Late Extra: The Norwich Pantheon


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


The portico of the Roman Pantheon with the rotunda behind


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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


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

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


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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 OS map, redrawing courtesy of Bill Smith.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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1946 aerial survey ©Norfolk County Council

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

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

Bill then outlined the main compartments as far as possible.

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The plan drawn by Bill Smith

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

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

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

Victoria Ranelagh Pleasure Gardens.jpg

©2019 Reggie Unthank


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

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

Pleasure Gardens


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


Pablo Fanque and steed from The Illustrated London News

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

Spring Gdns.jpg

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

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


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

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


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

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

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


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

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The ‘Wilderness Tower with Black Tower behind. ©

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


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

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

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


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

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

Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

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


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

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


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

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


Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

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


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

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


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


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

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


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

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

©2019 Reggie Unthank

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


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

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










The absent Dukes of Norfolk


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The Dukes of Norfolk are conspicuously absent from the county that bears the name of their title; for over 400 years their seat has been at  Arundel Castle, Sussex, and barely a trace of them remains in Norfolk’s county town.

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Arundel Castle, Sussex ca 1770 by James Canter ©Arundel Castle

But before sifting Norwich for the remains of the Dukes of Norfolk let’s look at the ebb and flow of power (and religion) that explains their absence.

Earlier lineages of the Dukes of Norfolk had petered out so, in the latest line, John Howard was created the First Duke of Norfolk in 1483 by Richard III as reward for helping him usurp the throne. Howard died at the Battle of Bosworth, along with Richard III, when struck in the face by an arrow. Howard’s son, who also fought at Bosworth, was placed in the Tower and stripped of lands and title by the victor, Henry VII. Henry VII restored the title of Surrey but it wasn’t until the reign of Henry VIII that the title, (Third) Duke of Norfolk, was restored after Thomas Howard defeated James IV at Flodden.”


Thomas Howard, 3rd Duke of Norfolk by Hans Holbein the Younger, holding the baton of the premier Earl Marshal. Courtesy Royal Collection.

As a religious conservative the Third Duke challenged the reforms of Henry VIII’s chief minister, Thomas Cromwell, but gained the upper hand when Cromwell fell out of favour for promoting the king’s unsuccessful marriage to Anne of Cleves.


Anne of Cleves by Hans Holbein the Younger. Henry said “She is nothing as fair as she hath been reported” . The marriage was unconsummated. Credit: Louvre Museum

Cromwell was accused of treason and it was Norfolk who snatched the chains from the neck of the condemned Chancellor, “relishing the opportunity to restore this low-born man to his former status”.

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Thomas Cromwell’s Garter Collar

But in this noble game of snakes and ladders the Duke of Norfolk had the great misfortune of being uncle to Henry’s two beheaded wives – the first being Anne Boleyn (Wife II) from Blickling. The second was Catherine Howard who Henry married on the day that Cromwell was beheaded, just three weeks after divorcing Anne of Cleves (Wife IV). It was Catherine’s supposed promiscuity that led to her execution and the Howards’ loss of power [1].

The Third Duke’s son, Henry Howard, has been called: “the most folish prowde boy that ys in Englande”.


Henry Howard, ‘The Poet Earl of Surrey’, aged 29 (1546). Attributed to William Scrots

Henry Howard unwisely improved his coat of arms in the family’s Kenninghall Palace in South Norfolk by quartering them with the royal arms of his ancestor, Edward the Confessor. Henry VIII saw this as treasonous so Howard who, as a young man had been made to witness the execution of his relative Queen Catherine Howard, was himself beheaded aged 30 [2].


The attainted arms of Henry Howard. The arms of Edward the Confessor are fifth in this series (Azure, a cross flory between 5 marlets Or)

His father, the Third Duke was also in the Tower, but was reprieved by Henry VIII’s death the day before the planned execution. After Henry’s daughter, Bloody Mary – who burned dozens of Norwich Protestants at Lollards’ Pit – became queen she rewarded the staunchly Catholic Howards by restoring the Dukedom of Norfolk. However, after Henry’s other daughter – the staunchly Protestant Elizabeth – became queen the Third Duke of Norfolk was found guilty of plotting against her and so, once more, lands and title were forfeit.

The Fourth Duke of Norfolk, Thomas Howard, is suggested to have commissioned Thomas Tallis’ 40-part motet Spem in Alium; after hearing of Striggio’s 40-part mass he asked “whether none of our Englishmen could sett as good a songe” [3]. For this alone he is my favourite Norfolk. During the 2010 Norfolk and Norwich Festival I heard Spem in Alium played in St Peter Parmentergate on King Street. Janet Cardiff had arranged 40 speakers so that the audience could walk around and listen to recordings of each of the 40 voices played through a dedicated audio channel [4]. Magical.


Janet Cardiff’s 40-speaker motet in St Peter Parmentergate. Courtesy of [3]

Arundel Castle became the Howard seat after Thomas Howard married Mary Fitzalan, the Earl of Arundel’s heir, in 1555. But the duke became embroiled in a Catholic conspiracy to enthrone Mary Queen of Scots. He was executed by Elizabeth I and Norfolk lands and titles were – yet again – held forfeit. It wasn’t until 1660, during the Restoration, that these were restored to the Fourth Duke’s great-great-grandson who was held in a mental asylum in Padua and on his death the title passed to his brother, the Sixth Duke [5,6].


Henry Howard, Sixth Duke of Norfolk, Earl Marshal, 1st Earl of Norwich (ca 1670-80?)

The Howards in Norwich. In 1544 the Third Duke’s son, (that most folish prowde boy) had begun building a sumptuous mansion on the site of St Leonard’s Priory given to the Norfolks by Henry VIII. On St Leonard’s Hill the building, Mount Surrey [7], looked over the city; five years later Robert Kett’s army used the mansion as its headquarters after which it was totally demolished [8].

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Site of Mount Surrey, on St Leonard’s Hill (to the right of  ‘Leonardes’), overlooking Bishop Bridge (twin towers, centre) and the cathedral spire (lower edge). From Braun & Hogenberg’s map 1581. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Collections.

The Poet Earl’s other house in Surrey Street, Surrey Court, was barely finished by the time of his execution. It was on this site that George Skipper was to build Surrey House, aka The Marble Hall, for Norwich Union, 1901-1906 [9]. Some of Surrey’s C17 stained-glass coats-of-arms were reinstalled in Skipper’s building that – had they been seen by his prosecutors – would have confirmed their accusations of Surrey’s and Norfolk’s treasonous intentions [10].

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C17 glass from Surrey Court now in Aviva’s Surrey House. Lower far right is the Third Duke’s coat of arms surrounded by the Order of the Garter, surmounted by the ducal crown. On this shield the Howard arms occupies the top left quadrant with ancestral arms in the remaining quarters. 

Around 1540, on what is now the site of the Duke Street Car Park, the Third Duke built his own palace as a copy of Surrey House on the other side of the city [11]. This is where the Fourth Duke wooed the devoutly Catholic Mary Queen of Scots with talk of marriage that earned him Elizabeth I’s disapproval [quoted in 12]. In 1672 the palace was rebuilt in the modern Italianate style but probably never completed.


The north side of Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, John Kirkpatrick 1710. Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

Thomas Baskerville (1681) didn’t hold back: (it is)“seated in a dung-hole place … it hath but little room for gardens … and is pent up on all sides … with tradesmen’s and dyers’ houses, who foul the water by their constant washing and cleaning their cloth” [10]. As we saw in the post on the Blood Red River [13] waste was still being emptied into the Wensum from adjacent dyeing houses some 200 years later.

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The cast-iron Duke’s Palace Bridge (built 1822) next to Michael Stark’s dye works. Drawn by James Stark. Courtesy of [15].

One reason why the palace was abandoned in 1711 was that the cellars had been sunk so deep “that the water annoyed them much” and the floors above subsided [14]. An image from a recent post shows just how devastating the slow-flowing Wensum can be [13].


The flooded Anchor Quay Brewery in 1912, a few hundred metres downstream. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

Another reason for the Eighth Duke’s departure from Norwich is claimed to have been the mayor’s refusal (1708) to allow him to process into the city with his comedians and trumpeters [8]. It does sound mean-spirited but there are deeper currents. Blomefield [7] records that in 1683 the Earl of Arundel had brought letters from Charles II (who made a death-bed conversion to Catholicism) limiting the ancient rights of the Norwich Assembly. Charles’ successor, the Catholic James II, also tried to impose direct control upon the Assembly. In 1688 Henry Duke of Norfolk rode into the marketplace at the head of 30 knights and gentlemen and declared for a free parliament; i.e., that Catholics should be free of a test that effectively barred them from both Houses of Parliament. That year, the Norwich ‘rabble’ rioted and burned a Popish chapel and houses [7]. Charitably, the mayor’s refusal to permit the procession can be seen as a sensible precaution against stirring up the Protestant mob but now that an intensely Anglican monarch (Queen Anne) was on the throne the Assembly may have felt safe in thumbing their noses at the Catholic nobility after years of interference.  

Made of stone – a rarity in Norwich – the Tuscan columns on Mayor John Harvey’s house at No 20 Colegate are said to be recycled from the Duke’s Palace [8 and, more ambiguously, 16].


