Exterior of Britons arms cafe and restaurant with people walking down the cobbled street
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7 Reasons to love historic Norwich

Norwich is the only English city in a National Park (the Norfolk Broads) and until the Industrial Revolution was the second largest city in the country.

‘Norwich has everything’ according to Nikolaus Pevsner.

Well known for its pubs, churches, cultural scene and winding cobbled streets, Norwich is the only English city in a National Park (the Norfolk Broads) and until the Industrial Revolution was the second largest city in the country.

Here we celebrate 7 reasons to love historic Norwich:

1. Medieval marvels

Exterior of Britons arms cafe and restaurant with people walking down the cobbled street
Britons Arms, 9 Elm Hill, Norwich. Norfolk, 2013 © Historic England DP160560

Norwich is the UK’s most complete medieval city and is home to many intact, cobbled streets from the period. Norwich Guildhall is the largest surviving medieval civic building outside London and the city has one of the grandest Norman Cathedrals in Britain.  Along Elm Hill and in Tombland there are many distinctive Tudor buildings.

Interior of Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral  © Historic England DP129867

2. The largest covered market in Europe

Norwich market from above, with brightly coloured stall covers and people on bicycles
Norwich Market in 2016 © Historic England DP183502

In its current location the market has operated for over 900 years, but the original market opened in the latter part of the 11th century for Norman merchants and settlers. It has been rebuilt and redesigned several times and today it is the largest covered market in Europe, with stalls selling food and clothes from around the world. Norwich was a major trading hub in the 14th century, which made the city large and prosperous: the Grade I listed Guildhall was built next to the market to serve as a centre for local government until 1938 when the new city hall was built.

Black and white image of Norwich Guildhall with produce stalls and people in the foreground
Norwich Guildhall with market in the foreground, 1850-1900  © Historic England BB85_02126a

3. A complex religious history

Black and white image of St Ethelbert's Gate in 1893
St Ethelbert’s Gate 1893 © Historic England CC79_00419

It was said that Norwich had a church for every Sunday and a pub for every day of the year. Despite this, Norwich was also described as the most ‘godless city’ in England when over 40% of residents declared themselves to have ‘no religion’ in the 2011 census. It is also the only English city to have ever been entirely excommunicated by the Pope, after riots broke out in the 13th century. St Ethelbert’s Gate is a Scheduled Monument, paid for by local residents as penance for the violence.

View of people walking through the square with St Peter Mancroft Church on the right
The Forum and St Peter Mancroft Church © Historic England DP084729

4. A city of literature

General view of halls of residence designed by Sir Denys Lasdun.
Norfolk Terrace Halls of Residence, University of East Anglia. © Historic England DP101927

In 2012 Norwich became England’s first UNESCO City of Literature, and back in 1608 it was the site of the first library to be established by a corporation in a corporately owned building outside London. Meanwhile, the highly-celebrated creative writing course at University of East Anglia has produced Nobel Prize winner Kazuo Ishiguro and several Booker Prize winners.

5. It’s not all medieval

DP162463 sainsbury centre
Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts, University of East Anglia, Norwich, Norfolk. © Historic England DP162463

Alongside its medieval history, Norwich is also home to an array of 20th century buildings, many of which are listed. Denys Lasdun’s Norfolk and Suffolk Terrace (better known as the Ziggurats) at the University of East Anglia are Grade II* listed and amongst the boldest designs of any post-war university. Directly opposite, Foster Associates Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts: a vast hanger-like space, is also Grade II* listed.

In the centre of the city The Forum, designed by Hopkins Architects, was opened in 2001 and the large plaza out front is a well-loved meeting place for young people.

Exterior of The Forum in Norwich with people walking outside
The Forum, Norwich © Historic England DP084731

6. The first council to get online

aa98_09558 city hall
A carol service on the steps of City Hall, Norfolk1957 © Historic England AA98_09558

Thanks to its forward-thinking Treasurer, Mr A.J. Barnard, the City of Norwich was one of, if not the first, local authority to use computer technology. The Elliott 405 computer was delivered to Norwich City Hall in 1957, and became operational in April of the same year: the event was celebrated with a press conference and hosted by the Lord Mayor.

7. Strangers and canaries

Interior of Strangers Hall
Strangers Hall © .Martin. via Flickr

The symbol of the city, the canary, was an import: brought by refugees from the Low Countries, who came to the area seeking refuge from religious persecution in Holland Belgium in the 16th and 17th centuries. In the early 20th century the local football team, Norwich City, began to be referred to as the canaries. The weaving trade was also brought by the refugees, and Grade I listed Strangers Hall got its name from the ‘strangers’ from Belgium and Holland who lived there.

Written by Charlotte Goodhart

Further Reading

9 comments on “7 Reasons to love historic Norwich

  1. This is very interesting.

  2. Whenever I come to England, I always manage to spend a few days in Norwich. And don’t forget to stop a while in the Cathedral Close. Be sure and look up. If you are lucky, you will see one or both of the resident peregrines.

  3. Interesting article. I have actually never been to Norwich (though I do have the excuse of living in the USA for well over a decade), and I have relocated back to England so this very well be on my list of places to visit. Nice photos too. Thanks for posting!

    • Please do visit! You will fall in love with our beautiful City! ❤️

  4. Vali Jamal PhD

    Love Norwich. I studied at the Tec, 1958-60, for my A-levels. Lived in digs with 2-3 landladies. Was very lonely to start with as I was missing family back in KampalaUganda. Landladies were kind. I had a bike sent by my brother from his university to commute to college, the furthest from Sandringham Road. Last time I visited was in 2000. I did go to the Tec and to Ladybarn Road where my last landlady had lived – Mrs Relf. Neighbours said she passed away long ago. Hope to visit this year when a book I am writing will be published – at Cambridge, where I went after my A-levels, Trinity College. Now am residing back in Uganda writing my book, finished at 2.2 million words, about us Uganda Asian people.

  5. Norwich Cathedral is better than York Minster IMO

    • OK, but does it have a Roman Fort beneath it like York Minster?
      Caroline Raybin, YAT participant.
      PS I do want to visit Norwich now…

  6. Lucy Emely Bobadilla Araujo

    Magic Norwich,I’ve been there in 2015,studied in NILE,love walking in beautiful alleyways,nice memories.Always in my heart!

  7. Love the unspoiled area of Elm Street,
    as you walk through the old Cobbold Streets you drift back in time

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