Norwich knowledge (libraries)



One of Norwich’s well-rehearsed claims is that it was first (1608) to establish a library in a building owned by a corporation and not by church or school [1,2].

Before this, most libraries were monastic. Norwich Cathedral Library was destroyed twice: first by citizens in the Tombland Riot of 1272 then again during Henry VIII’s Dissolution of the Monasteries (1538) [3].

Ethellred Gate.jpg

The Ethelred Gate to the Cathedral was rebuilt by the citizens in compensation for the riots (restored C19). The armed man and dragon in the spandrels, a common symbol for warding off evil spirits from gatehouses, may also allude to the Tombland Riot.

Before the advent of printing (ca 1450), the volumes would have been manuscripts, hand-written on parchment. From the original cataloguing marks, Ker [4] estimated that 120 of about 1350 pre-Dissolution books remain in the Cathedral Library. Other Norwich books ended up in Oxford and Cambridge including the spectacularly illustrated Psalter given to the Priory in the 1330s by the Norwich monk, Robert of Ormsby .

Ormsby Psalter.jpg

In the margin a cat stalks a rat in a hole. Ormesby Psalter ca 1310. Bodleian Library Oxford (

Another Norfolk treasure of the C14 is the Gorleston Psalter, once in Norwich Cathedral Priory now in the British Library.


A strangulated ‘queck’. Gorleston Psalter, British Library

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Norwich Cathedral Library today

After the Dissolution, the city assembly agreed in 1608 that three rooms in the ‘New Hall’, which were rented to its sword-bearer, Jerrom Goodwyne, should be converted into “a lybrary for the use of preachers, and for a lodging chamber for such preachers as come to this cittie”[1]. This stood at the south porch of St Andrew’s Hall – part of the medieval Blackfriars complex that passed into the city’s hands after the Dissolution.

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‘South Prospect of Blackfriers Church’ by Wenceslas Hollar (1607-1677). We know this – minus the tower – as St Andrew’s Hall (left) and Blackfriars’ Hall (right), comprising ‘The Halls’. The City Library was housed in the adjoining building, hard by the porch; lower left.

The donors’ book gives the founder of the library as Sir John Pettus (c1549-1614), the Mayor in 1608 [5].

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Sir John Pettus Mayor 1608. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections

Although he bequeathed a small collection of books to the library Pettus left no funds for its further development. This seems to have set the pattern for the piecemeal acquisition of books down the years for there is little evidence that the Assembly paid for anything other than the occasional volume [2].

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Sir John Pettus Monument. SS Simon and Jude, Elm Hill, Norwich. Courtesy of [5]

Post-Reformation, the foundation of a City Library could be viewed as part of the transfer of knowledge and power from Church to local government but this was no secular enlightenment for the library was set up to provide lodging for itinerant Puritan preachers. At the invitation of the city administration, preachers delivered the Word at the ‘green yard’ in the Cathedral precinct [1, 2], their sermonising assisted by the wide range of sectarian tracts at the lodging place [2].

After some years of neglect the Old City Library was re-founded in 1657 by which time its scope had broadened to include secular topics such as philosophy, law, mathematics, maps, county guides etc. Donations were evidently eclectic: the library did not possess Newton’s  monumental Principia (gravity, laws of motion) but it did have Galileo’s System of the World [2] in which he supported Copernicus’ observation that the earth rotated around the sun and not vice versa. For expounding this heretical idea Galileo was placed under house arrest by the Inquisition in his home near Florence – the presence of Galileo’s System in the Norwich City Library illustrates a more liberal climate in Protestant Europe.

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No works by Newton but the City Library contained a revolutionary volume by Galileo. (Newton, after Godfrey Kneller, 1689; Galileo by Justus Sustermans, 1636)

The extraordinary degree of self-government granted to the City of Norwich over the years by the crown generated a sense of independence and radicalism. Political nonconformity was accompanied by a rise in dissent against the established church and by the early C18th 20% of the city’s population were Protestant dissenters [6]. Prominent among these was the surgeon, Philip Meadows Martineau – uncle of Harriet Martineau [7] – who worshipped in the Octagon Chapel in Colegate.


In 1756, local architect Thomas Ivory designed the Octagon Chapel, one of the first Methodist chapels in the world [7].

In 1784 Philip Martineau proposed the founding of a subscription library, possibly in reaction to the increasing Anglicanism of the City Library over the preceding century. This was a new departure with only five clergymen on a committee of 24, and of the 140 original subscribers 26% were women [1]. Subscribers had the keys to the Old City Library and the two libraries soon merged. Despite being supported by private subscription the new institution was rather confusingly named the Norwich Public Library [1] (claims to represent ‘Norwich’ or the ‘Public’ in the subsequent offshoots make the head spin). In 1794 the expanding library moved 150 metres to the disused Catholic Chapel of the Duke of Norfolk on St Andrew’s Street where it remained until replaced in 1835 by the building below [8, 9].

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The Norwich Public Library on St Andrew’s Street. Photo 1936 ©

Some years before the move there had been complaints about the running of Norwich Public Library (e.g., absence of standard works, lack of new titles, failure to raise the annual subscription, and a librarian with a disobliging manner) and in 1822 a break-away faction suggested setting up their own library. The Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution – of which William Unthank was a shareholder – opened at Haymarket Hill on New Year’s Day 1823 [1, 8, 9, 10]. These two subscription libraries were to run in parallel for over half a century.

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Hay Hill 1959. The N&N Literary Institution once occupied the site on which the Haymarket Picture House (latterly Gaumont Cinema) stood from 1911 to 1958. (Marks and Spencer can be glimpsed at the end of the street). ©

In the meantime, in 1838, the Literary Institution’s former partner, the Norwich Public Library, moved to new premises on the site of the old city gaol on Guildhall Hill [9]. The building is now occupied by The Library Restaurant.

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The Library in 1955.   © 

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The Library set back amongst fashionable shops on Guildhall Hill. Courtesy Picture Norfolk. (

For a time this Public Library had custody of books from the old City Library but they were poorly kept and the council threatened to move them to the rival Literary Institution [1]. The problem was eventually solved when a third library – and this time a truly public, non-subscription library – was built in 1857. The 1850 Libraries Act allowed larger boroughs to add up to half a penny in the pound to the rates to pay for library facilities and staff. Norwich Council was first to adopt the Act, Winchester was first to form a library under the Act but Norwich was first to construct its own Free Library. This opened in 1857 at the corner of St Andrew’s (Broad) Street and Duke Street [8, 9, 10]. The Act did not allow for the purchase of books so the volumes inherited from the old City Library were to provide an important nucleus for the embryonic library.


The new Free Public Library (1857) built under the 1850 Libraries Act. The smaller building in its shadows was erected (1835) on the site of the Duke of Norfolk’s Catholic Chapel and housed the ‘Martineau’ Norwich Public Library. To increase confusion the latter rented rooms in the new Free Public Library. Courtesy Picture Norfolk. (

George Plunkett’s archive of C20th  photographs shows the Public Library in 1955 [12], the name ‘Free’ having been changed by the council in 1911.

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The Public Library at the Duke Street/St Andrew’s Street junction (1955). ©

Towards the end of its life, the Free/Public Library was used as a shoe factory and in 1963 it was demolished to give way to the new Central Library in Bethel Street. Demolition allowed the widening of St Andrew’s Street and the corner site is currently occupied by a British Telecom telephone exchange.


And what of the two subscription libraries? The bookplate below records that the  libraries that had uncoupled in 1822 decided to come together again. In 1886 the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution joined the ‘Martineau’ Norwich Public Library at their site on Guildhall Hill to form the Norfolk and Norwich Library.


Bookplate. Courtesy of Picture Norfolk. (

Twelve years after this merger a fire started in the premises of Daniel Hurn, ropemaker, on nearby Dove Street [13]. The blaze spread to the warehouse of Chamberlin and Sons’ department store on Guildhall Hill and gutted the adjacent library. Most of the library’s 60,000 volumes were destroyed, including collections held by law, naturalist and archaeological societies. The restored library was reopened in 1914 and closed in 1976, when many of its books were given to Norwich School.

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Chamberlins department store on Guildhall Hill, facing the market. The building far left is now a Tesco Metro and further left (arrow) is the recessed entrance to the N&N Library (not shown) gutted in the 1898 blaze. Image ca 1910 [14].

Fire also plays a part in the continuing story of the City Library. The Free/ Public Library built by the council at the corner of Duke/Exchange Street in the mid C19 was demolished in 1963 when the new Central Library – designed by City Architect David Percival – was opened on a site between City Hall and the Theatre Royal.


Norwich Central Library, Bethel Street. Photo George Swain. Courtesy of Picture Norfolk (

The Central Library was destroyed by fire in August 1994, much as the subscription library on Guildhall had been destroyed nearly a hundred years before. Over 150,000 books were burned along with irreplaceable historical documents from the Record Office.

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The 1994 library fire. © ITV News Anglia

In 2001 The Forum, designed by Michael Hopkins and Partners, arose from the site of the damaged library, facing St Peter Mancroft. The Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library, which is housed in The Forum, has been cited as the busiest library in the UK [15]. The Forum2.jpg

The city’s first branch library, the Lazar House in Sprowston, was in a Norman chapel and leper hospital founded by the first Bishop of Norwich, Herbert de Losinga (d 1119) [16]. After local antiquarian Walter Rye had rescued the building from destruction in the early C20 it was presented to the city by Sir Eustace Gurney  and served as a branch library from 1923 to 2003 [17].

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The C12 Lazar House, off Sprowston Road

Earlham Branch Library (1929), one of the 47 local libraries in Norfolk … another opportunity to show its fine  calligraphy.

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In addition to subscription libraries and public free libraries readers could, for a small fee, rent popular books from commercial circulating libraries. WH Smith and Boots the Chemist had hundreds, Harrods of Knightsbridge had one, Jarrolds of Norwich* had one – even Edmund Smith’s stationery and tobacconist shop on Unthank Road housed a circulating library.

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ER Smith’s circulating library at 139 Unthank Road ca 1931. Now PW Sears’ newsagents. Courtesy Picture Norfolk

Bonus track*

After posting this article, Caroline Jarrold kindly sent this image of the circulating library on the second floor of Jarrolds Department Store.


Courtesy Caroline Jarrold

© 2018 Reggie Unthank


  1. Kelly, Thomas (1969). Norwich, Pioneer of Public Libraries. Norfolk Archaeology vol xxxiv pp 215-222.
  2. Wilkins-Jones, Clive (ed). (2008). Norwich City Library 1608-1737. Pub: Norfolk Record Society.
  3. Beck, A.J. (1986). Norwich Cathedral Library: its foundation, destructions and recoveries. Pub: Dean and Chapter of Norwich 1986.
  4. Ker, N.R. (ed) (1964). Medieval Libraries of Great Britain: A List of Surviving books. Pub: Offices of the Royal Historical Society.
  6. Wilson, Kathleen (1995). The sense of the people: politics, culture and imperialism in England, 1715-1785. Pub: Cambridge University Press.
  7. ‎
  8. Nowell, Charles (1920). The Libraries of Norwich. Pub: The Library Association.
  9. Loveday, Michael (2011). Norwich Knowledge: An A-Z of Norwich – The Superlative City. Pub: Michael Loveday. ISBN 9780957088306.
  10. Fawcett, Trevor (1967). The Founding of the Norfolk and Norwich Literary Institution. Library History vol 1, pp 46-53.
  13. Mackie, Charles (1901). Norfolk Annals vol 2. See:
  14. Citizens of No Mean City (1910). Pub: Jarrold and Sons, London and Norwich.
  17. Hepworth, Philip and Alexander, Mary (1965). Norwich Public Libraries. Pub: Norwich Libraries Committee.

Thanks. I am grateful to Gudrun Warren, Librarian and Curator, Norwich Cathedral for her kind assistance. Thanks also to Clare Everitt for permission to use images from Picture Norfolk that, along with the Plunkett archive, provides a superb record of Norwich and Norfolk life.

Street furniture: palimpsests


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I’m fascinated by the idea of the city as a palimpsest – a parchment scraped down to be used again with signs of previous lives grinning through.


On the 1000-year-old Archimedes Palimpsest, previously unknown works by the Greek mathematician were poorly erased then overwritten with religious texts (

Old street furniture illustrates this perfectly: usually it will be discarded if it doesn’t fit the current style guide but where it is allowed to remain it can tell us much about the layering of time.

Gybson’s Conduit on the boundary wall of Bullards Anchor Quay Brewery in Westwick Street once faced the road but when the brewing hall was converted into apartments in the 1980s the pump was restored [1] and re-sited to face into the development. This early Renaissance monument was built by Norwich Sheriff and brewer, Robert Gybson. It appears to be a philanthropic gesture (‘for the ease of the common people’) but it was actually a condition of buying the site on which St Lawrence’s Well had stood since at least the time of Edward the Confessor [2, 3]. Gybson seems to have been an angry man and for ‘failing to be buxom to the mayor‘ he was deprived of the freedom of the city and condemned ‘forever henceforth to be a foreigner‘ [2]. Coo!


