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Norwich, Norfolk

Historical Description

Norwich, a cathedral city, a county of itself, a parliamentary and municipal borough, a union parish, head of high court, county court, and bankruptcy court districts, an assize town, the chief town in Norfolk, and the ancient capital of East Anglia, is 114 miles from London. It stands 20 miles from the German Ocean, on both sides of the navigable river Wensum, on which winding stream, up to Hardley Cross, equi-distant from Norwich and Yarmouth, it has a certain jurisdiction. Five lines of railways, as portions of the Great Eastern system, and another, belonging jointly to the Midland and Great Northern systems, run into the county of the city. Norwich is picturesquely situated. A greater part of the city stands on somewhat undulating ground sloping down to the river valley, over which is spread much of the ancient parts. Its environs are charming, and preserve to it the old description of "a city in an orchard " or "a city of gardens." Acreage, 7551; population (1801), 36,805, (1871) 75,025, (1881) 87,842, (1891), 100,970. The extension of the population this century has been outside the walls of the city, in the hamlets of the county of the city.

Early History.-The history of Norwich dates from British times. The Gwent or "open clearing " of the Iceni, it became the Venta Icenorum of the Romans, when they, to overawe the native population, established a castrum of 36 acres at Caistor on the Tas, a tributary of the Wensum. Legend assigns the lofty circular mound, on which stands the castle, to the British era. Norwich is an agglomeration of separately founded settlements. Uffa, the first known king of the East Angles, about 575 used the circular-moated mound, outside which two horse-shoe shaped embankments were constructed, as a stronghold to protect the earliest Angle settlement, called Cyningsford, and still named Conisford. Irruptions of Northmen in the 8th and 9th centuries brought Cyningsford under the rule of Guthrum, and further settlements were planted, one higher up the river to the west and the other on the north of the Wensum. The former was and is still called Westwick; the other was till even earlier than Mediaeval times described as " Over-the-Water." During the later Danish invasion, in the time of Æthelred II., Norwich was burnt by Sweyn. Under Canute and his successors it sprang up anew into some importance, till in the time of Edward the Confessor it had 1320 burgesses and 25 parochial churches.

The Castle.-At the Norman Conquest a settlement of foreigners was planted in a "croft" or field on the south-west of the mound. This was called the New Burgh, or, from its site, Mancroft. A stone citadel or castle was erected at the instance of William I. on the mound. It was held with the earldom of Norfolk by Ralph de Guader, son of a Norfolk vice comes by a Breton mother, who, banished by Harold when Earl of East Anglia, had returned to England as a follower of the Norman Duke. Dissatisfied with the honours bestowed upon him, and, in defiance of the king's prohibition, marrying the daughter of Fitzosbern, Earl Ralph was one of the leaders of the Revolt of Nobles in 1075. While he was away in Denmark seeking assistance, his countess and a garrison of Bretons defended the castle for three months against the royal forces under the Bishop of Bayeaux, Geoffry de Coutances, and Earl Warren, and only capitulated because of the lack of provisions. The garrison marched out with the honours of war and departed the country. The Bigods afterwards held the castle for the Crown. Roger Bigod, Earl of Norfolk, for a time maintained the castle against William II. in favour of Duke Robert, making devastating forays into the country. His grandson Hugh, in the troublous times of King Stephen, often changed sides in The Civil War. Dispossessed of the castle by Stephen on his accession, he succeeded in regaining its custody, and to Earl Hugh is attributed the erection of the present keep, which corresponds in style and arrangement with that of Castle Rising, known to have been built soon after 1140 by William d'Albini. In 1157 Hugh Bigod was compelled to deliver up the castle to Henry II., but in 1174 he brought into the country a force of Flemings to support Prince Henry in his rebellion, and then the castle was betrayed to him. Finally, the fortress reverted to the king, and was held for the Crown by constables till The end of the reign of John, when the barons seized and held it for Louis the Dauphin, till the settlement of 1217. In The reign of Henry III. The castle was used as a state prison, and gradually degenerated to a county jail for felons. From Edward I. The citizens, because they had suffered so much from the incursions of the barons, obtained leave to enclose the city with walls, towers, and gates. These were begun in 1294 and finished in 1320. These outer fortifications had the effect of diminishing the importance of the castle, and consequently its enceinte wall, with bastions on the brow of the mound, were allowed to become dilapidated, till little remained of them in the 17th century. The city walls, towers, and gates were dismantled and the greater part of them pulled down in the 18th century. A tower stands intact, with part of the wall, on Carrow Hill, and a boom tower still remains by the river side opposite Conisford. In the reign of Edward III. The horse-shoe shaped enclosures outside the castle moat were given by the Crown to the citizens, who have for centuries held there a stock market every Saturday, and a great sheep fair is held there on the Thursday before Easter. The castle-keep was from the time of Elizabeth fitted up interiorly with a building of prison cells that continued in use as a county jail till 1824-29, when a range of buildings was. erected on the mound outside the keep at a cost of £15,000. In 1839 the keep itself, in a very decayed state, was refaccd on the original Norman lines at a cost of £8000. In 1883 the Government condemned the castle site as a prison, and erected a model jail on Mousehold, outside the city, to receive not only the county prisoners but those of the city, which for centuries had a jail of its own, because of its having a county jurisdiction. The corporation bought the castle of the Government for £4000, and thus gained possession of nearly all the area (the county shire hall and police station alone being excepted) which had always remained in the hands of the Crown or of the county authorities. With £20,000, subscribed by the citizens and county gentry, the castle and prison buildings have been converted into a museum, the shareholders of the Norfolk and Norwich Museum (established in 1824) giving up all their valuable collections to the municipality. The natural history, geological, palseontological, and art collections are arranged in the metamorphosed Tudoresque prison buildings, and the ethnological and the archaeological collections in the Norman keep. The Duke and Duchess of York opened the Castle Museum in October, 1894. The moat and slope have been laid out as public gardens.