The domestic wing of the Duke’s Palace was leased to the Corporation in 1711 as a workhouse [11].

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The workhouse. Samuel King 1766. Courtesy, Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1997.550.81:M

The Court of Guardians (of the Poor) inserted a great number of dormer windows into the former bowling alley to let light into the paupers’ dormitories; lower floors provided workrooms.


Workhouse, formerly the duke’s bowling alley. By Eastgate ca 1806. Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

In 1764 the Tenth Duke built a Roman Catholic chapel with a chaplain’s house on the site

DoN Chapel.jpg

The derelict former Catholic chapel, presumably in the 1960s. Courtesy Norfolk County Council, at Picture Norfolk

… but in 1794 his successor, who was Anglican, let the chapel to the Norwich Public Library [18, 19]. This particular link with the Dukes of Norfolk was finally broken in 1839 when chapel and house were sold to the Norfolk and Norwich Museum; in the 1960s the building (by then a billiard hall) was demolished to make way for the Duke Street Car Park.


The Old Public Library ca 1900 on St Andrew’s Street. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at

The link with the Dukes of Norfolk was resuscitated when the Roman Catholic Church of St John was built in 1910 for Henry Fitzalan Howard, the 15th Duke of Norfolk. It was designed by George Gilbert Scott Jnr (and finished by his brother John Oldrid Scott). From its vantage point on the site of the old city gaol, high on the west side of Norwich, it looks down upon the city much as the ancestral Mount Surrey had overlooked the east side some 360 years before. This fine building, which became a cathedral in 1976, is all lancet windows, built in the Early English style favoured by the duke.RC Cathedral.jpg

Old maps show one final, tantalising trace of the C17 Howards – My Lord’s Gardens – but I’m reserving that for the next post on Norwich pleasure gardens.

© 2018 Reggie Unthank 


  2. William A. Sessions (1986). Henry Howard, the Poet Earl of Surrey: A Life. Pub: OUP.
  7. Francis Blomefield (1806). An Essay Towards A Topographical History of the County of Norfolk: Volume 3, the History of the City and County of Norwich, Part I (London), British History Online
  8. Frank Meeres (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co Ltd, Andover.
  10. Ernest A. Kent (1932). The Houses of the Dukes of Norfolk in Norwich. Norfolk Archaeology vol XXIV.
  11. L.G. Bolingbroke (1921). St John Maddermarket: its Streets, Lanes and Ancient Houses, and their Old-time Association. Norfolk Archaeology vol XX.
  14. John Kirkpatrick (1889). The Streets and Lanes of the City of Norwich. Pub: Agas H. Goose.
  16. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East, page 284. Pub: Yale University Press.

Thanks to: Clare Everitt at Picture Norfolk for permissions to use images from the superb collection of old photographs of Norfolk from Picture Norfolk. Visit:

Nairn on Norwich


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Born in Bedford 1930, dead of cirrhosis of the liver 1983, Ian Nairn wrote about towns not as a trained architect but as an outsider [1,2]. In 1955 he produced a maverick edition of Architectural Review entitled Outrage in which he railed against the homogenising effect of bland postwar development and the blurring of lines between town and country – ‘urban sprawl’. The result was a subtopia (his word) in which “the end of Southampton will look like the beginning of Carlisle.” He also wrote about Norwich … and not in a good way.

Ian Nairn.jpg

Ian Nairn. Photo: Architectural Press Archive/RIBA Library Photographs Collection

Nairn was stationed on the outskirts of Norwich at RAF Horsham St Faith, now Norwich Airport. On a personal mission for Architectural Review, Nairn flew his Gloster Meteor jet in search of evidence of John Soane’s 1784 Music Room at Earsham Hall [2].

Soane's Music Room Earsham.jpg

John Soane remodelled the Music Room at Earsham Hall, near Bungay, 1784.  He also designed Shotesham Hall, just outside Norwich, 1785. © Evelyn Simak

Nairn is said not to have been able to separate his private from his professional life so it was probably to the city’s detriment that Norwich was the only one of the 16 ‘Nairn’s Towns’ in which he had actually lived (other than London). The two uneventful years he spent on the celestial Unthank Road with his first wife, Joan Parsons, allowed him far longer to polish his hostility than was possible on the other provincial drive-bys. His 1964 essay on Norwich was “particularly rancid” [2] …

“… the traveller comes on a brand-new building announcing the city centre at the southern end of St Stephens Street, which for crushing banality must have few equals in Britain … to come first in a field as large as this is no joke.” [3]

St Stephens Street was flattened in the war after which it was decided that there was nothing worth saving except – according to Pevsner and Wilson [4] – Marks & Spencer’s 1912 Adam Revival building, formerly Buntings Department Store. In his 1967 postscript, Nairn wrote that the rebuilding of St Stephens Street was “probably the worst thing of its kind I have ever seen in what passes for a cultured city.”


The western side of St Stephens Street – an unconsidered jumble of post-war building

By contrast,  Nairn loved George Skipper’s ‘old’ Norwich Union building (1900-1912) in nearby Surrey Street, calling it “a super-Palladian palace which is as good as anything of its style in the country.” But the adjacent new headquarters were “a completely anonymous slab” [3].


Skipper’s Norwich Union building of 1903-4 next to the 1960-1 building by T P Bennet & Sons ‘without the conviction Skipper wielded in his day” [3].

Like fellow ‘dilettante journalist’ and architectural commentator, John Betjeman, Nairn  approved of our local architect, identifying the Telephone Manager’s Office in St Giles Street as, “another firework by Skipper … smaller but if anything even richer.” Built 1904-6 for the Norwich and London Accident Insurance Association (now St Giles House Hotel) it has been called “the Norwich Union in miniature” [4].

St Giles Hotel.jpg

Nairn loved the unlovable; he was neutral about historic Elm Hill “with its cobbles and antique shops” but he outrightly condemned the decline of Pottergate and King Street. Despite suffering from faceless post-war infill Pottergate manages to thrive as part of a vibrant mix of independent shops in the Norwich Lanes. King Street, however, has changed more dramatically since Nairn’s visit.

King St 125 to 129 1946 #2.jpg

125-129 King Street in 1946. © Compare with below.

After George Plunkett took the above photograph the ground floor of 125-129 was ripped out and the shop fronts replaced with plate glass, the full horror of which can be seen now that the building is derelict. This is adjacent to Dragon Hall (under scaffolding), one of the ‘Norwich 12’ iconic buildings. Further along, behind the hoarding is the new St Anne’s Wharf housing development; the opposite side is now mainly modern housing in ‘traditional’ style and so character developed over centuries has all but evaporated.KingStNorwich.jpg

To the north of the city the spirit of the Coslany ward, said Nairn, had been stifled by “over-zoning and carelessness“. In the first of the Civic Trust’s redecoration schemes (1959) attempts had been made to revive Magdalen Street, as can be seen in a short film [5]. Facades were stripped of unnecessary clutter and painted in pastel shades from a palette of 18 colours and 13 alphabets selected by Coordinating Architect, Misha Black. However, while The Times reported on the Walt Disney effect [6], Nairn – citing one of the ‘malpractices’ from Outrage – wrote that the pastels were “cruelly out of touch with the local colour-range, and after five years it looks as jaded as last year’s fashion.


Before and after: book cover of Civic Trust 1959 project. From the archives of The Royal Windsor Forum

Nairn did manage to extract a few good points, singling out plans by City Architect David Percival for the old people’s flats clustered around the churchyard of St John Ber Street but, sixty years on, it is hard to share the warmth of Nairn’s enthusiasm.


Alderson Place, Finkelgate

Another of Nairn’s bright spots was Denys Lasdun’s University of East Anglia campus. Lasdun designed the campus to face the newly-excavated lake with the ‘teaching wall’ behind; this was separated by an elevated walkway from the ziggurats – the stepped boxes providing student accommodation. In his 1967 postscript, Nairn was evidently minded to approve this icon of New Brutalism on principle since building had only just begun.


Lasdun’s “laudanum dream of Anglicised modern architecture” [7]

Nairn did concede that there were still many marvellous things to see in Norwich, including “one of the great town views of England.” 


He thought the Anglican Cathedral had never received the praise it was due although his own praise was correspondingly muted: “no fireworks”.


“Such a balanced and even-tempered masterpiece”

He did like the Perpendicular vaulting added to the Norman nave after the timber roof was destroyed by fire in 1463; he thought it “a splendid match for the three-storey elevation underneath.”  It is a glorious stone roof, a masterpiece of late medieval craftsmanship, but you would hardly call it a ‘match’ since it is hard to disguise the stylistic chasm between the delicate lacework of lierne ribs and the ponderous Norman piers made of lighter Caen stone.   NorwichCathedralRoof.jpg


Supporting one of the Perpendicular fans is a hart lying on water – the rebus of Bishop Walter Lyhart who initiated the vaulting of the nave roof.

