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Heritage Heroes: Your Heritage in Norwich

Explore the local heritage of Norwich...

Wherever you live, there’s treasure to be discovered!

Not just gold and gems, but stories of buildings, locations and people.

Our heritage is a great wealth… and it’s all around us.

Sometimes standing proud in the open air, sometimes hidden behind some bushes.

To help find it, we asked for your help and to become Heritage Heroes.

Norwich is a city in Norfolk in East Anglia. It’s packed with history from its stunning Norman Cathedral and Castle to its industrial history with mustard and shoes.

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Norwich Railway Station

As always, we’re starting our heritage romp at the railway station!

Norwich Railway Station is the northern terminus of the Great Eastern Railway. At one time, there were 3 railway stations in Norwich, all built by different and competing railway companies.

Over time, they came together and what was no longer required was closed down. As well as the clock tower and portico, one thing to look out for is a bust, that’s a sculpture of a person’s head and shoulders.

The bust here is of Sir Samuel Morton Peto who in the 1840s had 33 railway contracts worth £20 million, which probably makes him one of the greatest railway contractors in the world. As well as building the Norwich to Great Yarmouth and Lowestoft lines, he was also the local MP from 1847 to 1854.

Can you imagine life before the railways – how did we get around? 

You certainly wouldn’t have popped down to London for a day trip! Most people would have walked everywhere, which means they never really travelled that far. The well off could afford horses and carriages and could travel further afield, often paying a road toll for the privilege. 

The railways changed everything. All of a sudden it was easier, quicker and cheaper to travel, whether for work, visiting people, moving goods about or just enjoying leisure time exploring a different part of the country.

As we’ve been finding out the Victorian era saw incredible engineering and technology developments.

A look into Norwich’s history

Let’s head into the city centre and find out about some of Norwich’s early history…

The city can trace its origins back to the Iceni, an ancient tribe who settled near to the village of Caistor St Edmonds. The Iceni were particularly famous because they were led by the warrior Boudica who, when the Romans invaded in the first century, led a ferocious uprising.

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If you want to find out more about this period of history, check out the Boudica & Romans Gallery at Norwich Castle.

Moving forward to the 5th century and the Anglo Saxons were settled in the area, creating towns including Northwick, or North Farm, which is where Norwich got its name. It was a period of thriving trade and commerce, or was until a certain marauding force invaded. 

Can you guess who?

We’ve already met them a few times on our heritage journey. It’s the Vikings!

After a period of change, the Vikings had a strong presence in the centuries that followed and Norwich thrived with lots of trade and even its own mint. By the time of the Norman Conquest, it was one of the largest cities in the country.

It wasn’t all plain sailing. There continued to be odd upheaval, whether an invasion by the Flemings in 1174 or the persecution of minority groups who had fled here from Europe. Probably due to its position near the coast, it’s always been a vibrant hub for different cultures who brought with them new skills and even the Norwich Canary, who we’ll be finding more about later!

In Georgian era, Norwich became increasingly popular with travellers and grew into a fashionable shopping town. Buildings around the market were developed into luxury shops and many coaching inns opened.  The eastern side of the market was particularly fashionable and became known as Gentleman’s Walk.

Shoes

Whilst wool and textile industries flourished for many years, in the 19th century and the development of faster transport links, Norwich’s importance in textiles diminished, luckily to be replaced by another trade and something we all wear… shoes! 

This is one of the former shoe factories:

You told us…

  • There have been shoemakers in Norwich since at least the 12th century. In the 18th and 19th century, the city became a hub for shoemaking.

Norwich’s shoe making industry was an essential part of the local economy, and the city became known for the distinctive way they were made using, ‘Norwich Lasts’, wooden forms used to shape the shoes during production. ‘Norwich Lasts‘ were highly regarded for their quality and durability. 

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The 18th and 19th centuries were a period of significant growth for Norwich’s shoe-making industry. Innovations in machinery, such as the sewing machine, revolutionised the production process, leading to increased efficiency and output. Norwich shoemakers were known for their craftsmanship and attention to detail, using high-quality materials and hand-stitching.