Early Ecclesiastical History.-There is very little ecclesiastical history prior to the founding of the cathedral. Anna, king of East Angles, in the 7th century became a Christian, and with his four daughters promoted the spread of the faith. To his daughter Ætheldritha, foundress of Ely minster, a church was erected in later times at one end of Cyningsford; to King ÆEthelbert, slain at the court of Offa, King of Mercia, a chapel was in after times dedicated at the outer end of Cyningsford; and in the Scandinavian settlement, "Over-the-Water," a church was likewise dedicated to St Edmund, the last of the East Angle kings. In fact Norwich, with a great part of East Anglia, lapsed into paganism after the death of Edmund. Sometime after the revival of the see of Elmham (Suffolk) it was removed to Thetford, and in 1094 translated to Norwich by Bishop Herbert de Losinga, who in 1096 laid the foundation-stone of the cathedral (dedicated to the Holy Trinity), planned after his own priory church of Fecamp.

The Cathedral.-The Cathedral Church had appended to it a monastery for sixty Benedictine monks, whose convent was on the south side of the building, while the episcopal palace is on the north side. The founder's church was cruciform, with a trefoil of circular apsidal chapels at the E end. Two of these chapels-Jesus and St Luke-remain; the central or Lady chapel, rebuilt in the Early English period by Bishop Suffield, was demolished at the Reformation. A procession path runs round the presbytery from transept to transept. At the E end of the presbytery is the original stone throne of the bishops, with remains of a semi-concentric arrangement of seats for the clergy. This is the only stone episcopal throne in England. Bishop Eborard (1121-1145) extended the nave from seven to fourteen bays. The length of the church is 470 feet, and the solid Norman columns and massive semicircular bays, supporting triforium and clerestory, give a solemn grandeur to the nave, which is parted from the choir, fitted with carved oak stalls, by an organ loft.

In 1272 the cathedral, monastery, and buildings suffered grievous damage at the hands of the citizens. A dispute arose between the prior and the citizens about fair tolls and common rights, and it grew into a riot, culminating in the destruction of the clocher, St Ethelbert's chapel, the monas- tery gates, part of the monastery, and a portion of the church. The Pope laid the city under an interdict. King Henry III. came to Norwich to investigate the causes of the outbreak. Eventually, many citizens were hanged, and the city had to build the Ethelbert Gate, one of the fine entrances to the Cathedral Close. In 1275 the prior obtained power to build and maintain gates to the monastery, which he was to lock at his pleasure, and to erect a gate with a bridge over the river from the liberty of the monastery. This bridge still exists. It is called Bishop's Bridge, and has three arches with groined bosses. The gatehouse that stood on the bridge has been demolished about a century. A fine tower, called the Cow Tower, stands close by it, in what was the liberty of the prior. In 1278, on the enthronization of Bishop Middleton, the restored cathedral was reconsecrated in the presence of Edward I. and Queen Eleanor, and many of the nobility.

