide proliferation of wall tablets ‘but hardly anything bigger’ [3]. Classical design was considered pagan so religious buildings were to be in the Gothic style and certainly no later than Decorated. In Norwich, local tradition influenced the celebration of death (see The Norwich Way of Death [15]). Throughout the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries the city’s population contained a high percentage of Dissenters. An Act of 1836 allowed Nonconformists to perform their own funeral services but it was not until 1880 that they were allowed to conduct burials in parish churches according to their own rites. However, in 1819, Thomas Drummond had established The Rosary Cemetery in the Norwich suburb of Thorpe Hamlet – the first in the country where anyone could be buried regardless of their religion. As a result, the monuments in The Rosary are gloriously various, some of them undoubtedly on the Oxford Movement’s proscribed list.

Jeremiah Cozens (d. 1849) has the only cast-iron sarcophagus at The Rosary …

… and the only mausoleum at The Rosary belongs to Emanuel Cooper, an eminent eye-surgeon (d. 1878). This is one of five C19 mausoleums in Norfolk [5].

Below is the memorial to John Barker, Steam Circus Proprietor (d 1897). The showman was crushed between two traction engines when setting up a ride at the old Norwich Cattlemarket (now Norwich Castle Gardens) [16]. He left 15 children.

In the municipal cemetery at Earlham a horse marks the grave of horse dealer John Abel and his wife Frances [17].

© Reggie Unthank 2021

Thanks: I am indebted to Dr Mary Parker, churchwarden, for sharing her extensive knowledge of St Peter Ketteringham. Simon Knott is thanked for kindly providing photographs.

My new book (click this link for preview) is available at £14.99 from Jarrolds of Norwich and the City Bookshop, both of which do mail order. It can also be found in The Book Hive Norwich, Waterstones Castle Street Norwich, Kett’s Books Wymondham and The Holt Bookshop.


  2. Kevin Faulkner (2013). The Layer Monument. Pub: Kevin Faulkner. Printed by Pride Press Ltd., Norwich.
  3. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and North-East and 2: North-West and South. Pub: Yale University Press.
  4. Joseph Hunter (1851). The History and Topography of Ketteringham in the County of Norfolk. Printed in Norwich by Charles Muskett.
  5. Noël Spencer (1977). Sculptured Monuments in Norfolk Churches. Pub: Norfolk Churches Trust.
  6. D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 3 West and South-West Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
  12. E.E.P. Tisdall (1965). Mrs ‘Pimpernel’ Atkyns. Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.
  13. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk.
  17. Judith Havens (2014). John Abel: Horse-dealer of Norwich. Pub: Judith Havens.

Sculptured Monuments

Carved monuments found in churches provide a remarkable public record of changes in fashion, politics and religion. A year ago I wrote about Norwich physician and author, Sir Thomas Browne (d.1682), and managed to track down the site of his garden house with the help of a drawing by former Head of the School of Art, Noël Spencer [1]. Spencer was an enthusiastic botherer of church sculpture and I searched for one of his out-of-print books, Sculptured Monuments in Norfolk Churches, published by the Norfolk Churches Trust [2]. Here, I followed in some of his footsteps and made a few of my own.

“But man is a Noble Animal, splendid in ashes, and pompous in the grave, solemnizing Nativities and Deaths with equal lustre …” (Sir Thomas Browne, from Urn Burial)

Until the 12th century, only clerics were allowed to be buried within the church [2]. After this, the highborn could be represented as three-dimensional figures lying upon their tomb chests. Here is Sir Roger de Kerdiston (1337) on his bed of rocks, legs crossed. Crossed-legged knights were in fashion between the mid C13 to the mid C14. Of around 350 remaining knight effigies, 200 exhibit the cross-legged pose [3].

Sir Roger (or could it be William, say Pevsner and Wilson) de Kerdiston on his bed of pebbles, with eight weepers below. SS Mary & Michael Reepham.

Sir Roger’s arms are also crossed. His right hand is stretched uncomfortably across his chest to grasp his sword, as if ready to battle with death. Over the years, crossed legs have been taken to mean that the knight went on a crusade with the number of expeditions signified by where the legs were crossed (ankle, knee or thigh). This may have been an invention of the sixteenth century [4].

At Ashwellthorpe, Sir Edmund de Thorp and his wife Joan lie at rest, their hands at prayer. Alabaster is easier to sculpt than marble, allowing fine details of contemporary fashion to be recorded. Here, on the Thorp tomb, Dame Joan wears her hair in a reticulated headdress in which the elaborate side nets have not quite evolved into the even more fanciful horns and hearts of the coming century. And, just visible at the top of the photograph, the knight wears around his helmet a decorative circlet or torse – a vestige of the rolled cloth that once provided a pad beneath the helm. You may recall the torse from an earlier post on angel’s bonnets [5].

Lady Joan and Sir Edmund de Thorp at Ashwellthorpe, Norfolk 1417. He died in Normandy fighting for Henry V. His head rests on a helmet while angels arrange the pillow beneath her head. Photo © Simon Knott.

A different kind of prestige monument, a one-off, was erected in St Andrew Hingham to Thomas, Lord Morley (d. 1435), Lord of Hingham and Lord Marshall of Ireland. Made of alien red sandstone it runs from floor to ceiling on the north wall of the chancel. Pevsner and Wilson thought it, ‘one of the most impressive wall monuments of the C15 in the whole of England … like no other.’ They suggested it was based on the Erpingham Gate to Norwich Cathedral, sponsored in 1420 by Sir Thomas Erpingham, captain of the archers at Agincourt.

The Morley Memorial compared with the Erpingham Gate; the four-tiered polygonal buttresses and the layered pointed arches show strong similarities.

In the early sixteenth century, church building and renovation were dominated by the final phases of Gothic architecture – the Perpendicular and Tudor. Although the impact of classically-influenced Renaissance architecture would not be fully felt in England until the reign of Elizabeth I, elements of Italian Renaissance style appeared during the reign of the Tudor kings. The most famous example is Henry Tudor’s tomb designed by Pietro Torrigiano and commissioned by his son, Henry VIII, for Westminster Abbey. Here, in a separate work, is Torrigiano’s terracotta bust of Henry Tudor, based on a death mask.

Photo by va_va_val, Creative Commons CC BY-SA 2.5

Some of the finest early sixteenth century East Anglian tombs are in terracotta, a material made fashionable by visiting Italian craftsmen. According to Mortlock and Roberts [6] the two finest terracotta tombs of their type in England are to be found in St John Evangelist, Oxborough, in west Norfolk. These are in the Bedingfeld chapel that commemorates Lady Margaret Bedingfeld and her husband Sir Edmund, Marshal of Calais. The construction of the chapel, with its modish terracotta tombs, was willed by Margaret in 1513 but the date of its completion is uncertain. Instead of the pinnacles and pointed arches of the Gothic, the Bedingfeld tombs illustrate the revival of Greco-Roman architecture, represented here by the numerous pilasters, or flat applied columns.

Lady Margaret Bedingfeld’s tomb

The craftsmen responsible for the Bedingfeld monuments are also thought to have made the tomb chest in Norwich’s St George Colegate for Robert Jannys, mayor in 1517 and again in 1524 [7]. On the front of the tomb, baluster pilasters with Ionic capitals separate low relief decorative panels, the central one bearing the merchant’s mark for a man who made his money as a grocer. This is more easily deciphered from the photograph taken 44 years ago by Noël Spencer [2] for the fire-skin on the terracotta seems to have discoloured in the meantime.

The Jannys tomb in terracotta by Italian craftsmen. St George Tombland. Erected 1553/4.

Stylistically, Mayor Jannys’s tomb chest bears some resemblance to the later monument to the Third Duke of Norfolk (d 1554), premier Earl Marshal of England – the man who snatched the chain of office from around the neck of Thomas Cromwell. The Howards had absented themselves from Norwich and so the duke’s much grander tomb is not to be found in Norfolk but at St Michael’s Framlingham, Suffolk. (For the troubled relationship between the Dukes of Norfolk and the city of Norwich see [8]). Thomas Howard was not buried alongside his second wife, from whom he was estranged, but his first wife Anne Plantaganet, daughter of Edward IV.

Thomas Howard, Third Duke of Norfolk with his first wife, Anne Plantagenet, at Framlingham

Both tomb chests share arcaded panels with round-headed arches separated by Early Renaissance balusters but it is the presence, and the quality, of the figures that elevates the Duke of Norfolk’s tomb – the figures in the panels are ‘carved as beautifully as the best French work’ [9].

The tomb chest of the Third Duke of Norfolk and his wife, decorated with biblical figures sculpted by French craftsmen.

I never tire of visiting the many treasures of SS Peter & Paul at East Harling. Beneath the canopy lie the alabaster tomb effigies of Sir Thomas Lovell (d 1567) and Dame Alice, his wife. The Renaissance influence can be seen in the strapwork pilasters that frame the inscriptions and the three Corinthian columns bearing the canopy. The tomb-chest itself is dense with shields but in contrast to the chivalric ostentation, the two figures are dressed in plain black. Each has a crest at their feet: he has peacock’s feathers, she has a gruesome saracen’s head held aloft. The canopy, or baldacchino, over the tomb may derive from the tented catafalque on which the dead were carried to church along with their armorial bearings [2].

The tomb of Thomas and Alice Lovell. Note the red squirrels on the Lovell crest © User:Colin / Wikimedia Commons / CC BY-SA 4.0

The red squirrel seen on the Lovell shield above is also secreted amongst the magnificent collection of C15 Norwich School glass in the east window. It was probably this that led glass expert David King to suggest that the unknown woman in one of Hans Holbein’s paintings could be Anne Lovell, wife of Sir Thomas Lovell who attended Henry VIII’s court. Known as A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling, she holds a red squirrel while the starling at her shoulder is an obvious pun on East Harling.

A Lady with a Squirrel and a Starling by Hans Holbein ca 1526-8. National Gallery, London

For 150 years before the Coke family built Holkham Hall, they buried their dead in the mausoleum outside the church in Tittleshall St Mary – a small village in the west of the county. Following the break with Rome, and the consequent changes in religious practice, the rood screen no longer marked a hard border between nave and chancel and the monuments of the titled and wealthy crept into that part of the church once reserved for the clerics. Nowhere is this better illustrated than in Tittleshall St Mary where the richness – even the colour – of the chancel contrasts with the severity of the nave. Reputedly the finest monument in Norfolk was raised to Sir Edward Coke’s first wife Bridget, a Paston. Sir Edward has a separate tomb and Bridget occupies the niche alone, with her children at prayer below, all facing east.

Bridget Coke d 1598

Founder of the family’s fortune, Sir Edward Coke, was the Lord Chancellor who prosecuted the Earl of Essex, Sir Walter Raleigh, and Guy Fawkes and his co-conspirators in the Gunpowder Plot. When he was made the first Lord Chief Justice it was hoped that this independently-minded man – a staunch supporter of parliament and the common law – would bend to the will of King James I but he refused and was dismissed in 1616 [10].

The attitudes of the figures on the monument illustrate the conventions for depicting life and death. The effigy on the tomb chest shows the man at rest, recumbent, hands held in prayer as he awaits resurrection. By contrast, the Four Virtues on the broken pediment – sitting in poses described [6] as lolling (or as my mother would say, lounging about) – show signs of drowsy activity. The seventeenth century was a period of great experimentation, not only in the attitudes of figures for the same applied to the tomb surrounds. As shown by the Coke monument, there was a general, if erratic, progression from the strapwork, skulls, hourglasses, scythes etc of the Jacobean period towards a purer Classical style [2].

The recumbent effigy of Sir Edward Coke, who died in Stoke Poges in 1634 and was interred with his first wife in Tittleshall. The tomb is by Nicholas Stone while the effigy itself is thought to be by Stone’s assistant John Hargrave [2].
Nicholas Stone, father and son by Thomas Chambers. Stone Sr, the foremost sculptor of the Baroque period.

A pupil of Stone’s, Edward Marshall, sculpted the Peck tomb in St Peter, Spixworth, not far from Norwich International Airport. Despite lacking the dignity of the Coke tomb, Noël Spencer thought that it the more exciting [2]. Unusually, the effigies of William and Alice Peck show both in their shrouds, rather than their finery. There is no pretence that they are as they were in life. As Pevsner and Wilson [7] wrote, they are ‘represented naturalistically as dead’.

William Peck (d. 1635) and his wife Alice. Spencer and other sources give the sculptor as Edward Marshall (who was to succeed Nicholas Stone as Master Mason to the Crown) although Pevsner mentions Thomas Stanton.

At about the same time, Sir Austin and Lady Elizabeth Palgrave were memorialised in North Barningham, not in unflinching death, but as busts that portray them in their living pomp. ‘He is bearded and faintly quizzical; she will brook no nonsense’ [12]

Sir Austin and Lady Elizabeth Palgrave 1639.

The Pastons illustrate the rise of the common man in the late medieval period, from someone so poor that he rode to the mill sitting on top of his corn, to the end of the line who died as Second Earl of Yarmouth (d. 1732). (To read about the Paston family in Norwich see [11]). On his tomb-chest in North Walsham, Sir William Paston (d.1608) lolls with head in hand. This ‘not dead, just resting’ pose was mocked by Bosola in Webster’s The Duchess of Malfi when he said, ‘Princes’ images on their tombs do not lie … seeming to pray up to heaven; but with their hands under their cheek, as if they died of the tooth-ache.’

Sir William Paston, at St Nicholas North Walsham

And in Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare wrote that, ‘If a man do not erect in this age his own tomb ere he dies, he shall no longer live in monument than the bell rings and the widow weeps.’ Sir William arranged for his majestic tomb to be built by London sculptors Key and Wright at a cost of £200 [2]. Flanking the armorial tablet are obelisks (an Egyptian motif) and flaming urns, both signifying eternal life.

The monument to Sir William Paston, founder of Paston School. The elaborate armorial tablet was important for a family whose origins and title to land were often questioned.

Sir William’s grandson and widow are commemorated in St Margaret’s church in the village of Paston. Dame Katherine Paston (d. 1629) was the daughter of Sir Thomas Knyvett who had discovered Guy Fawkes’ trail of gunpowder in 1604. Her tomb by Nicholas Stone cost an astounding £340 [12].

Dame Katherine Paston’s monument in black, white and pink alabasters.
Katherine Paston, ‘awaiting a joyful resurrection’ 1629

Below, Thomas Marsham (d.1638) lounges on a cushion, much as Dame Katherine Paston had done since 1629, yet it is Marsham’s later tomb that Noël Spencer describes as the first in Norfolk to represent the Resurrection theme [2]. This description echoes Pevsner’s [7], who writes: ‘Effigy comfortably semi-reclining, though in his shroud, as if attempting a resurrection – an early case of this attitude in England and certainly the first in Norfolk’. In terms of implied exertion there is little to separate the two effigies but the dress provides important clues. Dame Katherine is represented as a living figure clothed in her finery, a matron reclining at a Roman feast. Marsham, on the other hand, is dressed in his burial shroud and we are to assume that he is – eyes open – awakening to the trumpet call of the angels announcing Resurrection Day.

Thomas Marsham’s monument in St Margaret Stratton Strawless, some miles north of Norwich

The majority of men of this period are portrayed as bearded but Marsham appears to have been retrospectively given facial hair, perhaps to prevent him looking too effeminate [13]. The graffiti is as crude as a moustache on the Mona Lisa. The monument is also notable for the realistic bones of the charnel house carved into the base of the alabaster tomb.

A more convincing depiction of resurrection appears in All Saints, East Barsham. By comparison with Marsham’s torpor, Mary Calthorpe is a positive jack-in-the-box. Married at 16 and dead aged 33 she responds to the trumpeting angel, the words on the side of her coffin exhorting, ‘Come Lord Jesu, come quickly’.

Emerging from the grave, Mary Calthorpe d. 1640. Signed by John and Mathias Christmas, sons of Gerard Christmas of East London. The Christmas family are described as, ‘Sculptors, Woodcarvers and Pageant Artificers’.

‘Kneeler’ monuments, of the kind we saw for Bridget Coke, flourished from approximately the middle of the sixteenth century through the first half of the next. During the sixteenth century it became increasingly common to find monuments in which a kneeling husband and wife face each other across a prayer desk with their children ranged behind them. On early kneelers the clear message was that prayers were being sought to speed the passage of the deceased through Purgatory [14]. But after the rejection of the doctrine of Purgatory, the iconography is suggested to emphasise status, lineage, and continuity of the family. Wilson and Pevsner describe the kneeling monument as ‘a Renaissance newcomer from France via The Netherlands’ [7].

Norwich, home to many immigrants from the Low Countries, has some wonderful examples of kneeler monuments. At a time when families were large, rules of proportion and perspective had to be relaxed in order to accommodate all the children on the monument. St Andrew’s Norwich contains the tomb of Sir Robert Suckling (1520-1589); the son of a baker he became a rich mercer, alderman, sheriff, mayor and twice MP for Norwich. Here he is with his third wife and five daughters and five sons from his first marriage. Suckling’s town house survives as part of Cinema City.

