‘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
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.
2. The largest covered market in Europe
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.
3. A complex religious history
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.
4. A city of literature
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
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.
6. The first council to get online
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
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.
Norwich is special as one of England’s great historic cities, and we are concerned about proposals for the planned redevelopment of Anglia Square. Find out more here.
Written by Charlotte Goodhart