Soon after these events the beautiful decorated cloisters were built by Bishop Walpole, on the site of those destroyed. The vaulting of the noble cloister walks is enriched with carved bosses, the subjects being curious. In 1362 a hurricane blew down the steeple and wrecked the Norman clerestory of the eastern limb of the church. Bishop Percy rebuilt the clerestory in the Decorated style, and reared the graceful crocketed spire on the Norman tower which is 140 feet high. The height of the spire from the ground is 315 feet. In Bishop Ainwyk's time (1426-49) were built the west front and porch in the Perpendicular style, and also the gateway on the north side of the precincts at the entrance to the palace gardens. Bishop Lyhart (1447-72) built the vaulted stone roof of the nave, adorned with 328 sculptured bosses, illustrative of Scripture from Creation to the Judgment; and Bishop Goldwell (1472-98), after a fire, re-roofed the presbytery and gemmed it with 152 carved bosses, including many containing his rebus. A monument of this bishop is in one of the bays of the presbytery. The church has, however, very few ancient brasses, as it was very much defaced in the time of the Commonwealth. Bishop Hall, who was then ejected from the see, speaks in his "Hard Measure" of the clattering of glasses, the beating down of walls, the tearing down of monuments, the wresting of irons and brasses from windows and graves, the defacing of arms, the demolishing of curious stone work, the piping on destroyed organ pipes, and the burning of vestments, surplices, and books in the marketplace. The building has been recently restored by Deans Goulburn and Lefroy, the former in displaying the beauty of the roof, and the latter in repairing and reseating the choir, so as to provide more accommodation.

The Cathedral Close is secluded and full of gardens. Besides the Ethelbert Gate, there is another entrance opposite the west front of The cathedral, called the Erpingham Gate, rich in ornamentation, and was built by Shakespeare's Sir Thomas Erpingham, a Norfolk man. Against the river are the remains of the picturesque Water Gate, under which flowed a canal, whereon boats brought provisions to the monastery. Bishop Salmon in the 14th century built a charnel-house chapel near the west end of the cathedral for the storage in the crypt of the bones disturbed in the burial ground. In the reign of Edward VI. this chapel was converted into an endowed grammar school where some notable men received Their early education. Rajah Brooke and Nelson were there a short time. A statue of Nelson stands opposite the ancient school-house.

The Churches.-The city has thirty-two churches, the county of the city has eleven. Several of the very early churches in the city were demolished in pre-Reformation times and a few since. All the thirty-two city churches are of ancient foundation. Those existing in Conisford are St John, Timberhill; All Saints, St Michael-at-Thorn, St John de Sepulchre, St Etheldred (to which St Peter, Southgate parish, has been added), St Julian and St Peter, Permounter-gate; in Westwick or Wymer, St Michael-at-Plea; St Peter, Hungate; St George, Tombland; St Simon and St Jude, St Andrew; St John, Maddermarket; St Gregory, St Lawrence, St Margaret, St Swithin, and St Benedict; in the district Over-the-Water, St Edmund, recently attached to St Clement; St George, Colegate; St Michael, Coslany; St Mary, Coslany; St Martin-at-Oak; St Augustine; and St Saviour; in what from the foundation of the Cathedral to the reign of Henry VIII. was the exempt liberty of the prior, outside the precinct walls, St Helen, St James, and St Paul; and in Mancroft, St Peter and St Paul, St Giles and St Stephen's. Most of these churches are of the Later Decorated and Perpendicular periods, though here and there may be found examples of Early English and bits of Norman work.