The monument to Sir Robert Suckling, with his third wife and ten children. The skulls and fruit are thumping metaphors for the transience of life. In the spandrels above him a young putto, playing with ball and cup, faces Father Time with his scythe and hourglass.

Another tomb in St Andrews bears effigies of Sir John and Lady Suckling (d 1613), the son and daughter-in-law of Sir Robert. Sir John was James I’s treasurer and the richness of his monument is in keeping with his high office. His four daughters kneel in prayer on the front of the chest. The tomb itself is open, with the lid supported on four skulls, demonstrating that chest tombs are ‘merely empty boxes designed to raise the memorial up to eye level’ [2]. To the right of the inscription is a bird escaping its cage, signifying the release of the soul [2]. ‘Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers: the snare is broken and we are escaped‘ (Psalm 124:7).

Norwich and its freemen had long enjoyed a greater than usual degree of civic independence granted by the Crown. This, together with a general shift in the balance of power brought about by the Protestant Reformation, ensured that monuments to the rich and powerful mercantile elite – and not just those who were high-born or gained national prominence – started to appear in greater numbers in the city’s churches.

Here, in St George Tombland, is the memorial to alderman, speaker of the council and mayor Thomas Anguish (1538-1617) at whose mayoral inauguration 33 people were crushed to death after the crowd tried to escape exploding fireworks [15]. His monument is by Nicholas Stone who celebrates neither royalty nor aristocracy but a grocer in his red mayoral robe. Note the nine sons and three daughters. Only the five sons not holding skulls survived the parents while two of the sons are swaddled chrysoms, who died soon after birth.

The Anguish Monument in alabaster by Nicholas Stone, sculptor of the memorial to John Donne in St Paul’s Cathedral [14]. Rather than conveying Stone’s advanced style, the old-fashioned design is consistent with the Jacobean work used in other of the city’s mayoral monuments [16]. Stone was paid £20, compared to the £340 he charged for Dame Katherine Paston’s tomb.

The Anguish memorial is also notable for being a hanging monument; it occupies no floor space, with the sad corollary that it is now hardly visible, squashed behind the organ. Wall monuments proliferated after the Reformation as we will see in the next post.

To be continued …

© Reggie Unthank 2021


  2. Noël Spencer (1977). Sculptured Monuments in Norfolk Churches. Pub: Norfolk Churches Trust.
  3. Rachel Dressler (2000). Cross-legged knights and signification in English medieval tomb sculpture. Studies in Iconography vol 21: 91-121.
  6. D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No 3 West and South-West Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and North-East and 2: North-West and South. Pub: Yale University Press.
  9. James Bettley and Nicolaus Pevsner (2015). The Buildings of England. Suffolk: East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  12. D.P. Mortlock and C.V. Roberts (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches No 1 North-East Norfolk.
  14. Sally Badham (2015). Kneeling in prayer: English commemorative art 1330–1670. British Art Journal vol 16: 58-72.


I thank Simon Knott for supplying the de Thorp photograph. I am also grateful to John Bayliss, Christopher Howse and Anne Oatley for comments, and to The Rector of St Andrews for opening the church.



Madness was an all-enveloping term whose varieties can affect us all and for which we now have much kinder words. A jarring name, much used up to the eighteenth century, it was replaced by ‘insanity’ in the nineteenth century and ‘mental illness’ in the twentieth. I began this post during Mental Health Awareness Week (10-16 May) when my thoughts turned to a family member who had Alzheimer’s disease. I was also reminded of some of the subjects we’d come across in this blog and wondered how they were cared for in less enlightened times.

The most distinguished of the Norwich School of Painters, John Sell Cotman (1728-1842) occupies prime position in the city’s pantheon yet ‘his compulsive and intermittently manic personality prevented his talent from flourishing in the national arena.’ [1]. Now recognised as bipolar disorder, these extremes of elation and depression also affected Cotman’s sons.

Cotman’s second son, John Joseph, by his friend Joseph Geldart 1835. Courtesy Leeds Art Galleries

Miles Edmund, who often finished his father’s paintings, was depressive; Alfred’s violent behaviour [2] led to his committal in an asylum; and John Joseph was known around the city, rather cruelly, as Crazy Cotman. His brilliantly colourful and energetic paintings are the antithesis of the calmness portrayed in the wherry school of painting.

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

A little more is known about the troubled life of Thomas Jeckyll, born eight years after Alfred Cotman and subject of four posts. Wymondham-born Jeckyll became an important figure in the Aesthetic Movement based on the fashion for Japanese art, spearheaded by James Abbott McNeill Whistler. Earlier in his career, Jeckyll had worked for his patron, Sir John Boileau of Ketteringham Hall, during which time his unreliability was noted. A later absence was to precipitate the infamous affair of the Peacock Room. Due to illness, Jeckyll had to absent himself from a project to design a room in the London house of wealthy collector Frederick Leyland, where he could display his oriental china. Whistler, who had been working elsewhere in the house, completed Jeckyll’s work but he went far beyond any ideas discussed with Leyland. The Peacock Room, in blue and gold, is a masterpiece achieved by painting over the surfaces of Jeckyll’s room and in the process airbrushing him from history. Only a pair of sunflower fire irons remain as a reminder of Jeckyll.

Thomas Jeckyll returned from London to the family home in Unthank Road, Norwich [4]. He had been experiencing pressure of work in the early 1870s and in 1873 underwent some kind of crisis. Then, in November 1876, having suffered his first manic episode, he was admitted to a private asylum, Heigham Hall, about half a mile outside Norwich city walls.

heigham hall asylum.jpg
Advert in the BMJ

A search for private asylums in Mason’s Directory of 1852 [5] comes up with ‘Asylum-lane’ in the parish of Heigham. This was to be renamed Park Lane and if you were to zig-zag northwards, through what must have been open countryside before the encroachment of terraced housing, you would have arrived at extensive wooded grounds labelled ‘Heigham Hall, Private Lunatic Asylum’. Jeckyll was incarcerated here in an asylum for ‘patients belonging to the upper and middle classes’ [4].

Heigham Hall at the junction of Old Palace Road and Heigham Road. 1884 OS map courtesy of National Library of Scotland.

On Bryant’s map of 1826, Heigham Hall appears as Marrowbone House or Hall – a sly dig at butcher John Lowden, a contractor to the army in the Napoleonic Wars, who renovated this medieval building.

Bryant’s map 1826, showing Marrowbone House/Hall. Courtesy Norfolk County Council

Although Thomas Jeckyll’s condition seems not to have improved, he was discharged from Marrowbone Hall the following year to his father’s home in Norwich [4]. However, George Jeckell (whose surname betrays his son’s fancified ‘y’), was himself exhibiting signs of mania and died in May 1878. A few months prior to this, Thomas had been incarcerated in the Bethel Hospital as a fee-paying patient and he was to stay here until his death in 1881. As we saw for the Cotmans, inheritance plays a strong part in bipolar disorder.

Jeckyll and father.jpg
Thomas Jeckyll with his father George in the 1860s © Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Before looking at the pioneering Bethel Hospital in the city centre let’s return to Marrowbone Hall. The Hall, formerly The Grange, was partly renovated by butcher Lowden around 1810 ‘in modern style’. Then, in 1836, it opened as a private mental home, managed by Drs John Ferra Watson and William Peter Nichols (whose name crops up throughout the history of Norwich medicine in the early C19). Heigham Hall had set itself up in competition with an establishment near Park Lane known as Heigham Retreat – the word ‘retreat’ signifying its use as a private asylum [6]. We’ve encountered these two properties when searching for another Heigham House occupied by the Unthank family [7].

In 1852, the Reverend Edmund Holmes was found in bed with the 12-year-old daughter of Mrs Bunn, his housekeeper, who called the constable [6, 8]. Holmes was taken to a magistrate who referred him for committal to Heigham Hall. Just a few months later Holmes was discharged only to immediately become a boarder employed as the asylum’s chaplain. The public were incensed that the owners appeared to have offered a dubious diagnosis of insanity in order that a man from ‘a high county family’ could evade the law. A surprisingly partisan article in a medical journal of 1855 tried to boost Heigham Hall’s reputation, stating that others had thought Holmes was a lunatic and that the housekeeper’s husband had often held the minister on the floor as a protection from violence [8].

Heigham Hall. In 12 acres of ornamental grounds. Internally and externally, ‘like a gentleman’s mansion.’ Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

The affair became a national cause célèbre when another doctor claimed that Dr Watson of Heigham Hall had offered him a bribe to sign Holmes’ lunacy certificate, saying it would be worth ‘hundreds a year in his pocket’ [9]. Following questions in Parliament, the Lunacy Act was amended so that no-one’s status as a patient could be switched to boarder without full investigation by the Commissioners in Lunacy. But the question remained: was this the ploy of a wealthy man to evade justice or was Holmes insane?

From 1904 until his death in 1949, Heigham Hall was owned by Dr John Gordon Gordon-Munn who, in 1914/15 was Lord Mayor of Norwich. As a trainee doctor he had written a short thesis on, ‘Some Observations Upon the Uterus and its Appendages in the Insane [10].’ That is, he examined the macro- and microscopic appearance of the sexual organs of insane women. In his brief introduction, he cites various sources to support his assertion that, ‘It has long been held that a decided relation does exist between pathological conditions of the sexual apparatus in women and insanity.’ This offers a disturbing insight into the prevailing (male) view of ‘women’s problems’ that persisted into the twentieth century. Women were thought to be liable to a periodic lunacy according to the lunar cycle – the waxing and waning of the moon. The Latin for moon, ‘lunaris’, gives rise to ‘loony while the Latin for womb, ‘hystericus,’ is evidently the base for ‘hysterical’. Indeed, there were claims that female hysteria could be cured by hysterectomy. In 1866 a physician wrote that clitoridectomy could cure certain kinds of insanity. Such barbaric treatment appears to be the product of sympathetic magic, not science.

The Heigham Retreat by Henry Ninham. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.

Competing with Heigham Hall for patients was the Heigham Retreat (above). This private mental asylum was approached from Park Lane along an avenue of trees that gave name to present-day Avenue Road, with which it partly coincided. In 1859, the proprietors of Heigham Hall bought out their competitors at Heigham Retreat and promptly closed it. Now, Avenue Junior School occupies the site. Heigham Hall itself lasted until 1960 when it was demolished to make way for Dolphin Grove social housing.

Dolphin Grove estate at the corner of Heigham Street and Old Palace Road. Former site of Heigham Hall.

Five miles west of the city, Costessey Hall was home to the Jerninghams on whose land George Gunton established the brickworks whose products helped define the face of Victorian Norwich [see previous post 11]. But Gunton’s Cossey Reds were used first to build the phantasmagorical Neo-Gothic hall, which was never completed.

Costessey Hall. Architect John Chessell Buckler. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The 10th Baron Stafford, Sir Augustus Frederick Fitzherbert Stafford Jerningham was probably the grandson of Mrs Fitzherbert and the Prince Regent (the future George IV).

Maria Fitzherbert by Joshua Reynolds ABC Gallery

Jerningham was certified insane by the Lunacy Commission. Whether or not his mental illness was inherited from the Hanovers is unclear but some hereditary component seemed to run in the family for Jerningham’s younger brother, Sir Fitzosbert Edward Stafford Jerningham, was thought of as eccentric. His valet reported that his lordship would throw out watches that failed to keep time. Fitzosbert rarely ventured outside, reasoning that his brother had left the park and never returned [12].

Ordinary individuals had no wealth to insulate them from physical or mental illness. The earliest public asylum in the country was Bethlehem Hospital, which moved from just outside London’s city walls to Moorfields in 1676. Although the Bethel Hospital in Norwich came later (1713) it had the distinction of being the country’s first purpose-built asylum [13]. This is where Thomas Jeckyll spent his last years.

The Bethel Hospital, renovated in Queen Anne style by Edward Boardman. The smaller, high-set windows on the ground floor emphasise the sense of imprisonment.

The austere external facade on Bethel Street is part of Edward Boardman’s remodelling of 1899. On the opposite side of the wall were gardens and a ladies’ croquet lawn. Some idea of this cloistered place can be glimpsed from Catherine Maude Nichols’ engraving and painting (see [14] for the story of this fascinating artist). Catherine’s father was one of four consulting surgeons at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital – then on St Stephens Street – where he specialised in removing bladder stones. This was the Dr Nichols who established Heigham Hall as a private asylum. He was also surgeon at The Bethel, which accounts for his daughter’s access to the private side of this hospital.

Bethel Duo.001.jpg
Dry point engraving and oil painting of the Bethel Hospital. Undated but after 1882. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections. NWHCM : 1940.75.19 and NWHCM : 1940.75.8

The original building was founded by Mary Chapman, daughter of John Mann, a wealthy worsted merchant who had been the city’s mayor and the county’s high sheriff. This was on the site of the Committee House that stored the county’s arms during the Civil War. In 1648, during a popular Royalist uprising against troopers of the New Model Army, citizens broke into the building and somehow ignited 98 barrels of gunpowder. The explosion or ‘Great Blow’ killed around 100 people and blew out the glass in the nearby churches of St Stephens and St Peter Mancroft. The churchwarden’s accounts for St Peter Mancroft record that in 1652 the ‘glasyer’ William Rutter was paid 13 pounds, four shillings and sixpence ‘for the glaseing of the sayd East windowe and other glasing work in the church’ [15]. Rutter’s east window would have been a collection of fifteenth century glass, painted in several Norwich workshops, and rescued from around the church.

East window of St Peter Mancroft, mainly C15 glass with minor later additions. Often called the Toppes window, the rich merchant and family can be seen praying in the donor panel, bottom right

Mary Chapman’s husband, John, was rector of the parish church of Thorpe to the east of the city. Both had mental illness in their families and John left money to found a charity for those deprived of their reason. Mary was to use her remaining 24 years to build The Bethel on the site of the old Committee Rooms and establish a hospital for the insane [16]. The patients’ relatives were expected to pay what they could and during Mary Chapman’s lifetime she herself paid for the maintenance of several inmates. Her will arranged for a trust to provide ‘not for natural born idiots or fools, but for the convenient reception and habitation of lunatics’ [13]. This provides a rough distinction between conditions apparent at birth and those that appeared later in life (although it is now known that the latter may have a genetic basis). Hogarth’s print has its own taxonomy of madness and is instructive for illustrating attitudes to, and classification of, mental disturbance in the mid-eighteenth century.

The Madhouse’. Plate VIII from The Rake’s Progress, by William Hogarth 1734-5.

Having led a dissolute life, the protagonist Tom Rakewell (front left), sits on the floor with a self-inflicted wound in his side and is being chained for his own protection. The man on the stairs (right), in love with a famous courtesan, is besotted, lovelorn, moonstruck. The tailor (centre mid-ground) measures an imaginary client with his tape. Two cells are occupied by delusional patients. These different species of madness, and the terms used to describe them, might not stand up to modern scrutiny but we should remember that science was yet to get into its stride. As a benchmark for where this stands in the history of science, the man at the back, part-hidden by the door, is trying to find a method for what seemed to be the intractable problem of determining longitude and, in case we didn’t grasp this, Hogarth has written the word on the wall. The man kneeling with a makeshift telescope to his eye is probably trying to solve the longitude problem by observing the stars [17]. Two years after Hogarth published his print, the Longitude Commissioners awarded John Harrison a prize for producing a chronometer accurate enough to measure the difference in local time – and hence longitude – between a ship at sea and Greenwich Mean Time.

The two fashionably-dressed young women have come to visit, one of them using her fan to block sight of a crowned man with a sceptre in one hand and said to be urinating with the other. While the visiting elite could claim to be motivated by higher ideals, and were expected to make a charitable contribution towards the upkeep of the insane, crowds of the lower sort would come to ‘Bedlam’ in search of amusement. Madness was a diversion.

‘Madness’ and ‘lunacy’ – terms offensive to modern ears – were everyday coin in the eighteenth century; in the nineteenth century they were largely replaced by ‘insanity’ and in the twentieth century by ‘mental illness’. Steven Cherry also makes the distinction between madness as a legal term and mental illness as a medical concept [18]. In a more religious age, madness could be perceived to be the consequences of ‘sinfulness and the loss of divine protection’ [18]. Another explanation, set out by the Ancient Greeks, suggested that temperament was regulated by an imbalance of the four bodily humours: blood, phlegm, yellow bile and black bile. An excess of black bile was thought to cause melancholia whereas a choleric and manic nature was attributed to an excess of yellow bile. The humoral theory held for two millennia but had little or no practical use in treating: hysteria, post-natal depression, schizophrenia, epilepsy, the effects of syphilis on the brain, monomania (e.g., conversing with supernatural beings), congenital idiocy, delirium tremens caused by alcohol etc etc. For some time the Madness of King George the Third has been attributed to the blood disorder, porphyria, which may have been treated with arsenic, but a twenty-first century analysis of his handwriting suggests that the monarch could have been exhibiting acute mania [19].

Over the gates of London’s Bethlem Hospital were two figures carved by Caius Gabriel Cibber, one depicting ‘raving madness’, the other ‘melancholy madness’ – the two poles of manic depression.

Clearly, Hogarth’s depiction of Tom Rakewell (above) is based on Cibber’s chained figure.

