Journalist and author of the blog And So She Thinks, Francesca Baker visits Norwich and shares her favourite finds. She spent a culture packed weekend in the city of Norwich. Here she shares her tips on the must-see places to visit in this historic Norfolk city.
Where to stay
Two nights in Norwich simply isn’t enough to explore all the art, culture and history that this city has to offer. Staying in The Maid’s Head hotel, the longest running site of hospitality in the country is aa heritage-fuelled delight in itself. Built on the site of the palace of the early Norman Bishops the hotel has an oak-lined Jacobean bar and Tudor bedrooms (Queen Elizabeth I stayed here). But there’s so much more to see in this fascinating city, as I discover…
Norwich City Hall
Standing over the rainbow-coloured market is Norwich City Hall, a grand Art Deco building which opened in 1938. Apparently earmarked by Hitler for his headquarters, should victory be his, it was consequently saved from bombing. The balcony may be the longest in England (at 111 metres long) and the clock bell the largest in the United Kingdom. The lions flanking the entrance are iconic, while the six bronze doors designed by James Woodford are revelatory. Their 18 roundels describing the history and industry of Norwich.
No trip is complete without a visit to Norwich Castle. Built by the Normans as a royal palace over 900 years ago, it has been a strategic and important point of defence ever since. The Stone Keep, Great Hall and Dungeons are all available to be explored, and fascinating exhibits tell its story.
Learn about the fortification from its early days as a grand home to more recent years as a prison. As well as being beautiful itself, built from limestone shipped from Caen in Normandy, it also houses the Colman Art Galleries. Its situation, high up on Castle Mound, makes it the perfect spot to enjoy the glorious views over the city.
With grand Norman arches, medieval flying buttresses, vibrant stained glass and the Saxon bishop’s throne, Norwich Cathedral is one of the most glorious in Europe. Started in 1096 by Herbert de Losinga, first bishop of Norwich, the limestone building was not consecrated until 1278. The building operated as a Benedictine monastery in the meantime and the tranquil cloisters are the largest in England.
From afar, the spires dominate the skyline, a soothing piece of punctuation in the sky. Inside the chapels, choirs and calm nature make this an inspiring place. The area spans 44 acres and includes 88 listed buildings, and is a perfect place to while away an afternoon.
It may seem slightly frivolous to include condiments with culture, but food is an important part of any society. Colman’s Mustard was first made in Norfolk 200 years ago, and the Colman’s Mustard Shop & Museum is a key tourist attraction. It’s a careful replica of the original Victorian trade premises, housed in the historic art nouveau Royal Arcade.
Eastern Electricity Board
Wandering along the banks of the river, you’ll see what looks like very detailed graffiti on the walls of an old mill. The former Eastern Electricity Board site at Duke’s Wharf, was painted by local artist Rory Macbeth with the words of his favourite novel. This was done for the EASTinternational 2006 contemporary art exhibition. His reason for painting the text of Thomas More’s Utopia: “it’s as valid now as it was when it was written”. It is a transformation of the derelict into a piece of social comment.
Noteworthy if only for housing the UK’s busiest library The Forum is a public arts and events space. A £65million project by Sir Michael Hopkins, it was built to mark the millennium in the East of England. A glass façade and horseshoe shape indicate the modern and forward looking nature of this vibrant city. Its circulation of the Gothic church tower of St Peter Mancroft and location on a pre conquest settlement hints at the strong heritage of Norfolk.
Norwich was once one of the country’s most important trade and commercial hubs, and today is home to many independent stores. Award winning Jarrold’s is a family department store set up in 1823, and is situated in the Norwich Lanes. The Lanes is an area of narrow alleys and quirky buildings that house interesting independent shops and cafes. This historic quarter has been a busy and bustling area since its medieval roots, and still is today.
For more great shopping, the 247 foot Art Nouveau Royal Arcade is located between Gentleman’s Walk and Castle Street. Built in 1899, but renovated to full glory in the 1980s, the tiled floor, floral motif walls (designed by W.J. Neatby whom was also responsible for the tiles in Harrod’s Food Hall) glass lanterns and wrought iron balustrades are the perfect location for the luxurious shops housed within. Once the site of the Angel Inn, and then the Royal Hotel, it’s one of many spots in Norfolk with a dense and fascinating history.
Built in around 1325, by one of the of the city’s richest merchants, Geoffrey de Salle, the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell is worth a visit. It’s one of only eighteen late-medieval, secular houses to have survived in the city. The large suite of vaulted cellars and stunning courtyard have been everything from a grand home to a women and beggar’s prison. Now they are the site of the city museum, with exhibits that tell the story of people and places of Norwich.
Dating from around 1430, the medieval Dragon Hall appears modest from the outside, but belies a stunning Great Hall. It’s complete with carved dragon as well as an imposing roof. Throughout the ages it has been a home, warehouse, pubs as well as offices. Now the Grade 1 listed building is a museum which tells the story of its founder and builder Robert Toppes. It also gives insight into medieval trade and civic life in the fifteenth century.
Planning a visit to Norwich?
Find out more
For more information take a look at the Visit Norwich website.
Where to stay
Situated in the Norwich Cathedral quarter, The Maid’s Head Hotel has a special Historic Norwich promotion running. It includes dinner, bed and breakfast and tickets to Norwich Castle, starting at £79.50 per person, per night.
How to get there
Norwich is easily accessible by train on http://www.abelliogreateranglia.co.uk
Photo credits: Visit Norwich, Jcqueline Wyatt, Melanie March.