The only other building in Norwich “with the authority of the cathedral” was St James Yarn Mill on the Wensum, built in 1843 to give a boost to our waning textile trade. Nairn’s first wife worked for local printers and booksellers Jarrolds, whose printing works were then in St James Mill; according to Gillian Darley it was Nairn’s intervention that gained the building its Grade I listing in 1954 [8].Jarrolds.jpg

As he wrote words of praise about this temple of industry Nairn was using his other hand to take a swipe at “the intricate antics of the city’s interminable late-Gothic churches. Interminable is about right“. He liked the interior of St George Colegate but then its Gothic fittings had been replaced with unfussy Georgian. StGeorgeColegate.jpg

Good things have to be hunted down piecemeal like … the enchanting toy vault under the tower of St Gregory Pottergate” (below).


The toy vault

At St Peter Mancroft, Nairn said nothing about one of the best angel roofs in the country nor of the outstanding C15 Norwich School glass in the great east window. Instead, he thought the building “one of the most neurotic and inconsistent designs that ever received universal adulation.” But in this he was at odds with Nikolaus Pevsner, with whom he had co-edited the 1960s volumes on Sussex and Surrey for The Buildings of England. Pevsner – who thought Nairn’s contributions too subjective – judged St Peter Mancroft “the Norfolk parish church par excellence”; John Betjeman thought it “superb” [9]; and Simon Jenkins wrote, “Few who enter St Peter’s for the first time can stifle a gasp” [10]. StPeterMancroft.jpg

Within spitting distance of St Peter Mancroft (too close for a dyspeptic critic) is the City Hall. St Peter Mancroft was “old, big and has a lot of carving on it” but the very freedom from fuss that Nairn admired in Jarrolds Paper Mill was positively disliked at City Hall: it was timorous, suffering from a fatal “drawing back from commitment.” IMG_9910.jpg

Nairn summed up City Hall’s personality defects by comparing “the empty bombast of the lions in front … with their C12 prototype in Brunswick.” Both are quite stylised, both things of beauty. The Norwich lion (left) does have a slicker hair-do but this was at a time when Norwich City Council was demolishing hundreds of  medieval slums, looking forward to the streamlined kind of future promised by Swedish Neoclassical architecture [4].

Lion Duo.jpg

In opposition to Nairn’s glumness, Pevsner and Wilson thought Norwich City Hall “must go down in history as the foremost English public building of between the wars … (an) architectural triumph” [4].

Stockholm Duo.jpg

Pevsner & Wilson [4] noted the influence of Stockholm City Hall by Ragnar Östberg (1923) and Stockholm’s Concert Hall by Ivar Tengbom (1926) on Norwich City Hall (1939)

Below City Hall lies the large marketplace founded by the Normans in their New Borough and joined umbilically to their castle by Davey Place. Nairn was enthusiastic about this little street and thought “This part of Norwich could be nowhere else.”

davey place.jpg

Davey Place below the Castle. © Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, courtesy of Picture Norfolk 

Davey Place is not without charm but is no longer unique, marred by blank-faced intrusions from the C20th.   IMG_9923.jpg

In his 1967 postscript Nairn wrote:

The highlight of 1965 was the approval of a proposal by the City Engineer to build a flyover exactly half-way down that recently famous Magdalen Street; meanwhile, a property company has bought up large chunks of ‘old rubbish’ to the north; the character of Coslany has finally gone.

Lovely old Magdalen Street barely survived the bisection.


The flyover that bisects Magdalen Street. Looming on the left is the Hollywood Cinema, part of the   failed Anglia Square development. 

On Nairn’s ‘chunks of old rubbish’, immediately behind Magdalen Street, the St Augustine’s area was bulldozed so that Norwich could have its own copy of urban revitalisation – the pedestrian precinct. The problem was that pedestrians had a long walk from the city centre to a satellite from which they were notionally excluded by the new inner ring road [see previous posts 11 ,12]. Now, Anglia Square is a collection of downmarket discount stores, the multi-storey carpark is closed, the excessive surface parking around the uncompleted development is tatty, and Her Majesty’s Stationery Office – the love-it-or-hate-it Sovereign House – lies abandoned [13].


The Brutalist Sovereign House, part of the Anglia Square development (1970)

Around the time of his second visit to Norwich, Nairn was falling out of love with ‘new architecture’, using the front of the Observer’s Review to shout: “Stop the architects now. The outstanding and appalling fact about modern architecture is that it is not good enough” [14]. The lesson learned from the last 70 years of post-war town planning is that open urban space needs to be on a human scale and in tune with the historic environment if it is to be loved. It is therefore hard to comprehend why plans have been submitted to redevelop Anglia Square with a 25-storey tower. Whether it is 25 or a concessionary 20 storeys high is immaterial for any tall tower plus three large 12-storey blocks will be cruelly out of scale with the surrounding Conservation Areas [15]. It is essential that the overriding values of retail and property are not allowed to determine the texture of the streetscape for a further 70 years. Click to read the Norwich Society’s response to the revised Anglia Square proposal [16]

©2018 Reggie Unthank

FOR YOUR CHRISTMAS STOCKING  The book of  ‘Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle’ contains much more about the development of the Golden Triangle than covered in my blog posts, including photographs of the Unthank family.


  1. Ian Nairn (1955). Outrage. Architectural Review 1 June 1955.
  2. Gillian Darley and David McKie (2013). Ian Nairn: Words in Place. Pub: Five Leaves Publications.
  3. Ian Nairn (1964). Norwich: Regional Capital. In, Nairn’s Towns, edited and updated by Owen Hatherley (2013). Pub: Notting Hill Editions Ltd.
  4. Nikolaus Pevsner and Bill Wilson (1997). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1. Yale University Press.
  6. ‘Norwich’s Skilful Use of Colour’, The Times, 13 April 1959.
  7. Owen Hatherley (2013). In, 2013 postscript to Norwich: Regional Capital  by Ian Nairn. From Nairn’s Towns (Introduced by Owen Hatherley, Pub: Notting Hill Editions).
  8. Gillian Darley (personal communication).
  9. John Betjeman (updated by Richard Surman) (2011). Betjeman’s Best British Churches. Pub: Collins.
  10. Simon Jenkins (1999). England’s Thousand Best Churches. Pub: Penguin Books.

Thanks. For permission to reproduce images I am grateful to Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk and to Roger, editor of The Royal Windsor Forum


The Norwich Way of Death


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We have often talked about this city’s proud history of independence that often tripped into dissent and outright opposition against church and state. But after the Reformation the extent to which you disagreed with the Anglican Church would have decided whether or not you could be buried in your local churchyard.


Following the Reformation, Nonconformist factions like the Baptists, Methodists, Presbyterians and Quakers were discriminated against by the Established Church for, despite having to pay church rates, Dissenters were still refused burial in their local churchyard. An Act of 1836 allowed Nonconformists to conduct their own funeral services but it wasn’t until 1880 [1] that they had the right to be buried in a parish church, using their own rites instead of a Church of England service [2].

After the 2011 census, Norwich was reported to be the country’s most godless city [3] but the 1851 census had already shown that the majority of Norwich citizens attended neither church nor chapel [4] and as far back as the early C18 – when dissent could well have been under-reported – as many as 20% of Norwich population were classed as Dissenters [5].

Nonconformist chapels therefore tended to be built with their own burial grounds. The Octagon Chapel in Colegate, built by Thomas Ivory in 1756 to replace a Presbyterian meeting house of 1686, was ‘the first of its kind in England’ [6].


The chapel, which is octagonal rather than cross-shaped, was called ‘The Devil’s Cucumber Frame’ by others. It is now a Unitarian chapel.

To the left of the portico is a gate into the small garden that was the burial ground until 1821; the significance of this dates comes later.


The garden at the OctagonChapel was once its burial ground 

In Norwich, The Society of Friends (The Quakers) originally met in private houses or in the open air but in 1676 they bought a modest quarter of an acre in Goat Lane on which to build a Meeting House [7].


This building of 1826 replaced the C17 building in Goat Lane

By 1700 their congregation had grown to around 500 [7] so the Friends built a second Meeting House in Gildencroft, in Norwich-Over-the-Water (and now Over-the-Ring-Road), next to an acre of land already used for their burial ground.


Simple headstones at the Quakers’ Burial Ground, Gildencroft

However, access to the burial ground via narrow Gildencroft Lane (now Quakers Lane) was difficult for pall bearers …IMG_9612.jpg

… and so the Quakers rented land between the burial ground and St Martins (or Whores) Lane off Oak Street to allow horse-drawn wagons to bear the coffin [8]. This strip of land with wagon-turning circle can be seen on a map of 1789, long before the ring road.

quakers Map.jpg

The turning circle can be seen below the Friends’ Meeting House (pink), adjacent to their Burial Ground. The amber road at left is now Oak Street. The lane beneath the turning circle is now bisected by the dual carriageway/inner ring road at St Crispin’s Road (red lines). © 2011 Historic Towns Trust 

A ghost of the turning circle remains in the form of the crescent-shaped wall adjoining the burial ground. This ‘second’ meeting house was bombed in WWII and the site is now occupied by a children’s centre.IMG_9616.jpg

A few yards west of Quakers Lane, in Gildencroft, between the inner ring road and Talbot Square, is the site of a small Jewish cemetery established in 1813; it closed when the corporation cemetery was opened at Earlham (1856). Before this, the county’s Hebrew Congregation used a larger C18 cemetery at the top of Horn’s Lane, off Ber Street [9], on the same side of the city as the synagogue on Synagogue Street (bombed in WWII).