The model provided by London’s Bethlem Hospital – or Bedlam, with its connotations of chaos – tapped into two contemporary views of insanity. This dichotomy appears on King’s 1766 map of Norwich: the road was named Bedlam Street while the hospital itself was called a more dignified (and biblical) Bethel.

Samuel King’s New Plan of Norwich 1766, with the Norman Upper Newport Street renamed as Bedlam Street, the site of Bethel Hospital. Courtesy Norwich Castle Museum NWHCM;1927.12:M

From a young age, Amelia Opie visited Bethel Hospital in Norwich [20]. She would throw a halfpenny over the wall for an inmate, Goodings, to buy snuff; she also spent most of her weekly allowance buying him pinks and other flowers after he had admired a nosegay she was wearing. Despite being petrified by his clanking chains she could still write, ‘Some of my happiest moments were those when I visited the gates of bedlam.’ As a romantic 16-year-old, Amelia went inside the Bethel with two male friends at a time when she ‘considered madness not as occasioned by some physical derangement, but as the result, in most cases, of moral causes.’ But Amelia saw no lovelorn patients rolling their eyes and ‘went away disappointed from having false ideas of the nature of the affliction which we had gone to contemplate.’

Amelia Opie by her husband John Opie RA. ©National Portrait Gallery, London

It may be surprising to read from Amelia Opie’s account that inmates of the Bethel, who were free to roam the grounds, might still be chained. Inmates were owed a sense of duty and humanity and ‘in obstinate resistances to be governed no blows or correction with any weapon.’ But records show that humane management still involved handcuffs, padlocks, a heavy chair with straps, and straight-waistcoats. Chains were intended to prevent escape and to minimise harm but were insufficient to stop a patient from killing the Master, James Bullard, with a scythe [16].

Surgeon doctors attended patients in the Bethel, some from the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital founded in 1771 on St Stephens Road, just outside the city walls. The first physician to be appointed was Sir Benjamin Wrench who had promised Mary Chapman that he would remain physician to the Bethel for as long as he was able. He retired in 1747 aged 82 [16]. We previously brushed past Sir Benjamin – or at least, his house – in the post on the Norwich School of Painters [3]. The Norwich Society of Artists held their first exhibition in Sir Benjamin Wrench’s Court, which was demolished in 1826 to make way for the new Corn Exchange on the corner of Exchange and Little Bedford Streets where the north end of Jarrold Department Store now stands. When the NHS was established in 1948 the Bethel itself became an annexe of the City Asylum at Hellesdon. It closed in 1995 after 282 years service.

Left: Sir Benjamin Wrench by anon. ca 1747-1750s. Right: his house and courtyard by David Hodgson 1838. ©Trustees of the British Museum

At the beginning of the nineteenth century, Norwich had roughly 50 private asylums and a handful of private subscription asylums. The ‘lunatic poor’ went to the poor house or workhouse even though there was no special provision for them [18]. However, from 1828, they were to be housed on a site once occupied by a lazar (leper) hospital established by a Bishop of Norwich; this was just outside St Augustine’s Gates in a new building that had a ward for the sick. The new asylum, adjacent to the pre-existing workhouse infirmary, was known for the first two years of its existence as the Norwich Pauper Asylum [21]. Renamed the Norwich City Asylum, the institution was to remain here until 1880 when a new City Asylum opened in Hellesdon. The OS map of 1886 shows the Borough Lunatic Asylum as ‘disused’.

OS map 1886 courtesy of National Library of Scotland. The disused borough asylum was on Infirmary Road, which became Starling Road, off Magpie Road.

In 1880, the city’s accommodation for the mentally ill was transferred to new premises at Hellesdon, just beyond the Mile Cross.

Hellesdon Hospital, opened 1880. Ordnance Survey 1885.

The workhouse infirmary at St Augustine’s had already left the site in 1859 for Bowthorpe Road, forming the nucleus of what would be the West Norwich Hospital. It had a ward for lunatics [22].

The 1885 OS Map shows the workhouse and hospital on the north side of Workhouse Lane. By the time of the 1912 survey, the lane had become Bowthorpe Road. Note the Iron (or Isolation) Hospital on the south side of the road – all such institutions at the periphery of an expanding city. Ordnance Survey map courtesy of National Library of Scotland maps.

Although not in Norwich itself, we must acknowledge the presence of the Norfolk Lunatic Asylum at Thorpe St Andrews, two and half miles east of the city centre. As a result of an Act of 1808 this County Asylum, which was funded by the county rates, opened in 1814 specifically for pauper and criminal lunatics. [18]. It was only the third of its kind in the country. Here it is in an engraving of 1825 by John Berney Ladbrooke, son of co-founder of the Norwich Society of Artists, Robert Ladbrooke.

The County Lunatic Asylum at Thorpe St Andrews 1825. Drawn by John Berney Ladbrooke. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

©Reggie Unthank 2021


New Book

Recently published, my latest book is an anthology of short, richly illustrated articles in which I take a sideways look at the history of Norwich. See my previous blog post for further details. The book is available in Jarrolds

Norwich and City Bookshop Norwich. Click the underlined links to go straight to the mail order pages. It can also be bought in: The Bookhive, Norwich; Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich; the Holt Bookshop; Ketts Bookshop, Wymondham.


  1. Andrew Moore (2005). John Sell Cotman: The Calm and the Storm. In, John Sell Cotman: Master of Watercolour. Pub: Norfolk Museums & Archaeology Service.
  4. Susan Weber Soros and Catherine Arbuthnott (2003). Thomas Jeckyll: Architect and Designer, 1827-1881. Pub: Yale University Press.
  6. Walter Rye (1917). History of the Parish of Heigham. See:
  8. Journal of Psychological Medicine and Mental Pathology (1855) vol 8(29): pp168–170. Heigham Hall Lunatic Asylum, Norwich. See:
  9. Sarah Wise (2015).
  12. Ernest G. Gage (1991). Costessey Hall: A Retrospect of the Jernegans, Jerninghams and Stafford Jerninghams of Costessey Hall, Norfolk. Pub: Colin L. House, Costessey Hall, Old Costessey, Norwich.
  13. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England: Norfolk I. Pub: Yale University Press
  15. Christopher Woodforde (1950). The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  16. Mark Winston (1994). The Bethel at Norwich: an eighteenth century hospital for lunatics. Medical History vol 38, pp 27-51.
  17. Joanna Tinworth (2021). Notes on Hogarth’s painting:
  18. Steven Cherry (2003). Mental Health Care in Modern England: The Norfolk Lunatic Asylum/St Andrew’s Hospital, 1810-1998. Pub: The Boydell Press.
  19. V. Rentoumi (2017). The acute mania of King George III: A computational linguistic analysis. PLOS ONE vol 12 (3).
  20. Cecilia Lucy Brightwell (1865). Memorials of the Life of Amelia Opie. Pub: Fletcher & Alexander. Norwich. See


I am grateful to Clare Everitt for permission to use images from the excellent Picture Norfolk website.

New Book: Colonel Unthank’s Norwich


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I would occasionally be asked if a book would emerge from the Colonel Unthank’s Norwich blog but I had to wait until the second Covid lockdown before I had the opportunity. I rewrote selected posts, sorted out which pictures could or could not be used, wandered the city with my camera and generally saved my sanity during the great isolation. The resulting book – Colonel Unthank’s Norwich: A Sideways Look at the City – is a collection of articles on the history and buildings of Norwich.

All chapters are based on personal research yet this was never intended to be a straight-on history book that followed a timeline. Topics are eclectic but, as characters and buildings are encountered in different contexts, patterns emerge and – hopefully – provide a sense of how the city came to look the way it does.

One of the articles is about the city’s fine collection of Georgian doorways. In this, I followed the path of Kent and Stephenson who, in a book published in 1948, showed 20 doors that had survived the war. The fact that I was able to find 17 of the 20 might seem to give cause for optimism that we have protected our heritage. However, another survey in 1945 by photographer of vanishing Norwich, George Plunkett, showed how much we lost, not just in the war, but in the slum clearances of the twentieth century. The city’s built heritage is a fragile thing and we must question the loss of everyday items that enrich the texture of our streets. Not everything should fall into the maw of progress.

One chapter, On Golden Ball Street, never appeared as a blog post but is based on my Tweet about the sculpture outside the Eastern Daily Press building.

My very first blog post was on angels’ ears. The angel cult of the Late Medieval period fascinates me and I returned to the topic on two further occasions with Angels’ Bonnets and Angels in Tights.

The book is 144 pages long and contains 30 richly-illustrated chapters. Priced £14.99 it can be bought from:

Jarrold Book Department, Norwich (Pressing this link takes you to the mail order page)

City Bookshop, Norwich (Pressing this link takes you to the mail order page)

Waterstones, Castle Street, Norwich

©Reggie Unthank 2021

AF Scott, Architect:conservative or pioneer?

In the previous post on Norwich department stores I mentioned the architectural practice of Augustus Frederic Scott three times, more even than local hero George Skipper – and Edward Boardman not at all. Who was this architect whose factory building was described by Pevsner as the most interesting in Norwich and of European importance? [1] He was also big in Cromer where my interest had been piqued by two turreted houses that could possibly be by AF Scott.

AF Scott 1854-1936. From [2]

Scott was born in 1854 in the south Norfolk village of Rockland St Peter. His father, Jonathan Scott, was a Primitive Methodist preacher. The Primitive Methodists – sometimes called ‘Ranters’ because of their enthusiastic style of preaching – proposed a return to the original form of Methodism practiced by John Wesley.

AF Scott was educated at the ‘old Commercial School’ in Norwich [3]. This seems to have been the King Edward VI Middle School, established in St George’s Street in 1862 as an offshoot to the King Edward VI School (Norwich School) in the cathedral precinct. The aim of the Commercial School was to prepare boys for industry and trade, in contrast to the more classical education offered by the main school. The school was sited in the west range of the Blackfriars’ cloisters; it had 200 pupils, paying a tuition fee of four guineas per annum [4]. Now it is part of Norwich University of the Arts.

The Commercial School in the cloisters of Blackfriars’ Priory. OS map 1884, courtesy of [5].

This complex of buildings comes down to us as the most complete medieval friary in England [6]. Its survival can be attributed to the fact that in 1540, during the Dissolution, Mayor Augustine Steward spent £80 to buy the site for the city. Apart from being requisitioned as stables during Kett’s Rebellion the two halls have been in municipal use ever since. St Andrews Hall was the nave of the Dominican priory and its design as a large unencumbered preaching hall ensured it remains as one our largest public spaces.

In 1861 the architect to the trustees of Norwich School, James S Benest, began renovations in preparation for the Commercial School that opened the following year. He faced the west elevation of the cloisters with polychrome brick [7]. His additions are in the Gothic Revival style, one of very few examples of its kind in the city.

West elevation of the west cloisters of the former Dominican friary by JS Benest 1861

Scott continued his education at Elmfield College on the outskirts of York (92 boarders, £31 fee). It was also known as Jubilee College in recognition of the Silver Jubilee of the Primitive Methodists in 1860.

Scott was a man of strong beliefs: he would not allow his children to be vaccinated against smallpox; he was a life-long sabbatarian, and a vegetarian on moral grounds. He also abstained from alcohol, which led to him turning down invitations to design licensed premises [8].

Elmfield College near York. Courtesy of

But high principle seems to have tipped over into irascibility. A letter from the Carron Foundry, who were casting windows for Scott, complained that they ‘exceedingly regret to note the tone in which you write’ [9]. Cromer historian Andy Boyce told me, “… on at least two occasions (Scott) went to court for minor assaults, usually regretting his actions and paying any costs. On one occasion he manhandled a lady when she wanted a railway carriage window shut because it was cold (he insisted it remain open)”. Scott also held back that portion of the rates used to support Anglican Schools. As a result, bailiffs would come to his house and take away his pictures but he always seems to have bought them back [8]. In 1969 Scott’s family gave one of his paintings to the Anglican cathedral. It is by Amelia Opie’s husband, John.

The Presentation of Christ in the Temple by John Opie RA. In Norwich Cathedral.

Scott furthered his career as an architect by studying the practical side of the building trade with George Skipper’s father, Robert, in East Dereham [2]. He then spent two years with John Henry Brown who – according to Pevsner and Wilson – was one of the architects responsible for meddling with the west front of the Anglican Cathedral [6]. After two years with the Liverpool Corporation, Scott had sufficient experience to start his own practice at 24 Castle Meadow Norwich. For 17 years of this period he was also Surveyor of Cromer.

Scott remained at the Castle Meadow office from 1886-1927. He was joined by his son Eric Wilfrid Bonning in 1910 and when another son, Theodore Gilbert, joined around 1918 the practice was restyled AF Scott & Sons. In 1927 the Scotts’ offices moved to 23 Tombland [10].

23 Tombland. Courtesy of British Listed Buildings

In June 1882, Augustus Frederic Scott married Emmeline Adcock. Around 1900, Emmeline’s younger brother, Edward O Adcock, was to establish a gigantic plant nursery off Upton Road (see recent post on plant nurseries in Eaton [11]).

Augustus Frederic Scott was a familiar figure in his ‘wideawake’ hat with a three and a half inch brim that, from the defensive tone of his description, seems to have drawn comments. “My wide brimmed hat keeps off a certain amount of rain and sun and is of practical use. And moreover it suits me”[3]. He was also described as an enthusiastic cyclist, although the adjective doesn’t quite describe the arduous journeys on which he embarked in the early days of cycling.

JB Dunlop’s son on the first bicycle to be fitted with pneumatic tyres. ©National Museums Scotland

Scott claimed to have had the first bicycle in Norfolk fitted with pneumatic tyres. He cycled to Kings Lynn to catch the early train to Doncaster as well as cycling from Norwich to his office in Holborn Hall, London [10]. John Boyd Dunlop was awarded the patent for his invention in 1888, which suggests that Scott’s long journeys were made when roads were largely unmaintained and probably unmetalled.

Despite the notable exceptions, which come later, Augustus Frederic Scott is known as the designer of numerous non-conformist chapels around the county. These are included in Norma Virgoe’s non-exhaustive list [8] list:

West Acre (1887), Lessingham (1891), Garboldisham (1893), East Runton (1897), Postwick (1901), Lenwade (1905), Runhall (1906), Stokesby (1907), Billingford (1908), Fakenham (1908), Attleborough (1913), and Castle Street, Cambridge (1914) Primitive Methodist (PM) chapels, as well as Reepham (1891) and Cromer (1910) Wesleyan chapels. He also designed Cromer (1901), Dereham Road, Norwich (1904) and Wymondham (1909) Baptist churches. Lingwood PM Sunday school (1878) and Queen’s Road, Norwich PM Sunday school (1887) were of his design and so, too, were Wymondham Board School (1894), Ber Street, Norwich UM mission hall (1894-5), Botolph Street, Norwich clothing factory (1903), Bunting’s Department Store, Norwich (1911), Cromer cemetery chapel.

The first in that list is at West Acre in north-west Norfolk, now the home to the West Acre Theatre.

Primitive Methodist Jubilee Church 1887. Architect AF Scott

Before about 1840, non-conformist chapels were often rectangular and plain with the long wall as the dominant facade but through the nineteenth century the short gable end became the focal point [12]. Other denominations favoured Classical designs but through the nineteenth century until World War I the Methodists seemed to prefer the minority Gothic. And in his designs Scott showed an increasingly elaborate Gothicisation of the gable end as seen here in the Baptist church on Dereham Road. Pevsner and Wilson’s pithy entry reads: ‘Hectic Gothic front of brick and stone‘[7].

Dereham Road 1901. Above the pointed arches of the porch, note the repeated geometrical patterning (diapering) made from Cosseyware tiles. Scott made great use of this local material.

The same double-arched porch with a polished granite column, surrounded by Cosseyware diapering and crowned by a large window with Geometric Decorated tracery occurs repeatedly in Scott’s work. He used a very similar approach for the Methodist church in Attleborough, Norfolk, except the square tower was not extended by an octagonal lantern. Elsewhere he used variations on a theme – spirelets, pinnacles, turrets, steeples – to increase the upward movement of the gable end.

Attleborough 1913

For 44 years, Augustus Scott’s father, Reverend Jonathan Scott, tended his congregation in Thorpe Hamlet, a suburb to the east of Norwich. Too poor to have their own church his parishioners were, in 1876, allowed to pray in Blackfriars Hall, once home to the city’s Dutch Protestant community (see OS map at top). Money was raised for a new Methodist church to be designed by AF Scott and dedicated to his father. The Jonathan Scott Memorial Church is perhaps Scott’s finest church, built of red brick with stone imported from Ancaster in Lincolnshire – a more magnificent version of his chapel built the same time on Dereham Road [2].

The richly detailed Jonathan Scott Memorial Chapel (1901) on Yarmouth Road
Jonathan Scott Hall. Red brick, Ancaster stone, Cosseyware diapering, granite columns

The original plan was even more ambitious but the steeple was never built. In 1920, Scott entered into a severe dispute with minister Percy Carden, causing the architect to sever relations with the church he’d designed to commemorate his father.

