Norwich Part I: History and Architecture

Norwich was founded by the Saxon North Folk (“North Folk” became “Norfolk”) at the confluence of the Yare and Wensum rivers sometime around the 6th century.

My first visit to Norwich and it rained. After days of unseasonable heat and blue skies in early September the forecast for the Saturday that we intended to visit the county capital of Norfolk was sadly correct. But since the main attraction was the cathedral it didn’t deter us and in fact it worked out rather well. I am going to split the posts up otherwise they would be far too long and photo heavy, so posts about the cathedral itself may be a while down the line.

Today we are going to walk through the city from the bus station to the cathedral. We left the car at Thickthorn Park ‘n Ride and took the bus into the city centre as we had no idea of where to park in the city. It proved to be a good idea. The first destination was the information office at the Forum so we could pick up a map or two! Getting there was a bit tricky though, as we took a wrong turning, but imagine my delight when we found ourselves outside the delightful Art Nouveau Royal Arcade which was one of my ‘must see’ sights.


Exiting the arcade we discovered the market place; the City Hall, the Guildhall and the church of St Peter Mancroft.

Market Place
Market Place

The pair of heraldic lions are shown roaring with right paws raised and long necks with a stylised Assyrian inspired treatment of their manes. The artist is Alfred Hardiman and they were installed in 1938. Winged lions in this pose forms part of the Norwich City Council’s coat of arms, on a shield under a stylised castle.


Whilst standing taking photos of the impressive lions and equally impressive doors we were invaded by Stormtroopers! Fortunately they didn’t attack us.

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After visiting the Forum we headed off towards the cathedral quarter before the rain started again. We briefly explored part of the Norwich Lanes district walking down Lower Goats Lane and St John Maddermarket (I found the street names in the city to be enchanting).

We passed several of Norwich’s 31 remaining Medieval churches, more than any European city north of the Alps. Some are still used as churches, others have diverse uses such as a dance studio, bookshop and café, martial arts academy, antiques and artist’s studios among them.

Leaving the Lanes behind we entered the Cathedral Quarter and Tombland. Elm Hill is a famous cobbled street so we duly wandered down it and found ourselves outside the Bear Shop which was holding an Open Garden event as part of the Heritage Open Day weekend event.

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After a quick look around the small terraced garden crammed full of late flowering blooms we finished up in Olivia’s on the corner with Wensum Street for a welcome cup of coffee. This historic part of Norwich reminds me very much of York’s Shambles area.

Erpingham Gate
Erpingham Gate

On reaching Tombland* you will see Erpingham Gate (1420), an imposing gateway which frames the west front of the cathedral. It is decorated with the coat of arms of Sir Thomas Erpingham and members of his family together with his motto ‘yenk’ (“think”) on small scrolls.

Instead of accessing the cathedral via this gate we carried on along Tombland to the St Ethelberts Gate passing by the memorial to Edith Cavell, who was born just outside Norwich, and a pair of distinctive statues.


Samson and Hercules (original wooden figures 1789) guard the entrance to the doorway of no. 16 Tombland while holding up the porch. They are set on low plinths and armed with the jawbone of an ass (Samson) and a club (Hercules). Unfortunately layers of paint disfigured the replicas through the many ‘change of use’ and recently they have been painted red to reflect the change of use of the building into a restaurant specialising in lobster dishes.


We entered the cathedral grounds through St Ethelbert’s Gate which is three storeys high, the uppermost once a chapel dedicated to St Ethelbert. The upper stage is decorated with three flushwork rose windows – the result of the restoration by Wilkins in 1815. The stonework and carvings were replaced under the supervision of Sir Bernard Feilden in 1964 including the man fighting a dragon – and the Virgin and Child by Frank Beverley.

*Tombland does not mean burial ground; the name comes from two Old English words meaning ‘open ground’, or an empty space. This open ground was used as the main market place for Norwich; the hub of commercial activity and town life. Use the link for more detailed information about this historical area.


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I have lived in the UK for most of my life, but when young I definitely had wanderlust and even ended up living in South Africa for several years which was a wonderful experience. I now look forward to a long and leisurely retirement doing what I like most - gardening, photography, walking and travelling.

39 thoughts on “Norwich Part I: History and Architecture”

  1. What a wonderful city. I can’t wait for the next instalment. The buildings are beautiful and your photos really do them justice, Jude. I was intrigued by the name Tomblands and even more so when I read your explanation at the end.

  2. When we were 18, my best friend and I went to Great Yarmouth for a week in between school and university. I know we visited Norwich but I don’t remember it being anything like as wonderful as this! I expect it’s me that’s changed rather than Norwich though 😉 We probably looked for a shopping centre.

    1. It is funny how interesting history becomes as we get older ourselves. At 18 I would probably be looking in boutiques or record shops!

  3. beautiful photos! Did you go inside Norwich castle? thanks for reminding me of my own trip to Norwich years ago..

    1. We didn’t visit the castle as we only had one day in the city and wanted to see the cathedral. Next time (if there is one…)

  4. What a lovely place Norwich looks like – I really like the details in the architecture. The Erpingham Gate looks very impressive.

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