George Plunkett recorded the Jewish Gildencroft cemetery in 1937, five years before the Luftwaffe bombed the Meeting House, which can be seen in the background.

Oak St Talbot Square Hebrew cemetery [1514] 1937-03-26.jpg

The old Jewish Cemetery at Gildencroft ©

A small stone marking the cemetery is visible from St Crispin’s Road.


Side-stepping some of the difficulties surrounding dissenting burials the Unitarian minister, Thomas Drummond, established in 1819 The Rosary Cemetery in Thorpe [10]. He may have been motivated by his time in Ipswich when a curate refused a funeral service in the parish church for a young child who Drummond himself had baptised [11]. The Rosary was the first cemetery in the country where anyone could be buried irrespective of religion, without having to be supervised by an Anglican minister. The first occupant was Drummond’s wife, Ann, who was disinterred from the Octagon Chapel.

The Rosary became the resting place for some of the city’s prominent mercantile families, such as the Jarrolds and the Colmans [13].


The City Surveyor JS Benest designed the lodge (not shown) in 1860 but this was redesigned in 1879 by Edward Boardman. Boardman also designed the mortuary chapel (above) and its carriage porch [10] in the prevailing Victorian Gothic style.

Boardman (1834-1910), “who had more effect on the appearance of Norwich than perhaps any other architect” [14], was himself buried at The Rosary.Boardman.jpg

Boardman’s son Edward Thomas Boardman, also an architect, married Florence, daughter of Jeremiah James Colman (1830-1898),managing director of the family mustard business. In 1898, Jeremiah James’ funeral cortège included his firm’s horse-drawn wagons followed by 1200 workers from the Carrow Works [13]. Although Protestant he made point of holding services for his workers on non-denominational lines [15] and in the same spirit the family’s memorial stones are simply worded: factual and secular. Several members of the Colman family are buried in the family plot. Its Celtic Cross – and there are several at The Rosary – might imply  a distancing from Anglican symbolism but inscriptions on the obelisk rectify any such impression with reminders of the Christian afterlife (e.g., ‘I know that my redeemer liveth’).ColmanBurialPlot.jpg

One of the memorial stones unites Jeremiah James and Caroline Colman with their son Alan Cozens-Hardy Colman. Alan died in Egypt and, in his memory, his sisters Ethel and Helen built the pleasure wherry Hathor – the name borrowed from the Nile boat on which he had been convalescing from tuberculosis. Hathor’s interior contains decoration in the Ancient Egyptian style, designed by Boardman.

Hathor Trio2.jpg

With permission of Peter Cox of  ©2018

When Hathor was launched on the Norfolk Broads (1905), Edward Thomas and Florence Boardman’s young daughter Joan (three and a half) released doves [16].


Edward T. Boardman helping daughter Joan to launch Hathor. With permission of © Ludham Community Archive

The many good works that the philanthropic Colmans performed go unsung at The Rosary: you would never guess from the simple inscriptions that in 1923 their daughter Ethel Mary (1863-1948), who campaigned for female suffrage, became the first woman Lord Mayor in Norwich and, indeed, in Great Britain.EthelMaryColman.jpg

As a memorial, Jeremiah Cozens (d. 1849), whose niece married JJ Colman, has the only cast-iron sarcophagus at The Rosary.JeremiahCozens.jpg

One of the first memorials you see when entering through the carriage porch is dedicated to the Jarrold family of Dutch or Huguenot origin [17]. John Jarrold II started out as a printer and bookseller in Woodbridge, Suffolk. At Wickham Market he was drawn into defending the right to public worship since Dissenters attending services could be stoned by unruly mobs. In 1823, he moved to Norwich where Jarrold & Son opened their new business in London Street where it remains – still selling books nearly 200 years later.Jarrold1.jpg

The only mausoleum at The Rosary belongs to Emanuel Cooper, an eminent eye-surgeon (d. 1878). Cooper’s mistress Anne Julia Pearson bore him a daughter – Ada Nemesis – who married John Galsworthy’s cousin Arthur. Ada was not happy in this marriage and entered into a long affair with John, whom she eventually married. Irene in The Forsyte Saga is said to have been modelled on Ada [18].Mausoleum.jpg

The angel gazing heavenwards epitomises Victorian sentimentality; it was carved (1898)  by the Stanley family of stonemasons in St Stephens Street to commemorate a father and his two wives. Angel.jpg

This cast-iron birdbath (below), with Moorish influences, commemorates the Hines family who ran a foundry (est. 1820) in St Margaret’s Street off St Benedict’s Street. HinesMemorial.jpg

The collection of heads is said to represent family members [13].HinesCloseup.jpg

The ornate memorial below tells the story of  John Barker (1837-1897), a Steam Circus Proprietor who, when erecting a railway ride at the Cattlemarket (Plunkett says in Tombland), was fatally crushed between two wagons [13].John Barker.jpg

The simple headstone to George Wilde (1825-1887) recalls a man injured in the Charge of the Light Brigade during the Crimean War [13].CplGeoWilde.jpg

The Rosary is a microcosm of Victorian Norwich in which you will encounter figures whose works can still be seen on walks around the city: Robert Tillyard, for instance, whose leather-currying business gave rise to Tillyard and Howlett, later Howlett and White [19]. Edward Boardman designed Howlett and White’s shoe factory in Colegate, which once employed around 2000 workers [14].


Robert Tillyard (1803-1879 ) and Sir George White (1840-1912)

I also came across an obelisk amongst the undergrowth, dedicated to William Stark. The lettering was indistinct but this was surely the master dyer who stained textiles Norwich Red and who – as mentioned in a recent post [20] – made the Wensum run scarlet when he emptied his vats. WmStark.jpg

In 1848-9 Norwich suffered a cholera epidemic and from 1855 the Home Secretary banned burial in the city’s overflowing churchyards [21]. But as far back as 1671 the diarist John Evelyn had written: I observed that most of [Norwich’s] church yards (though some of them large enough) were filled up with earth, or rather the congestion of dead bodies one upon another, for want of earth, even to the very top of the walls, and some above the walls, so as the churches seemed to be built in pits [12].


The raised churchyard of St John Maddermarket

In 1856 the City established a public cemetery at Earlham and from the beginning it had space for unconsecrated as well as consecrated burial. The original Gothic-styled twin chapels for Anglican and Nonconformist burials were lost when the crematorium was built but Roman Catholic and Jewish mortuary chapels remain.

Possibly the most striking monument in the older C19 section marks the grave of the horse dealer, John Abel (1800-1883). JohnAbel.jpg

In several posts I have mentioned the Bullard family of brewers [22]; their plot is outlined by cast-iron railings. Could these have been made by the Barnard Bishop and Barnard foundry just across the river from Bullards’ Anchor Quay Brewery?BullardEarlham.jpg

While the versatile and prolific architect Edward Boardman is buried amongst his wealthy relatives in The Rosary his rival, George Skipper – who designed the city’s pops of Victorian genius, like the Royal Arcade, and the Marble Hall for Norwich Union [23] – is buried in far less prepossessing style at Earlham. Skipper’s (1856-1948) failed investments made for a poor retirement so at the age of 78 was still grinding out plans, like those for the roads and drains of the Christchurch Road extension [24]. A member of the Plymouth Brethren, Skipper married three times, lived to 93, and is buried with his first wife. It took some time for me to find George John Skipper’s grave for, in the five years since Françoise Donovan’s photograph, lead lettering had been lost from his name on the gravestone. “And there, sadly, lie the remains of this visionary architect who left us a unique legacy” [25].skipper1.jpg

©2018 Reggie Unthank


  2. Janet Lister (1993). Nine Nonconformists Burial Grounds 1750-1900. MA thesis UEA.
  4. Clyde Binfield (2004). Church and Chapel p412. In, ‘Norwich since 1550’, edited by Carole Rawcliffe. Pub: Hambledon and London.
  5. Kathleen Wilson (1995). The sense of the people: politics, culture and imperialism in England, 17-15-1785. Pub: Cambridge University Press
  8. and
  9. See also:
  11. Nick Williams (2012). Buried at the Rosary. Pub: Nick Williams.
  12. John Evelyn. (1818) The Diary of John Evelyn vol 2 (1665-1702). Ed Wm Bray. Online:
  13. Nick Williams, Jim Marriage and June Marriage (2005). The Rosary Cemetery, Norwich: A Place of Decent Interment. Pub: Friends of the Rosary.
  15. Jeremiah James Colman, a Memoir by One of his Daughters (1905). Available online as:
  17. The House of Jarrolds, 1823-1923 (established 1770). Pub 1924 by The Empire Press, Norwich. Online:
  24. Clive Lloyd (2017). Colonel Unthank and the Golden Triangle. See:
  25. Françoise Donovan (2013). Norwich Lives: Selected Graves from Earlham Cemetery. Pub: Elysé Publications.

Thanks to: Alan Theobald, my guide around The Rosary and Earlham cemeteries; Stuart McClaren local historian in the St Augustine’s/Gildencroft area; Peter Cox of Broadsnet; Nigel Pope of the Ludham Community Archive ; Jonathan Plunkett of; and the staff of the Norfolk Heritage Centre at the Norfolk and Norwich Millennium Library.