Fundraising prospectus from Rosemary Salt’s book ‘Plans for a Fine City’, published by the Victorian Society [2]

Most of Scott’s buildings were in Norfolk though he did venture further afield. He designed Primitive Methodist churches in Walberswick, Suffolk (1910), Cambridge (1914) and two Primitive Methodist churches in Lancashire, at Thornton (1904) and Fleetwood (1908) [8]. A strong family resemblance starts to show through Scott’s gable end facades. Compare the Fleetwood church below with the Scott Memorial Church in Norwich, above.

Fleetwood, Lancs. © Steve Houldsworth

The white clay tiles on the church in Fleetwood (below) are identical to the kind seen at Attleborough (above). Scott’s practice necessarily had a close business relationship with ‘Mr Gunton, Cossey’. Hand-written letters show the architect asking for stop ends, mullions and string courses, describing pilasters and asking Gunton to ‘proceed with the Cossey Ware in white for the chapel’ [13]. By providing a ready shorthand for ‘Gothic’, Cosseyware had become an indispensable part of the architect’s palette.

The Guntons Brickyard at Costessey provided the Decorated tracery for instant Gothic, ‘in red or white‘.

From the 1903 Gunton Bros catalogue. Courtesy of Norfolk Heritage Centre

Before leaving for Cromer, let’s look at the little Swedenborgian Church on Park Lane, around the corner from where I used to live [2]. The Swedenborgian sect had had several homes in the city and came to this street due largely to the efforts of James Spilling, editor of the Eastern Daily Press, who lived on Park Lane. Spilling was a preacher and follower of Emanuel Swedenborg (theologian, scientist, philosopher and mystic) and raised money to build the little church. Scott was commissioned to design it in 1890. At one time Spilling preached in Glasgow: ‘Here the matter of his discourses gave the greatest satisfaction, but his East Anglian pronunciation was regarded as a drawback to his selection as its minister’ [14]. (After posting, follower Paul Reeve commented, ‘The Swedenborgian chapel on Park Lane was eventually bought by The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints in the 1920s, and was their Norwich chapel until 1963 when they built a new complex on Greenways, Eaton, selling the Park Lane building to the Haymarket Brethren. Eventually it was sold to the owner of the house next door, who uses the former chapel for concerts.’)

Swedenborgian Chapel, Park Lane, Norwich 1890

Cromer became a boom town after the railway arrived in 1877 – its attraction boosted by ‘Poppyland’ columns in the Daily Telegraph in which Clement Scott (no relation) portrayed a North Norfolk idyll. George Skipper designed hotels here [15]. AF Scott & Son also designed hotels here but they must have been outraged when, just four years after the completion of their Cliftonville Hotel, rival Skipper was invited to give it an Arts & Crafts makeover. Skipper extended the hotel and altered the sea-facing facade, adding art nouveau touches in Cosseyware carved by James Minns of Norwich.

The Scotts’ red brick facade, just visible to the left on Alfred Street. Skipper’s modernisation on Runton Road (facing) has been overpainted.
Poppyland glass in the Cliftonville Hotel

Scott also designed the Eversley Hotel, which is now flats.

The former Eversley Hotel in Queen Anne Revival Style. Wikipedia CCBY3.0. Photo, stavros 1

Scott was Surveyor to Cromer Urban District Council and for a while ran his private practice from Church Street [16]. In addition to the hotels, he designed Mutimer’s department store, the old fire station, shops and houses. He also designed Cromer Cemetery Chapel, which gave him the steeple denied at the Scott Memorial Church.

Cromer Cemetery Chapel. Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 unported licence. Photo, stavros1

In 1909-10, AF Scott built Cromer Methodist Church in red brick.

The Meeting House of the Baptist Church, West Street, Cromer. The facade is broken by two lancet windows and three wider Perpendicular windows (with flowing Decorated tracery) that accentuate the width of the building. Photo: Pike Partnership, Cromer.
Stained glass ceiling dome in the Baptist church. Photo: Pike Partnership.

Whenever I have driven down the hill into Cromer I have been intrigued by two very similar turreted houses flanking the entrance to Cliff Avenue. Now, with my head full of the spires and turrets of AF Scott I wondered if they could be further examples of the architect’s work.

Fallonside (No.25 Cliff Avenue) and Kingswear (No.30), on either side of the junction with Norwich Road, Cromer

It had been suggested that this non-identical pair of houses was by Scott [17] but local historian Andy Boyce now believes the attribution may not be correct.

Cliff Avenue is a late Victorian time capsule of fashionable housing for the affluent. Built between 1893 and 1905, it displays hallmarks of the Queen Anne Revival style although, a decade or so after the pioneering Bedford Park in West London, it represents a comfortable, more diluted version or, as Marc Girouard called it, ‘Queen Anne by the Seaside’ [18]. Expect to see red brick with white-painted trim, bay windows, monumental chimneys, hanging tiles and verandas.

While he was Surveyor of the Board (the predecessor to Cromer Urban District Council) Scott also designed several private houses in Cliff Avenue. Some members of the Board saw this as a conflict of interests but Scott replied that ‘When he agreed to take on the Surveyorship at such a low salary he expected that out of sympathy for him the Board would have placed private work in his way… he could not be expected to give his whole time for £45 a year’ [17]. A letter to the local paper complained that houses on Cliff Avenue were being built for a member of the Board by the Deputy Clerk to the Board under the supervision of the Surveyor of the Board (Scott). Moreover, the houses didn’t comply with the unpopular bye-laws that Scott had helped promote. A residents’ committee wanted to remove him as Town Surveyor [17].

Some of the houses attributed to AF Scott in Cliff Avenue. Clockwise from top left: No.4 Marlborough House; No.6 Tudor House; No.24 Cliff Mansions; No.23 Ruth House; No.11 Kingsmead

These houses for Cromer’s well-to-do were, like Scott’s churches, comfortable (that word again), even formulaic. It is hard to reconcile this side of his work with his excursions into the modern that we see elsewhere. The technology for reinforcing concrete with steel was developed in Europe and used in Britain in the 1890s. In 1903, Scott designed the first building in Norwich to be constructed with this material – Roberts’ print works in Botolph Street. Pevsner [7] thought it was the most interesting factory building in Norwich and an early example of European Functionalism, but this didn’t prevent its destruction in 1967 to make way for Sovereign House and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office.

Roberts the printers in Botolph Street (1903). Architectural Press Archive / RIBA Collections

Listed for ‘its early contribution to the early development of the modern movement in England‘ is the old Citroën garage in Kings Lynn, formerly the Building Material Company. Heritage England say this is probably to a design by AF Scott [19]. Constructed in 1908, this early example of a concrete-framed building boldly displays its structure without the need for disguise.

33-39 St James Street, King’s Lynn, Norfolk. Photo: Reggie Unthank

When Scott built a new department store (1912) in Norwich for Arthur Bunting [1] he designed a framework of reinforced concrete to which he attached a stone curtain-wall decorated – rather incongruously – with carved Adam swags. In 1942, German bombs devastated other buildings on St Stephens Plain. The non-structural walls of Buntings were blown out but the concrete skeleton withstood the blast, remaining as the basis for rebuilding. Minus the third floor and its corner cupola it is now a branch of Marks & Spencer.

Buntings on Rampant Horse Street in 1942. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

There are fleeting mentions of AF Scott in his latter years. There is a suggestion [2] that he was the architect of the Kiltie shoe factory in Norwich-over-the-Water; more certainly he was one of four local architects (including George Skipper) who were invited in the 1920s to design houses for the Mile Cross estate just north of the city [20], although it isn’t known which bear his signature. Augustus Frederic Scott died in 1936 but he had not been involved in the practice for a number of years. His sons continued as A.F.Scott & Sons and it was Eric Scott who designed the Debenhams building on Rampant Horse Street in the mid-1950s. The business was amalgamated with Lambert & Innes in 1971, forming Lambert Scott & Innes who, now as LSI Architects, have offices at the Old Drill Hall on Cattlemarket Street.

LSI Architects in the Old Drill Hall, Cattlemarket Street. The Crystal House is to the left.

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  2. Rosemary Salt (1988). Plans for a Fine City. Pub: Victorian Society East Anglian Group.
  3. AF Scott obituary, ‘The Journal’ April 4 1936, p15. From
  7. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. Norma Virgoe (2016). Augustus Frederic Scott: A Norwich Architect in Lancashire. In, Lancashire Wesley Historical Society. Bulletin 62. pp21-24.
  9. Correspondence about the Co-op stables on All Saints Green, designed by AF Scott. Norfolk Record Office BR 309/1.
  13. Copies of Scott letters 1894-5. Norfolk Record Office MC 941/1, 810×6
  16. Cromer Preservation Society (2013). Cobbles to Cupolas: an introduction to buildings in Cromer town centre. CPS Guide #1
  17. Cromer Preservation Society (2010). Holiday Queen Anne: the villas of Cliff Avenue. CPS Guide #5.
  18. Marc Girouard (1984). Sweetness and Light: The Queen Anne Movement 1860-1900. Pub: Yale University Press.
  20. Mile Cross Conservation Area Appraisal #12, June 2009. Norwich City Council.


I am grateful to Peter Forsaith, Research Fellow at The Oxford Centre for Methodism and Church History at Oxford Brookes University for information on Scott’s connection with Lancashire. Andy Boyce, local historian of Cromer, provided background on Cliff Avenue. Pike Partnership provided background on the Cromer Methodist Church. Stuart McPherson (The Mile Cross Man) advised on the Mile Cross Estate. Alan Theobald is thanked for discussions.

Norwich Department Stores


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While reading about Parson Woodforde’s shopping expeditions to Norwich around 1800 [1] I was struck by the modest scale of the places he visited in the streets around the marketplace. This was still the age of the small shop run by – and generally occupied by – the shopkeeper and family, some of whom were the parson’s personal friends. The market itself offered everyday provisions: meat and fish, fruit and veg but a few yards away, separated from the everyday hurly burly of the market stalls, the genteel could stroll along the newly-paved Gentleman’s Walk and window-shop for luxury goods. Shopping had become fashionable in its own right. Displays would be seen through windows made of multiple, small panes cut from sheets of hand-blown glass. None of those shops survive in the city. Instead there are signs of the large Victorian shops and department stores that replaced them, with their huge plate glass windows.

Chamberlins. From A Comprehensive History of Norwich 1869 [2]. The store is situated on Guildhall Hill, opposite the medieval Guildhall. Dove Street can be seen to the right.


One of the largest Victorian stores around the marketplace was Chamberlins at the junction of Guildhall Hill and Dove Street. At a time when Norwich had 124 small businesses listed as ‘drapers’ [3], Chamberlins the Drapers was on a different scale, selling a wide range of soft furnishings in several departments that ran the entire length of Dove Street. Chamberlins’ also had a furnishing department that stocked ‘one of the largest assortments of carpets, linoleum, floor cloths and furniture to be sold in the Eastern Counties.’ Now, instead of window shopping in the cold and wet, the citizens of Norwich could browse in the warm and take refreshments without leaving the premises.

Another special feature of this superb establishment is the refreshment room, which is a spacious room fitted up and furnished in the most luxurious manner, and in the best possible taste. It has a buffet, well supplied by the articles in request by ladies, and the proprietors disclaim any intention of making a profit on the refreshments here supplied, the department having been provided for the convenience of the country customers, many of whom come long distances, and who fully appreciate the consideration shown for their comfort.”[3]

Chamberlins was sold to Marshall & Snelgrove in the 1950s and the corner of the site is now occupied by a Tesco Metro (due to be relocated in 2022).

Chamberlins (left) decorated for King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935 (© Note the siting of the war memorial against the east wall of the Guildhall before being removed to its present location opposite the City Hall of 1939. (Right): Today, the building is occupied by a Tesco Metro (©Keith Evans Creative Commons BY-SA 2.0)

According to Mason’s Directory of 1852, Chamberlin (Henry) Sons & Co were ‘Wholesale and Retail Drapers, Market-Place’ [4]. Henry Chamberlin founded the business in 1815. His descendants became members of the local establishment: Mayor, Sheriff and Deputy-Lieutenant of Norfolk. Some idea of the extent of their enterprise can be judged from the centre spread of this 1910 trade book [5].

Top left: Chamberlins occupied much of the block from Pottergate (rear) to Guildhall Hill, including one side of Dove Street. Top right: their factory in Botolph Street. Lower: two of their trading floors [5].

Chamberlins’ store was a product of the Victorian era but its factory in Botolph Street represented an excursion into modernism. Built in 1903 by AF Scott, it was described by Pevsner as the most interesting factory building in Norwich and of European importance [6]. Scott was to go on to design a department store using modern building techniques for Buntings (now M&S) in 1912 – its steel frame disguised behind a traditional exterior [7]. A vestigial Botolph Street lives on in the wasteland of Anglia Square but Chamberlins’ factory was demolished to make way for the blighted Brutalist HMSO building, Sovereign House.

Built for Chamberlins’ in 1903, the factory at 30-34 Botolph Street was purchased by Roberts the printers in 1949 before being demolished as part of the Anglia Square development. ©

The factory, which housed 800-1000 workers, was illuminated by electric lighting, proudly powered by a dynamo supplied by the Norwich firm, Laurence, Scott & Co [8]. Here, Chamberlins made a variety of clothing for the police and railways but during World War I, when they turned to war production, their entire output of waterproof clothing was requisitioned by the Admiralty [8].

The Sewing Machine Floor at the Botolph Street Clothing Works. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society and Philip Tolley

In 1898, Chamberlins was devastated by a fire that started in the premises of Hurn’s, ‘the oldest rope, twine, sack and rotproof cover manufacturer in the Eastern Counties’ – established 1812 [8]. The entire Dove Street side of Chamberlins and part of its opposite side were destroyed along with their neighbour, the Norwich Public Library, set back on Guildhall Hill.

Guildhall Hill Subscription Library [4368] 1955-08-24.jpg
The Norwich Public Library seen in 1955 by © In recent memory The Library restaurant.

Hurn’s rope-making factory, with its 200-yard-long ropewalk, was in Armes Street in the suburb of Heigham but the shop where the fire started was in Dove Street at the corner with Pottergate, or so it appears from a photograph in [8].

Inside Hurn’s premises on Dove Street ca. 1904. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society

After acquiring sites nearby, Hurns built new premises on Dove Street.

Hurns new premises, built in Dove Street after the 1898 fire, were decorated with Cosseyware brickwork from Guntons of Costessey [8].

As a result of this disaster, water hydrants and hose reels were installed at the end of each floor of Chamberlins new building. Their ‘Ladies’ Fire Brigade’ is seen here during the First World War.

©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk


In 1860, Arthur Bunting set up a drapery in partnership with three Curl brothers at the corner of St Stephens Street and Rampant Horse Street, where Marks and Spencer stands today. The collaboration did not, however, last the year and the Curls set up on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street approximately (and we’ll come to ‘approximately’) where Debenhams is located.

Buntings in 1909, in the age of the electric tram. St Stephens Street to the left, Rampant Horse Street to the right. © Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

As drapers, Buntings sold costumes, lace, millinery, costumes, mantles (sleeveless cloaks worn over outer garments), collars, yokes, frills, ruffles. Like Chamberlins, they had a furnishing department and a tea room. They also boasted ‘what the Americans call the mail order business … (with) the aid of well-got-up catalogues.’ Despite their motto of ‘Latest, Cheapest, Best’ [5], Buntings weren’t positioning themselves at the pile-’em-high end of the market for they had a Liberty Room in which the achingly fashionable Arts and Crafts of Regent Street were offered to a provincial public.

London’s Regent Street in Norwich. A corner of Buntings’ Liberty Room displaying Persian fabrics. ca1908 [5]

By 1913 all this was replaced by a modern four-storey building in reinforced concrete, designed by local architect AF Scott. The new Buntings was the self-styled ‘Store for All’ where customers were soothed by an orchestral trio from 12 to 6pm daily.

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Buntings 1935. St Stephens Street to the left, Rampant Horse Street to the right. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

On the night of 29th April 1942, German planes dropped incendiary bombs. Three stores on Rampant Horse Street suffered heavily: Buntings, FW Woolworth & Co next door and Curl’s opposite.

Buntings in 1942 with its neighbour Woolworths ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Buntings was saved from total destruction by its reinforced concrete structure. It was refurbished but without the fourth storey and the corner cupola. In 1950 it was sold to Marks and Spencer. Its neighbour, Woolworths, was beyond repair as was Curl Brothers on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street, and both were replaced with modern buildings [10].


I’m not including FW Woolworth & Co as one of the big department stores: it just happened to get itself tangled up with the history of two Norwich stores on Rampant Horse Street. Woolworths was more a five and dime store (or, in this country, threepenny and sixpenny). I remember Woolies as a place to buy ‘weigh-out’ roast cashews and pick n mix sweets, and where a friend of mine shamefully bought a cover version of a Beatles record. Below, is the Woolworths building (Woolies 3) that replaced the store built adjacent to Buntings in 1929 (Woolies 2) – itself an extension of the original Woolworths store on the other side of the road (Woolies 1, see Curls below). After acquiring their neighbour in 2002, Marks and Spencer now occupy the entire west side of Rampant Horse Street, from St Stephens Street to St Stephens Church.