In 1860, John Henry Gurney erected this drinking fountain and obelisk to mark the site of an earlier wellhead (ca 1700-1850) that had raised water to be stored for the higher parts of the city [3].


The Gurney Drinking Fountain and Obelisk (1860) in Tombland

Sewell Park – the triangle of land between Constitution Hill and St. Clement’s Hill –was given to the city in 1908 by the Sewell family. Anna Sewell wrote Black Beauty when she lived about a mile away at Old Catton. The triangular horse trough – now a flower bed – that guards the park entrance is doubly appropriate.


Black Beauty was published by local printing firm Jarrolds and Anna Sewell’s name is commemorated on one of the shields decorating the first floor of Jarrolds department store in London Street.


The trough on Castle Meadow, commemorating the popular Dr Darrell, was moved from outside his practice at All Saints Green [4]. It is reminiscent of a time when water troughs were placed along the road between the railway station and the old cattle market, beneath which Castle Mall now stands.


Following John Snow’s pioneering example of epidemiology in 1854, when he mapped an outbreak of cholera to a particular pump in London’s Soho [5], the importance of clean public water was foremost in the Victorian mind. Erected in 1860, this Portland Stone fountain outside St George Colegate was for public consumption: the marble basin for people and the troughs beneath for dogs.


Presented by Mr JC Barnham, designed by architects Messrs Benest and Newton, and sculpted by Mr. Joseph Stanley of Norwich

Bearing in mind John Snow’s findings about the source of water, this parish pump – patented by Shalder of nearby Redwell Street – is worryingly situated next to the raised burying ground of St John Maddermarket. The water was once described as ‘pure essence of churchyard’ [2].


At a time when potable water was only just being piped into some homes, the need for fresh drinking water for the poor was often met by philanthropic commissions. Charles Pierre Melly had already provided many drinking fountains in Liverpool and in 1859 he presented Norwich with this fountain situated at the east end of the Guildhall [6].


FH fire hydrant signs are everyday parts of the streetscene but this FP sign in Unthank Road refers to an earlier ‘fire plug’. The small stretch of railings to which it is attached only survived because of the fire hydrant sign – most other railings and gates having been removed in WWII in a morale-boosting bid to make guns. However, the inferior quality of the metal was such that it was likely used for other purposes, if not dumped in the Thames [7].


Near Bay Cottage, 14 Unthank Road

… and to round off the water theme, what is thought to be the earliest example of a concrete pissoir is now closed [2].


St Crispins Road near Barn Road roundabout

Due to that programme of scrappage in WWII there are precious few examples of locally-sourced ironwork on our streets. These curvaceous Art Nouveau-like railings around St Giles on the Hill reflect the flowing tracery of the beautiful east window from the Curvilinear Decorated period of the early C14 [8]


Some domestic gates have survived; Mill Hill Road has several examples, some refurbished. The gate below, with inverted curve, is a common pattern still copied when gates are replaced.


From a time, pre-Ocado, when tradesmen brought your orders to your (back) door …


Mount Pleasant

Clarendon Road has some of the best examples of Victorian ironwork.


Clarendon Road

Again on Clarendon Road, these cast-iron railings and gates separate two fine Victorian houses from the roadway. But further examples of street furniture can just be glimpsed in the side alley: a bollard and a puzzling pipe.

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Another fine set of cast-iron railings on Clarendon Road. Just creeping into shot is a bollard (bottom left) and a curious pipe (top left).

First, the bollards. The Norwich City Council’s Streetscape Manual (2006) [10] mentions two designs: a plain octagonal post – generally painted dark green – used in the city centre, and a more ornate cast-iron bollard that was photographed by George Plunkett in 1931 and is probably Victorian [11]. Here, just outside the city walls, in the Heigham Grove Conservation Area, two of these latter bollards guard the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. Two years ago I wrote about the bollards when local residents campaigned against the council’s plan to remove them to allow access for a mechanical street sweeper [11].

bollards2.jpgIt’s worth repeating the message that vestiges of a previous age are a vital part of the feel, the texture, of the streetscape. This design of bollard is entirely appropriate to one of the city’s finest late Victorian streets – as recognised in the council’s own planning appraisal:

“Several surviving cast iron railings along Clarendon Road are particularly fine and rare examples of once common Victorian ironwork found in Norwich cast by local firms such as Barnard, Bishop and Barnard(s)” [9].

This more ornate version can be found around churchyards, such as St Peter Mancroft and St Gregory’s but it can also be found at secular locations like Bishop Bridge (below) and the steps to the Castle at Davey Place.

A convocation of traditional cast-iron bollards on Bishop Bridge. (Note the electric ‘gas’ lamp).

The historic Norwich Lanes [12] have been delineated by painting the modern octagonal bollards red instead of the more usual green. This references the colour of the plant dye, madder, that was so important to the city’s once-thriving cloth industry. Twenty-one of these bollards are crowned with bronze sculptures designed by Oliver Creed [13].


Oliver Creed’s bronze capitals to red bollards in Lobster Lane (L) and Swan Lane (R).

Within the jurisdiction of Norwich Cathedral, distinctive canon-style, cast-iron bollards are used. Since the partnership of Norwich ironfounders, John Francis & Thomas Blyth, was dissolved in 1840 the bollards must be at least 178 years old [14].

cathedral duo.jpg

Back in the alleyway on Clarendon Road we glimpsed what was a tall, cast-iron stench pipe. If we think of such pipes at all we probably think of vent pipes that extend above the eaves. However, the pipe belonging to Anglia Water is part of the public sewerage system, its function being to regulate the pressure in the sewer when waste passes through.

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Stench or stink pipe in the alleyway between Clarendon Road and Neville Street. The cast iron pipe bears the city’s coat of arms and was made by Barnards Ltd, who superseded Barnard Bishop and Barnards Norwich Ironworks in 1907. 

I did wonder whether a column at the junction of Newmarket and Christchurch Roads might have been left over from the electric tramways or electric lighting of the early C20 but it is identical to the Clarendon Road example and the wire balloon on top confirms it to be another stench pipe.


Newmarket Road at Christchurch Road 

Another such pipe, by another of the city’s famous foundries – Boulton and Paul, is on Waverley Road. Listing stench pipes may sound train-spotterish except these are living reminders of our industrial history that should not be airbrushed from view in search of a uniform modern look. Only a year ago, the Cambridge News reported that residents on Hills Road/Queen Edith’s Way, Cambridge were – in their words, not mine – ‘kicking up a stink’ about plans to remove a tall, cast iron, Victorian stench pipe [15]. And last September the Eastern Daily Press reported that a tram standard had been removed for ‘safety reasons’ (Pah!) from the junction of West Pottergate and Heigham Road [16]. This matters because it was the very last post belonging to the Norwich Electric Tramways that had replaced horse-drawn omnibuses in 1900. The post that once carried its electricity was sturdy enough a century later when George Plunkett photographed it reincarnated as an electric lamp post. Now that link is lost.

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The last relic of the Norwich Electric Tramways 1900-1935 ©

On Bank Plain is a fine cast iron lamp post base ca 1900, updated with an electric lamp.

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In the early C19 the city was lit by oil lamps but the fuel was replaced by coal gas from about 1825-30. Although a few electric lamps had begun to appear at the end of the C19 it wasn’t until 1910-13 that the gas lamps were converted to electricity, except for a few in unadopted streets. This may explain the survival of the old gas lamp in St Giles Terrace, photographed by George Plunkett in 1955 [2]. It has been converted to electricity but retains its original lantern.

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St Giles Terrace off Bethel Street

Walking the streets of Georgian or Victorian Norwich would undoubtedly leave mud on your boots and before entering the house this had to be removed with a boot scraper. The French are more direct in naming their scrapers decrottoirs, acknowledging that excrement (crotte) is a major component of ‘mud’ from streets populated by horses and dogs. A walk past the rich merchants’ houses in St Giles Street reveals several examples of cast-iron scrapers, either free-standing or (usually paired) set into the walls.

boot scraper.jpg

Now that most of us carry a mobile phone we can only wonder when phone boxes will become obsolete. The iconic model below, designed by Sir Giles Gilbert Scott, went into production in 1936 although modern ‘heritage’ versions are still made in the official colour, currant red [17].


At the corner of St Saviour’s churchyard in Magdalen Street

There are several styles of red post box in the city. Left, is a Victorian ‘Penfold’ with an acanthus bud on top, designed by architect John Penfold. I remember a Penfold post box at the bottom of Guildhall Hill; the present one outside the City Hall is probably a replica made in the 1980s [17]. The modern post box derives from the version made in the reign of Victoria’s son, Edward VII (centre); the advantage was that the post slot was integral to the door so that no letters could skulk in the top of the box [17].  The current Elizabethan ERII box is virtually identical.

Postbox Trio.jpg

(L) Penfold-type, St Peter’s Street/City Hall. (C) Edward VII, Opie Street. (R) Elizabeth II, Unthank Road.

A personal favourite is the original Victorian wall box in Upper St Giles. This now fronts The Post Room antiques and interiors shop but I first encountered it when it belonged to the Upper St Giles sub-post office. Remember post offices?


Bonus track


Villagers of Mellis, Suffolk, converted this £1 postbox to a colour therapy room


  2. An excellent resource for old Norwich street furniture.
  10. (see page 25).

Thanks to: Lesley Kant-Cunneen for information about ironwork in Clarendon Road and Alan Theobald for discussions about street furniture.







Putting Norwich on the map


Maps make sense of the world and of our place in it. We have a fundamental sense of place that turns out to be hard-wired; there actually is a mental map, composed of a grid-like arrangement of cells in the brain [1]. If the hippocampus of a London taxi driver can be changed by learning ‘The Knowledge’ [2], imagine what happens to Norwich residents over a lifetime of following byzantine routes around medieval streets.

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The Norwich brain ©Norwich City Council. 

The Anglo-Saxon settlement seems to have been around Fye Bridge and the presence of ‘Northwic’ on early C10 coins indicates the importance of the north bank of the river in that development. The conjectural map (below) shows that by the C10-11 the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement was aligned north-south, with Ber Street leading south down the old Roman road to Caister St Edmunds.

1895 Conjectural Map of Norwich in the Time of King Edward the Confessor c.jpg

Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service

The developing town was, however, razed to the ground by the Vikings in 1004. When the Normans arrived in the second half of the century their monumental Cathedral and Castle – made from stone imported from Normandy – were considerably larger and more awe-inspiring than the predominantly wooden buildings of their predecessors. Importantly, these buildings were on the south bank. In addition, the old marketplace was moved from Tombland to its present position under the gaze of the Castle, from where the new French Borough extended westwards.

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How the city of Norwich grew into shape. William Hudson 1896. NWHCM: 1997.550.50:M

Even though the centre of gravity had shifted, the old Anglo-Scandinavian settlement on the north side of the river was still an important part of the Old Borough and, indeed, ‘Norwich-over-the-Water’ remained one of the city’s four wards until the electoral reforms of the early C19th.


Norwich wards until 1835 [3]

This now familiar leg-of-mutton shape of the city had been set in stone by the building of the city walls; this took place from about 1294 to the middle of the following century [4], enclosing an administrative area larger than the City of London. The walls were built for the city’s protection at a time when the country was at war with France but they also served the civil function of controlling the passage of taxable goods through the 12 city gates.

‘Norwich’, however, was not simply the area within the city walls for the 1556 charter of Queen Mary I of England and Philip II of Spain specified that the hamlets of Earlham, Eaton, Catton, Thorpe, Trowse Millgate and Lakenham should be considered to be within the city’s wider boundary [5].


The County of the City of Norwich [5]. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office

Reminiscent of Roman maps showing that ‘All roads lead to Rome’, William Ionn’s map of 1836 shows the roads radiating out of Norwich into the surrounding county. By this time all gates had been demolished – the last disappearing in 1808 [4].

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Routes from the city of Norwich through the County of Norfolk (1836). William Ionn. NWHCM: 1922.135.2:M

The lists on the plan recall a time when the traveller might need a strip map to confirm the sequence of, and the distance between, towns and villages encountered along the journey – all this supported by milestones and fingerposts on the ground.

The first authentic map of Norwich was made in 1558 by William Cuningham, a citizen of Norwich; it is notable for being the earliest surviving printed map of any English town or city outside London. The word ‘civitas’ on the banner recognises the city’s status as a self-governing body. In 1404, the second charter from King Henry IV proclaimed that the city should be considered a county in its own right, separate from the county of Norfolk. The words, The County of the City of Norwich, appeared on maps  until the local government reorganisation of 1974 [5].