The noblest of these city churches is that of St Peter, Mancroft, standing above The fine open well-paved Market Square, fringed with some pointed gabled houses. Founded by Ralph de Guader, this church was rebuilt in 1430-35. It has chancel, nave, aisles, small transept, and a noble tower, containing a grand and famous peal of twelve bells. A beautiful canopied font, some curious tapestry, and a mural tablet to Sir Thomas Browne, author of "Religio Medici," who lived in this parish, and whose remains were interred in the chancel, are among the interesting features of the church. It has also a fine carved roof, and so has St Stephen's. St Andrew's Church contains several fine monuments, the principal to members of the Suckling family, to which the poet belonged. St Michael-at-Plea, where the Archdeacon of Norwich holds his court, has some curious mediaeval painted panelling. In St George's (Colegate) Church, besides several fine mural and altar-tomb monuments, there is a memorial medallion portrait of John Crome, founder of the Norwich School of Artists, generally known as "Old Crome." St Michael-at-Coslany Church is noted for the beauty of the squared flint work with which The Thorpe chapel is faced. St Helen, in Bishopsgate Street, is associated with the old church and hospital of St Giles', founded and endowed by Bishop Suffield in 1249 for decrepit chaplains and thirteen poor people. It has a cloister garth. A hospital for the aged poor of the city was at the Reformation substituted for a hospital for chaplains, and a portion of the parochial church of St Helen converted into wards for the inmates. The chancel thus utilised has a beautiful waggon-headed roof, embellished in the panels with 252 spread eagles, and the intersections of the ribs with 232 bosses. St Julian, St Etheldred, St Paul, St Mary, and St Benedict, have wholly or in part round towers assumed to be of the early part of the 11th century. In the Church of St John, Maddermarket (situated against the market where madder was sold), are several curious brasses and a mural monument to Margaret, Duchess of Norfolk, second wife of the Duke who was beheaded in the reign of Elizabeth, and whose ducal palace was by the river side in this parish. At the west end of St Gregory's Church is a large fresco of St George and the Dragon, for St George is the patron saint of the city. Flint, sometimes in rough nodules, or more or less squared, was largely used with freestone dressings in these structures, as that material is to be found in abundance in the chalk-the substratum of the soil on which the city is built.

The old parochial churches in the hamlets or county of the city are St Bartholomew (Heigham), St Andrew (Eaton), and St John-the-Baptist and All Saints' (Lakenham). The remains of Bishop Hall, the "English Seneca" (who lived at a still existing quaint Jacobean house, now the Dolphin Inn), were interred in the church of St Bartholomew. The newly built churches in the hamlets are St Mark (Lakenham), Holy Trinity (Heigham), St Philip (Heigham), St Thomas (Heigham), St Matthew (Thorpe Hamlet), Christ Church (Eaton), and Christ Church (Catton). There are also Church of England mission halls in some parishes. The gross value of the livings is as follows:-All Saints, with St Julian, £206; St Andrew, £208; St Augustine, £159; St Benedict, £97; St Clement, with St Edmund, £188; Christ Church, Catton, £200; St Etheldred, with St Peter, Southgate, £140; St George, Colegate, £87; St George, Tombland, £70; St Giles, £80; St Gregory, £95; St Helen, £206; St James, £300; St John, Maddermarket, £264; St John de Sepulchre, £97; St John, Timberhill, £194; St Lawrence, £140; St Margaret, with St Swithin, £140; St Martin-at-Palace, £135; St Martin-at-Oak, £110; St Mary, Coslany, £59; St Michael, Coslany, £90; St Michael-at-Plea, £57; St Michael-at-Thorn, £100; St Paul, £280; St Peter, Hungate, £102; St Peter, Permountergate, £140; St Saviour, £148; St Simoa and St Jude, £52; St Stephen, £357; Eaton, St Andrew, £300; Eaton, Christ Church, £360; St Bartholomew, £300; Holy Trinity, £300; St Philip, £300; St Thomas, £300; St Mark, £195; Lakenham, St John, and All Saints, £190.