The postwar Woolworth photographed in 1986. Woolworth moved to St Stephens Street and the Rampant Horse Street branch was sold to M&S (2002). Photo: Archant Library

While the new Woolworths building on Rampant Horse Street was being built, the staff were sent to work in the Magdalen Street branch. Opened in 1934 this store was in a medieval building now occupied by Spice Valley.

Spice Valley in Magdalen Street, the site of a former branch of Woolworths.

When the three Curl brothers parted company with Arthur Bunting, and moved ‘opposite’, they were unable to take over the prestigious corner site of Rampant Horse Street and Red Lion Street. As this photograph shows, it was occupied by a neo-Gothic branch of Woolworths that opened for business in 1914 – the first of three Woolies on this street.

The original 1914 Woolworths 3d and 6d store (seen here in 1924) at the corner of Rampant Horse Street and Red Lion Street. Another store (‘EWBY’, Newby?) is to the left. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk


By the time of King George V’s Silver Jubilee in 1935, Woolworths were no longer located in the corner building (right). Instead, they had moved in 1929 to larger premises on the opposite side of Rampant Horse Street, adjacent to Buntings. This was to be the branch of Woolies destroyed in WWII (arrowed). Saxone shoes and an insurance company now occupied the corner spot. So, could those be the awnings of Curls department store further down the street?

Looking down Rampant Horse street from Westlegate in 1935. Buntings (now M&S) is on the left-hand corner. The former Woolworths (Woolies 1) is on the right-hand corner; the arrow points to the larger branch (Woolies 2) that replaced it. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk.

Curls had bought a range of buildings including the old Rampant Horse Hotel that had been known as far back as the C13 as The Ramping Horse [8]. We have encountered this old inn several times. William Unthank (d.1800), the forefather of the Norwich Unthanks, was a peruke (wig) maker; he also owned coaches for hire. His address was given as Nos 2 and 3 Rampant Horse Street and, since the Ipswich coach left from the inn, it might possibly have been his [11].

The site developed by the Curl brothers around the Rampant Horse Hotel. OS map 1884 courtesy of

Curls had departments for china, glassware, furniture, millinery (hats), costumes, wallpaper, dressmaking etc. The Outfits Department was in the former billiard room of the Rampant Horse Hotel. Curls employed over 500 staff, including those at their factory in Pottergate [8].

Ironically, in a city whose once pre-eminent woollen textile trade was finished off by competition from the north, Curls had a Manchester Department that sold cotton products like flannelette and shirt material. The victory of cotton over wool was won in northern power mills centred around Manchester. For centuries, Norwich woollen and silk fabrics had been produced on hand looms but by  the late eighteenth/early nineteenth century the city had been too slow to mechanise and confront the challenge. Although the lighter materials manufactured in ’Cottonopolis’ were highly popular with the public, their success was to a significant extent subsidised by the slaves who picked the cotton (imported via Liverpool) in the plantations of the West Indies and the southern states of America. 

The Rampant Horse Street facade of Curls illuminated by 11 Ediswan lamps, ‘each being of 200 candlepower.’ Shop decorated for Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee, 1897. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society.

A fire insurance map* provides greater detail of the layout of the site in 1894. At this stage it is clear that Curls occupied only part of Rampant Horse Street, sharing that side of the block with Green’s the Outfitters (before they moved opposite Orford Hill), while the corner with Red Lion Street housed Colman & Co hardware shop. The Brigg Street facade, however, contains departments labelled ‘Millinery’ and ‘Fancy’ and would therefore seem to belong entirely to Curls. Surrounded by Curls is the CEYMS reading room. As part of the postwar rebuilding Brigg Street was widened and the initials of the Church of England Young Men’s Society are still to be seen on the side of the postwar building that superseded Curls.

* Charles E Goad Ltd produced detailed fire maps of most of the country and there are several sheets devoted to Norwich. At a time when high density commercial buildings and industrial processes were intermixed these maps provided important information on construction materials, water supplies/hydrants and neighbouring buildings. Every department store mentioned in this post has been been affected by fire.

Goad insurance map from 1894 when Curl Bros occupied much, but not all, of the block. The yellow line indicates Green’s the Outfitters before their move to premises between Haymarket and Orford Place. Courtesy of Thomas Barnes, Aviva. ©The British Library Board

This map just missed the great change to the east end of the store when, in 1902, the Curl brothers remodelled much of the shop and built a new extension along Orford Place [8].

Curl Brothers Limited, Orford Place frontage ca 1902. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society

All of this was to change during the Baedeker raids of 1942.

Curls on Rampant Horse Street in 1942. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

For several years after the war, the block that once was Curls was just a (very large) hole in the ground, used as a car park and a water cistern [12]. In a remarkable act of familial cooperation, Jarrolds department store in London Street let Curls (to whom they were related by marriage) occupy the first floor of their London/Exchange Street premises. Curls then moved into property provided by Norwich Union for burnt-out businesses where they traded as ‘Curls of Westlegate’. Here, they sold children’s and ladies fashions, millinery and drapery while their furniture department remained at Exchange Street. Curls had to wait until 1956 for all departments to be reunited in the new store that had arisen on their bomb-damaged site. This steel-framed building, which Pevsner and Wilson judged to be ‘rather too bland … for its position‘[6], was designed by Wilfred Boning Scott(1858-1981), one of AF Scott’s two sons who followed him into the business. In the 1960s the department store was sold to Debenhams but continued trading as Curls until 1973.

Curls building at the junction of Rampant Horse Street (left) and Red Lion Street (right). Designed by AF Scott & Sons for Curls, Debenhams since 1973


Richard Ellery Garland, born in Stroud, opened his own store in London Street, Norwich, in 1862 [5].

Left: Richard Ellary Garland, founder of Garland &Sons, Silk Mercers and General Drapers; right: his son Frank who became partner in 1891 [5].

At 15, Richard Garland had been an apprentice draper in the London area. His own store in Norwich was to specialise in drapery but we see from this advertisement that Garlands were also dressmakers, mantle makers and milliners who sold ‘choice furs’, ‘dainty lingerie’ and corsets.

‘The Great Blouse House’, 1910, from [5]. Little London Street (‘Back of Jarrolds’) is to the left, London Street to the right

By 1920 it had become a store with nearly 30 departments. The central bay of the London Street facade was very much as it appeared in the early 1900s but the Little London Street facade and the corner had been modernised.

London Street facade of Garlands in 1935. Their decorations for King George V’s silver jubilee had just won second prize. ©

In 1970, a chip pan fire in the kitchens spread to destroy the store, taking almost 70 firefighters three hours to get the fire under control [13]. Jarrolds pensioners can still remember being on the roof of the neighbouring Jarrolds Department Store, putting out sparks from the Garlands fire.

Garlands after the 1971 fire. The gutted building shows the modernisation that had taken place since the 1935 silver jubilee. The building just visible to the left, with C17 gabled dormers, was then owned by gents’ outfitters Dunn & Co; it is now part of Jarrolds Department Store. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Garlands was rebuilt in 1973 – its ‘castle-like sheer walls’ supported by a colonnade that provided covered access to the ground floor shops. Pevsner and Wilson [6] saw it as a ‘respectable attempt to introduce a modernist element‘. Garlands closed in 1984. The following year it reopened as Habitat, which occupied the upper floor until its closure in 2011.

Garlands, 1973-1984, Habitat 1985-2011.


In 1879, Robert Herne Bond (b 1844) from Ludham in The Broads, started his business in Ber Street, Norwich, as a ‘Cash Draper’.

RH Bond [5]

He sold the now familiar stock of mantles, blouse materials, furs, ribbons etc etc, except he differentiated himself from his rivals by claiming the largest stock of millinery in the eastern counties. According to their advertisements, all the large drapers in the city focused on soft furnishings for the house and clothing for women and children. Men were catered for elsewhere, perhaps in tailor shops, of which there were 83 in 1852 [4].

RH Bond, cash draper of Ber Street Norwich [5].

According to George Plunkett, in the late C19 a Major Crow owned 2-3 cottages on All Saints Green that he restored and converted to the Thatched Assembly Rooms. In 1915 it opened as The Thatched cinema before becoming Robert Bond’s ballroom and furnishing hall. Bond now owned properties that extended from Ber Street through to All Saints Green.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is all-saints-green-21-thatched-assembly-rooms-0595-1935-05-26.jpg
Bonds restaurant, ballroom and furnishing hall at 21 All Saints’ Green, photographed in 1935. ©
Air raid precautions, September 1939. ©

Bonds was bombed in June 1942.

Bonds 1942. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

After the war, Robert Bond’s son J Owen Bond, who had worked with George Skipper, designed a new store for his father. In 1982 it began trading as part of the John Lewis Partnership.

Bonds of Norwich rebuilt (1946) in Streamline Moderne style by Robert Bond’s third son J Owen


London Street, which was originally known as Cockey Lane and London Lane, was a narrow medieval thoroughfare where pedestrians had to duck into doorways to avoid being crushed by carts [14]. There had been talk about widening it since at least the late C18 but this only happened in a piecemeal fashion: first in the mid C19 when the arrival of the railway created demand for better access to the market from Thorpe Station, then with Edward Boardman’s scheme of 1876 at the Gentleman’s Walk end [6]. By the time London Street had become the first pedestrianized street in the country (1967), Jarrolds – on the opposite side of the street – was the only original business remaining [6].

Jarrold & Sons c1890. Exchange Street to the left, London Street to the right. Courtesy of Caroline Jarrold.

Jarrolds began life in 1770, in Woodbridge, Suffolk where 25-year-old John Jarrold opened up as a ‘Grocer, Linnen and Woollen-Draper’ in the marketplace [15]. In 1823 his son, also John Jarrold, came to Norwich. He announced in the Norwich Mercury that he and his eldest son John James were open for business in the city as ‘Printers, Booksellers, Binders and Stationers.’ This was on the Gentlemans Walk side of London Street, which was known at that time as Cockey Lane, after the cockey or stream that ran beneath the street. In 1840, John Jarrold and his four sons moved across the street to the present location. The illustration above shows that publishing and selling books remained their main business at the end of the century, detached from the fierce competition between the other large stores who focussed on drapery and millinery etc.

In 1896 the celebrated Norwich architect George Skipper was employing around 50 staff. His offices in Opie Street were now too small so he moved to 7 London Street where he became a neighbour to Jarrold & Sons. In 1903-5, Skipper remodelled the store and some of the changes to the London Street facade can be seen below.

Jarrolds’ corner after the first phase of George Skipper’s remodelling (c1909). The Ionic columns on the second floor (arrowed) and the semicircular window heads (outlined) show that Skipper had worked on the London Street side, but not yet on Exchange Street. Courtesy of Caroline Jarrold

Inside the new-look Jarrolds, circa 1907.

Note the sign: Electric lift to Library and new select Reading Room. Courtesy of Caroline Jarrold
Father Christmas comes to Jarrolds. A sign in the London Street window advertises a new book, The Woman of Knockaloe, which was published in 1923. Courtesy Caroline Jarrold.

Jarrolds today, in the free Neo-Classical style designed by George Skipper.

Skipper’s own offices, faced in carved red brick (Cosseyware), can be seen to the right and are now part of Jarrolds store. To the immediate left of the entrance canopy we see the 1920s continuation of Skipper’s remodelling. To the very far left is the extension of 1964. To the right are three gables of a late medieval building that became part of Jarrolds in 2004.

The semicircular bay above the main entrance anchors the store to the corner of the marketplace. The facade has been compared to a tiered wedding cake but is not topped off as Skipper had imagined. The architect had proposed a signature copper cupola [16] but in this case the clients refused to indulge him.

Skipper’s plan for Jarrolds. Courtesy Jarrolds.

The Exchange Street facade had to wait until 1923 for Skipper to complete the modernisation he had begun in London Street. The remainder of the block, down to Bedford Street, was at that time occupied by the Corn Exchange.

1938, when the Corn Exchange (est 1861) still occupied the corner of Exchange and Bedford Streets. ©

In 1964, Jarrolds increased the size of the store when they bought the Corn Exchange and rebuilt on the site.

Jarrolds’ 1960s extension on the old Corn Exchange site. Courtesy Jarrolds.

One of the most distinctive features of the Jarrolds building is the carved brickwork on Skipper’s former offices. Although architects were not allowed to advertise their practice, Skipper commissioned Guntons brickyard in Costessey to carve six fired clay panels celebrating his work. Look up next time you walk down London Street.

Upper panel: a top-hatted Skipper inspects a shield displayed by a carver. Lower: Skipper discusses plans.

Regular readers may remember a previous post in which I described the character holding up the shield for Skipper’s inspection. Having just been sent a photograph of the shy Guntons’ carver, James Minns, I suggested that the terracotta carving represented Minns himself [16].

Left: the figure holding the shield. Right: James Minns the senior carver, from a photograph c1900 from the Guntons Bros brickyard in Costessey.

The head was a reasonable likeness of James Minns but the body was awkward and the large panel less convincing than its partner: heavy 3D modelling instead of low relief. In a further post, devoted to Minns’ life and work, I raised the possibility that this could have been an effect of the ‘senile decay’ given as one of the causes of his death in 1904 [17]. In his recent book on Skipper, Richard Barnes provides a further twist [18]. He cites Faith Shaw’s 1971 dissertation in which she mentions discussing the panels with one of Skipper’s foremen who recalled how, ‘everyone in the (Skipper) office shared in the carving.’ If, as it seems, the panels weren’t installed until 1903-4 it might explain why hands other than Minns’ were at work on the Cosseyware panels.

© Reggie Unthank 2021


  2. A Comprehensive History of Norwich 1869. Available online at:
  5. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Jarrold & Sons, Norwich
  6. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  8. Edward Burgess and Wilfred E Burgess (1904, reprinted 2014). The Men Who Have Made Norwich. Pub: Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society.
  11. A.J.Nixseaman (1972). The Intwood Story. Private imprint.
  14. Rosemary O’Donoghue (2014). Norwich, an Expanding City. Pub: Larks Press.
  15. Pete Goodrum (2019). Jarrold 250 Years: A History. Pub: Jarrold & Sons Ltd. Can be bought online at:
  18. Richard Barnes (2020). George Skipper: The Architect’s Life and Works.’ Pub: Frontier Publishing.

Thanks. I am grateful to Caroline Jarrold for providing photographs of the store. My thanks also to Rosemary Dixon of Archant and Thomas Barnes, Assistant Archivist at Aviva.

Revolutionary Norwich

I’ve referred on several occasions to Norwich’s sense of spirited independence. We caught the briefest glimpse of this in the previous post on Parson Woodforde who, instead of describing a country facing war with revolutionary France, diverted us with a catalogue of entertainments and his meat-rich diet [1]. In late eighteenth century Norwich there was such support for radical, even revolutionary, politics that Prime Minister William Pitt called it a Jacobin city [2,3].

Eugène Delacroix. Liberty Leading the People. 1830. The Louvre

As a rich and loyal city, Norwich had been given a degree of political independence by several monarchs. In 1194, Richard the Lionheart allowed the royal lion to be shown on the city’s coat of arms – a sign that marked the city’s right to elect its own Reeve in 1194. In 1404 Henry IV increased the number of MPs from two to four and granted the city the special status of a county governed by a sheriff – a status that lasted until the local government reforms of 1974. This allowed for civic matters to be decided in a common assembly composed of freemen whose fathers had been freemen, or who had been apprenticed to a freeman for seven years, or who purchased the right [4]. Granted at a time when few common men had the right to vote, these historic freedoms paved the way for the violent political factions that evolved in the years after Henry VIII altered the relationship between the Church and the Crown. Historian Mark Knights commented that by 1681 the city was polarised between ‘two factions, the Whigs and the Tories, and both contend for their way with the utmost violence’ [3]. In the late eighteenth century the Whigs rallied under the Blue and Buff (or Blue and White) flag, and Tories wore Purple and Orange. [3]. To oversimplify their differences, the Whigs were originally liberal parliamentarians opposed to the absolute monarchy offered by the Catholic James II, while the conservative Tories were high church monarchists – political stances that echoed the earlier divisions between Roundheads and Cavaliers

Rowlandson’s take on the loyalty of the Blues and Buffs. Courtesy the Royal Collection Trust

Norwich then – unlike other big cities such as Exeter and Bristol – enjoyed a remarkably open and popular civic structure. In 1790 there were 2480 electors, 295 of whom were freeholders and the remainder presumably freemen. They could vote three times a year: for the mayor, the sheriff and the common council. In addition, Norwich freeholders could vote for two MPs. The frequency of elections ensured the political pot never went off the boil, perhaps explaining the reports of post-election fights, leading on occasion to the reading of the Riot Act [3].

Chairing the Member. William Hogarth 1755

After the Catholic monarch, James II, attempted to impose absolute rule on the country he was resisted by the Glorious Revolution of 1688 in which he was displaced – bloodlessly – by the Protestant William of Orange and his wife Mary II. From this time, Norwich Tory sentiment was tinged with Jacobitism – support for the restoration of the Catholic House of Stuart (Jacobus = James). During the Jacobite Rebellion of 1745-6, Charles Edward Stuart’s army crossed the border, invading as far as Derby. When the Duke of Cumberland defeated the Jacobites at Culloden the Norwich Whigs celebrated with an extravagant feast and erected a triumphal arch in the marketplace. The structure was covered in 96 yards of Persian silk that allowed candles inside to highlight painted patriotic words, such as ‘Religion’ and ‘Liberty’.

