Saturday, 25 March 2017

Some slightly random snippets of Norwich history

Norwich's Thatches

In Tudor times a ban on thatched roofing was brought in because of the extra fire risk a thatch brings. The legacy of this is that there are very few thatched buildings in Norwich - despite there being so many old buildings. I originally read that there were only five thatched buildings, however, I found a sixth!
A) Britons Arms - the only building on Elm Hill to survive the fire of 1507 has had many uses: a house of surgeons, place of weaving and saddle making. It was also - more unusually - a Beguinages which was a female community that was dedicated to religious worship without taking formal vows. These were common in the Netherlands but this was the only one known of in England.
B) Pykerell's House - House of Thomas Pykerell who died in 1545 and was mayor of Norwich three times. This house has a great hall.
C) Hampshire Hog Yard - behind the Arts' Centre. It was a pub for many years.
D) Barking Dicky - . It was once a pub called the Light Horseman but the pub sign was so badly painted that the horse looked like a cross between a dog and a donkey which the locals therefore decided to call 'Dicky'.
E) The Hermitage - found on Bishopgate.
F) Another thatch I found - possibly newly thatched - situated behind the Barking Dicky.

I found this old photo in a book of Westlegate. You can see 'Barking Dicky' at the top of the hill next to the church.
An old drain cover!

A drain cover in Tombland Alley is the only one in the city to bear the name of Thomas Crapper - the company to bring sewage engineering to cities in Victorian times and the origin of the word 'crap'.
Evidence of an old city gate

Bishop Bridge dates from about 1340 and is situated at the point where a Roman road probably entered the city by ford from the east and it is therefore a very old crossing point. It was at the time, the only bridge giving access to the city from outside and therefore had a fortified gatehouse at its western end. This picture shows a half circle protrusion at the west end that would have supported one of the gate's turrets.
Armada House

Officially known as Garsett House, this building became known as Armada House in Victorian times because it was thought to have been constructed with the timbers from a galleon of the Spanish Armada of 1588. This could well be true as some of the galleons were known to have been wrecked off the east coast and 1589 is carved into the building at first floor level.
Also of interest is the sign of Phoenix Insurance on the front of the building from the days when insurance companies organised fire brigades. This symbol was used to indicate that the building was insured and qualified for fire fighting.

The building was truncated on its south side to make way for a new tram-line in Victorian times.

Augustine Steward House
This Tudor house was built for Augustine Steward (three times mayor of Norwich) and was used as a headquarters for the armies sent to quash Kett's Rebellion in 1549. It is also famously haunted by a young girl who is said the be the only one in the building to survive the plague of 1665 but then to starve to death because the house had been boarded up and she was trapped. Augustine Steward was also known for buying Blackfriars and St Andrew's Halls and saving then from destruction during the Reformation.

Boom Towers
These were built in 1334 so there could be control over and tolls issued to vessels journeying into Norwich via the river. Two chains straddled the river from each tower. These were raised and lowered by a winch. They were thought to be named the 'Boom' Towers because a pole or 'boom' once did the same job as the chains. IN 1938 - one of the ruined tops was said to be the shape of a devil with horns and it was known as 'Devil's Tower' then. It has since eroded away a lot more.

St Lawrence church door carvings

The carving on the left shows St Lawrence being cooked to death on a slab. The Roman Emperor Decius ordered for this to happen. It's hard to see but God is striking down the Roman Emperor with a sword for his actions while his soldiers stoke the fire.

The carving on the right shows the martyrdom of St Edmund. He's been shot by many arrows. There is also a wolf who was to guard the saint's body. It's always interesting to have a bit of gore on a church door. Apparently the churchyard of this church used to go right down to the river. I think the following picture is also of the 'grilling' of St Lawrence - but this time found in the cloisters of Norwich cathedral.
Weavers' Windows
In Bridewell Alley there are some fine examples of weavers' windows: windows that are horizontally long and at the top storey to allow as much light in as possible.
Also on the fine knapped flint wall opposite St Andrew's Church is an example of galletting which is the process of putting small pieces of flint between the otherwise perfectly fitting brick. These were to allow for expansion and contraction due to changes in temperature.
An example of a water pump next to a churchyard

Before public health studies helped the population understand how diseases were caused, water pumps were often funded by church parishes and therefore situated close to or next to churchyards. These churchyards were full of decaying bodies and the water was disease inducing. This pump was not only next to St John Maddermarket's churchyard, it was downhill from it. Cholera and typhoid killed many before it was understood that these diseases were waterborne. Fortunatley the brewing process destroyed the micobes of these diseases and accounts for hwy so many pubs existed in medieval Norwich. Beer was considerably weaker hundreds of years ago so perhaps people didn't exist in a permanent state of inebriation - or did they?


  1. Molly, I must compliment you on finding, posting, the very human and familiar aspects of these structures, the humble and the imposing, which --to this Californian-- are things of astonishing antiquity. It is a valuable thing you do here.

  2. Thank you Geo. I am having a bit of a phase! I scour the net and bookshops looking for quirky snippets of history - which Norwich is full of!


I LOVE comments......