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"The City of Churches" Norwich


History of the City - Kett's Rebellion - Macaulay's Description of Norwich - The Cathedral - The Erpingham Gate - St. Andrew's Hall - The City's Churches - The Castle - The Museum - View from the Castle Battlements - Norwich Market - Mousehold Heath - Lavengro and Jasper Petulengro - Sir Thomas Browne - Evelyn's Visit to Sir Thomas Browne - Other Norwich Worthies - The " Maid's Head."
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"A fine old city... view it from whatever side you will.... There it spreads from north to south, with its venerable houses, its numerous gardens, its thrice twelve churches, its mighty mound, which, if tradition speaks true, was raised by human hands to serve as the grave heap of an old heathen king, who sits deep within it, with his sword in his hand, and his gold and silver treasures about him. There is a grey old castle on the top of that mighty mound; and yonder, rising three hundred feet above the soil, from among those noble forest trees, behold that old Norman masterwork, that cloud-encircled cathedral spire, around which a garrulous army of rooks and choughs continually wheel their flight. Now, who can wonder that the children of that fine old city are proud of her, and offer up prayers for her prosperity?" Thus wrote more than fifty years ago an East Anglian enthusiast, and few people who have seen Norwich will complain of his excessive patriotism. Norwich is a city of which not only its own inhabitants, but those of its county and country, may well be proud. The " City of Churches," as it has been called, ranks high among England's important provincial centres, few of which can compete with it in beauty, picturesque surroundings, architectural and antiquarian interest, and the production of eminent and famous men. It is, and always has been, a worthy centre of a notable county. From a time of which our records are half historical and half legendary it has taken a leading part in the affairs of Eastern England, and it still holds its own among the chief towns of the kingdom.

Passing over the assumption, which, however, is not without justification, that Norwich had its origin in the erection of an Ancient British stronghold, there is good reason for believing that Uffa, the first king of the East Angles, built, in 575 a.d., a castle somewhere on the site on which the city now stands, and made it his centre of government. Later kings had their courts here, but in the reign of Alfred the Great the place was ceded to the Danes. After varying fortunes, being held sometimes by the Danes and at other times by the Angles, and after being plundered and burnt by Sweyn, it was rebuilt by Canute. From this time it rapidly increased in size and importance, until in 1086 it contained 1360 burgesses. After the Norman Conquest the Earldom of the city was bestowed upon Ralph de Guader, who, however, was found conspiring against the Conqueror and compelled to flee to Normandy. The castle was then given to Roger Bigod, who appears to have lived here peaceably during the reign of William Rufus, and to have gained the favour of Henry I. by espousing his cause against that of his brother Robert. In 1122 Henry I. visited Norwich, and granted its citizens a charter conferring upon them like privileges to those enjoyed by the citizens of London. In the days of Stephen the castle was in the hands of Hugh Bigod, who in 1163 was appointed sole governor of the city. In the reign of John, Louis, the Dauphin of France, who had been granted the kingdom by the Pope, ravaged Norfolk and Suffolk and gained possession of the city and castle.

From this time until the middle of the 16th century nothing occurred in connection with Norwich that need be recorded here; but in the reign of Edward VI. a serious rebellion broke out in Norfolk, organised by two brothers, Robert and William Kett of Wymondham, whose grievance was that the people were, by the system of enclosure, being robbed of their rights of commonage on waste lands and open pastures. The rebels, some 20,000 in number, encamped on Mousehold Heath, a wide expanse of heathland near Norwich, where Robert Kett, the elder brother, set up a so-called court of justice under a tree known as the Oak of Reformation. For months this ill-regulated congregation defied the authorities, and pillaged the surrounding country. At length they broke into the city and made several of the civic fathers prisoners. The citizens appealed for help to the king's Council, and a body of troops under the Marquis of Northampton was despatched to Norwich. This force was completely routed by the rebels, who then looted and burnt different parts of the city. Finally a large army, raised for service in Scotland, and commanded by the Earl of Warwick, was sent into Norfolk, and arrived under the city walls. The gates were soon forced, and after a stubborn fight the Ketts and their followers retreated to Dussyn's Dale, on Mouse- hold. Here a big battle was fought, and resulted in the total defeat of the insurgents, over 3000 of whom were slain. The Ketts were both captured; Robert, who had fled early in the fight, being found hiding in a barn. He was hanged from a gibbet, erected on the top of the castle, until he starved to death, his brother meeting with a similar fate at Wymondham. About 300 of the ringleaders in the rebellion were also executed.