Development of Trade.-The trade of Norwich in woollens and worsteds, which had been declining in the reign of Henry VIII. and Edward VI., received a stimulus in the reign of Elizabeth, through the invitation given to a number of Walloon and Dutch fugitives from the persecution of the Duke of Alva to settle in the city, owing to the good offices of Thomas, Duke of Norfolk, who was a Protestant. For a time the Walloon and Dutch settlers were granted, the former the use of the chancel, and the latter the nave, of the Dominican church, or New Hall as it was called, for Divine worship on Sundays. Some hostility was shown to the strangers, who seem to have been received by Thomas Sotherton, sheriff of Norwich, at bis house near the ducal palace, called Strangers' Hall, the handsomely carved entrance to which remains, while nothing exists of the palace, that was demolished in the 18th century, when the then Duke of Norfolk severed his connection with the city. Subsequently, the Walloons had the use of the bishop's chapel, at his palace, till they were granted a lease of the small church of St Mary-the-Less, which the citizens had purchased of the dean and chapter, and for some time used it as a cloth hall. This church, in Queen Street, remained in possession of the Walloon congregation, who were joined by French Huguenots, among whom were the Martineaus. Some mural tablets to the Martineaus are in the French church, which has now got into the possession of the Catholic Apostolic Church. The Dutch settlers were granted the use of the chancel of the Dominican church by the city, and their descendants retained possession of it until a few years ago, when they surrendered the lease to the city, subject to their being allowed to have a service in Dutch there once a year, the chaplain to the Dutch embassy being the preacher. The nave and aisles of the Dominican church, called St Andrew's Hall, have for the last three centuries been used for public purposes of a social, festive, religious, and political character. The Triennial Musical Festival is held in this hall, which, as well as Blackfriars' Hall, is hung with portraits of Norwich worthies of the 17th and 18th centuries. There is a portrait of the first Lord Suffield by Gainsborough, and one of Nelson by Sir William Beechy.

From the time of Queen Elizabeth, who made a progress to the city in 1578, Norwich, aided by the strangers whom it had received within its gates, continued to flourish. The trade guilds were numerous, but the weaving and dyeing continued to be the chief industry. The number of looms in Norwich in the middle of the 18th century was 12,000. The city then did a large export trade in textile fabrics; and in spite of the competition with the Midlands and the North, when much of the weaving drifted away from it in the early part of the next century, it continued to produce shawls, crape, poplins, &c. There are still in the city several factories in which crapes, poplins, and other light and fancy goods are produced, but the principal industry at the present time is the wholesale production of boots and shoes by many large houses, which employ hundreds of hands on and off the premises. This business originated in the city. The largest industrial establishment in Norwich is that of Messrs J. & J. Colman, mustard, starch, blue, and corn-flour manufacturers, situated on the banks of the Wensum at Carrow, and giving employment to about 2000 hands. Several large firms produce agricultural implements and machinery, horticultural appliances, including greenhouses and conservatories, and wire-netting.

Rise of Nonconformity.-Since the reign of Elizabeth, when the Protestant strangers were received as citizens, the principles of Nonconformity took root and developed. There can be no doubt that the various Protestant refugees affected the thought no less than the trade of the city. Robert Browne, the head of the Brownists, and John Robinson, one of the Pilgrim Fathers, laboured for a time in the city. When the country rose against Charles I. The loyalists in Norwich attempted to seize the city for the king, but were obliged to relinquish it to the Parliamentarians. During the period of strife some of the aldermen were displaced for refusing to take the Covenant, and Royalists were hanged for being concerned in a projected insurrection in favour of Charles II. The oldest Congregational place of worship in Norwich is the Old Meeting-house, in which is a memorial to William Bridge, one of its early ministers, who had been expelled from the rectory of St George, Tombland, for refusing to read the Book of Sports. Prince's Street Congregational Church, erected in 1819, is now, with its added lecture-hall and Sunday schools, an important centre of Nonconformist activity. The Congregationalists have two other chapels. The original Presbyterian body had a chapel near the Old Meeting-house. These became Unitarians, and, on the site of the old chapel, built the Octagon Chapel, opened in 1756. The beautiful roof is supported by eight fluted Corinthian columns. The Enfields, Martineaus, Taylors, and Amelia Opie attended this place of worship. The Tabernacle in St Martin-at-Palace, opened by Whitfield in 1755 for the Countess of Huntingdon, is a building in which Wesley several times preached. The Baptists have eight chapels. The largest, St Mary's, was built in 1811. One on Unthanks Road is in the Early English style, with apse, nave, aisles, and unfinished tower. The Wesleyans have three chapels, the principal one being in Lady Lane; the Free Methodists two; and the Primitive Methodists three. The Scotch Presbyterians have a church, founded in 1867, in Theatre Street. The Society of Friends have two meeting-houses; the one in the Gildencroft is associated with the name of Gurney, of which family Elizabeth Fry was a member. The Salvation Army have a "citadel" in St Giles. Since 1794 the Roman Catholics had a chapel in St John's, Maddermarket, and from a later time another chapel in Willow Lane; but in 1894 a grand church, erected at St Giles' Gate, on the site of the demolished city jail, in the Early English style, at the sole cost of the Duke of Norfolk, was opened for that community. The church consists of sanctuary, nave, north and south aisles, chapels, baptistery, and porches. It is dedicated to St John the Baptist. A handsome presbytery has been erected in the grounds.