Cuningham 1558. Courtesy British Library

Cuningham’s map seems to counter perspective by tilting the distant ground towards us without quite providing the bird’s eye view that would allow us to float above the city and look down upon it in scale [5]. ‘Prospects’ like this could therefore be taken from a viewpoint outside the city; here, the cartographers at the lower edge seem to be pointing across to the windmills on Mousehold Heath.

Georg Braun and Franz Hogenburg’s plan of 1581 is closely based on Cuningham’s, even reproducing the archers practicing in Chapelfield (clear area of the walled city, lower right). On the reverse was a poem delivered to Queen Elizabeth I during her visit to the city in 1578 [5]. The poem refers to ‘Belgic friends’, i.e., the Strangers recently arrived from The Netherlands who were to revitalise our weaving industry.

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Elizabethans surveying the City of Norwich. Braun & Hogenburg 1581 NWHCM : 1997.550.75

Cuningham’s was to provide the model for most of the maps over the next 150 years. For example, the inset below of Norwich on John Speed’s map of Norfolk of 1676 adopts Cuningham’s way of looking at the city (and, again, the archery practice). The ditch outside the city walls to the west is wrongly depicted as a moat.


Inset of Norwich from John Speed’s map of Norfolk NWHCM:1951.219:M 1676

The two prospects below by Samuel and Nathaniel Buck, one from the south-east one from the north-east, show something of the city in the mid C18, when the city walls were just about intact. We are struck by how much unbuilt space was present – something that Daniel Defoe noticed when he made his tour of the country 1724-1726:

“The walls of this city are reckoned three miles in circumference, taking in more ground than the city of London; but much of that ground lying open in pasture-fields and gardens; nor does it seem to be, like some ancient places, a decayed declining town, and that the walls mark out its ancient dimensions; but the walls seem to be paced, as if they expected that the city would in time increase sufficiently to fill them up with buildings”[6]. 

Buck Duo.jpg

Upper: South-east prospect of the city of Norwich 1741 by S&N Buck NWHCM: 1922.135.4:M. Lower: North-east prospect 1743 NWHCM: 1922.135.7:M.

In 1696 the professional surveyor Thomas Cleer broke away from Cuningham’s template by publishing a plan of Norwich that did provide a bird’s eye view and, more importantly, was the first to be printed to scale [5]. (Note the old Market Cross to the left of the Castle, red star).


Detail from the map of Thomas Cleer 1696. NWHCM :1999: 71.49. Only two copies are known [5]


Old Market Cross, Norwich (undated) by Thomas Hearne (1744-1817). Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1903,36

Map piracy. In 1727, the land surveyor James Corbridge published a fine plan of the city. Subscribers paid two shillings down and 3s on delivery, while anyone wanting their houses or arms to appear in the margins had to pay 7s down and 3s on delivery [5]. Next, he advertised for subscriptions to allow him to make a new full-scale survey of Norfolk but before the county map could emerge two Norwich booksellers, William Chase and Thomas Goddard, planned to undercut him with a pirated version. To cast doubt on Corbridge’s work the booksellers got one of his employees – the improbably named Thermometer Elinett – to send a letter to the local paper stating, incorrectly, that the new map would be a copy of previous maps with all their imperfections. Corbridge’s reply in a rival paper settled the matter, accusing Elinett of not knowing the ‘South End of the Needle for the North.’ [7].


Corbridge’s map of Norwich 1727. NWHCM: 1936.5

Maps are not neutral, objective things: they can be influenced by those commissioning them. We would also do well to question the topological relationships between features on a map. On a globe, the vertical lines (meridians) converge at the poles but to convey them as parallel lines on his flat map – his famous projection of 1569 – Gerardus Mercator had to do some mathematical finessing. He also pulled the horizontal lines of latitude further apart as they approached the poles. As a result, land masses become seriously distorted the further you go from the equator, so that Greenland appears bigger than South America or Australia. Even so, Mercator’s Projection still appears to be the favourite way of representing the world and is the one adopted by Google Maps [8].

But Charles Lutwidge Dodgson, himself an Oxford mathematician, had the measure of Mercator and produced his own perfect map in The Hunting of the Snark [9].


The Hunting of the Snark: An Agony in Eight Fits. Lewis Carroll (1876). Pub: Macmillan & Co.

He had bought a large map representing the sea/Without the least vestige of land:/ And the crew were much pleased when they found it to be/ A map they could all understand.

What’s the good of Mercator’s North Poles and Equators/ Tropics, Zones, and Meridian Lines?”/ So the Bellman would cry: and the crew would reply/”They are merely conventional signs!”

With the exception of the small suburbs of Heigham and Pockthorpe, there was little development of Norwich beyond the city walls until the late C18 [5]. When the walls and gates were pulled down, development did begin to creep outwards but, as the 1842 Heigham tithe map shows, there was still much open land, including fields and market gardens.

1842tithe map.jpg

1842 Heigham tithe map. Courtesy of Norfolk Record Office NRO BR276/1/0051. Open Government Licence. The octagonal building is the Gaol at the junction of Unthank and Earlham Roads, now the site of the Catholic Cathedral of St John the Baptist.

This was just before the sale of Unthank and Steward land that would lead to the explosion in terraced-house building across Heigham [10]. Workers from the expanding suburbs were brought into the city centre – where much of its industry was still concentrated – by a new form of transport. Between 1900 and 1935, the Norwich Electric Tramways provided routes around the city using electricity generated by the power station on Duke Street. The NET depot was on Silver Road and the central hub was in Orford Place. In 1933 the Eastern Counties Omnibus Company bought the tramways with the view to replacing them with petrol-driven buses [11].


Norwich Electric Tramways Map. By Andrew Abbott, Creative Commons Licence.  

Norwich tram.jpg

No 10 electric tram on the Earlham Road ca 1900, outside the Black Horse PH. Andrew R Abbot, Creative Commons Licence

By the late 1920s the radial development hadn’t quite enveloped the land around the south-western part of the ring road that was to define another boundary around the city. The gold standard for mapping in the UK was the Ordnance Survey, which had begun to map Norwich as far back as 1817 [5]. In this 1928 OS map, Christchurch Road (green) had yet to be built from Unthank Road to Earlham Road (completed 1935 [10]) and there was still much open land west of Colman Road and around the newly-completed Eaton Park (blue star).

Colman RdFinal.jpg

©Ordnance Survey 1928. Norfolk LXIII.14 showing the Colman Road stretch of the outer ring road (red) and the proposal to extend Christchurch Road across allotments to Earlham Road (green) [10]. Blue star= Eaton Park.

Captain Arnold Edward Sandys-Winsch had drawn the plan for Eaton Park as part of a job creation scheme following the First World War [12]; he also designed Wensum, Heigham and Waterloo Parks plus Mile Cross Gardens. Sandys-Winsch is credited with planting 20,000 trees in the city, of which his goblet-pruned London plane trees along Earlham Road and parts of the ring road are the most easily recognisable [10].


Sandys-Winsch’s plan for Eaton Park, opened 1928. Courtesy Norfolk Record Office. (See the fascinating history pages of friendsofeatonpark [12]).

In retaliation for the RAF bombing Lübeck in March 1942 the Luftwaffe said they would bomb every English city with three stars in Baedeker’s Travel Guide. These cities were to include Norwich, York, Bath, Exeter and Canterbury – all of cultural and historical importance. (This map also reminds us of a time when the city had three railway stations: Thorpe, Victoria and City).

Baedeker map of Norwich.jpg

Norwich in the 1906 (6th) edition of the Baedeker Guide. Map by Wagner and Debes of Leipzig. From my own collection. 

Norwich suffered badly in the 1942 Baedeker Raids. In the raid of 27th April 1942, it has been estimated that 185 heavy bombs of a total weight of over 50 tons were dropped , resulting in 258 deaths and 784 injured [13, 14]. The six-foot-square Norwich Bomb Map, now restored at the Norfolk Record Office, recorded 679 bombs that fell on the city between 1940 and 1945 [15].

Norwich bomb map.jpg

Detail of the restored Norwich Bomb Map, kindly provided by County Archivist Gary Tuson. CDs of the full map are available from the NRO. 

But even before the war had ended, the City Engineer HC Rowley – together with consultants CH James and S Rowland Pierce who had recently designed Norwich City Hall (1938) – were preparing the new City of Norwich Plan [16]. In this, they took a fresh look at the flow of traffic around a bomb-damaged medieval city. No longer do the contours follow the leg of mutton-shaped medieval city.


The inner and outer ring roads shown on the City of Norwich Plan dated 1944 [17].

The sedimentation of an unimaginably large number of marine organisms onto the seabed, some 60-95 million years ago, formed the deep layer of chalk interspersed with flints upon which this low-lying county is based. Much later, the mining for lime and flints for building purposes gave rise to the tunnels that run beneath the city. One extensive network runs beneath Earlham Road near St John’s Roman Catholic Cathedral, forming a street plan unrelated to the world above.

Chalk mines.jpg

Chalk tunnels beneath Earlham Road. Eastern Daily Press 1939. More precise mapping shows that the tunnel system was actually smaller and situated to the top left of this plan, away from the Catholic Cathedral (see Matthews Williams’ ‘Subterannean Norwich’ (2017) Lasse Press.

On the third of March 1988 the roof of one of these medieval chalk workings collapsed and an Eastern Counties bus, which had been slowly crawling up the hill, started to sink into a deep hole. Cadbury’s quickly adapted their advert for one of their chocolate bars, writing “Nothing fills a hole like a Double Decker.”

Bus in Hole.jpg

Bruce Adam, courtesy of Plantation Garden Trust

A postscript: The Ordnance Survey was originally motivated by the Jacobite Rebellion to make a military survey of Scotland but, when Napoleon threatened invasion, the survey was extended to the rest of the UK. In the decades following the last war the Soviets prepared their own detailed maps for similar purposes [17]. I never thought I would see Russian tanks roll down Unthank Road but there it is, targeted in Cyrillic script, АНТЕНК-РОД. Fortunately, there’s an Anderson shelter in our garden from World War II.

Soviet map.jpg

The city end of Unthank Road (АНТЕНК-РОД) from a Soviet map [17].

©2018 Reggie Unthank

Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle‘ is still available from Jarrolds, City Bookshop and Waterstones.

Colonel Unthank AD.jpg


  3. Hudson, W. and Tingey, J.C. (1906). The Records of the City of Norwich vol 1. Pub: Jarrolds.
  5. Frostick, Raymond (2002). The Printed Plans of Norwich 1558-1840: A carto-bibliography. Pub: Witley Press Ltd, Hunstanton.
  6. Defoe quoted in:
  8. Garfield, Simon (2012). On the Map: Why the World Looks the Way it Does.
  9. Carroll, Lewis. (1876)  The Hunting of the Snark. Pub: Macmillan.
  10. Lloyd, Clive (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. (see ‘Unthank Book’ button at top of the blog page).
  16. James, CH, Pierce, SR and Rowley, HC. (1945) City of Norwich Plan. Pub: The City of Norwich Corporation.
  17. Davies, John and Kent, Alexander J (2017). The Red Atlas: How the Soviet Union Secretly Mapped the World. Pub: University of Chicago Press.

Thanks I am indebted to Paris Agar (Project Curator, Norwich Castle: Gateway to Medieval England), for allowing me to photograph the collection of maps held at Norwich Castle Study Centre. I am also grateful to Dr Clare Haynes UEA for her help. I thank the County Archivist Gary Tuson for permission to use the Norwich Bomb Map and Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk for permission to use Thomas Hearne image. John Davies kindly allowed me to use part of the Soviet map and Roger Hannah of the Plantation Garden gave permission for me to use the images on the wonderful Plantation Garden website. And to Anya Zouirova, thank you for the Cyrillic script.





Imagine a time before clocks, when the working day was divided according to the passage of the sun: the sun comes up, the sun goes down and somewhere in the middle is a ploughman’s lunch.


The Creation of Light. C15 roof boss Norwich Cathedral

The Babylonians marked the passage of the sun by following the shadow of a stick known as the gnomon – ‘one who knows’. On Norwich’s ‘parish church’, St Peter Mancroft, there is no clock tower but there is, on the south transept, a sundial whose gnomon is in the shape of crossed keys: Saint Peter’s keys to the kingdom of heaven.


On St Andrew’s Church the X-shaped cross – the psaltire on which the saint was crucified – provides the gnomon.


St Andrew’s was re-built in Perpendicular style 1499-1518 on the site of a previous church, making it one of the last (late) medieval churches in Norwich. This large hall church, squeezed between two alleyways, is second only in size to St Peter Mancroft.

St Andrews possesses a clock as well as a sundial. The first mechanical clocks, driven by a weight whose fall was regulated by an escapement movement, appeared in the 1200s. The world’s oldest working clock (1386) in Salisbury Cathedral has no face since it was designed solely for striking the hour, as once required for the monastic Liturgy of the Hours – the daily routine of communal prayer at seven set hours of the day [1]. The striking of a bell to mark the hours was therefore originally religious: either private (in churches and monasteries) or public (the call to worship).