The silken triumphal arch erected in the marketplace, with Gentleman’s Walk in the background. Engraving by Paul Fourdrinier, 1746. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Liberty – code for political and religious independence – was the watchword for the Whigs. In 1768, Thomas Beevor stood as a Whig candidate in the Norwich parliamentary election, promising to fight against ‘all attempts upon the liberty of the Subject and every other unconstitutional measure’ [3]. He was unsuccessful, and again in 1786 and 1790. (This would have been Sir Thomas Beevor (1726-1814) of Hethel Hall; Hethel now being the location of Lotus cars, some ten miles south-west of Norwich).

Hatchment of the Beevor family in Hethel church. Note the beaver passant as a crest. Courtesy of Jill Wright [see 5]

To stifle Beevor’s independence, the sitting MP – Harbord Harbord, 1st Lord Suffield of Gunton Hall – was asked to join forces, or make a ‘junction’ with, another candidate, Edmund Bacon. Five hundred Norwich freemen cried out against this chicanery [3].

‘The Junction’, a satirical print by an unknown artist. While the Norwich crowd cries out for Beevor, those inside the room are pressing a red-coated gentleman (Harbord Harbord?) to support a porcine figure (Edmund Bacon). Others at the door are not admitted, ‘This is a private room.’ ©The Trustees of the British Museum

Having only just subdued its own rebellion, England in the last quarter of the eighteenth century faced revolution on three sides: the American War of Independence (1775-1783), the French Revolution (1789-1794) and the Irish Rebellion of 1798. Unsurprisingly, Norwich politics split along lines dictated by local reaction to these turbulent events. This was reflected in the career of the city’s most eminent politician of the period, William Windham (1750-1810) who was member of parliament for Norwich from 1789-1802 [6]. The son of William Windham Senior of Felbrigg Hall in North Norfolk, Windham Jr was intellectually gifted, eloquent and charming …

Felbrigg Hall, 1954. ©

… but was chronically indecisive. In 1792, Windham supported the Ministry in calling out the militia, now voting for measures of which he had previously disapproved) [2]. Cruikshank’s parody of the MP as Weathercock Windham has him saying, “Down with the Volunteers !! … They are all Democrats!” To the right the common man says, “Why Master Whirligig … now you want us not to fight that Butcher Boneyparte...”.

‘A Hint for another Statue or a Sketch for a modern weathercock’ by Isaac Cruikshank, 1804. ©The Trustees of the British Museum

In his first public speech in Norwich (1778), Windham had spoken against the American War of Independence but later opposed it [6,7]. Initially he supported the French Revolution but then became a leading anti-Jacobin*, deeply concerned about the spirit of revolution that was spreading through the kingdom. [*The revolutionary and violent left-wing Jacobin Club was so named because it met in a former convent of the Dominicans, known in Paris as Jacobins.]

Windham was an enemy of the slave trade and should have been a favourite of Norwich’s intellectual left, which included abolitionists like Elizabeth Fry and Amelia Opie – the latter having travelled to France to see the revolution for herself [8]. However, his contradictory views on reform and his opposition to peace with France alienated the city’s Whigs. In 1794, this one-time Blue and White executed an about-turn when he became war minister on an Orange and Purple ticket [2]. Two years later, Parson Woodforde wrote, ‘Mr Wyndham very unpopular at present amongst the Revolutionists and which are great numbers at Norwich, especially Dissenters. Knuckle of Veal and boiled tongue for dinner to day.’

Amelia Opie and a display of anti-slavery material at Norwich Castle Museum

By 1802, Windham had come out as a consistent orange-and-purple voter, ensuring that the Norwich radicals would give him an uncomfortable ride when he returned to the city for parliamentary elections. The MP had recently spoken in favour of bull baiting and this satirical cartoon shows Windham as a bull being tormented by local weavers portrayed as dogs wearing their revolutionary red bonnets. Windham lost by 60 votes and this ‘Norwich Bull-Bait’ was claimed ‘a Jacobin triumph’ [6].

The Norwich Bull-Bait’ by Charles William, 1802 ©The Trustees of the British Museum

The dog collars bear the names of materials woven in Norwich: ‘Gauze’, ‘Shawl’, ‘Crape’ and ‘Stuf’, suggesting that the Norwich freemen weavers were suffering yet another downturn.

A separate strand of anti-Establishment feeling can be traced to the religious nonconformity that had been strong in Norwich since the late seventeenth century. The Act of Uniformity (1662) aimed to stifle dissent by requiring ministers to observe the rites and sacraments of the Established Church of England or be ejected for their nonconformity. In 1689, the Act of Toleration allowed Protestant nonconformists to have their own places of worship on condition they made certain oaths of allegiance. The beautiful Old Meeting House in Colegate was one of the first such tolerated places (1693) [9].

The Old Meeting House, off Colegate

Politics and religious freedom were tightly interwoven, making it inevitable that dissenters would have to enter the political sphere if they were to protect their own strand of independence. The Norwich Quakers were prominent dissenters; John Gurney, father of Elizabeth Fry and partner in Gurney’s Bank, is said to have bankrolled the Norwich Blue and Whites (Gurney’s Bank merged into Barclay’s a century later). It is estimated that one seventh of the Norwich population were Protestant dissenters at the beginning of the 1700s. And, “Between 1740 and 1760 half of the serving mayors came from nonconformist backgrounds” [3]. Dissent was prominent in the wards either side of the River Wensum, in Wymer and Norwich-over-the-Water. This was in the heart of the city’s textile industry where Jeremiah Ives and Thomas and Robert Harvey – eighteenth century mayors made rich by the wool trade – had houses on Colegate. Both had country estates in nearby Catton [9] and Ives’ Catton Hall is especially notable for its parkland designed by Humphry Repton.

The parkland surrounding Jeremiah Ives’ Catton Hall, with Norwich in the distance. By Humphry Repton. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1936.32.2

Ives, as a Whig mayor, kept a paternalistic eye on his supporters. In return, the city’s yarn makers presented this portrait for helping their cause. And when he was elected mayor for the second time the parishioners of St Clement erected a triumphal arch spanning the end of the street, to his townhouse at number 1 Colegate [11].

Portrait of Jeremiah Ives, Mayor of Norwich 1769, 1795, by Charles Catton. In the background are the mayor’s mace and sword and what could be the furry Cap of Maintenance worn by the mayor’s Sword-Bearer. The hanging sheep on the book cover depicts the Duke of Burgundy’s Order of the Golden Fleece, referring to wool as the source of Ives’ wealth.

The Harvey family were also known for their support of the weavers and for the distress of the poor. Like Ives, second-time mayor Robert Harvey was the recipient of a triumphal arch covered in evergreens and draped with flowers, its battlements concealing a music gallery [2]. However, Harvey was less of a hero to his religious neighbours who worshipped down the street; in a political handbill he complained about the ‘duplicity of the Quakers and the cant of the Presbyterians’ [3]. Countering this, Edward Crane, son of a Unitarian minister and himself a preacher at the Octagon Chapel, said that the city had for a long time been slave to the Ives and the Harveys who nominated all the members of the city corporation despite the fact that the city’s freemen were entitled by charter to vote in the common assembly [quoted in 3]. In this one Norwich street we see the struggle between the free church and the rich master weavers for the hearts (or votes) of the freemen weavers.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is The Octagon Chapel
What may have been the first Presbyterian (government by elected elders, not bishops) meeting house was built here in 1686. It was replaced in 1756 by Thomas Ivory’s Octagon Chapel (above) aka the Devil’s Cucumber Frame.

Norwich had a long history of clubs and societies whose political affiliations were so restrictive that The Loyal Society of Worsted Weavers, for example, would throw out any member who voted Tory. At the beginning of the eighteenth century the Artillery Club became the armed front of Whiggism and dissent, cracking heads and giving bloody noses to opponents in the 1716 mayoral elections [3]. Towards the end of that century, the Revolution Society was formed. In CB Jewson’s account [2], the society was formed to celebrate the centenary of the Glorious Revolution of 1688 but it was likely that its founders had their eyes fixed forwards, on events that would lead to the French Revolution (1789). The Norwich Revolution Society consisted of around 4000 members from forty subsidiary clubs whose delegates met at The Bluebell on Hog Hill (now Orford Hill).

The Blue Bell Inn, before the ironmongers to the left was demolished, allowing the new electric trams to come from Castle Meadow (1900). The inn was known by this name from 1743-1822, after which it became the Bell Inn then The Bell Hotel [11]. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

The society was based around a nucleus of well-known dissenters including the Baptist minister Mark Wilks – a party worker for the Whigs. He preached that ‘Jesus Christ was a revolutionist’. On the second anniversary of the French Revolution he gave a sermon on ‘The origin and stability of the French Revolution’, quoting from the bible, ‘If it be of God ye cannot overthrow it’ (Acts V, 39) [2].

Rev Mark Wilks, Norwich (1748-1819). He supplemented his income by farming in Heigham.
©The Trustees of the British Museum

John Harvey, who was Tory mayor in 1792, was notable for introducing what was to become the famous Norwich shawl at a time when the city’s textile industry was in a major recession. That year, at a dinner in the King’s Head, he toasted: ‘May the seeds of sedition never take root in British soil. May Pain (Thetford-born Thomas Paine who had just published ‘Rights of Man’) be expelled from every British bosom’ [2]. A week later, Harvey dined at The Maid’s Head where he referred to those who ‘… meant to delude and ensnare the lower classes of the people, from whose labours our manufactures thrive and commerce flourishes‘ [2]. Evidently, men of business feared the effects of seditious propaganda upon their own workers.

Portrait by John Opie RA of John Harvey in his mayoral year, 1792. Harvey chose not to be painted in his mayoral regalia but, as colonel of the local militia, in the uniform of the Norwich Light-Horse Volunteers. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. NWHCM: Civic Portrait 33.

The secretary of the Norwich Revolution Society was Isaac Saint, landlord of The Pelican [3, 13], a public House at 2 Pitt Street, at the corner of Muspole Street and what – after Pitt Street was bisected by the inner link road – became the northern end of Duke Street.

1-3 Pitt Street 1956, now Duke Street .The white-painted Whip & Nag PH was formerly The Pelican ©

In 1793, at a convention held by the Scottish Societies of Friends of the People, it was decided to correspond with all like-minded societies in the kingdom. The Norwich Revolution Society asked London delegate, Maurice Margarot, to represent them. A few months later, when the society had become had become the British Convention of Friends of the People, its leaders were arrested. Margarot was charged with sedition and transported to Australia for 14 years. While he waited at Spithead for transportation The Norwich Revolution Society sent him £20 [2].

Frontispiece to, The Trial of Maurice Margarot, Delegate from London to the High Court Judiciary at Edinburgh on the 13th and 14th of January 1794 for sedition

To deflect charges of disloyalty, the Norwich Revolution Society declared that class division, riot and disorder played no part in their thinking. The disclaimer proved ineffective. At a time when the country was at war with revolutionary France the government regarded a country-wide network of radical societies with the deepest suspicion and, in April 1794, two King’s Messengers were sent to Norwich to arrest Isaac Saint. The depth of the Establishment’s concern can be judged from the fact that Saint was interrogated next morning by the Privy Council headed by the Lord Chancellor and the Solicitor General. Apparently, Saint was not sentenced but, since the Habeus Corpus Act had been suspended, he was ‘detained’ for two months. The Revolution Society was dissolved soon after.

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  2. Charles Boardman Jewson (1975). The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1788-1802. Pub: Blackie & Son.
  3. Mark Knights (2004). Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 (eds Carole Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson). Pub: Hambledon and London.
  4. C Berry (1810). A Concise History and Directory of the City of Norwich for 1811. Available online at:

Thanks For background on revolutionary Norwich I am indebted to two sources. The first is Charles Boardman Jewson’s wonderful book on ‘The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French Revolution 1788-1802 (1975).’ This slim volume is fascinating for its insights into late C18 Norwich. Copies are out there on the web. The second is Mark Knights’ insightful chapter on Politics, 1660-1835. In, Norwich since 1550 by Rawcliffe and Wilson (2004). I am grateful to Jill Wright of the Bracon Ash and Hethel website for permissions.

Parson Woodforde and the Learned Pig


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We don’t read Parson Woodforde for the grand sweep of history but for the finer grain of his daily life. His diaries are history slowed. We hear in detail what ails his parishioners and of his small kindnesses but we are left to infer the causes of rural poverty for ourselves. When, in 1781, the American War of Independence depressed the export of Norwich textiles Woodforde noted laconically, ‘Trade at Norwich never worse. Poor no employment.’ It is easy to get the impression that James Woodforde is at the still centre while history crashes about him. He is, however, more forthcoming about the minutiae of his comfortable living as vicar of Weston Longville. From the ten-mile excursions he took into Norwich we learn about the texture of life in a provincial Georgian city.

St Stephens Gate by John Moray-Smith from an engraving by Henry Ninham. Displayed on the nearby Coachmakers Arms. The gate, also known as Needham gate, was demolished in 1793. Image: Wikimedia Commons CC-BY-SA-4.0

In April 1775, when he and his companions arrived in Norwich at night, Woodforde had to rouse the gatekeeper to let them through St Stephens Gate and on to their accommodation at the King’s Head in the marketplace [1]. For their journey from London they had arisen early and hired a post chaise and four through Epping Forest. This was not without peril for this is where a coachman, who shot three out of seven highwaymen, was killed by the gang. Woodforde’s party changed coach and horses at ‘The Bull-Faced Stagg’ then proceeded to Harlow; onwards to Stanstead, then to Bourne Bridge with fresh chaises to Newmarket where they dined. In fresh chaises they drove to Barton Mills (where they changed yet again) and on to Thetford, Attleborough and Norwich. I mention this to underline the effort and expense to get from the capital to what – a century ago – had been the nation’s second city. The journey cost the party eleven pounds, fourteen shillings and fourpence, of which he paid half – little more than what he was to pay a young servant maid per annum (five guineas).

The Norfolk Hotel. ©Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

 The slowness of travel made vilages more isolated than they are today. In the days before the standardising effects of railway timetables, communities were necessarily more self-sustaining to the extent that cities across the country kept their own times. Woodforde evidently required more than Weston Longville could offer and was willing to drive his horse and cart the ten miles to Norwich.

In 1791, Woodforde replaced his ‘old little cart’ with ‘a new little Curricle painted a deep Green and without Springs – 9 guineas’ like it much.’ [1]. There were five coachmakers listed in the city around that time but it was from Adams and Bacon of 3 St Stephens Road that Woodforde made his purchase. Their premises were near the St Stephens Gate that had barred him from entering the city in 1775. The gate was demolished in 1793 but the nearby Coachmakers Arms survives – its name derived, no doubt, from the coachmaking business.

John Cordrey – A Gentleman with His Pair of Bays Harnessed to a Curricle. 1806. Wikipedia. A curricle was a light two-wheeled cart drawn by a pair of horses. 

Woodforde is known to have stabled his horse at the Woolpack (he calls it the Wool-pocket) in St Giles [1]. The Norfolk Pubs site gives the address as 25 St Giles Street from 1814, after which it became known as the Norfolk Hotel [2]. The photograph above shows its appearance in the late nineteenth century but the building was demolished in 1904 to make way for the Grand Opera House, which then became a theatre and cinema – The Hippodrome.

The Hippodrome, St Giles, in 1934. ©

George Plunkett’s photograph illustrates The Hippodrome at a time when it was showing ‘The film that London was afraid to show’. This was Morgenrot (Dawn), directed by Gustav Ucicky (which he had changed from Gustav Klimt) and approved by the Nazi minister for propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The film depicts the lives of German sailors trapped in a U-boat during World War I. In World War II, The Hippodrome took a direct hit from a German bomb, which killed the theatre manager, his wife and a sea lion trainer. From 1966, the site was to become the St Giles car park.

The hotel on St Giles Street was only a few yards from a wine shop and druggists where Woodforde was a frequent visitor. Peck’s Norwich Directory of 1802 gives this as ‘Priest, John Fox, Chymist and Druggist, 1, St. Giles’ Broad str’. The building was approximately opposite where the City Hall (1939) now stands [3].

Etching of JF Priest Chymist and Druggist (1825-50) by his son Alfred Priest. ©The British Museum

James Woodforde was friendly with the Priest family. When in the city, he would call in for tea or dine with them (when ‘dining’ meant a meal at 3pm). Once he stayed after election night and, on another occasion, paid for John Priest’s ticket when visiting the theatre. The parson was a good customer of Priests’s wine business where, in preparation for the arrival of his relatives from Somerset, Woodforde, ‘tasted some Wine and ordered a Quarter of a Pipe [a pipe of port is 60 gallons], –with 3 gallons of Rum and 3 gallons of the best Holland Geneva [gin]’ [1]. These are staggering quantities but then Woodforde would drink a pint of port with a meal [4].

