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"The City of Churches" Norwich page 2


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Norwich may well be called the " City of Churches," for, in addition to its cathedral, it possesses some fifty churches and the remains of several more. Some of them are of no great note, but others are fine and interesting buildings. Of the latter, St Peter Mancroft, which adjoins the market-place, is the largest and finest. It is a cruciform church with a magnificent tower containing a splendid and famous peal of twelve bells. A better example of the perpendicular style of building would be hard to find in Norfolk, though the county has many fine churches. Norwich is exceedingly proud of it, and some old buildings which concealed much of its beauty have recently been pulled down. Among its mural monuments is one to Sir Thomas Browne, the author of Religio Medici; and another to Sir Peter Read, who, according to an inscription here, not only worthily served " his prince and country, but also the Emperor Charles the Fifth, both at his conquest of Barbary and his siege of Tunis," and received from the Emperor the Order of Barbary. St Ethelred's, in King Street, has a fine Norman doorway, and is one of the oldest churches in the city. Some of its monuments and brasses were originally in St Peter Southgate, which was pulled down in 1887. Artists often make a pilgrimage to St George Colegate, which contains a monument to " Old Crome," the founder of the Norwich School of Artists. The monument takes the form of a mural tablet with a profile bust in bas-relief, and bears the inscription, " Near this spot lie the remains of one of England's greatest landscape painters, born in this city, December 21st, 1769, and died in this parish, April 22nd, 1821." St Michael-at-Coslany is noted for its chapel of the reign of Henry VII., said to be the finest example of flint and stone panelled work in England. The altar piece of this church is by Heins, and represents the Resurrection and the four Evangelists; the black and white marble with which the floor is paved was brought from the domestic chapel of the Pastons' old home at Oxnead. St Andrew's, in Broad Street, is a fine perpendicular structure with a clerestoried nave, but has nothing in it of very great interest. St Stephen's, Rampant Horse Street, however, contains some good brasses, monuments, and stained windows. St Giles', in St Giles' Street, to the west of the marketplace, is of old foundation, but its Norman work was all destroyed when the church was rebuilt in the reign of Richard I. Still it is one of the most striking churches in the city.

Local historians say that the church of St Lawrence, which has a lofty tower and fine interior, stands on a spot where herrings were landed when an arm of the sea extended as far inland as Norwich. A good deal of antiquarian interest attaches to St Gregory's, where the altar is raised considerably above the level of the church in consequence of a passage beneath it, and where there are some remains of an old painted screen. Norman work is again in evidence at St Michael-at-Thorn; and at St Julian's, in King Street, where the south doorway is worth special attention. The round tower of this last- named church, and that of St Mary Coslany, date from before the Conquest, and although sometimes called " Danish " towers, are probably Saxon structures. The Hospital Church of St Helen, in Bishopgate Street, which was founded by Bishop Suffield in 1250, is partly fitted up with wards for the pensioners of a hospital of ancient foundation. One of the wards, which is open to the roof of the choir, is known as the Eagle Ward, the choir roof being adorned with carved eagles. Some other Norwich churches are of old foundation, but have been wholly or partly rebuilt. A " City of Churches," indeed, and of fine churches, too! There is interest enough associated with them to last an antiquary a lifetime.

Next to the Cathedral, Norwich contains no more interesting building than its castle. At the risk of proving wearisome to readers whose inclinations are not towards antiquities and historical associations, I must give a brief account of its history. In the first place, it must be understood that only a portion of the imposing structure now containing the Museum is the Castle - that is the great Norman keep. The rest of the building, enclosed within the massive granite walls, was erected in 1824 as a county prison, and served as such until the erection of a new prison on Mousehold. As long ago as 575 a.d., a fortified post is believed to have stood on the site of the present castle. Its erection is credited to Uffa, who then reigned over the East Angles; but whether he was responsible for the heaping-up of the great mound on which the Castle stands is unknown. That the mound is artificial there is no doubt, for when, some hundred years ago, a well was sunk from the basement of the keep, a pathway was discovered which must have crossed the spot it now covers. The first stone castle was built by William Fitz-Osbern, a follower of the Conqueror, who was instructed to keep in check the vanquished people of the North. Little or nothing of this building now remains; but the existing keep is the castle erected by Earl Hugh Bigod, probably in the reign of Stephen. In it the Earl set himself up as an independent ruler, but he was compelled to surrender it to Henry II. In 1174, he again seized it and held it for some time; but in 1217, King Louis of France obtained possession and held it against King John. It subsequently came into the latter's hands and was used as a Royal prison. In 1345 it became the county gaol, and continued as such until 1884, when, with the additional buildings erected in 1824, it was purchased by the Corporation and converted into a Museum. Of the old keep the features which attract most attention are the portion called Bigod's Tower, access to which was formerly obtained by an external staircase; the remains of the dungeons with their prisoners' scrawlings on the walls; a fine Norman doorway; and an ancient recess which has been called a chapel.