By the turn of the 20th century, Norwich was the third-largest shoemaking centre in the country, after Northampton and Leicester.  If you want to find out more, check out the Made in Norwich gallery at the Museum of Norwich.

Hats

It wasn’t just shoes that Norwich was famous for… it was also a major centre for hat-making. It was renowned for producing high-quality hats from materials like beaver felt and silk.

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Its hat makers were known for their innovation. They were skilled in designing and crafting a wide range of hats, from fashionable bonnets for women to stylish top hats for men.

Although the industry diminished, the legacy of Norwich’s hat-making craftsmanship can still be seen in the city’s history, and some milliners and hat shops continue to operate today.

Again, you can find out more at the Museum of Norwich.

Mustard

Now, we’ve heard that Norwich has been famous for its markets for hundreds of years, and with that comes all sorts of delicious foods and drinks… one of which is Colman’s mustard. 

To give it its full name, J and J Colman Ltd operated from Carrow Works for 160 years. 

The works comprised a number of different buildings which can still be seen today from Carrow House in King Street, the family home. Plus, the timber drying bottle kiln in Deal Ground, a place where wood was dried in old bottle kilns to make crates and barrels for the condiment.

Not forgetting a 19th century engine house at Trowse Sewage Pumping station to remove, well… the waste.

Norwich Market

Right, let’s head over to Gentleman’s Walk and Norwich’s famous market!

The market was founded in the 11th century to supply Norman merchants and settlers moving to the area following their conquest, and by the 14th was one of the busiest in the country. In fact, the market was so large, it stretched all the way from Guildhall to St Stephen’s Church. 

It’s just as popular today as has been for hundreds of years…

What you said…

  • It’s the largest open-air market in England and is open six days a week. There are lots of pigeons.

When you look around the market, look out for a bright red outline of a large octagon in the ground. This was the location of the City’s 16th century market cross. 

Historically, a market cross was erected where permission had been granted by a monarch or local dignitary for a regular market or fair to be held. Many were simple carved spires, crosses or obelisks, others were large ornate covered buildings.

Norwich’s cross was huge. It was more than 60 feet tall and would have dominated the market.

Sadly, it was pulled down in the 1730s.

Norwich City Hall

One building that’s still here and dominates the marketplace is the City Hall

It is an Art Deco style building that was completed in 1938, replacing several old Tudor, Regency and Victorian buildings on St Peters Street and Market Place.

It’s quite impressive and is listed as one of the finest municipal buildings of the interwar period, with its prominent tower.

Even the bricks were specially made, each one being two inches longer than usual to better reflect the proportions of the building.

As we’ve discovered, when towns and cities wanted to shout about themselves, they created some pretty amazing buildings like town halls and galleries.

Norwich War Memorial

Before we move on, there’s one further structure to explore here and that’s the Norwich War Memorial.

As we’ve discovered, memorials can help us to remember people who died a long way away, like in wars or at sea, and where they don’t have a grave here in the UK. 

Memorials can provide a place for friends and families to remember their lost. 

Norwich’s memorial was designed by Edwin Lutyens, who also designed the Cenotaph in London and the Arch of Remembrance memorial in Leicester.

When originally unveiled as a Great war memorial, it was situated at the eastern end of The Guildhall, and was relocated to the newly-built memorial gardens in 1938.

You told us what it looks like…

  • The architect who designed the place was Edward Lutyens. The war memorial was unveiled on the 9th of October 1927. It commemorates the World War I, World War II, the Vietnamese War and the War in Iraq. It’s stone. There’s lots of poppy wreaths around it, commemorating fallen soldiers. I think there are some gold torches on the side that you can light up possibly. It looks very impressive.

Most war memorials were built after the Great War, and over time were extended or had additional plaques attached to remember the dead from the second world war and other conflicts. They usually will list all the men and women who lived locally and died whilst serving their country.

The Royal Arcade

While we are the city centre, let’s check out The Royal Arcade on the other side of the market. It’s been one of the most iconic attractions in Norwich for over a hundred years. 