Once, Norwich Cathedral had an astronomical clock (1321-5), built by Roger de Stoke [2], that preceded Salisbury’s but was probably destroyed in the C16. The heavy weight in such clocks could also drive accompanying automata of which Norwich had 59, “including a procession of choir monks and figures representing the days of the month, lunar and solar models, and an astronomical dial” [3]. Imagine.


The Jacobean clock-jacks, or Jacks o’ the clock, were made to ring bells c1620; the clock above them is Victorian. South transept  Norwich Cathedral [2].

Probably the most famous clock-jack in East Anglia is in St Edmund’s Southwold, which provided the logo for Adnams Brewery.


Left: St Edmund’s Southwold; right, © Adnams Brewery

As we recently saw in the Paston Treasure, displayed in the Castle Museum [4], the steady ticking of a clock offers an easy metaphor for the span of human life. In this vanity painting the hourglass, the guttering candle and the clock, all remind us of the fleeting nature of time and the worthlessness of human goods: “Vanity of vanities. All is vanity”.

The Paston Treasure (1660s). Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM: 1947.170

In measuring the passing of time, clocks confront us with our own mortality. From their town hall clock, the city fathers of Manchester exhorted their citizens with: ‘Teach us to number our days’. Similar mottos include: ‘Time and tide wait for no man‘ or ‘Tempus fugit’. [Pathetically, I can no longer read tempus fugit without thinking of, ‘Time flies like an arrow; fruit flies like a banana‘, which Wikipedia [5] offers as an example of antanaclasis (me neither)].

Voysey clock.jpg

‘Tempus fugit’, designed by CFA Voysey (1903) ©Victoria and Albert Museum, London

Norwich does possess the ‘Forget me not‘ clock on the tower of St Michael-at-Plea. The previous ‘useless’ mechanism was replaced in 1889 by William Redgrave Bullen who, according to the Norwich Mercury, had the dial plate repainted ‘a deep chocolate’ [2].


The date of 1827 suggests that an earlier dial was retained. There was once a sundial on the porch but this was replaced in 1887 by the statue above the door [6].

Bullen is an alternative spelling of Boleyn and clock-restorer WR Bullen is said to be a descendant of Queen Anne Boleyn [7] who was born at Blickling. In the C17, Sir Henry Hobart built Blickling Hall on the ruins of the Boleyn’s manor house; the heraldic bulls on the Hobart crest [8] seem to be a punning allusion to the previous occupants.


Bulls and the Hobart crest above the doorway to the Jacobean Blickling Hall. Courtesy of 

WR Bullen’s business in London Street recently celebrated its 130th anniversary.


Other jewellers are available …


Aleks, London Street; Dipples, Swan Lane; H Samuel, The Walk

Clocks also remind us of the mortality of others, as in this tribute to the employees of Laurence, Scott & Co who died in the First World War.

Laurence Scott.jpg

Laurence, Scott & Co, founded in 1883, provided Norwich with its first electric lighting then grew their business by producing variations of the electric motor. The factory can be found in the hinterland behind the Canaries’ football stadium at Carrow Road. This clock, plus a plaque listing the fallen, commemorates those who died in WW1.

The clock on the tower of St Clement’s Colegate was restored in 2004 in memory of those who died in the Second World War.

St ClemDuo.jpg

St Clement’s Church at the junction of Colegate and Fye Bridge Street

As a military building, Britannia Barracks on Mousehold Heath is unusual in that it was built in the Queen Anne Revival style of the Arts and Crafts Movement, or as Pevsner and Wilson have it, ‘the Norman Shaw style’ [6]. It was built in 1886-7; the army moved out in 1959 to be replaced by prisoners in the 1970s. There are clock faces on all sides of the clock tower although the dials facing into the prison probably carry the extra layer of meaning of time as punishment: ‘serving time’ or ‘doing time’.


When time was estimated by sundial, different towns often kept different times, each based on local noon. As the Earth rotates relative to the sun, a town one degree longitude west of another will experience solar noon four minutes later [9]. The prime meridian of 0 degrees longitude is at Greenwich, UK (although the stainless steel strip marking 0° has been shown by GPS to be 102 metres east of this). On the day this post was published, solar noon in Norwich was at 12.03:34 Greenwich Mean Time while on the other side of the UK, in Aberystwyth, it was 12.25:05. When travelling across the country,  stage coaches had to allow a generous leeway to accommodate different local mean times [9,10]. With the coming of trains and the complexity of making timetables something had to be done to standardise time so in 1847 the Railway Clearing House recommended that every rail company adopt Greenwich Mean Time as the standard ‘railway time’.

Norwich station.jpg

Of the city’s three stations Norwich Thorpe is the only one remaining. It was opened by the Yarmouth and Norwich Railway in 1844 [11]

Until pocket watches stopped being luxury items – probably around the early C19 – the public depended on the church clock to tell time. From Guildhall Hill, at the top of the marketplace, you only had to look down St Giles Street to read the time from the ten-foot-diameter dial of St Giles Church whose single clock face was directed straight down the street. To increase visibility the hour-hand was supplemented in 1865-6 by a six and a half foot/two-metre-long minute hand [2].


But in the C19 – in what has been called the democratisation of time – clocks started to appear more frequently on secular buildings [10]. Just before the restoration of St Giles, Norwich Guildhall received a clock and clock turret, presented in 1850 by the mayor, Henry Woodcock [2].


The Victorian clock turret was added to the east end of the Guildhall by the mayor on the understanding that the ceiling of the council chamber would be taken down to expose the original ornate ceiling [2]. 

The clock on the tall tower of City Hall has superseded the Guildhall clock, presently stuck at noon.


Who could fail to feel a glow of civic pride on reading that, ‘The City Hallmust go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars‘ [6]? Norwich had missed the campaign of Victorian civic building seen in our northern cities and this allowed its City Hall (1938) to be built in a fresh, modern style. Architects, James & Pierce, therefore used a pared-down Scandinavian style with an interior that showed the influence of Art Deco. Consistent with this, the mace-like hour hand on the clock tower (top left) is surrounded by symbols instead of the Roman numerals that usually marked the hours on public clocks. The pattern is repeated in the Council Chamber (top right) and the Mancroft Room (bottom left). However, editorial control was not exerted over the clock above the lift (bottom right), which seems out of place in this Art Deco palace.


The City Hall and St Giles Church clocks feature in the mural on the side of the Virgin Money Lounge on Castle Street.


Mural by Derek Jackson for Norwich Business Improvement District (BID)

Throughout the C19, commercial enterprises like banks and insurance companies increasingly displayed public clocks. While advertising their sense of public duty (and their name) it also allowed them to borrow prestige and respectability from the church and civic authorities who had previously been the guardians of time.


Advertising Norwich Union outside Bignold House No 9 Surrey Street, once the home of Norwich Union Fire Office

Opposite this clock at No 8 Surrey Street is the Norwich Union (now Aviva) building designed by George Skipper in 1904-5, looking as solid and durable as any bank. Inside, is the famous Marble Hall made from stone surplus to requirements at London’s Westminster Cathedral [6].


Norwich Union’s Marble Hall

A century later, large public buildings maintain the tradition of displaying clocks to the public.

Intu Norwich.jpg

intu Chapelfield shopping mall, opened 2005

The earlier Castle Mall (1993) has a clock tower, shown here on the right.


The clock on the left, in the Back of the Inns, is a relic from an ironmongery business that disappeared from the city some time ago. The company’s internet-unfriendly name appears on the other side.


One-time sellers of door furniture

©2018 Reggie Unthank

Thanks to those of you who bought the book. I’m delighted to say it is in its third print run since Christmas.

Colonel Unthank AD.jpg

Also available from Waterstones

Bonus track

About an hour after posting this article, reader Jeremy Whigham mentioned the clock on West Acre All Saints, Norfolk, that had the letters of ‘Watch and Pray’ instead of numerals. Too good to miss.


  2. Houseago, J. and Houseago, A. (1996). Clockmaking in Norfolk. Part I: Up to 1900. In, Norfolk and Norwich Clocks and Clockmakers, Eds C. and Y. Bird. Pub: Phillimore. 
  3. Pruitt, E.R. (2016). Medieval Robots: Mechanism, Magic, Nature, and Art. Pub: Phillimore. University of Pennsylvania Press.
  6. Pevsner, N. and Wilson, W. (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1. Pub: Yale University Press.
  10. Peters, Rosemary A. (2013). Stealing Things: Theft and the Author in Nineteenth-Century France. Pub: Lexington Books

Thanks. I am grateful to Sarah Cocke of for supplying the Blickling image.



, , , , ,

The face is the most important part of one’s identity. It conveys a visible expression of  personality and can used in art to evoke a range of emotions. But at a time when faces were not universally recognised other symbols could be used to underline identity.

“The face is a picture of the mind with the eyes as its interpreter.” (Cicero)

I was reminded of this by the painted rood screen from St Mary’s North Elmham. Despite having their faces scratched in the reign (probably) of Edward VI the rather mournful saints, Barbara, Cecilia and Dorothy (Babs, Cissy and Dot) can still be recognised to be portraits of the same woman. But likeness to long-departed saints is hardly the point here; instead, beauteous Barbara is identified by the tower in which she was hidden from the world, Cecilia’s virginity is signified by her wreath of lilies, and Dorothy (patron of gardeners, amongst others) holds a bunch of flowers. The face is incidental to the virtue signified.


Rood screen, St Mary’s North Elmham, Norfolk (ca 1474) saved from destruction by being used as floorboards. SS Barbara, Cecilia and Dorothy

In the late medieval period Norwich was a major centre for glass painting and the often stereotypical faces of saints and angel can be recognised throughout East Anglia [2, 3]. The same faces appear in various guises suggesting they were drawn from the same cartoon. For example, the angel from the Toppes-sponsored windows in St Peter Mancroft can be overlaid pretty faithfully upon the saint from the ‘Toppes’ window in Norwich Guildhall. Both were painted ca 1450 by the workshop of John Wighton, in which his wife and son also worked [4].

Angel TrioFinal.jpg

Left, St Peter Mancroft; right, Guildhall; centre, overlay

A wonderful sequence of images from the late C15 is to be found in the chantry chapel of St Helen’s in the Great Hospital, Norwich. These roof bosses may have escaped desecration because Henry VIII’s zealously Protestant and iconoclastic son, Edward VI, handed over control of the chapel to the mayor, sheriff and citizens of Norwich [1].


Two faces are reputed to be of Queen Anne of Bohemia and her husband King Richard II, but the evidence is slender. The woman does wear a hard-to-see crown: the man does not, but then he was usurped [1].


Reputedly, Queen Anne of Bohemia and King Richard II

Queen Anne and her husband visited Norwich in 1383 but by the time Bishop Goldwell (rebus, a golden well) …


… had this vaulted ceiling built (ca 1472-1499) the couple had been dead a century. In the glorious Wilton Diptych, Richard II kneels clean-shaven before the Virgin. So if the boss of the hirsute man is meant to represent Richard then it may not be a likeness but a representation of deposed majesty, wearing a headband instead of a crown.


The Wilton Diptych 1395-9. National Gallery

Norwich Cathedral has over 1000 bosses carved into the keystones of its roof vaults – more than any other religious building in the world. In the cloisters are several of the Green Man – a pagan figure representing, perhaps, the rebirth of nature. However … just as the term ‘ploughman’s lunch’ seems to have been a fiction concocted by The Cheese Bureau (surely a Philadelphia soul group?) as recently as the 1950s, so – it is claimed – the term  ‘Green Man’ as applied to church roof bosses can only be traced back to an article by Lady Raglan in 1939 [quoted in 5]. Can this be right? Anyway, the faces can be classified as: a ‘leaf mask’ made from a single leaf; a ‘foliate face’ made from several leaves; ‘disgorgers’, with leaves or vines exiting mouth, ears, nose; this one seems to be a ‘peeper’ or ‘watcher’.


A face peeps out behind the leaves in the cloisters of Norwich Cathedral (1316-19)

Roof bosses also decorate the vaulting inside St Ethelbert’s Gate to the Cathedral. The present gate was built ca 1316 (restored in 1815 and 1964), incorporating the remains of the Norman gate burnt in the riots of 1272 [6]. The conflict centred on a jousting target (quintain) in Tombland at which two priory men were detained. The prior replied by bringing in armed men from Yarmouth who went on the rampage; the citizens, in turn, attacked the priory, set fire to St Ethelbert’s Gate and parts of the cathedral itself were set ablaze. Thirteen of the prior’s men were killed but King Henry III, who came from Bury St Edmunds to restore order, put 35 citizens to death: by dragging some behind a cart; by hanging, drawing and quartering others; and by burning alive a woman who set fire to the gate. To compensate the priory the citizens were required to fund the rebuilding of the gate. The naturalistic head on the boss looks down with distaste.