The Museum has no superior outside London. From the time of its origin, some sixty years ago, the chief object of its committee has been "the concentration of the peculiar local natural productions of the district." In this they have been quite successful; and through the generosity of private individuals the Museum has also become possessed of an abundance of objects of interest and some very valuable collections. To appreciate this you need only glance at the excellent " Official Guide,"1 compiled by Mr Thomas Southwell, F.Z.S., an active and ardent naturalist, and one of the vice-presidents of the Norfolk and Norwich Naturalists' Society. One of its greatest treasures, and, as Mr Southwell says, "the gem of the collection" of British Birds, is a specimen of the Great Auk or Gare-fowl, presented to the Museum in 1873 with the Lombe Collection, consisting of 540 specimens and 289 species of British birds. This collection also includes a Savi's Warbler, a bird which formerly bred in Norfolk, but which is believed to be no longer a visitor; and a Red-footed Falcon, one of three killed at Horning in 1830, which were the first recorded British specimens. In the centre of the room containing this collection is an unrivalled group of indigenous Great Bustards, consisting of seven local specimens, one of which is believed to be the last of the native British race of these birds. As may be imagined, the Museum contains a considerable number of rare British birds, Norfolk being the most bird-favoured county in England. It can also boast of a unique collection of Raptorial birds, the result of the determination of the late Mr J. H. Gurney to acquire specimens of as many as possible of the birds of prey. That ardent ornithologist recognised about 470 species, and of these succeeded in obtaining over 400, all of which he presented to the Museum.

The Picture Gallery contains some 420 paintings, drawings, and etchings, some of them by well-known artists, and many of them the work of members of the Norwich School of Artists, which had for its leaders John Sell Cotman and " Old Crome." John Crome, or " Old Crome," as he is generally known, to distinguish him from his two artist sons, was not until recently well represented, his best work being in other public and private collections. Under the will of the late Mr J. J. Col man, however, the Museum became possessed of several of his works, including " Yarmouth Jetty," " Bruges River," and " Back of the New Mills, Norwich." John Sell Cotman is represented by " A Mishap," "Fishing Boats off Yarmouth," "Old Houses at Gorleston," "The Baggage Waggon " (all under the Colman Bequest), and one or two other pictures. In addition to these there are works by J. M. W. Turner, R. A., J. W. Oakes, A.R.A., John Berney Crome, Henry Ladbrooke, James Stark, Joseph Stannard, and others.

The geological section is particularly interesting, owing to its important collection of East Anglian fossils, including a remarkable series yielded by the Norfolk Forest Bed, and mainly collected by the late Mr John Gunn. The " Fitch Collection," a valuable antiquarian collection, contains innumerable relics of the days of Palaeolithic and Neolithic man, and the age of Bronze, as well as a fine variety of Roman antiquities, including a bronze bust of Geta, a Roman mirror, a figure of Bacchus, and a terracotta relief of the head of Diana, all found at Caistor Camp, about three miles from Norwich. Curios ancient and modern, from all parts of the world, are to be seen in the old keep, among them some horrible instruments of torture, a gibbet iron from East Bradenham, and a shovel board originally in the possession of the Paston family.

You must not leave the Castle without enjoying the grand view from the battlements. From this elevated position you get a good idea of the general plan of the city which lies at your feet, and of the charming scenery which stretches for miles around. The Cathedral, with its graceful and lofty spire, naturally first takes the eye, but on all sides rise the towers of churches great and small, some standing out boldly and clearly, others half concealed by the surrounding buildings. Beyond the Cathedral is the famous Mousehold Heath, where Kett and his followers made their camp and fought the Earl of Warwick; in another direction are wooded slopes leading down to the peaceful valley of the Yare. All the principal buildings in the city are seen from this point, and should you be in Norwich on a Saturday it will be worth your while to climb to the battlements and look down upon the busy market-place lying almost directly under the Castle walls.