Norwich: City of Trees


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On his ‘tour thro’ the whole island of Great Britain’, 1724-6 Daniel Defoe came to Norwich and wrote: 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 [1].”


Daniel Defoe, novelist and journalist, on Norfolk Daily Standard Offices (now ‘Fired Earth’) by George Skipper

As well as open spaces the walled city was characterised by its trees for in 1662 the historian Thomas Fuller described Norwich as, “either a city in an orchard, or an orchard in a city, so equal are houses and trees blended in it”. The city was still jam-packed with trees nearly a century later …


From, South-East Prospect of the City of Norwich. Samuel and Nathaniel Buck 1741. NWHCM: 1922.135.4:M 

Identifying trees from such illustrations is, however, not easy for they are often drawn in artistic shorthand. Even John Sell Cotman – who produced countless studies of trees – was criticised for making them, as unintelligible to the virtuosi as to the public.” [2]

We can only guess what trees Defoe saw but he is likely to have seen the eponymous tree in Elm Hill.

Elm Hill elm tree prior to felling [5925] 1978-07-25.jpg

An elm in Elm Hill photographed in 1978, six months before it was felled due to Dutch Elm Disease. Courtesy of  

The diseased elm cut down in the 1970s is unlikely to have been alive during Defoe’s visit. What we now see is a London Plane – a species that features prominently in the city’s urban landscape.

elm hill.jpg

The London Plane planted in Elm Hill 1978

We know from a map of 1559 that Chapelfield Gardens was at one time an archery ground.


Chapel Field, used for archery practice. From Cuningham’s perspectival map of Norwich 1559.

In 1746, the gardens were leased by one-time mayor Thomas Churchman [3] whose mansion was to become the C20 Register Office in nearby Bethel Street.ChurchmanHse.jpg

He enclosed the gardens and planted three avenues of elms that would eventually be replaced with native limes and plane trees [4,5].

Samuel King'sMapInset.jpg

Three avenues of elm planted as a triangular walk in Chapel Field by Thomas Churchman. From Samuel King’s 1766 map NWHCM:1997.550.81:M

A century later, the waterworks company had a reservoir in the garden but after an outbreak of cholera they surrendered their interest to the Corporation on the condition that the gardens were to be, “Laid out in the style of London parks”. This was funded by public subscription and in 1880 Mayor Harry Bullard of the city’s brewing family formally opened Chapelfield as a public park [4,5].

By the early C20 there were few other public parks in Norwich but this was to change under the guidance of Parks Superintendent Captain Arnold Sandys-Winsch who, between 1919 and 1956, oversaw the creation of 600 acres of parks and open spaces [6].

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Sandys-Winsch (second left) in lock-step with future abdicant Edward VIII at the opening of Eaton Park 1928. 

‘The Captain’ planted 20,000 trees and is perhaps best known for the goblet-pruned London Plane trees that line some of the city’s major avenues.

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Goblet-pruned London Plane trees along Earlham Road, planted by Sandys-Winsch

The London Plane – the most common tree in London – became an even more common sight in Paris [7,8]. The secret of its success in an urban environment seems to be its habit of discarding pollutants as it sheds large flakes of bark.P orientalis.jpg

One idea is that the London Plane (Platanus x acerifolia) originated around 1650 as a cross between the Oriental Plane (P. orientalis) and the American Sycamore (P. occidentalis) in Southern France or Spain [8]. A more romantic suggestion is that the famous botanist and gardener John Tradescant the Younger (1608-1662) – who took three voyages to Virginia in 1637 – found it as an accidental hybrid in his nursery garden at Vauxhall, London [9]. Tradescant, like his father John Tradescant the Elder, was Keeper of Silkworms for Charles I – the importance of silkworms to the Norwich economy comes later.

Two examples of the parent species, the Oriental Plane, can be seen on Guildhall Hill [8]. IMG_9379.jpg

According to the historian Herodotus, the Persian king Xerxes came upon an Oriental Plane that he admired so much he adorned it with chains of gold and set someone to guard the tree. In Handel’s opera Xerxes the king stands in the shade of the plane and sings to it the aria Ombra mai fu (Never was a shade) [10]. [Click link to hear Beniamino Gigli sing this courtesy of YouTube:]

I remember the devastation caused by The Great Storm of 1987 to the city in general and Chapelfield Gardens in particular.

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Balcony in Chapelfield Road damaged by a falling tree in the Great Storm of 1987

With 190 trees Chapelfield Gardens is a significant arboretum, comprised of 45 native and foreign species [5]. Below, the trunk of this London Plane, which occupies a prominent site in the centre of the Gardens, was split down the middle by the Great Storm …


… it was rescued by binding the trunk with metal bands (now removed) and bolting hawsers (still there) through the upper branches to draw them together. IMG_9348.jpg

Chestnut trees also provide avenues, as here on Newmarket Road.IMG_9398.jpg

But since the beginning of the millennium, browning foliage in the second part of summer shows the damage caused by a leaf-mining moth.


The effects of the horse-chestnut leaf miner, Cameraria ohridella

The oak (Quercus robur), which assumes the status of a national emblem, is said to spend ‘300 years growing, 300 resting and 300 declining’. It can achieve prodigious size: the ancient oak in Earlham Park, just behind UEA Porters’ Lodge, is about 22 feet in circumference [8]. According to The Woodland Trust’s ready-reckoner [11] it might have been an acorn when Henry VII was born (1491), 200 years before Charles I had need of a royal oak in which to hide.


The oldest living thing in Norwich, probably

In 1549, in order to meet the demands for wool for Norwich’s thriving weaving industry, some wealthy landowners from Wymondham – ten miles south-west of Norwich – began to enclose common land on which to graze their sheep. Rebels tore down the fences and so began the uprising led by Robert Kett – a ‘tanner of Windham’ [12]. The rebel army is said to have assembled at Kett’s Oak between Wymondham and Norwich [13].


Kett’s Oak, near Hethersett

But Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson [14] noted that when measured in 1829 the oak’s girth was only seven feet seven inches. That is, just a third of the circumference of the ancient oak in Earlham Park. According to The Woodland Trust’s ready reckoner [11] it was only about 100 years old at that time, still in its growth phase. In 1933 the hollow tree was painted with bitumen, filled with concrete and corseted with iron bands [14]. Although this survivor commemorates Kett and his followers it seems unlikely to be the original Kett’s Oak.IMG_9417.jpg

Kett is also associated with another oak. By the time his army encamped on Mousehold Heath overlooking Norwich, their numbers had swelled to about 16,000. According to C18 historian Francis Blomefield [12] this is where Kett set up court, dispensing the king’s justice beneath the Oak of Reformation.


‘Robert Kett sitting under the Oak of Reformation assuming Regal Authority’ by Wale 1778. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd5.Norwich.193

After skirmishes in and around the city the rebel army was drawn eastward into the Battle of Dussindale (near Boundary Lane, Thorpe St Andrews) where they were defeated by a superior army of 14,000 reinforced by German mercenaries [13]. Nine of Kett’s men were hanged from the Oak of Reformation [12]; Kett himself was hanged in chains from the walls of Norwich Castle but the same walls now bear a plaque declaring him a local hero.

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


Oak Street in Norwich seems to have derived its name from the C15 church, St Martin at Oak. According to Blomefield [12] the church was named after, ” a famous image of the Virgin Mary, placed in the oak, which grew in the churchyard…” , making it a site of pilgrimage. The church was badly damaged in the Blitz and from 1976-2002 was in the care of St Martins Housing Trust – a charity for the homeless.

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St Martin’s at Oak 1931, and after restoration in 1955. ©

Norwich takes pride in having the greatest density of medieval churches “north of the Alps” (for those who might confuse us with Rome). Of the 58 pre-Reformation churches built within its city walls, more than 30 still stand [15]. In the Heavenly Gardens project, George Ishmael and colleagues plan to interconnect the often underused churchyards into a publicly accessible botanical garden[16]. Trails involving 28 medieval churchyards are covered in the first five (of six) downloadable PDFs (

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On my visit to one of George’s churchyards, St Stephens, this rare Himalayan Euodia fraxinifolia was in flower.


Chiming with the Heavenly Gardens project, a Tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) grows outside St Peter Hungate at the top of Elm Hill. This is the church where, in 1466, John Paston’s body rested for one night before his grandiose funeral in Bromholm Priory [17]. The Tree of Heaven was introduced into Britain from Western China in 1751. Its leaves are used in silkworm culture although I can find no record of it being used for that purpose in Norwich. IMG_9447.jpg

The Stuarts, like the Elizabethans before them, were often portrayed in fine silk clothing. Not long after coming to the English throne (1609) King James I tried to invigorate the domestic silk trade, and to compete with the French, by offering mulberry saplings to his Lord Lieutenants at ‘six shillings the hundred‘. These were not, however, the preferred White Mulberry (Morus alba) grown in China but the Persian Black Mulberry (Morus nigra). Silkworms can feed on the Black Mulberry but – in a surprising example of ‘you are what you eat’ – the larvae then produce coarser silk and less of it, causing King James’ experiment to fail [18]. Over two centuries later, Norwich silk mills (e.g., St Mary’s Silk Mills in Oak Street and the Albion Yarn Mills in King Street) were using raw silk imported from China. Once more, there was an attempt to produce English silk: a “silk company established in 1835 planted upwards of 1500 mulberry trees on two acres of land in Thorpe Hamlet, stocked with 40,000 silkworms” [19] but this, too, failed.

