Historic Heart of Norfolk
Once the second largest city in England, Norwich has a long and fascinating history as one of the most important places in the kingdom. The twisting streets dotted with over 30 medieval churches and striking town houses are also home to some great art venues and places to eat and drink. Flights to Norwich are available from all over the country, saving you what can often be a long drive east, so there’s no excuse not to visit the historic heart of Norfolk.
Norwich Castle is one of the must-see sights of the city. Founded by William the Conqueror after his triumph at the Battle of Hastings, the Castle was originally used as a Royal Palace. It is associated with the story of William of Norwich, the 12-year old boy whose death was blamed on the Jewish community who were introduced to the city by the Normans and lived close to the Castle for protection.
William was a tanner who regularly visited the community during his work, and when he died suddenly in 1144 fingers were pointed at the Jews. Lacking support from the courts, William was made a saint and a cult developed around him. Later violence against Jews erupted, with some fleeing to the Castle for safety. This is the first known medieval accusation of ritual murder aimed at the Jewish community, and an example of the terrible persecution happening all over the country and for centuries to come.
From 1220-1887 the Castle was used as a gaol, and was later opened as a museum in 1895. Inside you can tour the dungeons and see the extensive decorative art collections as well as galleries focusing on the Iceni tribe (who inhabited Norfolk 2000 years ago), Anglo-Saxons, Vikings and Ancient Egypt (Howard Carter who discovered Tutankhamun lived in Norwich). Another famous resident of Norfolk is the brave flame-haired queen of the Iceni tribe, Boudica. Leading the uprising against the Roman forces that had conquered the south and were moving up the country, committing atrocities along the way, Boudica and her warriors defeated the Ninth Legion and destroyed Colchester, then the capital of Roman Britain. Going on to destroy London and St. Albans, Emperor Nero realised he had a bit of trouble on his hands and thought about withdrawing all of the Roman forces, but Boudica was eventually defeated.
To see another magnificent Norman monument head to Norwich Cathedral. Two churches and a Saxon settlement were ruthlessly demolished to make way for its construction starting in 1096, and it is one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe. Look out for the interesting bosses on the cloister ceiling; there are over 1000 and many are intricately decorated (one shows a Christian battling a demon with a gold cross). Nearby in Bishopgate you can pop into the pub that the Cathedral workmen were drinking in during the thirteenth century. Adam & Eve is Norwich’s oldest pub and the monks who once owned it also brought ale to the patients of the Great Hospital there (strictly for medicinal purposes, of course).
Katherine Conlon likes to a get a feel for the history of the places she visits, and seeks out the bits which reveal something about the culture in different areas of the globe. She has travelled in four different continents and is looking forward to exploring the rest.