With the exception of the granting of new charters, several visitations of the plague, and the arrival in the city of many of the Dutch refugees who had been driven from their country by the Duke of Alva, no very stirring events occurred in Norwich before the Civil War of Charles I. The city was then held by the Parliament troops, who are accused of robbing and doing considerable damage to the bishop's palace and cathedral.

Macaulay has given us a picture of Norwich as it appeared during the latter half of the seventeenth century. It was " the capital of a large and fruitful province. It was the residence of a Bishop and a Chapter. It was the chief seat of the chief manufacture of the realm. Some men distinguished by learning and science had recently dwelt there; and no place in the kingdom, except the capital and the universities, had more attractions for the curious. The library, the museum, the aviary, and the botanical garden of Sir Thomas Browne, were thought by Fellows of the Royal Society well worthy of a long pilgrimage. Norwich had also a court in miniature. In the heart of the city stood an old palace of the Dukes of Norfolk, said to be the largest town house in the kingdom out of London. In this mansion, to which were annexed a tennis court, a bowling green, and a wilderness, stretching along the banks of the Wensum, the noble family of Howard frequently resided, and kept a state resembling that of petty sovereigns. Drink was served to the guests in goblets of pure gold. The very tongs and shovels were of silver. Pictures by Italian masters adorned the walls. The cabinets were filled with a fine collection of gems purchased by that Earl of Arundel whose marbles are now among the ornaments of Oxford. Here, in the year 1671, Charles and his court were sumptuously entertained. Here, too, all comers were annually welcomed from Christmas to Twelfth Night. Ale flowed in oceans for the populace. Three coaches, one of which had been built at a cost of five hundred pounds to contain fourteen persons, were sent every afternoon round the city to bring ladies to the festivities, and the dances were always followed by a luxurious banquet. When the Duke of Norfolk came to Norwich he was greeted like a king returning to his capital. The bells of the Cathedral and of St Peter Mancroft were rung; the guns of the castle were fired; and the Mayor and aldermen waited on their illustrious fellow-citizen with complimentary addresses. In the year 1693 the population of Norwich was found, by actual enumeration, to be between twenty-eight and twenty-nine thousand souls."

Everyone entering Norwich is at once impressed by the sight of its two chief buildings, the Cathedral and Castle. The former, a splendid example of the Anglo-Norman style of architecture, occupies a position which does not do it justice. It stands on low ground, and the best views of it are obtained from the surrounding hills. It is difficult to realize, unless you stand immediately beside it, that its spire is, with the exception of that of Salisbury, the highest in the kingdom, being 315 feet in height. It was up the outside of this spire that, on July 29th, 1798, a sailor lad named Roberts climbed by means of the crockets and amused himself by twirling the weathercock.

The founder of the Cathedral was Herbert de Lozinga, who, in 1091, came over from Normandy, purchased the bishopric of Thetford, and removed the see to Norwich. He erected the presbytery, apsidal chapels, transept, choir, and the lower part of the tower. His successor Eborard added the nave and its two side aisles. About the year 1250 a Lady-chapel was built at the east end, but of this two arches are all that remain. In 1271 the tower was struck by lightning; and in the following year the cathedral was considerably damaged in a conflict between the monks and citizens, the latter of whom had to pay the cost of the damage. It was reconsecrated in 1278, in the presence of Edward I. and his Queen. During the last years of the thirteenth century a spire was added to the tower; but it was blown down about sixty years later, when Bishop Percy erected the one now standing, and the beautiful clerestory of the presbytery. The cloisters, which were one hundred and thirty-three years in building, were completed in 1430, and are considered - at least by Norwich folk - as fine as those at Gloucester. The roof of the nave was built by Bishop Lyhart in 1450. His successor, Bishop Goldwell, constructed the vaulting of the choir, and added the flying buttresses to the exterior. The stone roofs of the north and south transepts were erected at the beginning of the fifteenth century.

The Cathedral suffered a good deal during the Reformation, when the people of Yarmouth, who wanted a workhouse, petitioned the Lord Protector that "that great useless pile, the Cathedral, might be pulled down, and the stones given them to build a workhouse." Although the petition was not granted, Bishop Hall had occasion to write: - " It is tragical to relate the furious sacrilege committed under the authority of Lindsey, Tofts the sheriff, and Greenwood; what clattering of glasses, what beating down of walls, what tearing down of monuments, what pulling down of seats, and wresting out of irons and brass from the windows and graves; what defacing of arms, what demolishing of stonework that had not any representation in the world, but the cost of the founder and skill of the mason; what piping on the destroyed organ pipes. Vestments, both copes and surplices, together with the leaden cross, which had been newly sawn down from over the green yard pulpit, and the singing books and service books, were carried to the fire in the public market-place; a lewd wretch walking before the train in his cope trailing in the dirt, with a service book in his hand, imitating in an impious scorn the tune, and usurping the words of the Litany. The ordnance being discharged on the guild day, the Cathedral was filled with musketeers, drinking and tobacconing as freely as if it had turned alehouse." After the Restoration the Cathedral was repaired, and since then it has several times been restored and improved.