The mulberry tree growing in St Augustine’s churchyard has a particular relevance since it celebrates the life and work of silk weaver Thomas Clabburn, buried in its shadow.


Mulberry in St Augustine’s churchyard; left, the Clabburn family burial plot

Norwich shawls were hugely popular in the mid-C19, due largely to Queen Victoria’s patronage [20]. The firm of Clabburn, Sons and Crisp were prominent members of this industry; they patented a method for producing the same pattern on both sides and sent examples to the royal family. Thomas was evidently a benevolent employer: upwards of 600 Norwich weavers and assistants subscribed to a memorial plaque inside the church extolling him as, “a kind good man.

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Jacquard silk shawl c1850 woven by Clabburn, Sons and Crisp

Norwich and the Tree of Life. Carl Linnaeus (1707-1778) is famed for his method of classifying plants and animals in hierarchical groups according to shared family characteristics. This paved the way for Darwin’s Tree of Life in which such groupings are not seen as fixed but related through time by evolution. When Linnaeus died, James Edward Smith (1759-1828), the son of a wool merchant and Norwich mayor, used his father’s wealth to buy the Linnean collection of books and – more importantly – his herbarium of dried plants containing examples of ‘standard types’ (see a previous post [21]). When this collection came to Norwich it was visited by naturalists from around the scientific world. Smith’s wonderful garden once contained many rare species but now lies beneath the Surrey Street bus station. He is commemorated by the West Himalayan Spruce, Picea smithiana, named after “the late immortal President of the Linnean Society.


Picea smithiana, the Morinda Spruce, named for Norwich naturalist Sir James Edward Smith ©Vyacheslav Argenberg


©2018 Reggie Unthank


  1. Daniel Defoe (1722). A Tour Through the Whole Island of Great Britain. Tour through the Eastern Counties of England, 1722, available as an e-book:
  2. From, The Norwich Mercury. Quoted by Josephine Walpole (1993) in ‘Leonard Squirrell: The Last of the Norwich School?’  Pub. Antique Collectors’ Club, Woodbridge, Suffolk.
  4. /
  8. Rex Hancey (2005). Notable Trees of Norwich. Pub: Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists’ Society.
  12. Francis Blomefield (1806).
  14. Gerry Barnes and Tom Williamson (2011). Ancient Trees in the Landscape: Norfolk’s Arboreal Heritage. Pub: Windgather Press.
  19. William White (1836). History, Gazetteer, and Directory of Norfolk, and the City  and County of Norwich. Pub: William White, Sheffield.
  20. Caroline Goldthorpe (1989). From Queen to Empress: Victorian Dress 1837-1877. Pub: Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Thank you: George Ishmael of Heavenly Gardens (and Olly Ishmael); James Emerson, Secretary, Norfolk & Norwich Naturalists Society; Clare Haynes of UEA History; Hazel Harrison of the Chapel Field Society; Kerrie Jenkins of The Woodland Trust; Paris Agar, Norfolk Museums Service; Lesley Cunneen, garden historian; Joy Evitt, Norwich silk historian.


The Bridges of Norwich Part 2: Around the bend


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In this second part of the river walk we turn 1800 around Cow Tower at the edge of deceptively tranquil meadowland before descending into Victorian industry south of Station Bridge.

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Continuing the river walk, I travelled from Whitefriars’ Bridge (green star) to Carrow Bridge (yellow star). Plan of Norwich 1776 by Daniel King. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1996.550.81.M

Downstream from Whitefriars’ Bridge and the former home of Jarrolds Printing Works, the John Jarrold Bridge (2011) connects the cathedral precinct (and the Adam and Eve pub) with the St James Place Business Quarter and to Mousehold Heath beyond. The curving box girder, clad in weathered steel with a hardwood deck, seems the most welcoming of the later bridges.  IMG_8735.jpg

On the south bank, not far from this bridge, you will walk over a sluice that connects the river with the country’s last surviving swan pit where the Master of the Great Hospital fattened cygnets for feasts. This pit, in the grounds of the Great Hospital, was built in the late C18 by William, son of Thomas Ivory who designed the Octagon Chapel and Assembly Rooms [1].


Half-hidden, a swan-shaped sign marking the sluice to the Swan Pit in the Great Hospital

The Bishop of Norwich also owned swans [2] but whether he feasted on them is not recorded.

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The Bishop of Norwich marked the beaks of his swans with four nicks. ©[15]

Fifty-foot-high Cow Tower (rebuilt late C14) was strategically placed to fire upon the higher ground across the river. It is an early example of Norwich brickwork into which, for nine shillings each, stonemason Snape inserted cross-loops that could have accommodated  longbows, crossbows and hand-held artillery [3]. Still, this didn’t deter Robert Kett’s rebels – during their righteous uprising against land enclosures – from firing down from Mousehold Heath and damaging the battlements.



Tapered embrasures allowed a wide range of fire

Next, Bishop Bridge – the only surviving medieval bridge (c 1340)  [3]. From here you would have seen followers of John Wycliffe (d.1384) and later heretics burned just over the bridge in Lollards’ Pit. And in 1549, from what we now know as Kett’s Heights, you would have seen Robert Kett’s followers fire down upon, then storm, the fortified bridge. IMG_8760.jpg

On the opposite side of the bridge, to the right of the Lollards’ Pit pub, is the superstructure that guided the rise and fall of the Gas Hill gasometer. Built in 1880, at the foot of the steepest hill in Norfolk, it stored town gas released by burning coal. But coal became increasingly redundant from the late 1960s when domestic appliances were adapted to use natural gas from under the North Sea.gasometer.jpg

Downstream, a ferry once ran across to the cathedral watergate. In 1807, Cole referred to it on his Norwich plan as Sandling’s Ferry (after its C17 operator) although by then the ferry was being run by John Pull (active 1796 to 1841) [4]. Evidently, he managed to make a living despite the proximity of toll-free Bishop Bridge.

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The Sandling Ferry on the 1807 Plan of Norwich by G Cole. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collection NWHCM: 1954.138.Todd5.Norwich.19

Every piece of Norman sandstone for the building of Norwich Cathedral (from 1096) would have come across the Channel and up the Wensum to the mason’s yard via a canal that remained open until c.1780.


Pull’s Ferry. C15 watergate and C17 ferry house, restored in 1948/9 by Cecil Upcher [3]

In 1811 a toll bridge was built across the Wensum near the present day Thorpe Rail Station, taking its name from the iron foundry on the city-side bank.


Foundry Bridge on the 1819 Longman map, courtesy

In 1844, the railway arrived from Yarmouth to the east. To make that next step across the river towards the city centre a wooden bridge was replaced by this iron one seen in the painting by John Sell Cotman’s son, John Joseph.

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John Joseph Cotman’s Old Foundry Bridge. Courtesy Norfolk Museums Collections NWHCM: 1916.41.1

The Victorian solution to encroaching modernity was to build Prince of Wales Road (1850s/1860s) on rubble from the old city wall at Chapelfield [5]. This provided a wide direct route, connecting the station to the city centre and market [3]; in 1888 Foundry Bridge/Station Bridge was made correspondingly wider.


Foundry Bridge, looking up Prince of Wales Road from the station side. Note the arrow pointing down the steps.

A diversion. Do not do as I did and follow the seductive  arrow on the side of Norwich Nelson Premier Inn for it leads to a dead end, not a riverside walk. Ploughing on, I walked up Prince of Wales Road, left on Rose Lane and left on Mountergate. A sign on the side of the new Rose Lane Car Park states that this was the site of the Norwich Fish Market that moved here in 1913.


Before this, the fish market had been in the Norman marketplace for over 800 years [6]. In 1860 the shambolic stalls were replaced with a neoclassical building at the back of the present-day market but this was demolished in 1938 [7].


The Old Fish Market (1860-1938) on St Peter’s Street, roughly where the Memorial Gardens are today. Top left, the battlements of the medieval Guildhall grin through the mist. Courtesy Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk

On the opposite side of Mountergate is an old weavers’ building with one of the last remaining weavers’ or through-light windows.


As Mountergate constricts to an alleyway, a tall wall screening Parmentergate Court is all that remains of the once-thriving Co-op Shoe Factory that had, itself, moved into premises vacated by Boulton and Paul. coop-factory.jpg

The real object of my diversion was to check on the progress of the restoration of Howard House, derelict so long its scaffolding is said to have gained listed status. Now, Orbit Homes are restoring the house as part of the residential St Anne’s Quarter. IMG_8637.jpg

Howard House was built in 1660 by Henry Howard 6th Duke of Norfolk on land seized by Henry VIII from the Austin Friars [3]. The duke laid out a pleasure garden that was still referred to on C19 maps as ‘My Lords Gardens’. The garden wall peeping over the hoarding on King Street is probably the original boundary wall of the friary [8]. IMG_8635.jpg

Instead of continuing down King Street, which I’ll save for another day, I retraced my steps, crossed Foundry Bridge and walked along the station side of the river. On the east bank the contrast between now and then couldn’t be more stark: modern leisure vs Victorian industry. From 1999 the Riverside leisure complex (gym, cinema, bowling, pub, restaurants) replaced the engineering works of Boulton and Paul, which moved here from the other side of the river during the First World War [9].

