I took this short walk in Norwich on a dull cold day last spring. I began my walk near the Assembly House.
This building was designed and built by the architect Thomas Ivory in 1794 and, as its name suggests, was a place where the local gentry could assemble and be amused and entertained by recitals, displays and dances. One notable ball was in celebration of Nelson’s victory off the Cape of Trafalgar in 1805. A waxworks exhibition from Madame Tussaud’s was hosted here in 1825 and Franz Liszt the composer gave a concert in 1840. The building incorporates the layout of a previous building – the medieval college of St Mary in the Field.
It has been used as a dance academy, a cinema and, during the Second World War, it was an army office. It was restored in 1995 but almost immediately afterwards was severely damaged by an electrical fire. With the aid of photographs taken at the instigation of a trustee during WW2, the house was reconstructed and today it appears exactly as it did when it was first built. It is used as a restaurant and hosts exhibitions, concerts, conferences and weddings, almost the same kind of use it was put to in its heyday.
Opposite the Assembly House is the Forum, though the large entrance seen in the photo above is on the further side of the building.
Norwich’s Central Library was located on this spot until it was destroyed by fire in 1994 and this new building, designed by Sir Michael Hopkins, not only gave the library a new home but also was built to mark the Millennium in the East of England. The main section of the building is an enclosing horseshoe shape. It is made from hand-made load-bearing bricks and has many windows.
As well as The Millennium Library (the public library) the Forum houses a children’s library, the Norfolk Heritage Centre, the Norfolk Record Office and a business library. The 2nd Air Division Memorial Library is also here; it pays tribute to the thousands of American airmen who were based in East Anglia during WW2. There are over 4000 books covering all aspects of American life and culture with a specialist section dedicated to the 2nd Air Division.
Many other organisations have a base in the Forum. BBC East has its studios in part of the building; there is a Forum shop, a café bar and a pizza restaurant. The Tourist Information Centre is here, as is MINT – a charity which helps young people gain the skills and contacts they need to find employment. MINT is run by City College Norwich where my daughter studies. ‘BBC Voices’ provides film-making and radio-editing workshops throughout the Eastern Region for free. There is a digital gallery – the Fusion Screen – which gives free screenings of work by artists, and a 120-seat auditorium called The Curve. The Forum runs regular events and there is a venue hire facility.
Not far from The Forum is Chapelfield Gardens which takes its name from the chapel of St Mary in the Field. The chapel (built where the Assembly House is now) was founded in the 13th century by John le Brun and soon acquired many generous benefactors. It became a college and the premises were expanded. In 1406 the citizens of Norwich claimed 4.5 acres of ground that belonged to the Chapel and this land began to be called Chapel Field. In the 16th century it was leased with its cherry yard and dove house to notable citizens and then, after a proclamation in 1578 it was used as an open area for mustering the trained bands, archers or the artillery. It was the ‘fit place’ to charge guns with shot and powder for the exercise of shooting. The Lord Lieutenant had his ‘City Tent’ there for the general musters and the yearly reviews of the city regiment took place there in the 17th century.
The Field was first surrounded by fencing in 1707 and the main walks were laid out by Sir Thomas Churchman who leased the land in 1746. The tree planting began then too. A large water reservoir (about 300 yards in circumference) was dug in part of the Field in 1792 and was filled in again in 1854 when larger reservoirs were built elsewhere by the newly established Waterworks Company. The reservoir in the Field had been used as a skating pond by the people of the city and it was much missed when it went. For a few years the Field declined into a rough area where children played, washerwomen hung out their linen and where sheep were grazed. Eventually, new iron palisades were erected in 1866 and in 1877 a landscape gardener was employed to make the Field into a beauty spot. The newly laid-out gardens were opened by the mayor in 1880.
This lovely Victorian bandstand in the middle of Chapelfield Gardens is still in use. During WW2 Glenn Miller visited Norwich and gave a concert here in 1944.
I then walked along Chapel Field Road which follows the line of the old City Walls. As you can see from these photos the new and the old rub shoulders in Norwich. The weather had also improved by this time!
Building work on the City Walls began in 1294 and took 50 years to complete mainly due to complaints about the cost being levied for their construction. They were completed in 1343 after a very generous donation by a Norwich tradesman, Richard Spynk who was rewarded by the Corporation by being ‘quit all tallages, tasks and costs’ for both he and his heirs forever. When the walls were completed they had 12 gates, now all gone. Ber Street gate – taken down in 1807, Bishop’s Gate – taken down in 1791, Brazen Doors or Newgate, taken down in 1793, Conisford Gate, at the south end of King Street – taken down in 1793, Heigham Gate or Hell Gate – fell down in the 18th century, Magdalen Gate – taken down in 1808, Pockthorpe Gate – taken down in 1792, St Augustine’s Gate – taken down in 1794, St Giles’ Gate – taken down in 1792, St Martin’s or Coslany Gate – taken down in 1793,St Stephen’s or Nedham Gate – taken down in 1793, Westwick or St Benedict’s Gate – taken down in 1793.
The houses were built in about 1820 and are a mixture of terraced, semi-detached and detached houses, many of which are listed.
St Stephen’s church has it’s tower over the porch on the side of the church. I hope to visit this church later in the year and write about it in more detail as I also hope to write about the RC Cathedral.
Thanks for visiting!