Antiquities.-The city is rich in antiquities other than abound in the churches. Many curious old houses and carved doorways exist in the older parts of the city. There are many ancient houses in King Street, where some of the religious orders in the country, and many county families, including the Pastons, had city houses. The most perfect interior of a Tudor mansion is that of John Curat, sheriff in the time of Henry VII., well preserved by its occupant and owner, Mr Back, in the Market Place.

Benevolent Institutions.-Charitable and philanthropic institutions of all kinds have been established. Foremost among these is the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital, rebuilt in 1879-83, consisting of central administrative block and pavilions, containing wards, with an out-patients' department, utilised out of a wing of the original hospital founded in 1771. The hospital board-room is adorned with portraits of illustrious physicians and surgeons. It has a fine pathological museum. An Infirmary for Sick Children, founded by Jenny Lind, and aided by Mesdames Nillson and Albani, exists in Pottergate Street. A Blind Asylum was founded by Thomas Tawell in 1805 in Magdalen Street. An Eye Infirmary exists in Pottergate Street. There are in the city a Dispensary, a Lying-in Charity, Institute of Nurses, a Sick Visiting Society, a Sick Poor Society, and many other benevolent institutions for assisting the sick, the poor, and the afflicted.

Education &c.-Education has had a great impetus during the last twenty-five years. The Grammar School is the oldest educational centre in Norwich. Thomas Anguish, in the time of Charles I., founded an hospital and school for poor boys and girls to be taught to read and work. The boys' school has been discontinued, pending the provision of a new scheme. The girls' school is continued under altered conditions at Lakenham. Alderman Norman, at the end of the 18th century, founded a school for his descendants in St Paul's. Charity and church schools were established in the 18th century. At the present time the denominational schools number eighteen, in thirty-five departments, and have 6600 children on the books, while the School Board have built sixteen blocks of schools in forty-three departments, and have 13,086 children on the books. There is a High School for Girls close to the prettily restored theatre, and a Middle School for Boys, an offshoot of King Edward VI. Grammar School. A School of Art occupies inconvenient rooms at the top of the Free Library buildings. This library has about 30,000 volumes, including a good collection of local works. The Norfolk and Norwich Library, with about 65,000 volumes, is supported by subscription. The Church of England Young Men's Society, and the Young Men's Christian Association, have each admirable suites of rooms, and the former has a good recreation ground. A new Diocesan College, with practising school for the diocese of Norwich and Ely, has been recently erected in the parish of St Thomas. Technical and cookery schools have been provided for the artisan class. The Post Office, a handsome building, was originally built for a bank by Messrs Harvey & Hudson, who failed. The Norwich Union Fire and Life Offices have their headquarters in Surrey Street. The city has a large corn hall, in which a corn market is held every Saturday, and on the cattle market is a fine agricultural hall belonging to a company of Norfolk agriculturists, provided for the holding of agricultural meetings and shows. Since about 1860 Norwich has been greatly improved in the widening of narrow ancient streets, paving, lighting, drainage, &c.

Transcribed from The Comprehensive Gazetteer of England & Wales, 1894-5


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Ancient CountyNorfolk 
Civil parishHellesdon 

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Postal districtNR2
Post TownNorwich