It’s a place where Victorian architecture and Art Nouveau combine and was elegantly designed by George Skipper. 

It opened to great fanfare on 24th May 1899, a time when arcade shopping was very much in vogue.  

To us heritage heroes, it’s a reminder of the opulence and wealth of the Victorian era and how shopping was becoming something people did for fun, not just to get the basic food to live.

There were new and exciting goods being imported from all over the world.

Norwich Cathedral

Let’s head somewhere a little more peaceful… and it’s a heritage hotspot several of you told us about… Norwich Cathedral!

The Cathedral, whose full name is the Cathedral Church of the Holy and Undivided Trinity, was founded by Herbert de Losinga, who was the first Bishop of Norwich.

Construction began in 1096 and was completed by 1145. They had to demolish an Anglo-Saxon settlement and two churches to make room for it! 

Originally, the Norman Tower had a wooden spire covered in lead, but this was replaced 100 years later with the stone spire that we see today.

The Cloister is the largest monastic cloister in the country and is stunning to explore. When it was a Benedictine Priory, the vaulted walkways linked the Church and Chapter House with the original Library and Refectory.

Hundreds of medieval roof bosses decorate the Cathedral and Cloister, in fact there’s so many, it’s the biggest collection of its kind in the world! These intricately carved stone pieces depict a wide range of subjects from biblical stories to mythical creatures; and one to look out for in the Cloisters is the famous Green Man.

The cathedral is the final resting place of Edith Cavell, a British nurse executed by German forces during World War I for helping Allied soldiers escape from occupied Belgium. Her grave has become a symbol of heroism and self-sacrifice that has inspired people around the world.

The cathedral also has stunning stained glass windows, some medieval, some very modern, like the Trinity Windows that cast a wonderful kaleidoscope of colour and which were installed in 2014.

Kett’s Rebellion was a revolt during the reign of Edward VI, largely in response to the enclosure of land. It began on 8th July 1549 with a group of rebels destroying fences that had been put up by landowners. 

After taking control of the city, the King sent in the army and thousands of rebels and soldiers were killed. Kett was arrested and hung at Norwich Castle for treason.

Places of worship are helpful to learn about our town and city’s pasts. They often have memorials for important people and events. They hold records about births, deaths and marriages, and even the architecture and stained glass windows can tell a story or two.

At the cathedral, we heard about the spire catching fire and falling down. Well, one way that people can protect themselves financially from such disasters is by having insurance and that’s our next heritage hotspot…

Norwich Union

In the late 18th century, most of Norwich’s houses were made of wood, and its main trade was wool and silk… all highly flammable things! 

Thomas Bignold was a local wine merchant who saw an opportunity to provide insurance cover against fires. In 1797 he formed the Norwich Union Fire Office. 

In those days, it was the insurance companies that employed the firemen to put out the fires, well, only for those buildings which they had insured. When a policy was taken out, a decorative plaque would be placed on a building. If you didn’t have a plaque you ended up with a burnt out home.

Bignold had great ambitions for his company, which began to expand rapidly outside East Anglia, and soon became Britain’s third biggest fire insurer. 

Surrey House is home to the Marble Hall, a stunning piece of architecture designed by local architect George Skipper, who was also behind the Royal Arcade and Jarrold.

The marble was originally destined for Westminster Cathedral but as it wasn’t ready in time, it came to Norwich instead.

Even though it was built in the early 1900s, because of its renaissance style you would think it is from the 16th or 17th century. 

Whilst it’s a working building, you can pop inside for a look during any weekday.

Chapelfield Gardens

After a busy romp around the city, people have always sought out places for a bit of peace and quiet…

As we’ve been finding out, public parks like Chapelfield are evidence of great wealth that came from the Victorian Era and the desire to improve living conditions for everyone, rich and poor. 

Chapelfield Gardens were designed by George Alden Stevens in the mid 19th century on ground that had been used for public benefit since at least 1655. 

The park is named after the Chapel Field area which historically was used for archery practice!

