Augustine Steward house, beguinage, Blackfriar's Hall, Briton's Arms, Christian Resource Centre, City College, Edith Cavell, Edith Cavell Monument, Elm Hill, elm trees, Erpingham Gateway, Forget-Me-Not Café, Fye Bridge, hair appointments, Norwich, Norwich Cathedral, Norwich Hippodrome, Paston family, Princes Street, Quayside, River Wensum, St Andrew's Hall, St Giles, St Giles car-park, St Michael at Plea, Stranger's Club, timber-framed buildings, Tombland, Tombland Alley, walking
Norwich is a very beautiful city and we always look forward to visiting it. (Norwich is pronounced ‘Norridge’ or, if you are a local, ‘Narge’). For the next few months I will be going there every day of the week so perhaps the shine may wear off a little, though I don’t think it likely.
On Tuesday E and I had to be at City College Norwich at 8.30 in the morning so that E could meet her mentor before her ‘taster day’ began at 9.00 am. I had a hair appointment at 9.45, my second one with my new hairdresser. When my local hairdresser went on maternity leave and I found the replacement hairdresser wasn’t to my liking I decided to look for a new one in Norwich where I would be spending some time each day. I rather like the young woman who now does my hair. ‘Oh Clare!’, she said the last time I saw her, ‘Don’t start colouring your hair again. Your shade of grey is really lovely!’. There aren’t many women who wouldn’t fall for that one.
So, after leaving E at the college I drove to the city centre and parked my car in my usual car-park at St Giles. This is rather an ugly multi-storey car-park built in the 1960’s so is quite difficult to park in if you have a modern car – it’s very narrow and full of pillars. The car-park is on the site of the Norwich Hippodrome, an extremely ornate theatre built in 1903 and demolished in 1964. Apparently many inter-war stars performed there – Charlie Chaplin, Marie Lloyd, Gracie Fields, George Formby and even Archibald Leach (Cary Grant) made his acting debut there at the age of twelve. After the Second World War it continued to be popular for a while with acts like Laurel and Hardy visiting in 1954.
I had about an hour to kill before my appointment and, as the morning was bright and sunny I decided to have a short walk and visit some of my favourite places.
I walked up past my hairdressers in London Street to the junction at the top of the hill. On the corner of Redwell Street and Queen Street is the redundant church of St Michael at Plea.
The church ceased to be a place of worship in 1973 and opened in 2008 as a Christian Resource Centre. Before that it had been used as an antiques market. We call in quite often as we buy things for our church here – candles, communion wafers etc – and it is a good place for Easter and Christmas gifts. The bookshop is very good and stocks new and second-hand books. There is also a really nice café in what was the chancel, with extremely tasty and cheap food, all supplied by volunteers. The café is called the Forget-Me-Not Café after the wording on the clock on the tower.
The battlements and spirelets were put on the top of the tower during a 19th Century restoration. The tower had been lowered for safety reasons some time before that. I think it had been much taller with bells.
The porch is probably early 16th Century and rather strangely gives access to the base of the tower rather than the Nave. Most of the church’s furniture and valuable decorations were removed when it was made redundant but it still has a beautiful memorial in it, some medieval glass high in the east window and some carved angels in the roof.
I then went down Elm Hill, one of the most lovely streets in the country.
Elm Hill is a cobbled street full of timber-framed buildings and virtually unaltered since the 16th Century. There have been people living in this area since at least 1200. (Probably before that time, as it is close to the river and to Tombland, the site of the Anglo-Saxon market.) It is called Elm Hill after the elm trees that used to grow there next to the Briton’s Arms, all of them killed by Dutch Elm disease. This was a wealthy street in medieval times where many merchants lived. By the 20th Century it had seen better days and there were plans to sweep it all away. Fortunately, the authorities thought better of this idea and now most of the buildings have been restored and look wonderful.
The Briton’s Arms was built in 1347 and became an ale house in 1760. It is three storeys high and was the only house on Elm Hill to survive a fire in 1507. It stands in the corner of the old churchyard of St Peter Hungate and the only reason it survived the fire was because it stood apart from the rest of the houses. The fire destroyed 300 houses and shops. There are two rooms per storey of the Briton’s Arms and each floor is reached by a side staircase. The top floor is jettied out on three sides and it also has an attic – a rarity in Medieval buildings. It is perhaps one of the oldest inhabited attics in England. It began life as a beguinage associated with St Peter’s church. A beguinage was the home of a group of single women who devoted their lives to prayer and community work, like a nunnery. However, unlike a nunnery which accepted the daughters of wealthy parents, beguines were usually from poor backgrounds. They earned a little money from spinning and begging for alms and did charity work in the city but their main work was regular worship in the church next door which was reached through a stone arched door in the rear wall of the building. Beguinages were common in Europe but there are no known other examples elsewhere in Britain.
The house just in front of the man in the photo is the Strangers’ Club built on the site of the Paston’s House which was destroyed by the fire. The Club is said to be haunted by a man who died in the fire of 1507. Queen Elizabeth I stayed here and watched a pageant in her honour from one of the upstairs windows.