The Despenser Retable survived the Reformation by being inverted as a table top. Now, this altarpiece can be seen in St Luke’s Chapel in Norwich Cathedral. One intriguing hypothesis is that this late medieval treasure was commissioned by Henry le Despenser, the ‘Fighting Bishop’ (1370-1406), to mark the suppression of the Peasant’s Revolt by Richard II and perhaps his own part in the East Anglian skirmishes [7]. Incidentally, the rich red colour in the painting was known as ‘Norwich Red’ and was later used in the city’s famous C18 shawls [7].


The Despenser Retable, Norwich Cathedral

The first panel depicts the Scourging of Jesus. Pilate’s representative handles Jesus’ hair while the face of the man holding the scourge is “contorted with the effort” [7] of delivering the punishment (out of shot, both his feet spring off the ground).


On Agricultural Hall Plain, between the Hall (‘Anglia TV’) and Shirehall, is George Wade’s memorial. Unveiled in 1904, ‘Peace’ records the 300 Norfolk men who served in the Boer War. The mood, subdued rather than victorious, is conveyed by the angel’s neutral expression as she sheathes her sword [8].


‘Peace’, George Wade’s Boer War memorial on Agricultural Hall Plain (1904)

In St Martin-at-Palace Plain, next to the Wig and Pen pub, is Cotman House. One of the city’s favourite sons, the painter John Sell Cotman, lived here from 1823 to 1834. If he had been born in London rather than the provinces an artist of Cotman’s stature would surely have been commemorated in Westminster Abbey.


JS Cotman by Hubert Miller 1914 [8]

cotman house.jpg

Cotman House, where John Sell Cotman opened his ‘School for Drawing and Painting in Water-colours’ [9]


Magdalen Street and nearby Colegate have a good number of late medieval and Georgian doorways [see 10, 11]. Pevsner and Wilson judged No. 44 to be the climax of Magdalen Street, with “one of the most ornate Georgian façades in Norwich.” [12]. George Plunkett wondered if the doorway might have been constructed to designs by Thomas Ivory, architect of The Assembly Rooms and the Octagon Chapel [13]. The keystone on the arch is decorated with a classically-influenced head.


The closed eyes of the head suggest a death mask: the ostrich feathers in the figure’s hair  signify a woman of fashion [14].


At the beginning of the C20, Norwich architect George Skipper played with a variety of influences, including Art Nouveau [15], but for the city’s banks and insurance companies he used a Neo-Classical Palladian style, adding seriousness with borrowed classical motifs. Above the door of the London and Provincial Bank in London Street (now The Ivy) is a female head [8]. The mild erosion makes it difficult to confirm whether she wears a garland, synonymous with Flora the Roman goddess of flowers and Spring. However, the swags of fruit at the putti’s feet convey the required air of prosperity.


The same year (1906), Skipper commissioned similar stone sculpture for the Norwich and London Accident Assurance in St Giles Street (currently St Giles Hotel). Once more, a sense of prosperity is conveyed by the swags of fruit and flowers.


Although the androgynous head bears a laurel wreath, rather than flowers, the festoons of fruit and flowers again are indicative of Flora.StGiles2.jpgFor the later (1928-30) Lloyds Bank on Gentleman’s Walk by HM Cautley, a similar head was used, decorated with a mini-swag of finely carved flowers. Richard Cocke suggests this is a direct tribute to Skipper’s London and Provincial Bank around the corner [8].



Nearby, on Red Lion Street is another Skipper building, Commercial Chambers built in 1903 [15]. The facade is almost riotously decorated in buff terracotta (probably Doulton). The first floor cornice is supported by two boys and a girl, almost certainly sculpted from life, making a change from the usual putti.

Fig Trio.jpg

Crowning the building is a cowled figure making entries into a ledger with a quill. This might reasonably be thought to represent the owner, the accountant Charles Larking; but as we saw previously it is clearly modelled on the architect himself [15].


At about the time that Skipper was designing these buildings, his pupil J. Owen Bond – who was responsible for some of the few Modernist buildings in the city – designed the Burlington Buildings in Orford Place (1904). Instead of female heads, the building was decorated with three pairs of full-length, reclining women: one of each pair reading a book, the other holding a cornucopia.


‘Burlington Buildings’ was built for offices rather than for a bank or insurance company. Unfortunately, this fine Renaissance-style building is hard to appreciate, being rather hemmed in at the back of Debenhams.

The Horn of Plenty is not especially associated with Flora and could just as well refer to Concordia (goddess of Peace and Harmony), Abundantia (Abundance personified) and Fortuna (Luck and Fortune). In architecture it seems that the symbolism of plenty may be more important than adherence to any particular goddess.

This can be seen on the bases that James Woodford sculpted for the flagpoles in the memorial gardens outside the City Hall [16]. Each base shows an Assyrian-influenced priestess holding an overflowing basket. Woodford’s references to the two-dimensional  paintings and reliefs from the Assyrian and Ancient Egyptian empires are entirely fitting outside a City Hall that shunned Gothic and Classical motifs in favour of Modernism. As in Egyptian art, the figure presents a combination of frontal and profile views. With the head in profile it is difficult to express emotion; it is the associated animals and plants that bear the symbolic load, celebrating the region’s agricultural abundance.


A celebration of Agriculture by James Woodford (1938), who also sculpted the 18 roundels celebrating Industry on the City Hall’s bronze doors [8].

cheeky face.jpg

©2018 Reggie Unthank



  1. Rose, Martial. (2006). A Crowning Glory: the vaulted bosses in the chantry of St Helen’s, the Great Hospital, Norwich. Pub: Lark’s Press, Dereham.
  2. Woodforde, C. (1950) The Norwich School of Glass-Painting in the Fifteenth Century. Pub, Oxford University Press
  4. King, D. J. (2006) The Stained Glass of St Peter Mancroft, Norwich, CVMA (GB), V, Oxford.
  6. Meeres, Frank (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore and Co Ltd. (A highly readable account of the city’s history).
  7. McFadyen, Phillip (2015). Norwich Cathedral Despenser Retable. Pub: Medieval Media, Cromer.
  8. Cocke, Richard (with photography by Sarah Cocke) (2013). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk. Pub; Liverpool University Press. (An essential source for anyone interested in East Anglian sculpture).
  9. Kent, Arnold and Stephenson, Andrew (1949). Norwich Inheritance. Pub: Jarrold and Sons Ltd
  12. Pevsner, Nikloaus and Wilson, Bill (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I, Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.

Thanks. Chris Walton writes the very informative Company of the Green Man website [5] and I am grateful to him for information on foliate faces. I thank Revd Dr Peter Doll, Canon Librarian of Norwich Cathedral for permission to photograph the Despenser Retable and Dr Roland Harris, Cathedral Archaeologist for information on the cathedral bosses and the Ethelbert Gate.

Bonus track


Nelson with his favourite alpenhorn

Unfortunately, the surface on this statue of Admiral Lord Nelson by Thomas Milnes (1852) – which is situated in the Upper Cathedral Close – is now quite worn and has lost much of its detail [8].  This, combined with its north-facing aspect, doesn’t favour photography but I couldn’t omit Norfolk’s most famous son, albeit ‘below the line’.

The Norwich coat of arms


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Coats of arms designed to identify groups of soldiers in the heat of battle were also used  by towns and cities to identify themselves and the source of their authority.

Both symbols on the Norwich coat of arms are martial and point to a long relationship with the crown that conferred certain privileges upon the city. This civic coat of arms is described as: Gules, a castle triple-towered and domed argent; in base a lion passant guardant Or”. Simply put: red shield, silver castle, gold lion. There are, however, many stylistic variations: as often as not the triple-towered castle isn’t domed.


Undomed or domed. The Norwich City coat of arm in the City Hall (1938). Left, on the Bethel Street door to the Treasurer’s Department and right, inside the ‘Rates Hall’

The castle, of course, is Norman but it was about a century after the Conquest that the city’s lion appeared during the reign of the Plantagenets. The association between the lion and the English crown seems to have begun during the reign of King John but it was John’s older brother, Richard the Lionheart, who is particularly associated with the lion passant guardant  [1]; that is, walking with forepaw raised (passant) and head turned to the left, full face (guardant). This is the version of the animal that figures on all of the city’s heraldic devices. Except … guarding the entrance to the City Hall, Alfred Hardiman’s Assyrian-influenced bronze lions are two of our finest civic sculptures but they are at odds with other Norwich lions in not looking left. This may be because the architects saw a lion exhibited at the British Empire Exhibition of 1936 before they commissioned its twin [2].


Staring straight ahead, one of Alfred Hardiman’s lions (1938) outside the City Hall [3]

The connection with Richard I relates to the charter of 1194 in which he allowed citizens to elect their own Reeve – equivalent to the ‘president’ of the borough [4]. The foundation of self-government is usually dated to Richard’s charter even though there may have been a degree of municipal independence before this [5].

The Guildhall, which is the largest medieval civic building outside London, was built 1407-1412 in order to administer the self-governing powers conferred upon the city by Henry IV. The king’s charter of 1404 granted county status to the city and, like London, allowed the citizens to elect a mayor [6]. Documents issued by the council were authenticated with the city’s coat of arms in the form of a wax seal applied either directly or pendent.

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Left and right: early C15 wax seals from Colman’s Collection Norfolk Record Office COL5/1. Centre: “The Common, or City Seal, now in use” Blomefield 1806 [6]

The city’s proud status as ‘civitas‘, a form of city state, is acknowledged in Cuningham’s 1558 map of Norwich, which is probably the earliest surviving printed map of any English town or city.

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Map of Norwich by citizen William Cuningham, ‘Doctor in Physicke’ 1558 (British Library)

In the top right corner we can see the castle and lion augmented by two supporters who, as we will see, appear in various guises through the city’s history.

Map of Norwich Small.jpgA century prior to this, around 1450, the alderman John Wighton – whose stained glass workshop made the great east window of St Peter Mancroft – glazed the window of the council chamber in the Guildhall. He did this for the mayor and wealthy wool merchant Robert Toppes who ran his business from Dragon Hall in King Street [see 7 for a fuller account of the Norwich School painted glass].

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Between the two angels is Toppes’ own coat of arms, dwarfing the city coat of arms beneath each angel.

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City coat of arms mid C15, from the Toppes window in the Guildhall

Opposite the rear entrance to Cinema City, the city arms can be seen amongst a series of 13 shields carved at the east end of St Andrew’s church and dated to the rebuilding of the church 1500-1506.


Norwich arms on St Andrew’ Church ca 1505. Note the simplified castle and the contrary lion

A fine C16 example of the city coat of arms can be seen in Surrey House, the early C20 building designed for Norwich Union by George Skipper. The stained glass is a relic from the Earl of Surrey’s house that previously stood on this site in what is now Surrey Street.


From the Earl of Surrey’s C16 house in Surrey Street, Norwich

The Earl of Surrey, Henry Howard, son of the Duke of Norfolk, was called “the most foolish proud boy that is in England” and it was pride that led to his downfall. Surrey was brought up in Windsor Castle with Henry VIII’s illegitimate son Henry Fitzroy. The king came to believe that Surrey – a staunch anti-Protestant – was planning to usurp Henry VIII’s legitimate son, Edward VI, when he inherited the crown. The trigger, though, appeared to be when Surrey flaunted his descent from English royalty by attaching (quartering) the arms of Edward the Confessor to his own. He was executed for treason in his thirtieth year but his father, who was to have shared that fate, was saved when Henry VIII died the day before the planned execution [8].

Against this background of excessive pride associated with coats of arms, the other armorial glass in the Ante Room of Surrey House [9] takes on an extra layer of meaning.

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Around 1900, three marble mosaics of the city arms were installed in the entrances to civic buildings: the Guildhall, Norwich Castle and the Technical Institute (now Norwich University of the Arts). But I can find no record of the Italian craftsmen living around Ber Street who were reported to have made them.

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On the south side of the Guildhall is the Bassingham Gateway, originally from the London Street house of John Bassingham, a goldsmith in the reign of Henry VIII. When London Street was widened in 1855-7 the gateway was bought by William Wilde for £10 and inserted in the Magistrate’s Entrance of the Guildhall [10].


By comparing this with George Plunkett’s 1934 photograph of the doorway [10], the crisp carving would appear to be part of a postwar renovation. The lion is now decidedly oriental.


Although there are minor variations in the way they are depicted, the castle and the lion are constants in the city’s arms. More variable are the supporters – the flanking figures that appear on some versions of the arms. In Cuningham’s map of 1558 (above) they appeared as cherubs.

In 1511 the roof of the mayor’s chamber in the Guildhall collapsed and in the rebuilding of 1535-7 the chequerboard of the eastern façade received coats of arms; the city arms of castle and lion were protected by armed angels and an indeterminate shape hovering over the shield [3].