There used to be an amazing pagoda in the park, that was designed by Thomas Jeckyll and was said to be a masterpiece of Victorian engineering. Sadly, it was demolished after the war because of damage. 

There’s still a Victorian bandstand to explore. During the Second World War, the park was a barrage ballon site and there were also underground air raid shelters.

Sometimes buildings that were important for previous generations have been demolished but there are often clues to these buildings if you know where to look! 

Blue plaques commemorate famous people and events and occasionally a building, and one blue plaque by St Giles’s Street car park tells us about Norwich’s theatrical past… The Hippodrome!

The Hippodrome

The Hippodrome or the Grand Opera House as it was originally called, opened in 1903. It was a well-known theatre playing host to famous stars like a young Charlie Chaplin and Laurel and Hardy.

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Despite its name, it never hosted any operas and instead hosted many musicals, plays and other variety acts which attracted lower paying customers.

Between the 1930s and late 1950s, it became a cinema, an important place for people to catch up on the latest films and news from across the world.

It became a variety theatre again in the late 1950s for a brief period before closing in 1960 and ultimately being demolished to make way for the car park. 

Samson and Hercules House

A very old building that did survive was another of your picks is Samson and Hercules House on Tombland.

The house was built as a home by Christopher Jay in 1657 when he was mayor of Norwich.

It is called the Samson and Hercules House due to the porch that hosts statues of Samson and Hercules.

These aren’t the original statues, which were removed and replaced with replicas during the 19th century.

You can still see the statues today and maybe if you go inside you can see a ghost or two…

Peter

Now, we’ve looked at a lot of buildings to tell us about Norwich’s heritage. People who lived here can also tell us about our past. 

A sad story is about Peter, a child with extreme learning disabilities.

He was discovered abandoned in a German forest and brought to London to live with King George I for a while as a ‘curiosity’.  

When he was older, he would wander the streets of Norwich and was once imprisoned for being a vagrant in the Bridewell.

The Bridewell was once a prison and house of correction for beggars and women. It was used to give beggars and poor residents work. Men did manual labour like cutting wood and grinding malt, and women were trained to spin and card wool.

This was not an Elizabethan job training programme, it was a house of correction, and correction meant stocks, whippings and shackles. Not a place you wanted to spend much… if any time.

The prison was in use until 1828 when it became a tobacco factory, then a leather warehouse and finally a shoe factory.

Today, its home to the Museum of Norwich – a great place to find out more about local heritage.

Norwich Canaries

Earlier on, we mentioned the Norwich Canary. Now, what was that all about? 

The Norwich Canaries have been linked for over 400 years. The birds were probably first brought to the city by Flemish weavers known as the ‘strongers’.

By the 18th century, canary breeding has become a popular hobby in Norwich and was known as the ‘fancy clubs’. Shows and prizes were common and for many the hobby became a source of income.

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This association with canaries provided the nickname for Norwich City football team. Soon after it was formed in 1902. A few years later the team were wearing yellow and green and so the club adopted the canary as its badge in 1922. It has been a mascot ever since.

With no other large club nearby, the Canaries have always had strong support and high turnouts to matches. The crowds of around 38,000 fill the ground with their singing of ‘On The Ball City‘.

Norwich supporters sing what is probably the oldest football song in the world.

It goes like this…

Kick it off, throw it in, have a little scrimmage, keep it low, splendid rush, bravo, win or die, on the ball city. Never mind the danger, steady, now’s your chance. Oh, we’ve scored a goal Yeah, that’s the song we sing, yeah.

So now you know!

We’ve had a great time exploring Norwich. There’s plenty more to explore here and across the country, wherever you live. 

Don’t forget to go online to find out more about how to explore and record heritage in your area and of course, download your Heritage Hero certificate here.

Join us again to explore some more local heritage highlights and hotspots.

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HERITAGE HEROES. AN INSPIRING AUDIO PRODUCTION FOR FUN KIDS. CREATED WITH SUPPORT FROM THE NATIONAL LOTTERY HERITAGE FUND.

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Heritage Heroes

Discover your local heritage and become a Heritage Hero!

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