Parson Woodforde had befriended Old Mr Priest who was evidently succeeded by John Fox Priest. John had hoped that his son Alfred (b.1810) would follow him in his profession but Alfred left home. He returned to study with local artists Henry Ninham and James Stark and, like them, became a member of the Norwich School of painters [5].

Road by the churchyard ‘by Alfred Priest 1834. Courtesy of Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery NWHCM: 1940.118.12

The next street north of St Giles Street is Pottergate where St John Maddermarket is situated. This church was in the gift of New College Oxford, where Woodforde and his friend Henry Bathurst (1744-1837) had been undergraduates. Bathurst didn’t serve this Norwich church but he received the living, presumably leaving the day-to-day business to a curate. We previously encountered Bathurst: first, as the Bishop of Norwich who gave name to Bathurst Road, off Unthank Road [6]; and as the recipient of an order for £137 drawn on Kerrisons Norwich Bank [7]. This large sum had been sent through the post by Woodforde who, on behalf of his friend, had collected the tithes* from Great Witchingham, a parish three miles from his own. The diary records that when he was at Oxford in 1775, Woodforde himself received a Norwich Bank bill from his curate for £150, ‘being part of money for Tithes received for me at Weston.’ In 1777, on his ‘Frolic Day’, when he received money for ‘tithe and glebe’, he entertained about 20 of his parishioners and fed and watered them handsomely. He received two hundred and four pounds, seventeen shillings [8]. (*Tithes represented one tenth of the produce raised on church-owned land. Later, the monetary equivalent was paid to the Pope but when Henry VIII became head of the Church of England he fixed the cash value of tithes. When the Crown sold church land to secular institutions the tithes came with it. After 1836 tithes became replaced with the tithe rentcharge).

Statue of Bishop Bathurst in Norwich Cathedral

The Church – or more specifically the living from the parish of All Saints, Weston Longville – afforded James Woodforde the life of a gentleman and a respectable position in a hierarchical society.

All Saints, Weston Longville ©Simon Knott

It is not surprising, therefore, that the first Norwich house he visited after arriving in Norfolk in 1776 was Number 3 Surrey Street. This was the address of Robert Francis and Son, attorneys, who administered New College’s Norfolk livings, and where Woodforde, ‘called on Mr Francis Junr and talked with him a good deal.‘ Surrey Street is a fine Georgian thoroughfare, part of which was designed by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory. However, the street was badly damaged by the Baedeker Raids of 1942 and by insensitive twentieth century additions (making an exception for George Skipper’s Marble Hall for Norwich Union). We must thank George Plunkett for recording Number 3 in 1936.

Number 3 Surrey Street in 1936 (no longer extant) ©

After the religious upheavals of earlier centuries the late 1700s were a time of relative stability; Norwich emerged into an Age of Reason in which its polite society, with time to spare, would meet in coffee houses, promenade along Gentleman’s Walk and in Chapelfield Gardens, which had been laid out for walks since 1746. In addition to the theatre (built by the architect of Georgian Norwich, Thomas Ivory), there were lectures, pleasure gardens, subscription to an increasing number of libraries and – the centre of gravity for the city’s fashionable – assemblies held at Chapelfield House (renovated by Thomas Ivory) [9]. It would probably have been unseemly for the parson to attend public dances but in the evening of December 1785, Woodforde went to an ‘excellent lecture on Astronomy etc.‘ at the Assembly House. This is said to have been delivered by Adam Walker (c1731-1821) – a well-known scholar whose lectures at Syon House Academy and Eton had instilled in the poet Shelley a love of science [9]. To instruct enlightened Norwich on the motions of the planets, Walker was aided by his eidouranion – a large mechanical orrery, some fifteen feet square, that seems to have been back-projected onto a screen. The device was still in service in the early nineteenth century when one of Walker’s sons, Deane Franklin Walker, carried on the family tradition.

Walker’s eidouranion at the English Opera House in The Strand, 1817. By Edward Burney. The lecturer is probably Deane Franklin Walker. Note the predominance of women in the audience. Image: Wikipedia, Public Domain.

The Norwich lecture may, however, have been given by Walker’s son William [10].

Adam Walker (right) and Family, by George Romney ca 1800. Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Adam Walker was sufficiently famous to have had his portrait painted by the most fashionable artist of the day, George Romney, and to be portrayed by the great caricaturist, James Gillray. In the background of Gillray’s cartoon we see a portrait of Joseph Priestley FRS, top left, while Adam Walker delivers a lecture at his house in Conduit Street, London. Priestley was a natural philosopher (nowadays, a scientist) famed for his writings on electricity and his experimental chemistry.

‘A Philosopher – Conduit Street’ by James Gillray 1796. Does the cockle shell – the emblem of St James (St Jacques) indicate Jacobin sympathies? Courtesy of The National Portrait Gallery

Walker and Priestley agreed upon the importance of dispelling ignorance by educating the public about the composition of the world and its place in the universe. Walker’s lectures on planetary motion inspired Romantics with a sense of the sublime – that they were part of something greater. Woodforde’s terse comment was that he ‘was highly pleased with it’, but beneath his anodyne words darker forces ran. The toleration of Nonconformity and the rise of Evangelism – all quite alien to an Anglican parson – had created a climate of intellectual and political Dissent such that, ‘Norwich was the most active intellectual hotbed outside London in the 1790s’ [11]. Contemporary events in France were dividing loyalties between the wealthy and the industrious poor; there was fear of revolution and Norwich was known as the Jacobin city – the city of radical republicanism [12]. Epitomising the city’s radical spirit, Amelia Opie went to see the results of the French Revolution for herself. This mixture of discovery and political ferment threatened this country’s established order. The same cartoonist who drew Adam Walker (with Priestley in the background) was also caricaturing the sans culottes of the French Revolution and there was fear that the disease could spread. Priestley publicly supported the revolution and in response his house in Birmingham was burned down by the mob, leading him to escape to the United States.

Joseph Priestley FRS (1794) by Ellen Sharples. The English Quaker artist, Sharples, emigrated to the United States in 1774. Could she have made this portrait there? Courtesy The National Portrait Gallery.

Parson Woodforde’s diary is not entirely silent about the mob. On the evening of June 9th 1778 he witnessed ‘a great Riot upon the Castle Hill between the officers of the Western Battalion of the Norfolk Militia and the common soldiers and Mob.’ The officers had refused to pay the men a guinea each; some of the soldiers had refused to take up arms and were put into the guard room. When the mob insisted on hauling them out a great riot ensued: the mob threw stones, some were wounded by bayonets but no-one was killed. Woodforde left around 11 o’clock. Next morning, a great riot was expected when the mob reassembled but Woodforde saw the militia march out of town, peaceably enough.

The Norfolk Militia musket training, probably on Mousehold Heath. Source: Wikipedia

Circling back to the St Stephens Gate, Woodforde’s port of entry to the city, we know that the parson visited a pleasure garden on what is now the south-west side of the roundabout. Before Marsh Insurance, and before that the Victoria railway station, the site was occupied by Quantrell’s pleasure gardens that we saw in a previous post [11], and which the parson helps brings alive for us. It was here on June 20 1780 that Woodforde:

near 6 o’clock ...walked to Quantrells Gardens by myself, heard a sad Concert and saw the Fireworks which were very good and worth seeing gave on going [one shilling] for which you have 6d worth of anything at the Bar. I supped and spent the evening there 
and stayed till 12 o’clock. For my Supper and Liquor pd [one shilling and sixpence] A very heavy Storm fell about 9 o’clock. A prodigious number of common girls [i.e., prostitutes] there and dressed. The Fire Works began about 11 o’clock and lasted about an hour. In it, a representation of the Engagement between the English and French 
Fleet under Sir George Rodney.

The owner, Quantrell, was originally employed as a fireworks engineer so the pyrotechnics are likely to have been spectacular. This was part of the competition between the city’s various pleasure gardens that tried to ape the post-Restoration venues in London. In Thackeray’s novel, Vanity Fair, Becky Sharpe visited the capital’s fashionable Vauxhall Gardens but Norwich had its own Vauxhall; also, Quantrell’s Gardens were at one time named Ranelagh Gardens after the London venue [13]. Woodforde’s visit was in 1780; in the 1790s the Ranelagh/Quantrell’s Gardens were to erect a version of London’s Pantheon but this was a pale copy – a country cousin of the glorious structure in Oxford Street [14].

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

In 1795, on the riverside near King Street, Parson Woodforde visited the New Spring Gardens that was renamed Vauxhall in the late eighteenth century. There he saw the Sons of Neptune go down the river by boat, accompanied by ‘a very good band’ [1]. But it was back in Quantrell’s that he saw Mr Decker and Major Money ascend in their lighter-than-air balloons. This was the age of Balloon Mania. When the intrepid local aeronaut, Colonel Money (whose military career had started in the Norfolk Militia), took off, he ‘… went almost over my Head’, wrote Woodforde, as he saw it over Bracondale. This was some seven weeks before the colonel’s balloon famously deposited him in the sea for several hours off Yarmouth [13].

Joseph Decker (or Deeker) visited Norwich before travelling to Bristol then taking his balloon to America. His balloon was 25 feet in diameter, beneath which was suspended, not a basket, but a gold and silver gondola (which became the name for the passenger compartment). The high ground with the windmill in the distance could be Mousehold Heath.

Joseph Decker’s flight in Norwich 1/6/1785. From, John Penny [15]. The Latin inscription above the balloon translates as, Neither rashly nor timidly.

Other amusements mentioned in the diary include the ‘Man Satire’ (satyr) that the parson saw on Castle Hill with his friends, the two Priests. Having laid out sixpence he was most disappointed: it ‘was nothing more than a large Monkey … It did not answer our Expectations at all.’ He was, however, ‘highly Astonished’ with the life-size wax doll on show in St Stephens since the automaton could answer, and pose, questions [9]. But the highlight is to be found in the entry for December 19th 1785. This was the day the parson attended Walker’s lecture on astronomy in the evening but that same afternoon he ‘went and saw the learned Pigg at the rampant Horse in St Stephens.’ In bracketing the sublime and the wonderfully ridiculous, Woodforde’s day illustrates the uncritical nature of public spectacle in the Age of Enlightenment: ‘the desire for mystery rather than elucidation, and the accompanying perception of science and technology as magical rather than empirical disciplines’ [9].

We have encountered the Rampant Horse Inn several times in this blog – a large medieval building to the rear of where Curls (later Debenhams) store was to be built on Rampant Horse Street.

Invoice from The Rampant Horse 1862. Courtesy of Richard Bristow

There have been many clever pigs but this animal, ‘Toby, The Amazing Pig of Knowledge’, was the pig trained by Samuel Bissett [16]. After Bissett died as a result of being assaulted by a man with a sword, Toby was bought by a Mr Nicholson who brought him to Norwich.

Bury and Norwich Post 3/1/1786. © The British Library Board. All rights reserved. With thanks to The British Newspaper Archive ( 

For his shilling, Woodforde saw the animal ‘with a magic Collar on his Neck. He would spell any Number from the Letters and Figures that were placed before him.‘ But advertisements suggested Toby was capable of much more than typographical tricks: he could reckon the number of people present, tell the hours and minutes of a watch, distinguish between the married and unmarried and divine any Lady’s Thoughts.

Poster for Toby the Sapient Pig. Courtesy of the V&A Museum [17]

The Learned Pig achieved fame. Putting England’s most famous scientist in his place, the poet Southey (1807) said that the pig was, ‘a far greater object of admiration for the British nation than ever was Sir Isaac Newton.’ The animal gained a mention in Wordsworth’s Prelude (1805): ‘The horse of knowledge, and the learned pig’. He even crops up in the 2005 film of Pride and Prejudice, in which Mr Bennet says that their pig is not related to the Learned Pig of Norwich (except these words do not belong to Jane Austen but to screenwriter Deborah Moggach).

The Wonderful Pig 1785, by Thomas Rowlandson. Courtesy of The Elisha Whittelsey Collection, The Metropolitan Museum New York

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  1. The Parson Woodforde Society (2008). Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich
  4. James Woodforde (1978). The Diary of a Country Parson 1758-1802. Edited by John Beresford. Pub: Oxford University Press.
  9. Angela Daine (2004). An Enlightened and Polite Society. In, ‘Norwich Since 1550. Eds Carol Rawcliffe and Richard Wilson. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  10. Jan Golinski. ‘Sublime Astronomy: The Eidouranion of Adam Walker and his Sons‘.
  12. Charles Boardman Jewson (1975). The Jacobin City: A Portrait of Norwich in its Reaction to the French revolution 1788-1802. Pub: Blackie & Son, Glasgow.

Thanks. This post was inspired by the booklet, ‘Walks Around James Woodforde’s Norwich’, copies of which are available from To learn more about Parson Woodforde and the society in which he lived, visit For permissions I am grateful to the British Newspaper Archive, Clare Everitt and Richard Bristow. Thanks, also, to Jonathan Plunkett for allowing access to his father’s photographs of Norwich and Norfolk:

A postscript on Eaton Nurseries


The previous post [1] on the Victorian plant nurseries concentrated in a single Norwich parish seems to have struck a chord in this city with a long history of horticulture. The feedback has been tremendous and, since personal reminiscences and comments brought the topic alive, I felt they deserved to be recorded. The scale of some of the nurseries was astonishing: Adcock’s glasshouses ‘totall(ed) a quarter of a million square feet of glass’. One reader said she’d heard gardeners on Upton Road remarking on how much broken glass they keep digging up. Another, whose garden backs onto the site of Adcock’s nursery, found a subterranean cistern underneath her garden. As we’ll see, other comments provide a fascinating insight into the seed shops maintained by nurseries in the city centre.

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Adcock’s Nursery ca 1904. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

On Twitter, Huw Sayer made the comparison between Adcock’s nursery and the subject of an article in the Eastern Daily Press. More than a century after Adcock, a giant tomato glasshouse is being built just outside Norwich, using ‘More glass than the Shard.’ [2]

Low carbon project to grow tomatoes at Crown Point, Kirby Bedon. (Crown Point was where Victorian balloonist Colonel Money built his mansion). Photo credit: Step Associates

The only surviving nursery lives on as Notcutt’s Garden Centre. As we saw [1], this started as Mackie’s nursery, which was so large that clients could drive around in their carriages. It became the Townclose Nurseries and, after being sold to the Daniels brothers was bisected in the 1930s by the Daniels Road portion of the ring road.

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Daniels Brothers’ receipt, courtesy of Pamela Clark.

I show the Daniels Bros receipt (1892) again as a reminder that in addition to their out-of-town seed grounds and nurseries around Newmarket and Ipswich Roads, they had city centre warehouses in Exchange Street and Bedford Street. This latter area, around the north-west corner of modern-day Jarrolds Department Store, provided a shop window for out-of-town nurseries. The location is perhaps not surprising since the Corn Exchange was built at this junction between the two streets. The area was therefore a focus for the gardening as well as the farming seed trade.

The arrow points to the entrance to Bedford Street off Exchange Street. The Corn Exchange of 1861 stands at the corner, now replaced by an extension to Jarrolds Department Store. ©
norwich corn exchange.jpg
Inside the Corn Exchange 1960. ©Historic England Archive ref: AA98/12867

In 1854, Mason’s Directory records that William John Ewing of the Royal Norfolk Nurseries, Eaton, had a seed warehouse at 9 Exchange Street, while Mackie’s and Stewart had a ‘seed establishment’ next door at 10&11 [3]. Correspondent Don Watson provides a link with the Daniels store around the corner: ‘I remember Daniels’ shop in Bedford Street because, being at school in Norwich, it became my job to buy the vegetable seeds there – much better quality than Bees Seeds from Woolworths (so I was told). That establishment was one of a few which still in the 1950s had only a beaten earth floor’.

Dick Malt confirmed this recollection: ‘Don Watson is quite right, the shop stood about opposite Little London Street and became The Granary when Daniels left. The facade is still the same as it was.’‘The Bedford St premises were where, at that time, seeds were cleaned and dressed for sale, both horticultural and agricultural. The cleaning floor was the topmost, under the roof. By the time I remember it, that aspect of the business had ceased and orders were packed there for posting out. There was a sack hoist from the ground floor and the warehouse manager’s office on the first floor was connected by a speaking tube to the upper floor’. 

Daniels Bros Seed Store in Bedford Street 1960s ©Richard Malt

Simon Gooch said, I ‘thought you might be interested in a little more information about The Granary in Bedford Street, filling in a bit of a missing link between Daniels seedsmen and Jarrolds taking over. My late father Michael Gooch (who was in partnership with my mother Sheila as M & S Gooch, Architects, in Norwich) converted the warehouse into a new shop for the owners Chapman & Pape in 1971-2. They called it The Granary, and at a time before Habitat or John Lewis had arrived in the city it was a bit of a mecca for good furniture and kitchenware. I have a couple of black & white photos taken just after the shop opened, showing the smart typography of the name on one of the windows; the ground floor facade was painted a dark colour, I think purple (though being the Seventies it might have been chocolate brown). The interior’s handsome pine beams and supports were exposed, and the wood and steel staircase inserted.’ The building is now Jarrolds’ modern furniture and design store and they retained the name, The Granary.