The market is held on what is called the Castle Hill. One needs the genius of a Hardy to describe the scene to be witnessed here on Saturday, when from all parts of the county and from the neighbouring counties, farmers, breeders, dealers, and drovers flock in, and the great pens are packed with cattle. The country folk come in by road and rail, on foot, on horseback, in dogcarts, waggons, tumbrils, and carriers' vans. The old inns and inn-yards around the hill are full of life, extra ostlers are employed, and the pigeons, which, during the rest of the week, feed undisturbed on the corn scattered among the cobble-stones, are driven to seek refuge on the roofs. As mid-day approaches all sorts of conveyances draw up around the hill. Two or three old-fashioned farmers, with some of their women-folk, arrive in ancient low-wheeled phaetons, to alight from which they have to descend barely a foot to the ground. Gentlemen farmers favour dashing dog-carts, drawn by high-stepping hackneys; dealers drive square, heavy carts in which they often bring pigs or a calf. Occasionally a bucolic blade, with an eye to an effective appearance, comes up in a "sulky." All day long you hear the cracking of whips, the lowing of cattle, the bleating of sheep, the neighing of horses, the squealing of pigs, the barking of dogs, and the shouts of dealers and drovers. All Norfolk comes, at some time or another, to the Castle Hill. As the city is the recognised county capital, so is its Castle Hill the centre of the county's rural interests. Some of the romance of old English country life still lingers here, and -reminds you of the days, after all not so very long gone by, when young Borrow used to resort to the Hill, and, wondering, saw the men, and especially the old men, take off their hats to an old one-eyed stallion, which proved to be the celebrated fast-trotter " Marshland Shales." In those days it was a thing to boast of that you had seen this wonderful creature, which on August 3rd, 18to, "trotted seventeen miles in 56 minutes, carrying 12 st. 2 lbs., and was afterwards sold by auction for 305." Here, too, Borrow met many of his Romany friends, whom he accompanied to their camps on Mousehold, after seeing them display that marvellous horsemanship for which they were renowned.

I have more than once had occasion to refer to Mouse- hold, and, as a pleasant change after rambling through old churches and listening to the deafening clamour of the cattle mart, you may wish to visit and explore the wild tract of heathland which for centuries has been a favourite resort of the Norwich citizens. From the neighbourhood of the Cathedral the Heath can soon be reached by crossing the old Bishop's Bridge (which dates from 1295), and climbing the steep roadway which leads past the Cavalry Barracks. With the exception of that part which the Corporation has planted with young trees and rhododendrons, this breezy expanse is left in its primitive wild state, though I cannot admit, as Dr Knapp would have me, that it is "resonant with the cries and wing-flappings of noisome birds." True, under certain aspects it has, like Egdon Heath, " a lonely face, suggesting tragic possibilities," but on a bright summer day, such as I should choose for a visit, it is a delightful spot, conducive to good spirits and love of life. It is a Norfolk Exmoor, with little tors and vales, which are full of colour even at the end of September. In spring its hillocks and hollows are ablaze with gorse and broom; at mid-summer the Maltese crosses of the tormentil, the white and yellow bedstraws, and the pink bells of the cross-leaved heath, nestle amid the waving bents; and in autumn the slopes are purple with ling and fine-leaved heath, amid which the flaring ragworts and graceful St John's-wort give here and there a dash of gold.

There are bramble thickets, too, in which the birds build, and on which the whinchats utter those queer notes which might have been learned from the primitive flint-knappers. Such places are subject to little change save that which the succession of seasons brings, and Mousehold has altered little since Crome painted the picture of it now in the National Gallery, and is probably little different to what it was when the scene of Kett's encampment. It may have been partially wooded at one time, for we know that Kett held his court under one of its oaks; but the trees have long ago disappeared, and you will scarcely regret them, for you will not look for trees on a heath. As you brush your way through the bracken, listen to the songs of the larks and linnets, and breathe the fresh upland air, it is impossible not to think of that strange dialogue which took place here between Lavengro and Jasper Petulengro, the Romany griengro.

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Pictures for "The City of Churches" Norwich page 2

Norwich Cathedral
Norwich Cathedral >>>>
The Castle
The Castle >>>>
Guild Hall
Guild Hall >>>>
Norwich map
Norwich map >>>>

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