The Pastons rose from peasantry to aristocracy in two generations. They also left a record of private correspondence (The Paston Letters) which is the first example of such correspondence to survive in Britain. To quote my on-line source ‘The letters show first hand testimony of the social benefits of the plague brought to the peasantry, the chaotic effects of the War of the Roses on the general populace and the individual impact that the Black Death could have on a family’. I have a copy of the letters and they are a really good read especially the letters from Margaret Paston to her two sons and theirs to her. Her husband had managed to be bequeathed Caister Castle by John Fastolf who was a knight during the Hundred Years War, became a loyal servant of Henry V and fought in the Battle of Agincourt. He was also the knight that Shakespeare based his John Falstaff on.
At the bottom of Elm Hill I turned left along Wensum Street and crossed halfway over Fye Bridge so I could look at the River Wensum. Wensum comes from the Anglo-Saxon word for ‘winding’ – wandsum or wendsum. The river winds in two large loops through the city and is a tributary of the River Yare despite being the larger of the two rivers. It is chalk-fed and the whole river is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and a Special Area of Conservation. Fye Bridge is built over the oldest river crossing in Norwich and is the gate to the North of the city known as Norwich Over the Water. The bridge is also the site of a former ducking stool.
I didn’t cross right over the bridge but returned to Wensum Street and walked along it to Tombland and stood by the Erpingham Gate so I could look at the Cathedral. Though it doesn’t look it from this angle the cathedral is immensely long (407 feet) and the top of its spire is 315 feet from the ground. The construction of it was begun in 1096 and finished in about 1145. The Cathedral was also a Benedictine Priory. The Erpingham Gateway was built in 1420 by Sir Thomas Erpingham who was the commander of Henry V’s archers at the Battle of Agincourt.
Edith Cavell is buried near the east end of the Cathedral. She was born in 1865 and grew up in Swardeston, south of Norwich and was a vicar’s daughter. She became a Matron of an English teaching hospital and was also an influential pioneer of modern nursing in Belgium. She was in England visiting her mother when World War I broke out but returned to Belgium as she felt it was her duty so to do. Her hospital became a Red Cross hospital and so wounded soldiers from all nations were treated there. She was a devout Christian and this motivated her to help all those in need, both German and Allied soldiers. When a group of wounded British soldiers arrived who had been cut off from their comrades she decided to help them despite knowing that that she was putting at risk the neutrality of the Red Cross and endangering others working with her. She then joined a Belgian underground movement and helped more than 200 Allied soldiers to escape to neutral territory. The network was betrayed, she was arrested, tried by a court martial, found guilty of treason and sentenced to death. Her execution was carried out at dawn by a firing squad on 12th October 1915. She was still wearing her nurses uniform. On the eve of her execution she said, “I am thankful to have had these ten weeks of quiet to get ready. Now I have had them and have been kindly treated here. I expected my sentence and I believe it was just. Standing as I do in view of God and Eternity, I realise that patriotism is not enough. I must have no hatred or bitterness towards anyone.”
Opposite the Erpingham Gateway in Tombland is this rather lop-sided medieval building. This is Augustine Steward house which was built in 1530 by Augustine Steward, a cloth merchant. A merchant’s mark can be found in the passage next to the house. A merchants mark is a symbolic sign or design used by artisans, merchants and townspeople to identify themselves and authenticate their goods. The alleyway next to the house is called Tombland Alley and in the alley is the burial ground for the adjacent church of St George. The high-walled churchyard contains mainly victims killed by the plague. The name ‘Tombland’ has nothing to do with tombs but comes from an Old Scandinavian word for ‘open space’. It was the area used for the Anglo-Saxon market and the administrative centre of Norwich before the Norman Invasion.
This is a 15th Century timber-framed building also in Tombland. I like the way the gable-end of this house leans outwards.
I turned off Tombland into Princes Street. Again, this street is cobbled and is full of a mix of beautifully restored 16th and 17th Century buildings with some modern offices and homes.
Princes Street becomes Hall Plain after passing the top end of Elm Hill. St Andrew’s Hall is in Hall Plain. It and Blackfriar’s Hall at the top of Elm Hill are part of the most complete medieval friary complex surviving in this country. In 1538 during the reign of Henry VIII they passed into civic hands. The roof beams for Blackfriars and the hammerbeams in St Andrew’s roof were the gift of the Paston family together with superb 15th Century doors bearing the Arms of the Pastons and Mautbys in the South Porch. The nave of St Andrew’s Hall was repaired and renamed The New Hall and has been used for civic ceremonies ever since. The first recorded event was the mayor’s feast for Henry Fuller in 1544. The Hall has been used for many things – Guild meetings, an assize court, a corn exchange and a corn hall.The Earl of Warwick stabled his horses here when he came to crush Kett’s Rebellion in 1549. Sir Thomas Browne, the physician and polymath, was knighted here in 1671 by Charles II. The Norfolk and Norwich Festival was started here in 1824 and still continues. The largest regional Beer Festival in Great Britain was started here in 1978. I believe the Blackfriar’s Hall is used as a museum and art gallery. The old east and west ranges of cloisters have also had many uses – granaries to store corn for Poor Relief, places of worship for Presbyterians and Baptists, a mint where £259,000 of coins were produced in 1695, the City Workhouse, schools and colleges. They are now part of the Norfolk Institute of Art and Design.
I was now in time for my hair appointment and when that was finished I made my way home via Bungay where I bought some bird seed for my mother.
May I thank everyone for their kind thoughts and wishes. My husband is in good heart though not looking forward to brain surgery. My mother seems a little better too. We will see how E gets on on Monday and the rest of next week. I will keep you informed when I can. God Bless you all.