The Granary as redesigned by M&S Gooch for Chapman & Pape c1972. Photo Trevor Wood, courtesy of Simon Gooch

Dick Malt’s account continues: ‘This picture of Bedford St [2 above] shows the shop in the 1960s. It had a long mahogany counter which had almost certainly come from the Arcade. My father, A.E. (Jim) Malt was the firm’s manager and later managing director, having spent his working life in the horticultural and agricultural seed trades, beginning as an apprentice to Daniels. The shop was then in the Royal Arcade – I still have the keys!’

Jim Malt’s keys to Daniels shop in the Royal Arcade ©Richard Malt

‘My father was born in 1909, so was most likely apprenticed to the firm in about 1923. Some of the time he had to work on the firm’s farm at Tunstead, near Coltishall, where seeds were grownHe had to collect the keys to the Arcade from the Guildhall on his way to open up the shop. One sharp March morning he found the lock on the gates frozen up – a policeman thawed them out with a blow lamp’.

‘Daniels Bros, ‘The Royal Norfolk Seed Establishment’, had a shop at 16-20 Exchange Street (as seen on the printing block image (below) – reversed for ease of reading) …

Printing block (reversed) showing Daniels Bros seed establishment 16-20 Exchange Street. ©Richard Malt

The plate shows the building was originally five storeys high but numbers 16-20 are now much reduced.

16-20 Exchange Street to the left of Thorns ©OnTheMarket

The discrepancy is explained by George Plunkett’s photograph of the collapse in 1991 of the north-west end of the street.

Looking from the Duke Street carpark towards the Market, the scaffolding marks the collapse of 16-20 Exchange Street ©

Dick Malt suggests that Daniels may have moved to the Royal Arcade ‘when it was opened in 1899’. Below, Stuart McPherson’s ‘ghost’ photo, shows the location of Daniels’ shop in the arcade.

©Stuart McPherson

Holders of the Royal Warrant awarded by King Edward VII advertise their prestigious address in the newly-opened Royal Arcade.

Newspaper clipping 1903

The list of Daniels’ locations from a 1939-40 catalogue indicates the firm owned seed farms at Tunstead and Ashmanhaugh. It also shows they still maintained the Royal Arcade address up to the Second World War.

From a 1939-40 catalogue. Courtesy of Dick Malt

The shop moved to the Daniels Road nursery site in 1967 – a new phenomenon then – a Garden Centre – and the Bedford St premises became ‘The Granary’.’

Opening of Notcutt’s Garden Centre. L-R, back row, the Directors: A.E. Malt, Managing Director (Dick’s father); Gordon Youngs (Accountant); W. (Bill) Martin, who was the son of a Daniels shop manager in the Arcade days and who owned a florists in Lower Goat lane, and Charles Daniels (Chairman).

The two seated celebrities were Percy Thrower (the country’s most famous gardener) and Ted Moult (farmer, radio and TV personality).

There is a short history of the firm in ‘Norfolk Fair’ magazine Vol.5, No.11, 1973. Does anyone have access to a copy?

Thanks. I am grateful to the readers who made comments and those who provided further information, especially Dick Malt whose father’s working life is commemorated in this piece.



The Nursery Fields of Eaton


In these covid times I cycle. Along the celestial Unthank Road to the junction with Newmarket Road, down the hill to Eaton and out to open countryside. Before the crossing is a house with two intriguing names carved in stone on the gate pillars. The first is badly spalled and its few remaining letters … CRO … would be unknowable except for a modern house-plate, Hillcroft. Although a few of its letters are obscured the other sign can only be for the Royal Norfolk Nurseries.

I was curious to look into this because for several years I’d wondered about the clear, unbuilt-upon spaces on the early maps marked ‘nursery ground’ or ‘garden ground’. The OS map of 1879-86 shows that the Royal Norfolk Nurseries occupied sites from the junction with Unthank Road (yellow) down the hill to Bluebell Road (blue) and a larger area between Bluebell Road and the river, now in the shadow of the A11 Eaton flyover/bypass (green).

Courtesy of Ordnance Survey

Much of the land, from the Unthank’s estate east of Mount Pleasant in Norwich [1] down to Eaton, was owned by the Dean and Chapter of Norwich Cathedral; this applied to the village itself with the notable exception of a few oases, including the 12 and 17 acre plots owned by the Corporation of Eaton.

Plots owned by the Corporation of Eaton (red), Blubell Road (blue), Unthank Road (yellow). Plan of Norwich 1807 courtesy of Norfolk Record Office.

The 1838 tithe map and accompanying apportionment record (1839) gives the name of landowners liable to pay church tithes and, within the two outlined areas, William Creasey Ewing (1787-1862) owned most of the individual numbered plots.

Plots owned by WC Ewing. Tithe map of Eaton 1838, courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

The son of William Creasey Ewing, John William Ewing (1815-1868), evidently inherited the land from his father and is listed as Nurseryman, Florist, Lime burner (and there is a lime pit on the site) and Seedsman [2].

John William Ewing. Courtesy of Vivien Humber

Below is The Old House, Church Lane, Eaton (formerly known as Shrublands) where William Creasey Ewing lived. The National Census records his son John William living there in 1851 [2].

Prior to this census return, John William Ewing lived in Shepherd’s House near Mackie’s, the city’s long-established and foremost nursery, founded in the 1700s on Ipswich Road [1]. We’ll come to Mackie’s shortly.

Ipswich Road (red), Newmarket Road (blue), present-day Daniels Road (green) with Mackie’s Nursery spread around the crossroad. Bryant’s map 1826 courtesy of

Between 1833 and 1840, John William Ewing and Frederick Mackie entered into a partnership, forming Mackie and Ewing’s Nurseries, but in 1845 the partnership was dissolved. A newspaper advertisement to this effect places JW Ewing in Ewing’s Nursery at Eaton, indicating that JW Ewing was managing the nursery when he was 30, if not before.

A year later, (incidentally the year his son and successor was born) an invoice from JW Ewing, Nurseryman and Seedsman, shows that the Eaton Nursery was selling ‘Forest & Fruit Trees, Flowering Shrubs etc’ and, in smaller script, ‘Garden & Agricultural Seeds, Dutch Bulbs, Russian Mats (anyone?)*, Mushroom spawn etc.’ *(A reader, Lyn, provided the answer. Russian Mats, exported via the port of Archangel, were closely woven from the leaves of aquatic plants and used to protect fruit trees and young plants etc).

Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

When he died, Ewing’s Royal Norfolk Nurseries were inherited by his son, John Edward Ewing (1846-1933), but when John left Norwich in 1893/4 the business at Eaton was lost.

John William Ewing’s headstone at St Peter’s Church, Cringleford

In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917), Walter Rye wrote that ‘the chief trade of the village is now growing fruit trees and roses for the market’ [3]. He went on to say that other well known Eaton nurseries are the three rose nurseries of C Morse, E Morse and RG Morse and the ‘old-established nursery of Mr Hussey in the Mile End Road.’

From [4]

Ernest Morse appears in this 1910 book of local worthies and businessmen [4] advertising himself as a grower of fruit, cucumbers and grapes. His older brother Henry took out a full page advert announcing his 20 acres of rose bushes and fruit trees in the Westfield Nurseries, Eaton.

From [4]

John Ewing’s partnership with Mackie’s was dissolved in 1845, leaving Mackie’s to stand alone as the city’s predominant nurserymen.

Mackie’s receipt 1828. Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

The industrial scale of Mackie’s operations made it one of the largest provincial nurseries [5, 6]. Bryant’s 1826 map (above) shows Mackie’s 100 acre site was situated around the crossroads where present-day Daniels Road intersects Ipswich Road but the business can be traced back to John Baldrey’s nursery in the city where, around 1750, he was selling plants and trees on a wholesale basis. In 1759, this was taken over by the Aram family – who were selling ‘Scotch firs’ at ten shillings per thousand – and in 1777 John Mackie joined the business. This was around the time the nursery moved to what, in its final days, was to be known as ‘the Daniels Road’ site.

Parson Woodforde knew Mackie:

“Mackay, Gardener at Norwich, called here (the parsonage at Weston Longville) this Even’, and he walked over my garden with me and then went away. He told me how to preserve my Fruit Trees etc. from being inj’ured for the future by the ants, which was to wash them well with soap sudds after our general washing, especially in the Winter.”(from Parson Woodforde’s diary, July 13 1781).

As Louise Crawley describes in her essay on the Norwich Nurserymen, Mackie’s site was so extensive that clients recorded being driven around it by carriage [6]. Mackie’s was to remain in the family for four generations until it was sold in 1859 when they emigrated to America [5, 6].

The Norwich Nursery ca 1833. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office

Fifty years after this map was made the Ordnance Survey recorded that a portion of Mackie’s Nursery at Lakenham had become the Townclose Nurseries. Later still, this was to be purchased by the Daniels brothers.

Daniels Brothers’ receipt used at the nursery grounds in Eaton and their ‘shop front’ – the warehouses in the city centre. Private collection, courtesy of Pamela Clark

Daniels was sold to Notcutts in 1976. By superimposing modern roads on the nineteenth century map we can see how construction of the Daniels Road portion of the ring road in the 1930s (circled in red) bisected the Townclose Nurseries, with the ‘Notcutts’ portion on the south-western/left side.

Daniels Road bisected the Townclose Nurseries. Newmarket Road runs from lower left to upper right. Note also another nursery circled in green on the other side of Newmarket Road. 1883 OS map, courtesy of the National Library of Scotland.
From the Newmarket Road roundabout in 1933, the Daniels Road section of the new ring road cuts through the Mackie’s/Townclose Nurseries. ©
Plantsman Close and Roseacre Close both built on the eastern side of what had been Mackie’s nurseries

In 1849 Mackie’s ventured beyond the parish of Eaton when they bought The Bracondale Horticultural Establishment, situated in the crook between City Road and Bracondale. Patrons were welcome to visit the nurseries but orders could be placed at Mackie’s warehouses in Exchange Street where customers could also buy seeds and catalogues.

Mackie’s Bracondale Horticultural Establishment. City Road (red). The nursery is outlined in green. Six-inch OS map 1886 courtesy National Library of Scotland. The 1:2500 map (not shown) indicates the location of glasshouses and these are marked on the 6 inch version in blue.

A print in JJ Colman’s album shows Read’s Bracondale windmill (1825-1900). Photographed from the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment it shows a plot with supporting canes and, in the background, heated glasshouses.

Bracondale Windmill c 1855. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk

The trade card, below, from around 1830, shows the extent of the glasshouses that Mackie inherited when he bought the Bracondale Horticultural Establishment from JF Roe. Their exotic produce appears in the foreground:  grapes, melons, ‘forced fruits’ and – most romantically foreign – the pineapple.

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Trade card from c1830 when the Horticultural Establishment was run by Mackie’s predecessor, JF Roe. The engraving of extensive glasshouses is framed with grapes, pineapples, melons and ‘forced fruits’

As a young boy, before I knew words like ‘epicurean’, I visited Cardiff Castle and was shown a table with a hole through which a pot-grown vine would be placed for the Marquess of Bute’s family to snip their own grapes. Unless, of course, they are peeled for you, grapes are pretty low down on the totem pole of self-indulgence since they can be readily grown outdoors or in an unheated glasshouse. But in previous times the seriously rich would grow pineapples in hothouses, as much a show of wealth as a token of their hospitality. Indeed, from the sixteenth century onwards there was something of a pineapple mania. Large country estates with heated glasshouses and staff could afford to grow their own tender fruit and plants. Norfolk estates may have produced pineapples, but this would have been beyond the dreams of the villa-owning classes in the Norwich suburbs [5] who looked instead to commercial nurseries like Mackie’s to provide their hothouse products. 

Charles II presented with the first pineapple (reputedly) grown in English soil by his gardener John Rose (possibly). English School C17. Royal Collection Trust ©Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II

On a national basis, however, Mackie’s reputation rested not with fancy fruit and bedding plants but with the quantity of their arboricultural stock. In 1849 they auctioned ‘one million forest trees’ and in 1796 they were able to send 60,000 trees to an estate in West Wales. The journey from Norwich to Pembrokeshire required the trees to be carted to London then onwards by sea: such transportational hurdles would be largely overcome by the arrival of the railways. When trains came to Norwich in the 1840s, Mackie’s were able to offer ‘instant arboretums’ of 650 varieties of trees and shrubs for £35 [5].

In his History of the Parish of Eaton (1917) [3], Walter Rye mentions ‘the old-established nursery of Hussey in the Mile End Road.’ An advertisement from 1869 shows that their Mile End Nursery was, like its larger competitor (Mackie’s) on the other side of the Newmarket Road, offering trees and roses.

Husseys 1869. Courtesy Vivien Humber

In 1885, Husseys occupied much of the area between Unthank(s) Road and Newmarket Road, stretching from the Mile End Road (now ring road) to what would become Leopold Road.

The 1885 Ordnance Survey map labels a tree-filled nursery (green) between the Mile End Road (yellow) and what would become Leopold Road (dotted purple line). Upton Road (dotted red line), Judge’s Walk (blue) was then Green Lane. Courtesy of National Library of Scotland.

By the time of the 1908 Ordnance Survey (though for clarity I show the 1919 map), Hussey’s had another nursery on its doorstep. What had been open ground to the west/left of Upton Road was now occupied by large structures, longer and wider than the terraced roads that had arisen on Hussey’s land.

Glasshouses occupy the land between Judge’s Walk (blue) and Upton Road (red). OS map 1919 courtesy of National Library of Scotland

In the period between the 1885 and the 1908 Ordnance Surveys, EO Adcock had bought the open land to the west of Upton Road and established a nursery producing plants on an enormous scale. Meanwhile, Hussey’s had contracted, a good part having been sold to build Waldeck, Melrose and Leopold Roads. The remainder was still accessible through the entrance off Mile End Road [7].

Edward O. Adcock started as an amateur cucumber grower with eight glasshouses at a time when a dozen cucumbers commanded £1 [7]. To put this in perspective, in 1900 the pound was worth over a hundred times what it is today (although cucumbers are still 95% water).

Adcock’s Nursery ca 1904, including about 15 of his workers. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

In an article eulogising Adcock as one of the ‘Men Who Have Made Norwich’ [7], he is said to have had 125 glasshouses, each 120 feet long, totalling a quarter of a million square feet of glass. As well as cucumbers, Adcock grew chrysanthemums and, by selling 300,000 per annum, he was claimed to be the largest grower in the world.

Packing chrysanthemums at EO Adcock’s Nursery ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

Twenty two acres were devoted to asparagus. Adcock also grew tomatoes in prodigious quantities: in one day his staff picked and packed over two tons of tomatoes to be dispatched by rail [7].

Packing tomatoes. ©Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society 2014

What fascinates is the sheer scale at which fruit, vegetables and flowers were produced in just one small part of Norwich. Adcock’s were operating well into the steam age and were evidently able to supply their produce around the country in reasonable time. On a less industrial scale, maps of nineteenth century Norwich give tantalising hints of allotments and other small nurseries such as: Cork’s nursery ground; Allen’s Nursery around Sigismund and Trafford roads in Lakenham; the nursery ground off Dereham Road; the Victoria Nursery in Peafields, Lakenham; George Lindley’s nursery at Catton. Long before refrigerated transport and the concept of food miles it was this web of horticultural enterprises that, together with our farms and markets, fed Norwich.

The Trafford Arms on the site of The Nursery Tavern where, in the 1860s, Robert Allen ran a nursery in this semi-rural parish of Lakenham

If you liked this article you may like the Norfolk Gardens Trust Magazine. Membership of the NGT is only £10 per annum, £15 joint, and for this you will receive two copies of the magazine annually, invitations to visit gardens not always open to the public, and talks by leading figures on gardens and the history of designed landscape. Click the link to see more:

©Reggie Unthank 2021


  3. Walter Rye (1917). History of the Parish of Eaton in the City of Norwich . Online at:$b756725&view=1up&seq=7&q1=fruit
  4. ‘Citizens of No Mean City’ (1910). Pub: Jarrolds, Norwich.
  5. Louise Crawley (2020a). The Growth of Provincial Nurseries: the Norwich Nurserymen c.1750–1860. Garden History v48 pp 119-134.
  6. Louise Crawley (2020b). The Norwich Nurserymen . In, The Norfolk Gardens Trust Magazine No 29. This article appears in the magazine, available online at:
  7. Edward and Wilfred E Burgess (1904). Men Who Have Made Norwich’. Reprinted in 2014 by The Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society in 2014. A truly fascinating read – visit

Thanks My main source for information on Mackie’s was Louise Crawley, postgraduate researcher at UEA, and I am grateful for her generosity in sharing her researches into ‘The Norwich Nurserymen’. Local historian Vivien Humber kindly shared information on nurseries in the parish of Eaton. I am also grateful to Pamela Clark, Susan Brown, Sally Bate, Tom Williamson and Beverley Woolner. Thanks to the Norfolk Industrial Archaeology Society for allowing me to reproduce the Adcocks photographs, to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk, and to the George Plunkett archive.