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The city arms; one of three coats of arms on the east end of the Guildhall. (The central arms [not shown] were those of Henry VIII but are no longer legible)

Above this coat of arms on the east wall is a clock turret dated 1850, dedicated to mayor Henry Woodcock.  Flanking the clock face are two unarmed angels, each clasping the city arms.


Curiously, the gilded inscription at the lower edge of the clock gives the motto of the Dukes of Norfolk (Sola Virtus Invicta, Only Virtue is Invincible) who, for a long time, had had no connection with the city or county [3]

An illustration in Blomefield’s authoritative book on the history of Norwich [6] also has two angels as supporters, this time armed, but the object above the shield is difficult to read in this form.

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The Arms of the City of Norwich. From Blomefield [7] 1806

Hudson and Tingey’s 1906 book on Norwich history [4] also shows the shield flanked by two guardian angels and in this case the object above the arms resolves as a hat. One source describes this as a warden yeoman’s hat (yeoman warder’s?) [2], another as a fur cap [12]. (After posting this article, former Sheriff Beryl Blower told me this may be the mayor’s ceremonial Cap of Maintenance and I see that Blomefield says that the cap of maintenance is worn by the sword-bearer on all public occasions).

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The Norwich City Arms embossed on the cover of Hudson and Tingey, 1906 [4] 

The hat also appears on the blue lamp on the police station, which is attached to the west side of the City Hall, but no guardian angels.

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Police Station, Bethel Street 1938

The City Hall itself is Coat-of-Arms Central; there were even plans for the tower to be topped with an angel before it was cut for reasons of cost [3]. The city arms appears above the entrance to the City Treasurer’s Department in Bethel Street with all its accoutrements: the hat and Art Deco angels flanking a traditional coat of arms.

Norwich Arms.jpg

By Eric Aumonier who also designed Art Deco sculpture for the London Underground

Examples of the ‘full set’ can also be seen on the engraved glass window above the stairs leading up from the ground floor of the City Hall…


Designed by Eric Clarke and painted by James Michie [13]

… above the mayor’s chair in the council chamber…


… and on Lutyens’ war memorial, facing the City Hall on St Peter’s Street.


The additional elements (hat and angels) that appeared  some time after the original granting of the lion-and-castle arms do complicate what was once a simple and effective design. The College of Arms does not recognise the the flanking angels; by dispensing with the supporters the cartoon-like arms on these two mid-C20 projects marked a return to simplicity (although the question of whether or not to dome the castle is still not solved).

Lion Duo.jpg

Domed or undomed. Left, Hewitt School; right, Alderson Place, Finkelgate. These two civic projects were supervised by City Architect David Percival ca 1958

The right-hand version of the city arms also appears on Percival’s 1960 redevelopment on Rosary Road.


Added 5/10/18

© 2018 Reggie Unthank

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  2. Nobbs, G. Norwich City Hall (a booklet from the City Hall, private imprint and undated but published for the 50th anniversary of the 1938 opening).
  3. Cocke, R. (2013). Public Sculpture of Norfolk and Suffolk (photography by Sarah Cocke). Pub: Liverpool University Press.
  4. Hudson, W. and Tingey, J.C. (1906). The Records of the City of Norwich vol 1. Pub: Jarrolds.
  5. Meeres, F. (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co Ltd.
  7. Blomefield, F. (1806). An essay towards a topographical history of the County of Norfolk. Vol III Containing the History of Norwich. Pub: W Miller, London.

Thanks to Clive Cheesman, Richmond Herald of the College of Arms for information about the Norwich coat of arms. 



New book: Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle


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Running through  a triangular district of Norwich’s Victorian terraced housing is Unthank Road; it took its name from the family who owned a large estate there in the nineteenth century. When I moved to the road I was intrigued by the urban myth that a nearby stretch of very tall wall was the last remnant of the Unthank estate. In researching this story (and finding an unexpected answer) I uncovered more about the history of the Golden Triangle. This book describes how the Triangle developed and how many of the street names originated. Newly discovered photographs of the Unthanks bring to life the founding fathers of this neighbourhood. Published December 15th 2017. 56 pages £10.


City Books, Davey Place Norwich.  PRESS HERE to Order online

Jarrold’s book department, Exchange Street, Norwich

The Pastons in Norwich

The story starts with Clement Paston (d1419), from the village of Paston about 20 miles north-east of Norwich. He was “a good, plain husband” whose lowly station in life was illustrated by the fact that he had to ride, “to mill on the bare horseback with his corn under him” [1]. Clement’s humble origins, probably as a bondman not entitled under feudal law to own land, were to be used against his descendants as they rose to prominence.

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Courtesy BL Harley 3244

We know much about the rise of Norfolk’s Paston family from the cache of letters left in the C18 by the last of the line, William Paston 2nd Duke of Yarmouth. This correspondence gives unique insight into one family’s life (1422 to 1509), illustrating how – in the long period following the halving of the population by the Black Death – the descendants of a feudal serf could become elevated to the aristocracy. But it was probably the weakness of this foundation that led to the later Pastons being assailed by the Dukes of Norfolk and Suffolk who disputed their title to land.

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In the C18 the Norfolk antiquarian Francis Blomefield acquired part of the Paston Letters from the estate of William Paston 2nd Duke of Yarmouth

With the assistance of his brother-in-law, Clement was able to provide a grammar school education for his son William who then studied law in London and eventually became a Judge of Common Pleas [1, 2]. In addition to purchasing land in the village of Paston,  William bought his favourite manor Oxnead in 1419 and Gresham Castle in 1427 [1, 3]. Eventually, the successors of a man troubled by transporting his own corn would be able to build one of the largest barns in the county.


The 70m long Paston Barn in the village of Paston, Norfolk

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“The Bildg of this Bearn 1581 Sir W Pasto(n) Knighte”

William married Agnes Barry and they had four sons and a daughter. The first was John Paston I (1421-1466), another lawyer, who married the redoubtable Margaret Mautby. They named two of their sons John: John II (1442-1479) and John III (1444-1504), not just to flummox future antiquarians but probably in honour of Margaret’s father, John, and possibly of a relative of hers who would play an unwitting part in the Paston’s troubled history – Sir John Fastolf.

Although much of the story revealed in the Paston Letters was set in the county, the Pastons had a significant presence in the city of Norwich. A green plaque announces that John Paston lived in a house on King Street after 1478 (presumably, therefore, John III). This was in what is now the oldest dwelling house in the city – Jurnet’s House, named after the Jewish trader who arrived here in the C12th [4]. It was rare at the time for being built of stone.


Jurnet’s House or Music House, King Street, where John  Paston lived in the C15. Now it is Wensum Lodge Adult Education Centre

John I and Margaret had a house on Elm Hill where some of the Paston Letters were probably written.

“There is not a single house in Elm Hill which could be disturbing” [5]

However, this house was destroyed in 1507 by a fire that raged in the street for four days [6]. The present house on the site, the Strangers Club, was built after the fire by Sheriff of Norwich and three-times mayor, Augustine Steward. [For a fuller account of Elm Hill read the excellent Norwich Trails PDF].

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Paston House, now the Strangers’ Club on Elm Hill

The beam above the alleyway into Crown Court Yard (to the left, above) has crisp carvings at either end relating to the cloth merchant (mercer) Steward.

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Left: the Mercers’ Maiden, the mark of the Mercers’ Company [7]; centre: Augustine Steward’s personal insignia; right: Steward’s mark on modern tablet in nearby Tombland Alley, on the side of Augustine Steward’s House

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Augustine Steward’s House (1549) from Tombland Alley, a short distance from his re-built ‘Paston House’ in Elm Hill. The Erpingham Gate to the cathedral can be glimpsed through the entry.

Adjacent to Steward’s House, facing Tombland, is Samson and Hercules House. The eponymous heroes holding up the porch are now thankfully painted white after their years of humiliation while painted red to advertise a lobster restaurant. This house, with four Norwich lucams, was built in 1656 on the site of a house owned by the Pastons’ relative, Sir John Fastolf. In yet another of those coincidences so frequent in this densely historic city, Fastolf could have looked across the road to the effigy of another soldier mentioned in Shakespeare, Sir Thomas Erpingham, as he knelt in his niche above the cathedral’s Erpingham Gate (see previous post [8]). Erpingham’s posture at prayer might have been to counter the claim that he was a Lollard (pre-Reformation objector to practices of the Catholic Church) – a claim also levelled at Sir John Fastolf [9].

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The Erpingham family contributed large sums of money to the lengthy restoration of the Blackfriars’ church in nearby St Andrew’s Plain, which was damaged by fire in 1413 [10]. John and Margaret Paston’s Norwich house was closer to the damaged church and they paid for the roof beams and for the hammer beams in St Andrews Hall. The nave of the old friary church is now known as St Andrew’s Hall and the chancel, Blackfriar’s Hall. During the Reformation Augustine Steward purchased the buildings on behalf of the city, “to make the church a fayer and large hall” [6]; ‘The Halls’ are still used as public spaces.

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St Andrew’s Hall under the green roof with Blackfriars’ Hall beyond

A permanent reminder of the Pastons’ generosity can be seen in the form of the Paston and Mautby coats of arms on the C15 doors they installed, to the south side of St Andrew’s Hall.

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On the doors of St Andrew’s Hall, a shield bearing the Paston arms impaled with Mautby. The hammer beam roof funded by the family can be seen in the background.

John and Margaret Paston also funded the rebuilding of the nave and transepts of St Peter Hungate between 1458-60 [6]. This small church is at the top of Elm Hill at the junction with Princes Street, formerly known as ‘Hungate’. (I fondly recall Saturday mornings at the Hungate Bookshop where my children would sit and read).

Hungate. ‘Gate’, which means street or opening, derives from the Old English ‘geat’ or the Old Norse ‘gat’. ‘Hun’ may refer to the place where the bishop kept his hounds [11].

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St Peter Hungate with Briton’s Arms on Elm Hill to the left and Princes Street/Hungate to the right. The cathedral spire just tips over the tower to St George Tombland

Two decorative corbels in the corners of the south transept record the Pastons’ generosity.

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John and Margaret Paston ca 1460

In addition to their house on Elm Hill, The Pastons had a property on Princes Street that may have provided overspill accommodation. Coincidentally, opposite Paston’s House in King Street (now Wensum Lodge), a beam bearing the name ‘Princes In’ survives on what was – until the 1970s – the old Ship Inn. This lintel is thought to have been transferred from the inn on Princes Street, which was first mentioned in 1391 [12].

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168 King Street, entrance to Ship Yard with ‘Princes In’ (enlarged) on the lintel

This has been an intentionally Norwich-centric look at the Pastons but the great dramas surrounding this family were played out in the county, against a broader backdrop of national instability during the Wars of the Roses. The Pastons were to be besieged in three of their houses. First, in 1448 Lord Moleyns laid claim to Gresham Castle, which William Paston had bought from Thomas, the son of poet Geoffrey Chaucer. With the support of the powerful Duke of Suffolk, Moleyns sent 1000 armed [13] men to expel Margaret who famously wrote to her husband in London to send crossbows and poleaxes. In the event, Moleyns’ men mined the walls of Margaret’s  chamber, she was plukkyd out of here howse” then her mansion destroyed.

The greatest upturn in the Pastons’ fortunes came at the death of their kinsman, the fabulously wealthy soldier Sir John Fastolf, to whom John had become legal adviser. John claimed that two days before he died (1459) the old soldier had made a verbal will agreeing to sell him all his Suffolk and Norfolk lands for the bargain price of 4000 marks provided that John oversaw the foundation of a chantry at Caister to pray for Fastolf’s soul. It was perhaps inevitable that disinherited heirs and local noblemen would contest a deathbed will dictated in the presence of  the main beneficiary. In 1461 [2], a month after the coronation of the new king (Edward IV), the Duke of Norfolk felt able to take direct action by besieging Caister Castle with 3,000 men [14]. There were further altercations but the castle was not to be returned to John Paston II until after the restoration of Henry VI in 1470.

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Fastolf’s Caister Castle, reduced by the Duke of Norfolk’s guns; between Mautby (birthplace of Margaret Paston) and the east Norfolk coast

The Pastons also inherited Fastolf’s manors in Hellesdon and Drayton but in 1466 the powerful Duke of Suffolk seized Drayton, just across the Wensum from his own stronghold in Costessey. He then attacked their manor at Hellesdon, not only destroying what had been Margaret’s home for the last six years, but ransacking their tenant’s houses and even the church. Suffolk evidently felt that as the king’s brother-in-law, and with the Mayor of Norwich in his pocket [13], he could act with impunity.

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Drayton Old Lodge. It was once a manor house owned by Sir John Fastolf, built as a ‘plaisance’ overlooking the Wensum valley.

In 1466 John Paston died in London and over six days his body was conveyed back to Norfolk, accompanied by a priest and twelve torchbearers. The cost of the funeral exceeded £250, more than a year’s income from the Paston estates [13]. The extravagance and extraordinary pomp surrounding the occasion were perhaps a final riposte to those who had dragged his family through years of turbulence. The hearse cost more than £30; cloth for the mourners, £20; alms and doles to be distributed to the poor, more than £60. John Paston’s body rested for one night at St Peter Hungate before completing the journey to Bromholm Priory, near Bacton, where his father had been buried.