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Boulton and Paul’s Riverside Works 1939, just before it was bombed in the Blitz. The stadium of Norwich City FC can be seen to the right. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council, Picture Norfolk. 

Like their great rivals Barnard Bishop and Barnards, several bridges upstream, Boulton and Paul produced wire netting amongst an enormous range of products for farm, estate and garden. During World War I they were asked by the government to produce aeroplanes, making more Sopwith Camels than any other company.1024px-Sopwith_F-1_Camel_USAF.jpg

After WWI they were to produce light bombers to their own design, including the Norfolk-named Sidestrand and Overstrand. B&P also produced the ‘Daffy’ Defiant night fighter as well as a night-fighter named after that well-camouflaged bird of the Norfolk Broads – the Bittern [9].


Boulton and Paul exhibited the world’s first all-metal plane, the P10, in Paris 1919. ©Boulton and Paul. From [9].

Looking across the river is the newly-coined St Anne’s Quarter – a seething building site whose name is explained on the 1884 OS map. Not only does it lie upon C17 ducal gardens but on the St Ann’s Ironworks (1847-1883) belonging to Thomas Smithdale & Son [10]. St Ann’s Works, where the Smithdales cast the iron required for their business as millwrights, was named for St Ann’s Chapel once on this site. The former foundry is now part of a larger site comprised of the Old Norwich Brewery on King Street, several maltings and the only-named Synagogue Street in the country (bombed in WWII).


St Ann’s Foundry, opposite the Riverside complex. The zoomable 1884 OS map is courtesy of Frances and Michael Holmes [11].

Connecting the two sides of the river is the Lady Julian Bridge (2009) that commemorates Julian of Norwich, the anchoress (c1342-c1416) whose Revelations of Divine Love is said to be the first English book written by a woman [12]. If you were to cross her bridge, turn left on King Street then right on St Julian’s Alley you would come to her eponymous Anglo-Norman church and her cell, largely rebuilt after the Blitz. LadyJulianBridge.jpg

Along this stretch of the river is a building that lists as an old grain warehouse. The ownership is unclear but whoever owns the corrugated building occupies one of the last undeveloped sites on the river margin.old grain warehouse.jpg

[Updated March 3 2019. Reading ref 15 I see this building at the A.B.C. Wharf was owned in 1910 by H Newhouse & Co Ltd whose Yarmouth – Hull steamers plied goods along the eastern seaboard.IMG_0476.jpg


Connecting the profusion of riverside apartments around the Old Flour Mill with the railway station is the Novi Sad Friendship Bridge, built by May Gurney (2001) to mark the twinning of Norwich with the Serbian city.


The Old Flour Mill started life in 1837 as the Albion Yarn Mill for making worsted, silk and mohair thread to be used in our weaving industry but by the time of the 1884 OS survey it had become a ‘Confectionery’. In the 1930s, the building was taken over by RJ Read of Horstead Water Mill. Latterly, known as the Read Woodrow flour mill it closed in 1993 and was converted to apartments from 2005 [13].


The redbrick buildings of the former flour mill 

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King Street Flour Mill 1990. Courtesy

Carrow Bridge, the final pedestrian bridge inside the old city.CarrowBridge3.jpg

Within living memory the Wensum would have been alive with ships, some much larger than picturesque Norfolk wherries. Below, the movable section of this bascule bridge is being raised to allow a sea-going ship through.

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Carrow Bridge opening for a ship in 1964. Courtesy

River trade was also regulated by the paired boom towers near Carrow Bridge, part of the early C14 walled defences. A boom – originally a beam but in this case chains of Spanish iron – was strung across the river to regulate access and extract tolls [14]. The chains were raised by a windlass in the twin tower on the west/city side.

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The eastern boom tower – the Devil’s Tower – downstream of Carrow Bridge

This two-part walk around the river underlines the richness of the city’s industrial past. Once, Norwich made things. Its pre-eminent textile trade survived into the C19 to be replaced by a variety of trades of the Industrial Revolution: shoe-making, iron-working, brewing, general engineering, aeronautical engineering and other light manufacturing industries. But, in the later stages of this riverside walk especially, there is now little to show of those old trades as all traces of productive industry are being erased in favour of  housing and leisure. We stopped at the last road bridge, just short of Colman’s mustard factory that was synonymous with this city for a century and half. After the business closes next year the future of the site is unclear but what price riverside apartments?

©2018 Reggie Unthank


Wensum body loves you. Frank Sinatra

Blood Red River Blues. Josh White (to accompany the previous post on Norwich Red dye). Click

Red River Blues. Henry Thomas (1928)

Moody River. Pat Boone

Down by the River. Neil Young

Down by the Riverside. Traditional

Time and the River. Nat King Cole

Take me to the River. Al Green

Cry me a River. Julie London

Moon River. Andy Williams

Ol’ Man River. Paul Robeson

Down to the River to Pray. Alison Krauss

Travelling Riverside Blues. Robert Johnson

River. Joni Mitchell

The River. Bruce Springsteen

Up a Lazy River. Louis Armstrong

River Deep Mountain High. Ike and Tina Turner. Not for Norfolk


  2. Ticehurst, N.F. (1936). On Swan-Marks. British Birds vol 29, p266.
  3. Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1962). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  5. Meeres, Frank (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore.
  9. The Leaf and the Tree: The Story of Boulton and Paul 1797-1947 (1947). Author: Anon. Pub: Boulton and Paul Ltd.
  11. Do visit the Holmes’ exciting new site on Norwich history
  15. ‘Citizens of No Mean City: Norwich – the East Anglian Capital’ (ca1910). Pub: Jarrold and Son, London & Norwich.

Thanks: Frances and Michael Holmes; Clare Everitt of Picture Norfolk; and members of the Dragon Hall Local History Group (Sheila Fiddes, Richard Matthew and Barbara Roberts).



The Bridges of Norwich 1: The blood red river


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The leg-of-mutton shape of ancient Norwich is defined by the city walls and by the River Wensum that runs across the city, providing a natural barrier on its eastern flank. To walk along the river is to retrace the fortunes of the city’s industrial past. I did this in two unequal stages, the first from New Mills to St James’ Mill.

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The city walls are in blue, the river Wensum in red. I walked Part 1 from New Mills (blue star) to Whitefriars’ Bridge (green star). Plan of Norwich 1776 by Daniel King. Courtesy of Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1997.550.81:M. 

I started at the head of navigation by turning into New Mills Yard off Westwick Street. The water gauge in the colour photograph shows how the tidal waters have inundated the city over the years.

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Norwich flood levels 1570-1912. Right, Jonthan Plunkett in 1961 standing next to cast and carved flood level gauges (Courtesy

The current building, erected 1897, straddles the river between the tidal waters to the east and the river to the west where the level is maintained by sluice gates.

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The Compression House at New Mills, built by the council in 1897 to pump sewage to Trowse.

During the Industrial Revolution the Norwich textile industry was outpaced by mills in the North of England that had better access to coal and fast-flowing water for running the new steam-powered looms. However,  there was a sufficient head of water at New Mills to drive the compressed air system from 1897 to 1972, pumping sewage down to Trowse [1,2]; it also powered machinery in the Norwich Technical Institute (now Norwich University of the Arts) a few hundred yards downstream.

This pneumatic excursion replaced the original New Mills, built in 1710 for grinding corn and supplying the city with water. In turn, New Mills had replaced an older mill of 1410 [1].

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New Mills in 1880 by A. Coldham. Courtesy Norfolk County Council

Continuing clockwise on the north bank of the river the next bridge, decorated with the City of Norwich coat of arms and dated 1804, is St Miles’ or Coslany Bridge [2]. It is the city’s first iron bridge built 25 years after the world’s first major iron bridge at Ironbridge, Shropshire.

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Coslany Bridge designed by James Frost. The cast iron sign to the far right marks the water level in August 1912.

St Miles Bridge in the 1912 flood …

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Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Standing on St Miles’ Bridge connects you with three of the industries that formerly sustained this city (while polluting its river). First, on the north bank, the present-day public housing in Barnard’s Yard is named for the Norfolk Iron Works of Barnard Bishop and Barnards [see 3 for a fuller story]. On the south side is Anchor Quay, now private housing, but once the home of Bullard and Sons’ Brewery that supplied the city’s countless drinkers (‘one pub for every day of the year‘) [see 4].


The courtyard of the Anchor Quay Brewery in 1912. Courtesy of Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

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The Bullards sign can be glimpsed on the Westwick Street wall across the river

And third, the rose madder colour of the Anchor Quay development is a reminder of the dyeing industry that grew, hand in glove, with the city’s textile industry. The Maddermarket – where dye from dried madder roots was sold – was just a few hundred yards to the south (see [5] for a fascinating article on making madder dye).

