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"The City of Churches" Norwich page 3


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"Life is sweet, brother."
"Do you think so?"
"Think so! - There's night and day, brother, both sweet things; sun, moon, and stars, brother, all sweet things; there's likewise the wind on the heath. Life is very sweet, brother; who would wish to die?"
"I would wish to die - ."
"You talk like a gorgio, which is the same as talking like a fool - were you a Romany Chal you would talk wiser. Wish to die, indeed! - A Romany Chal would wish to live for ever!"
"In sickness, Jasper?"
"There's the sun and stars, brother."
"In blindness, Jasper?"
"There's the wind on the heath, brother; if I could only feel that, I would gladly live for ever."

Although there were no gipsies encamped on Mousehold when last I saw it, and no traces of their camp fires, there were signs that either the hot weather or mischievous boys had been responsible for a recent heath fire. The former seemed to me the more likely cause when I read the notice posted up here and there by the Chief Constable, which said that " Whosoever shall unlawfully and maliciously set fire to any furze, gorse, heath, fern, turf, peat, wood, or bark, or any Steer of Wood or Bark, shall be guilty of Felony," and liable to "Penal Servitude for Life! "

Refreshed with a breath of country air, you may return to the market-place and look, in its north-west corner, for the Guildhall, an ancient flint and freestone structure, erected in the 15th century and partly rebuilt in the next. It was originally a small thatched building where the market tolls were collected. Among its portraits of famous Norfolk people is one of "Old Crome." The object of greatest interest, however, is the sword of the Spanish Admiral Don Xavier Francisco Winthuysen, who was defeated at the battle of St Vincent. It was presented to the city by Lord, then Sir Horatio, Nelson, and a letter which accompanied the gift is still preserved.

I cannot conclude my notes on Norwich without referring to some of those whose names will be for ever associated with the grand old city. Among them none has attained greater fame than Sir Thomas Browne, who lived in a house which stood in the Haymarket. He was not born in the city, nor was he of Norfolk parentage, his family having, for a long time before his birth in London, resided in Cheshire; but he settled here in 1637, being then in his thirty-second year, and remained here for the rest of his life. Probably Sir Thomas Browne had previously completed his Religio Medici, but it was not published until 1642. He married a Norfolk lady, Dorothy Mileham, who bore him eleven children. During his life here he got together a large library and devoted much time to the study of languages, natural history, and antiquities. Evelyn, who visited him at Norwich soon after he was knighted, tells us: " Next morning I went to see Sir Thomas Browne, with whom I had corresponded by letter, though I had never seen him before, his whole house and garden being a paradise and cabinet of rarities, and that of the best collection, especially medals, books, plants, and natural things. Among other curiosities, Sir Thomas had a collection of all the eggs of all the foule and birds he could procure; that country, especially the promontory of Norfolck, being frequented, as he said, by several kinds which seldom or never go further into the land, as cranes, storks, eagles, and a variety of water-foule. He led me to see all the remarkable places of this ancient city, being one of the largest and certainly, after London, one of the noblest in England, for its venerable Cathedral!, number of stately churches, cleannesse of the streetes, and building of flints so exquisitely headed and squared, as I was much astonished at; but he told me that they had lost the art of squaring the flints, in which at one time they so much excelled, and of which the churches, best houses, and walls were built." After Sir Thomas Browne's death a number of MSS., dealing with the monuments and ancient buildings of Norwich, and the birds and fishes of Norfolk, were found and published. He was buried in St Peter Mancroft, but some years ago his skull was removed from his tomb and is now in the Museum of the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital.

Sir Thomas Erpingham I have had occasion to speak of. Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey, who was born in 1516 and beheaded on Tower Hill in 1554, had two houses at Norwich, one in Surrey Street and the other on Mousehold. Dr Caius, the founder of Caius College, Cambridge, was born here, as was also Sir John Fenn, editor of the famous " Paston Letters." More recently the old city has been the home of William Taylor, the German scholar, whose personal appearance and characteristics Borrow has described in " Lavengro "; of John Crome, the son of a journeyman weaver, who found in his native county the subjects of his greatest pictures; Sir James Smith, the founder of the Linnaean Society and author of the Flora Britannica; Harriet Martineau, who " left off darning stockings to take to literature "; John Sell Cotman, whose work is now represented in the art gallery of the Museum; Joseph John Gurney of Earlham, the large-hearted Quaker brother of Elizabeth Fry; and George Henry Borrow, the " Walking Lord of Gypsy Lore," who lived for several years in a little house still standing in Willow Lane.

If space permitted I might say a good deal about the Norwich inns, some of which are quaint and ancient buildings. The " Maid's Head" adjoins that open space in front of the Cathedral Gate called Tombland. It is believed that as long ago as 1287 there was an inn standing on the site of the present one. Whether this is true or not, there is no doubt that there was a " Mayde's Hedde " here in 1472, for John Paston, in announcing to his wife the approaching arrival of a friend in Norfolk, suggests that if " he tary at Norwich there whylys, it were best to setle hys horse at the Mayde's Hedde, and I shalbe content for ther expences." It was at the " Maid's Head " that certain officers of the Earl of Warwick's troops breakfasted on the morning of the fight with Kett's rebels on Mousehold. Some of the men who partook of that breakfast were dead before night, and were buried in St Simon's Churchyard, which is just opposite the inn. The church register contains the names of four of them, with the appended note that " thes 4 esquires weare slayne in the King's army on Mushold Heath."

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Pictures for "The City of Churches" Norwich page 3

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

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