John Paston’s hearse would have passed through this gatehouse to Bromholm Priory

Bromholm Priory near Bacton had become a major site of medieval pilgrimage after a large piece of the true cross – brought from Constantinople – was incorporated into its Holy Rood. Twenty two pounds worth of candles illuminated the hearse and such was the stench of burning tallow that a glazier had to be paid 20 pence to remove two panes of glass ‘to late out the reke of the torches’. The mourners at John Paston’s funeral feasted on 49 pigs, 49 calves, 10 cows, 34 lambs and 22 sheep that had taken two men more than three days to flay [13].

Margaret Paston died in 1484 and is buried in her home church of Mautby, not far from Caister.

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SS Peter and Paul, Mautby. Following the demolition of an aisle during the Reformation, Margaret Paston’s grave is now on the outside of the south wall. 

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A modern reminder of Margaret Paston, steadfast and brave. NR3 2LH

Margaret and John’s descendants  – like the second Earl of Yarmouth – lived in less turbulent times, but when he died in 1732 his titles died with him. Amongst his possessions was the Paston Treasure, a painting of the Paston collections once held at Oxnead Hall. Painted around the middle of the C17, in the manner of Dutch vanity paintings [15], it depicts some of the objects amassed by William Paston (1610-62) and his son Robert (1631-83), both of whom had travelled through Europe to the Middle East. Robert was a founding member of the Royal Society and so the collection might be thought to come from his cabinet of curiosities. However, there are so many symbols of the transience and futility of life (hourglass, watch, guttering candle, lute with broken string, the falling flagon) that it is more vanitas painting than a curiositas [15]. The most heart-breaking counterbalance to all these vanities is the image of a pretty young girl; whether Mary Paston or her older sister Margaret she holds roses in full bloom, a poignant reminder that all things must pass. Exciting new research on the Paston Treasure, by Norwich Castle Museum and the Yale Center for British Art, will be revealed in an exhibition opening at the Castle Museum in summer 2018.

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The Paston Treasure, Dutch School (approx 1650) at Norwich Castle Museum and Art Gallery. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections. NWHCM:1947.170

©2017 Reggie Unthank  

Thanks to Mathew White, Events Manager of St Andrews Hall for opening doors and to Dr Francesca Vanke, Keeper of Art & Curator of Decorative Art at the Castle Museum for information on the Paston Treasure.


  1. Gairdner, James (1904). The Paston Letters vol 1. Pub: Chatto and Windus, London. (Available online at
  2. Richmond, Colin (1990). The Paston family in the fifteenth century. The first phase. Pub: Cambridge University Press.
  5. Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1997). The Buildings of England I. Norfolk, Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  11. History, Gazetteer & Directory of Norfolk (1883). Pub: William White. See online at:
  12. (King St 168 Ship Inn).
  13. Castor, Helen (2004). Blood and Roses.  Pub: Faber and Faber. For a readable account of the fascinating Paston story, look no further.
  14. Rye, Walter (1885). A History of Norfolk. Available online at:
  15. Schneider, Norbert (1994). Still Life Pub: Taschen, Cologne


Reggie through the underpass


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Previously [1] …  I spent so much time exploring Norwich’s medieval St Augustine’s that I never made it to the marketplace. Unless you fancy playing chicken on the inner ring road there is only one way to continue directly to the city centre and that is to walk beneath the flyover as it struggles to clear poor old Magdalen Street. So I escape to the former industrial area via St Crispin’s underpass.


On the other side everything is sweetness and light. We are still in Norwich-over-the-Water but at least we are away from the lowering presence of the Anglia Square development, modern buildings are in scale, the old street pattern has largely survived and there is a better class of graffiti.


The more sympathetic renovation of the former industrial quarter may be part of what Pevsner and Wilson [2] have called the  “welcome softening of approach since the late 1980s“. Around the corner on St Georges Street is a pair of houses that were renovated rather than demolished – the one on the right bearing a plaque dating it to “1670 renewed in 1986“. The larger building used to be the King’s Head pub and gained two dormers/lucams in the restoration [3]. The postmodern office block forming a backcloth is Cavell House.


C17 house with Cavell House in the background. Note its different window styles

As a postmodern building Cavell House kicks against the uniformity of modernism by including a variety of references, some of them playful. For instance, the horizontal run of windows on the upper floor resembles the long ‘throughlight’ windows once common in the heart of the Norwich weaving industry.

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Nos 3-5 Calvert Street 1936, destroyed by enemy firebombs in 1942. Note the weaver’s window in the upper floor. Courtesy

The brick arches above the lower windows in Cavell House are borrowed from the next building along St Georges Street, Sherwyn House.

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Window arches on Cavell House (above) and Sherwyn House (below)

The style of Sherwyn House is reminiscent of Edward Boardman’s 1876 shoe factory for Haldinstein’s in Queen Street and his design for Howlett & White’s ‘Norvic’ shoe factory a few hundred metres away in Colegate [4]. However, the 1885 map of Norwich clearly shows a ‘brush manufactory’ on this site, not a shoe factory [5] and Kelly’s Directory for 1883 confirms the owner to have been Henry Mullett.

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St Georges St, derelict brush factory 1983 built 1867. Courtesy

By 1983 the brush factory was derelict and became part of the 1992 Calvergate development by Feilden and Mawson [6].


Sherwyn House, St George’s Street, now retirement apartments

Just beyond Sherwyn House, a U-turn up Cross Lane then a right into Golden Dog Lane brought me to a building I had previously seen from the other side of the flyover.


The defiant Tudor-style chimneys and crow-step gable belong to Doughty’s Hospital, an alms house founded in 1687 by William Doughty for 24 poor men and eight poor women. By the mid C19 only a sparse outline of the original building remained and it was rebuilt in 1869 [7]. Now it provides 57 sheltered flats for the elderly.


On a wall are two parish plates. In the Georgian era, in the absence of detailed maps, such plates were the way of defining the boundaries of the parish and its social and legal responsibilities [8]. The letters S stand for C14/15 Saint Saviour’s Magdalen Street – the church with the truncated tower now literally overshadowed by the flyover. The insignia between these letters represents the stone cross that stood at the former junction of Magdalen and St Botolph’s Streets [9].


Retracing my steps into Cross Lane I looked down Calvert Street towards Colegate and the castle beyond. On the left side are two fine rows of red brick Victorian houses: one recording ‘GH 1896′ in Guntons’ tiles, the other with a stone inscribed ‘Thompson’s Buildings 1859’. A resident told me these were once council houses, sold under the Right-to-Buy scheme.


Across the cobbled street is a grander prospect – a reminder of the area’s former prosperity.

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20 and 22 Calvert Street. Above the doorway to No20 a plaque reads ‘Snaylgate House 1802’

The street was named for a former Sheriff of Norwich John Calvert (1741) who owned a house here. Before Calvert the street was Snaylgate and before that Snackegate [10]. The linguist Peter Trudgill says that ‘snek’ is an old Dutch dialect word for snail [11], underlining the historical connection between this weaving city and the immigrants from the Low Countries. ‘Gate’ comes from the old Danish word for street and is encountered in towns, like York and Norwich, once part of the Danelaw. This link is celebrated in a ‘Viking Norwich’ wall plaque stating that the street runs along an Anglo-Scandinavian defensive bank and ditch.

Retracing my steps down Cross Lane I enter Muspole Street via Alms Lane. It is from here that I see the St George’s Works building site with Howlett and White’s Norvic-Kiltie shoe factory (1926) in the background. This was an adjunct to their huge Norvic shoe factory on St Georges Street and whose roof can just be glimpsed to the left. In 1909 the firm employed 1200 workers [12].


To the right, there is an interesting parade of resurrected industrial buildings along Muspole Street; I am particularly taken with a building faced with mathematical tiles. The Crittall windows on the jettied first floor, with eyebrows made from ridge and pantiles, suggest the house was renovated between the wars.


Walking straight over Duke Street I enter one of the city’s 15 open spaces – St Mary’s Plain. Where other cities have squares Norwich has plains [13]. ‘Plein’ is another borrowing from the C16 Dutch and Flemish Protestant refugees who, fleeing Spanish Catholic persecution, settled here and reinvigorated our weaving trade. Next to Zoar Strict and Particular Baptist Chapel, is the former home of Thomas Pykerell, cloth merchant, sheriff and three times Mayor of Norwich in the C15. Pykerell’s House is one of only a handful of thatched buildings in the city. It was gutted by incendiary bombs in the 1940s and we are fortunate to have it in its restored state.


The square is dominated by another former shoe factory, now being redeveloped as part of St Mary’s Works. The name of Sexton Son and Everard Ltd, which is over-painted, sits on top of the building – the blacked-out lettering an unwitting reminder of the damage inflicted in the Blitz. The business that started in 1876 folded in 1976.


This aerial photo of the factory in 1946 gives an idea of the extent to which  Norwich-over-the-Water was dominated by industry.


Now for Duke Street, widened in 1972 to become the main feeder for the inner ring road. Duke St is named for the Duke of Norfolk’s C16 palace that once stood roughly on the site of present-day St Andrews Street car park [14]. I have previously mentioned the 1888 Norwich Board School on Duke St that is now part of the Norwich University of the Arts [4] but I can’t pass it without showing one of my favourite architectural folderols: this roof lantern with its lead cockade.


I exit Norwich-over-the-Water via the Duke Street bridge. The original Duke’s Palace Bridge of 1822, made entirely out of cast iron, was moved as part of the 1972 road widening scheme and re-erected over the entrance to the Castle Mall car park [2].


A riverside gangway to the left of the present bridge provides a vantage point over the river, across to the site of Howlett and White’s factory on St George’s Plain and one of the last remaining chimney stacks in an area that once bristled with them (there is another behind the Brush Factory, now Sherwyn House (above).

IMG_6744 2.JPG

To the right of the bridge the mostly derelict complex, between river and Charing Cross, was once devoted to the generation of electricity.


In 1892 Boardman and Son designed the conversion of the old Duke’s Palace Ironworks for the Norwich Electric Light Company who supplied the city’s street lamps. But by the 1920s this was superseded by the power station at Thorpe and the Duke Street site was converted to offices [4].


The city coat of arms on the former offices of the Norwich Electric Light Company, Duke Street [4].

Left into St Andrews Street then right into one of the very few post-medieval streets in the city: Exchange Street. Originally called Museum Street then Post Office Street it was renamed once more after the opening of the Corn Exchange (1828). In 1832 Exchange Street finally connected through to St Andrews Street, allowing traffic to flow over the recently opened Duke Street Bridge then to points north via St Augustine’s Gate [2, 15].

In 1861 the original corn exchange was replaced by a larger one that functioned well into the C20.

norwich corn exchange.jpg

The ‘new’ Corn Exchange in 1960. © Copyright Historic England Archive ref: AA98/12867

But a century later (1963) this larger corn exchange (seen below) was in turn demolished to make way for the extension to Jarrolds Department Store at the corner of Exchange and Bedford Streets.

Exchange St Corn Exchange west side [2513] 1938-06-26.jpg

The 1861 Corn Exchange seen in 1938 from the market end.

At last, the marketplace. The Anglo-Saxon market was based in Tombland but the entire axis of the city changed when the Normans built the castle in the late C11 and installed a market in its present position, outside the motte in the Mancroft district [16]. Over recent years there had been too many unoccupied stalls in the 900+ year–old market but there seems to be a revival of its fortunes due the city council’s introduction of a ‘Global Market’ – pop-ups selling street food from around the world. Hybrid vigour comes to the rescue, as it has done throughout the long history of this city [17].



New Walk.jpg


©2017 Reggie Unthank

Thanks to Frances Holmes, Martin Shaw and John Fuller for their assistance. I am also grateful to the website run by Jonathan Plunkett.


  1. ‎
  2. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I, Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  4. ‎
  8. David A Berwick (2007). Beating the Bounds in Georgian Norwich. Pub:
  10. Calvert St 20 to 22 [2676] 1938-08-03
  12. Frances and Michael Holmes (2013). The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects (
  13. Richard Lane (1999). The Plains of Norwich. Pub: The Larks Press.


Gildencroft and Psychogeography


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On the map it was meant to be a straight enough radial walk from a city gate into the city centre but I’m easily distracted. I got lost around Gildencroft where – as the psychogeographers among you will know – an historic area clings on among the after effects of postwar modernisation.