The west front, which represents the termination of the nave and aisles, and contains in its central division the fine entrance doorway, dates from the reign of Henry VI. The best near view of the Cathedral, however, is obtained from the south-west corner of the cloisters. The tower is Norman in four stages, and has decorated battlements and crocketted pinnacles. The octangular spire is closely crocketted at the angles, and supported by pinnacled buttresses. As for the interior, the roof of the nave, which shows some very elaborate carving, has been pronounced by Cockerel, the Royal Academician, "the most beautiful in its structure, order, tracery, and sculpture in England." On the south side of the nave is the tomb of Chancellor Spencer and the chantry of Bishop Nikke or Nix, who was imprisoned for siding with the Pope against Henry VIII. The choir and presbytery, the most ancient portion of the Cathedral, is entered through a screen erected in 1472. The ante- choir, a space between the screen and the choir, was formerly used as a chapel, and dedicated to " Our Lady of Pity." Under the seats of the stalls are some curious and grotesque Misereres. In a small chapel on the south side is the tomb of Bishop Goldwell. That of Sir William Boleyn, the grandfather of Queen Elizabeth, is between the two last piers of the south side of the presbytery. In the middle of the chancel is the tomb of Herbert de Lozinga, erected in 1682 to replace the one destroyed during the Civil Wars. The presbytery also contains the tomb of Sir Thomas Erpingham. At the junction of the choir and transept hang the colours of the West Norfolk Regiment of Foot - that regiment which, on board the Sarah Sands, in mid- Atlantic, fought the flames and saved from total destruction a half-consumed ship. There is a monument, too, in the south transept, to the memory of the officers and men of the 9th East Norfolk Regiment who fell in the Afghan and Sikh campaigns.

Opposite the west front is the Erpingham Gate, a fine example of peculiarly East Anglian perpendicular flint- work, erected by Sir Thomas Erpingham between 1411 and 1420. Its builder was the worthy knight who fought at Agincourt, concerning whom Shakespeare puts into the mouth of King Henry V. the words -

" Good morrow, old Sir Thomas Erpingham: A good soft pillow for that good white head Were better than the churlish turf of France."
And Sir Thomas replies -
" Not so, my liege; this lodging likes me better, Since I may say, 'Now lie I like a king."'

A kneeling statue of the good old knight occupies a niche in the pediment of the gateway. The Ethelbert or Court Gate stands at the south end of the upper close. It was built in 1272. In St Martin's Plain is the Palace or St Martin's Gate, erected about 1430; and on the north side of the Cathedral is the bishop's palace, built in 1318 by Bishop Totington, and added to and ornamented by several succeeding prelates. Close beside it is a chapel erected by Bishop Salmon in the 14th century, and which was used in the 17th century by the Walloon refugees. A priory, dating from the beginning of the 12th century, formerly stood on the; south side of the Cathedral, and about ninety years ago some remains of it - still to be seen - were discovered during the demolition of an old building. The Grammar School, which was at one time a chapel and afterwards a charnel-house, stands in the close opposite a statue of Lord Nelson, who was a scholar here.

While in the neighbourhood of the Cathedral you will do well to visit St Andrew's Hall, which stands a little way west of the " Norman masterwork." It was originally the nave of the conventual church of a monastery of Black Friars, and is one of the finest examples of perpendicular architecture. St Andrew's Hall was rebuilt by Sir Thomas Erpingham in the 15th century, and at the time of the suppression of the monasteries was purchased by the city authorities, who wished " to make the church a fair and large hall for the mayor and his brethren, with all the citizens, to repair unto at a common assembly." Many distinguished guests have been entertained in this fine old hall, among them Queen Elizabeth and Charles II. Its walls are covered with pictures by several famous artists, including a portrait of Nelson by Sir William Beechy and works by Gainsborough, Opie, and Herkomer. The Triennial Musical Festivals which have been held in Norwich since 1824 are conducted here, and have brought to the city some of the world's greatest singers and musicians.

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Pictures for "The City of Churches" Norwich

Norwich Cathedral
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The Castle
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Guild Hall
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Norwich map
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