Continuing along the north side of the river we can see across to the site of the old Duke’s Palace Ironworks off Duke Street, which was replaced in 1892 by the Norwich Electric Light Company whose buildings were designed by Edward Boardman and his son Edward Thomas Boardman. At one time, the river would have provided water for the steam engines but after the Thorpe Power Station was opened in 1920s the Duke Street site was used for offices and storage [6].


Looking downriver from the St Miles’/Coslany Bridge, past the rose madder houses of Anchor Quay, we see the curved building containing the derelict offices of Eastern Electricity.

Sandwiched between the former brewery and the five-storeyed offices of the Norwich Corporation Electricity Department is a smaller building owned by the electricity board. In 2006, as part of the Eastinternational exhibition, artist Rory Macbeth used this as a canvas on which to paint the entire 40,000 words of Thomas More’s Utopia [7]. Due to be demolished in 2007, the structure still stands. IMG_8693.jpg

In 2006, another exhibition played imaginatively with the derelict riverside buildings. In the windows of the adjacent, curved office building a group of artists placed red film over the windows plus lettering that read: norwich red/water of the wensum/tin mordant/madder. This formulation for colouring fabric, reflected in the water, created the illusion that – once more – dyeing ‘made the river run red’ [8]. The reason for the red river comes a little downstream, for the story follows the course of the river.



This stretch of the river forms the river frontage of what was once the Duke of Norfolk’s palace.

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According to Samuel King’s 1766 map the Duke’s Palace (circled) on the south bank once occupied most of a block between Coslany Bridge (modern day Anchor Quay) and St George’s Bridge Street (St Andrew’s and Blackfriars’ Hall, named here New Hall and Dutch Church). Courtesy of the Norfolk Museums Service NWHCM: 1997.550.81:M.

The Dukes of Norfolk built two palaces on the site, in 1561 and 1672, but proximity to the river caused problems. According to Thomas Baskerville in 1681:

“In this passage where the city encloses both sides of the river, we roved under five or six bridges, and then landed at the Duke of Norfolk’s Palace, a sumptuous new-built house not yet finished within but seated in a dung-hole place, though it has cost the Duke already 30 thousand pounds in building, as the gentleman as shewed it told us, for it hath but little room for gardens, and is pent up on all sides both on this and the other side of the river, with tradesmen’s and dyers’ houses, who foul the water by their constant washing and cleaning their cloth, whereas had it been built adjoining to the afor said garden it had stood in a delicate place.” (Quoted in [9]).

Proximity to the water meant that the cellars were always wet, which affected the foundations [10]. The fate of the palace was sealed when the Mayor of Norwich, Thomas Havers, refused the duke permission to process into the city with his Company of Comedians: in 1711 the duke ordered the palace be pulled down [9, 10]. When the duke vacated his palace there was no road through his estate and across the  Wensum as there is today. The present – but not the first – bridge to bisect the ducal waterfront was built when Duke Street was widened in 1972 to take traffic out of the city onto the inner ring road [2].

Duke St.jpg

Duke’s Palace Bridge 1972. Regrettably, there is no continuous river walk around the city, either because developers have been allowed to build up to the river’s edge or, where there is a walkway, it is generally not possible to walk under the bridge, as here.

This utilitarian bridge of 1972 replaced the first and much more elegant cast-iron bridge of 1822, which would be lost were it not for the Norwich Society who bought and stored the bridge until it could be re-used at the entrance to the Castle Mall car park [11].


The old Duke’s Palace Bridge (1822-1972) now at Castle Mall

Near the original site of this bridge we come to the dyeworks run by Michael Stark in the early C19, drawn below by his son James – the Norwich School artist. Stark Senior developed a way of staining the silk warp the exact same shade of red as the wool or worsted weft. This involved madder, a tin mordant and the fortuitously chalky waters of the Wensum, yielding a deep, true scarlet [12]. It seems safe to assume that it was the emptying of Stark’s dye vats that made the river run red.

James Stark.jpg

Michael Stark’s dyeworks adjacent to the Duke’s Palace Bridge. By James Stark 1887 [from 13]

I managed to preview the next bridge by walking along a gangway on a building at the rear of the Duke Street Car Park. St George’s/Blackfriars’ Bridge was built of Portland stone by Sir John Soane (1783-4) before he became Surveyor of the Bank of England [2].


Soane’s bridge meets the south bank between the grey-painted Gunton and Havers building (1914) and the red brick Norwich Technical Institute (1899) – both now part of Norwich University of the Arts. 

There is, however, no direct route for the riverside walker who must take a detour left down Duke Street, right along Colegate then right again onto St George’s Street before meeting the bridge. This diversion takes you past Howlett and White’s Norvic shoe factory built by Edward Boardman in 1876 and 1895. Around the end of the C19 it was the largest shoe factory in the country, employing a fraction of the outworkers employed in the textile trade a century before [2]. Norvic.jpg

St George’s Bridge from the south bank …


To the left, the former Gunton and Havers builders’ merchant (Havers is a relative of actor Nigel Havers); to the right, the stone portico of the former Norwich Technical Institute (1899). Both are now part of Norwich University of the Arts. Damien Hirst’s flayed and dissected man gives an unconscious nod to Norwich Red.

I continued via the north bank to Fye Bridge, its name perhaps derived from ‘fye‘, to clean the river [10]. The first recorded bridge-proper dates from 1153 but excavations in 1896 indicate this was predated by a wooden walkway that connected the south side to the Anglo-Scandinavian settlement in Norwich-over-the-Water [14]. The present bridge, whose double arches are based on downstream Bishop Bridge, was built in 1933. Just before the bridge is the residential development of Friars Quay, built on Jewson’s Victorian timber yard [15]. This 1970s housing has assimilated well despite Pevsner and Wilson’s deathless judgement, “It falls only just short of being memorable” [2].


Fye Bridge from the west with Anchor Quay housing just visible to the left

Crossing Fye Bridge then looking back from Quayside on the south bank this photograph shows the reconstruction of the bridge in 1931. Allen & Page animal feed mill (now houses) can be seen on the left and ‘Jewson’ marks their timber yard beyond the bridge.

1931-08 Reconstruction crane at Quayside [B075] 1931-08-03.jpg

Reconstruction of Fye Bridge 1931. ©

Quayside today …


Continuing eastward on the south bank: There was a wooden bridge at Whitefriars as far back as 1106 but what was known as St Martin’s Bridge was destroyed by the Earl of Warwick when he tried to deny Kett’s rebels access to the city in 1549. In 1591 this was replaced by a stone bridge that limped on until the City Engineer constructed the present Whitefriars Bridge (1924/5) [14].


Old Whitefriars’ Bridge 1924, before its replacement. Courtesy Norfolk County Council at Picture Norfolk

Adjacent to the bridge is St James Mill, built by the Norwich Yarn Company (1836-9) in an attempt to revive the city’s textile industry. Ian Nairn – the acerbic architectural commentator – thought this ‘the noblest of all English Industrial Revolution Mills’ [2]. Until a few years ago the mill housed Jarrold’s Printing Works; the John Jarrold Printing Museum is in an adjacent building.IMG_8722.jpg

Willett & Nephew had 50 power looms on the third floor of the mill and are believed to have produced the shawl below. Members of the Yarn Company could now produce the famous ‘Norwich Red’ shawls on their power looms but, by the time the Company had begun production in 1839, factories in Yorkshire and Paisley were already mass-producing shawls in large factories, contributing to the market’s slow decline.


A Norwich Red Shawl courtesy of Joy Evitt

© 2018 Reggie Unthank


  2. Pevsner, Nikolaus and Wilson, Bill (1962). The Buildings of England. Norfolk 1: Norwich and North-East. Pub: Yale University Press.
  10. Meeres, Frank. (2011). The Story of Norwich. Pub: Phillimore & Co.
  14. and for the reconstruction of this bridge see

Thanks: to Joy Evitt and Jenny Daniels for background on Norwich shawls; to Clare Everitt for permission to use the Picture Norfolk images; to Paris Agar of Norwich Castle Museum for access to the maps; and to the Plunkett archive for their images.

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

cathedral library.jpg

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.

Wenceslas_Hollar_-_Norwich 1.jpg

‘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].

Pettus 1608.jpg

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].

Sir John Pettus monument.jpg

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.

Sci Duo.jpg

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].

St Andrew St 11 Public Assistance Office [1121] 1936-07-13.jpg

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.

Plunkett Haymarket Picture House latterly Gaumont [4505] 1959-07-26.jpg

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.

Guildhall Hill Subscription Library [4368] 1955-08-24.jpg

The Library in 1955.   © 

The Library.jpg

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.

St Andrew St Free Library [4366] 1955-08-24.jpg

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.

Chamb w arrow.jpg

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 Hill had been destroyed nearly a hundred years before. Over 150,000 books were burned along with irreplaceable historical documents from the Record Office.

ITV Anglia.jpg

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].

Lazar House.jpg

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.

Earlham Library2.jpg

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.

Circ Lib Unthk Rd.jpg

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


, , ,

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.

Clarendon Rd.jpg

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.

stench pipe trio.jpg

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.

Heigham Rd former tram standard [7787] 2000-11-24.jpg

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.

Lampost trio.jpg

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.

gas lampost.jpg

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.