Henry Ninham’s 1861 engraving, based on John Kirkpatrick’s 1720 drawing. Norfolk Museums Service. NWHCM : 1953.31.FAP33

There was a time you were free to imagine yourself a nineteenth century flâneur like Baudelaire, strolling along the boulevards without a care [1]. But midcentury psychogeographers like Guy Debord, with their socio-political ideas about the effects of environment on the pedestrian’s psyche, put a stop to that, making a new wave of urban explorers more conscious about the impact of urban development [2]. In Psychogeography [3], Will Self wrote about walking to Manhattan from his house in south London (not over the watery bit, obvs) in order to regain “the Empty Quarters“: the hinterlands around airports.


Psychogeography ©Will Self (words) and Ralph Steadman (artist). Bloomsbury Publishing 2007

And in his ‘alternative cartography’ around the M25 London Orbital, Iain Sinclair famously wrote about walking through urban no-man’s land. Other twenty-first century urban walkers (the new psychogeographers) suggest taking a playful approach to the exploration of the built environment, employing a variety of tricks to nudge the pedestrian off the beaten path to make them more aware of the urban landscape. Rob Macfarlane recommends following the path drawn on a map by an upturned tumbler; others throw dice at each intersection or perform ‘ambulant signmaking’ by following a letter traced on a map; and one urban runner even used the GPS in his running shoe to geotrack the shape of his privy member on the map. Hmm. This may be why Lauren Elkin (“walking is mapping with your feet”) [4] writes about the need for female flâneuses to reclaim the streets. There’s a lot of hoo-ha around psychogeography but, at heart, it’s about the way that urban development affects our lives.

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The Gildencroft area of St Augustine’s parish is over the A147 inner ring road. St Augustine’s Gate (lost in the C18) is marked very approximately with the blue bar. ©OpenStreetMapcontributors

I started my walk, not at the old city gate, but by taking a closer look at a building I’d glimpsed from my car. So at the outset I travelled contrariwise. This was on Starling Road, just off Magpie Road (red star), which runs parallel to the old city wall. The building is a relic of the once thriving Norwich shoe industry that, like much of the city’s trade, took place here in Norwich-over-the-water (Ultra Aquam). The concrete lettering on the parapet reads: The British United Shoe Machinery Co Ltd 1925 [5].


Once, this Leicester firm made equipment for the Norwich shoemakers but collapsed in 2000. Now the building is occupied by Gallpen who – in a nice example of nominative determinism – are printers (ink used to be made by adding iron salts to tannic acid extracted from oak galls). In a 1910 trade book the founder, Charles Gaunt Gallpen (b 1859), advertised himself as a printer with the unintentionally ominous slogan: “Call on me or I will call on you” [6].


From [6]

Crossing busy Magpie Road, I passed a segment of the city wall and part of a tower revealed by the demolition of Magpie Printers in 2013.


The medieval city wall would have continued beyond the houses to the right, passing across St Augustine’s Street to emerge ona tract of land between Bakers Road to the right and St Martin’s at Oak Wall Lane to the left.


What we are looking at is the external ditch and on the inner side of the wall was a tract of land once known as the Jousting Acre [7]. Here, men-at-arms practiced jousting with lances and – as was compulsory in the medieval period – young men would have performed their archery practice with bows or crossbows. The antiquary Francis Blomefield mentions that King Edward III came to a tournament that local historian Stuart McLaren suggests is likely to have been held at this Jousting Acre [7].

In the 15th year of his reign, the King appointed a turnament to be held at Norwich … this exercise was much in use in ancient times, and is otherwise called jousting or tilting; the knights that used this martial sport were armed, and so encountered one another on horseback, with spears or lances, by which they made themselves fit for war, according to the manner of that age, which made use of such weapons … this turnament began in February 1340, and the King … was at Norwich on Wednesday February 14, being St. Valentine’s day.  (Francis Blomefield 1806 [8])

Sussex Street is one of the most attractive streets in this part of the city, containing rows of Georgian terraced housing dated mainly to 1821-1824 [9].


14 & 16 Sussex Street (south side)

These were probably houses for the respectable working/lower middle class; Number 22 (below) is more genteel.


22 Sussex Street. Doorway with Greek Doric columns and segmental arch with fanlight

There is a similar doorcase on No 21  on the opposite side of the street. This house forms part of a terrace of three-storeyed houses. To the left can just be seen part of the 1971 conversion to flats by Edward Skipper and Associates. As we know, George Skipper [10] built the architectural fireworks of late Victorian Norwich and laid out much of the Golden Triangle in the early C20. The family name lives on in St Augustines.


Behind, and to the left, is the modern development, Quintain Mews – the name commemorating medieval jousting.


The quintain was a revolving target that would, when struck with lance or sword, swing around to sandbag the combatant.


Wikimedia Commons

On the opposite side of Sussex Street is the entry to 42 modern, split-level dwellings – The Lathes – owned by Broadland Housing Association. This development was built in 1976 by the architects Teather and Walls, described as ‘Associate for Edward Skipper and Associates” [11].


The word ‘lathes’ is dialect for a grain barn [7], commemorating the farm that once stood in this area. According to Blomefield [8] the farm belonged at various times to Sir John Paston, and two Shakespearean heroes: Sir John Fastolff of Caister (Falstaff is mentioned in five plays) and “brave Sir Thomas Erpingham” (Henry V) whose statue is above the Erpingham Gate of Norwich Cathedral. One suggestion is that Erpingham installed this pious statue to assert his religious orthodoxy at a time when the Lollards were asserting themselves [12]


Sir Thomas kneels in a niche above the Erpingham Gate 

Historically and architecturally St Augustine’s is a fascinating street but the temptation to flit from one side of the road to the other is inhibited by the volume of traffic flowing out of the city.  Still, this hasn’t put off the young artists who are adopting the street.

On the west side of the street a ghost sign was recently uncovered when No. 22 became Easton Pottery [13]. I can pick out ‘Easton’, ‘Florists’ and perhaps ‘Newsagents’. Trade directories show that from the 1930s to the 1960s a Miss E Easton ran a florist’s shop here. Before that she, and her father before her, ran a greengrocer’s. But the current owner, the potter Rachel Kurdynowska, found that T Easton traded here in 1873 as an earthenware dealer and it is in honour of this serendipitous connection that Rachel named her business.


Ghost sign for the Easton family businesses, now Easton Pottery #22 St Augustine’s Street

The oversized roof gables known locally as lucams are a prominent feature of the east side of the street. ‘Lucam’ may be a corruption of ‘lucarne’, a French word for skylight donated by immigrant ‘Strangers’ – C16-17 Dutch and French-speaking Walloons who could have used the term for the windows at which they reinvigorated the city’s weaving trade [14]. The owner of No 33 (left), who is just coming into view, told me that he had recently repaired his lucam.


Lucams at 33 and 31 St Augustine’s Street


Nunn’s Yard, a fine range of five upper gables on 23-25 St Augustine’s Street

The recently renovated numbers 23 and 25 announce themselves as ‘Nunn’s Yard’, which is actually further up the road between numbers 31 and 33. Instead, Nunn’s Yard Gallery is now the name of an enterprise whose two other contemporary exhibition spaces are doing much to enliven this street: Yallop’s and Thirteen A [15].


Yallop’s and Thirteen a.

The entry to Hinde’s Yard can be seen to the left of Thirteen A and the cast-iron signs for other yards are encountered along the street.

Yard four.jpg

The influx of Strangers in the Elizabethan era created a demand for housing within the confines of the city walls; this was met by squeezing poorly-built, insanitary ‘yards’ or ‘courts’ into the courtyards of larger properties fronting the streets [16]. Before WWII there were 70 houses in Rose Yard. The only source of water for 50 of them was the public pump in St Augustine’s churchyard. An 1851 report mentions, “at the bottom is a large pool of nightsoil 15 feet by 25 feet from about 40 houses”[16]. Most of the city’s several hundred yards were cleared as slums in the 1950s. All that remains of Rose Yard is the entrance and a few houses. (See Nick Stone’s brilliant rephotography of this area [17]).


Rose Yard #7 St Augustine’s Street

This entrance to Rose Yard can be seen (below) to the left of The Rose Inn as it was in 1938. An inn is known to have been on this site since the C14 when it refreshed those attending the jousting tournaments in Gildencroft.

Rose 1938.jpg

The Rose Inn in 1938, with the entrance to Rose Yard on the left  []

Opposite Rose Yard is St Augustine’s Church whose parishioners are known as Red Steeplers on account of the only (late 1600s) red brick tower in the city [18].


St Augustine’s. In the background, a medieval terrace and a looming presence.

In the churchyard is the tomb of Thomas Clabburn (d.1858) who employed upwards of six hundred Norwich weavers [19].


The Clabburn family tomb. Inside the church is a tablet commemorating Thomas’s ‘many virtues as an employer and a kind, good man’

In the background (above) is Church Alley (1580), believed to be the longest row of Tudor houses in England [7]. It leads to the wonderfully named street, Gildencroft, which commemorates an area that once roughly overlapped St Augustine’s parish [20].


Gildencroft is also the name of a small park I circumnavigated as I tried to find the Quaker Burial Ground. I passed a small building, now a nursery, that was built by the Society of Friends at the end of the C17 then rebuilt after the original was destroyed in the 1942 Baedeker air raids. Nearby are the gates to the burial ground, which were open when I visited it this spring in search of Amelia Opie’s grave [20], but are now sadly locked. Reasons for closure include drink, drugs and dog poo (wasn’t that an album by The Pogues?).


The Quaker Burial Ground, Spring 2017

I completed my anticlockwise stroll around Gildencroft by walking through St Crispin’s Car Park and hopping up a bank to St Crispin’s Road (aka the ring road) with its busy roundabout. Due to the volume of traffic I had to trek back up Pitt Street (commemorating not Prime Minister Pitt but a rubbish pit [7]) to find a safe crossing. And it was here, now facing towards Sovereign House, that I was confronted by the source of my irritation – Anglia Square and all it stands for: postwar dereliction, the ring road, the Magadalen Street flyover, disregard of the pedestrian, insensitivity to the past …  [22].


The derelict Sovereign House (formerly Her Majesty’s Stationery Office), part of the 1960s/70s Anglia Square development

In the decades after the war it must have seemed a good thing to replace a bomb-damaged area of insanitary medieval housing with Brutalist modernity. But modernity barely survived 50 years in the case of Her Majesty’s Stationery Office, and the shopping centre fails to thrive. This can’t be blamed on a dislike of Brutalism in the provinces: see how well concrete works in Lasdun’s greenfield site at UEA. More likely the problem stemmed from the imposition of an out-of-scale development on an historic site. Now, in a frightening example of history repeating itself, it is proposed to replace Anglia Square with a tower block 25 storeys high [23].

The isolation of St Augustine’s from the city centre by the river had already established its marginal identity but then, in the 1960s and 70s, the severing of old routes by the inner ring road released this area into an even more distant orbit: Norwich-over-the-ring-road (Ultra Via Anulum). [See 24 for a critical view of ‘The Norwich Magdalen Street Massacre’].

I tried to get back to the city centre by walking under the flyover that goes on to blight the next radial road – medieval Magdalen Street – but found my way blocked by a private trailer depot …


… so I doubled back and left via the only route available to pedestrians going up or down Duke Street – an underpass. Flâneurs and flâneuses wanting to enter an historic area are unlikely to find a less welcoming entrance but do it, explore St Augustine’s and help reconnect it to the city centre.



©2017 ReggieUnthank


  3. Will Self and Ralph Steadman (2007). Psychogeography Pub: Bloomsbury.
  4. Laura Elkin (2017). Flâneuse. Pub: Vintage
  5. Frances Holmes and Michael Holmes (2013). The Story of the Norwich Boot and Shoe Trade. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects
  6. Citizens of no Mean City (1910). A trade book published by Jarrold and Sons.
  7. Do read this excellent account of the history of this area By S J McLaren. The website ( describes a proud community working hard to maintain its identity.
  8. Francis Blomefield, ‘The City of Norwich, chapter 15: Of the city in Edward III’s time’, in An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I (London, 1806), pp. 79-101. British History Online
  9. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (2002). The Buildings of England. Norfolk I, Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  14. Peter Trudgill (2003). The Norfolk dialect. Pub: Poppyland, Cromer.
  16. Frances Holmes and MichaelHolmes (2015). The Old Courts and Yards of Norwich. Pub: Norwich Heritage Projects. (The definitive book on the Norwich yards).
  18. Mortlock, D.P. and Roberts, C.V. (1985). The Popular Guide to Norfolk Churches. No2 Norwich, Central and South Norfolk. Pub: Acorn Editions.
  20. Personal communication, Stuart McLaren

Thanks. I am indebted to: local historian Stuart McLaren for sharing his deep knowledge of the area; to Rachel Kurdynowska for information about Easton Pottery; to The Bookhive ( for suggesting Lauren Elkins’ Flâneuse; and Jonathan Plunkett for access to the website based on his father’s largely pre-war photographs ( I thank my daughter Susie for the many conversations about psychogeography and urban walking .

The Norwich Society helps people enjoy and appreciate the history and character of Norwich.   Visit: