Sightseeing in Norwich
Largely contained within a bend of the River Wensum the central area of Norwich city is compact and crammed with things to see. Whichever sites you decide to see in Norwich the spire of Norwich Cathedral or the Castle on its hill are always a good reference points to use if you need to orientate yourself. The historic streets, dating back to Saxon times, can be a bit of a labyrinth until you get used to them, so having the higher reference points can be very useful.
Norwich Castle, which also houses a museum and art gallery, was originally built as a Norman Keep in 1160 and, next to the Tower of London, is one of the best examples of Norman military architecture. The museum has exhibitions on Viking and Anglo-Saxon life, as well as a section devoted to the life of Queen Boudicca (aka Boadicea) who laid waste to many parts of Roman Britain. The art gallery is the natural home of the Norwich School (of painting) founded in 1803 by John Crome. Although the school of landscape painters lasted only 30 years its legacy includes work by ‘Old Crome’ himself and John Sell Cotman. There is a tunnel leading from the Castle to the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, which takes you through the regiment’s history since its formation in 1830.
With an octagonal spire rising 96m into the air Norwich Cathedral is one of the key tourist attractions in the city. This beautiful cathedral is instantly recognisable as a Norman one, even before you realise it was built out of Caen stone that was transported to Norwich by sea and then up river from Great Yarmouth. Started in 1096 it took 40 years for the original building work to be completed, it underwent extensive re-working in the mid-fifteenth century at which time a stone lierne was installed to fireproof the roof. This medieval work is regarded as some of the finest English stone-masonry. Edith Cavell, a nurse hero of the First World War is buried in the cathedral and an ex-student of the Cathedral school is Horatio Nelson, who became an Admiral and hero of Georgian British sea battles. Norwich cathedral is to be commended for not pouncing on visitors as soon as they enter the building and insisting you have to buy a ticket to view it. They have a very restrained approach to seeking extra finance, leaving you more than willing to make a donation that other Cathedrals levy as a charge. It is said that in Norwich city; “There’s a church for every week of the year and a pub for every day”. The church of St John Maddermarket, at Pottergate, is one of the 35 medieval churches in the city. It is well worth a visit if only to see its construction which is of the local traditional building material – flint rubble. Externally you will also be impressed by the Gothic inspiration of this fifteenth century building, yet if you go inside the church the sense of Gothic is diminished by a distinctly 20th century interior decor. Hidden away in St Julian’s Alley is the aptly named, St Julian’s Church. The church has a shrine for pilgrimage to Julian (aka Juliana) who wrote “The revelations of divine love”, based on her religious visions in 1373. Her writing is held in the very highest esteem as a work of clarity and perception, considered a saint by many she has never been beatified. The original shrine to her was destroyed during the Reformation and the current one, a Chapel, was built after the Second World War
To the north of the castle and conveniently located near one another are three more museums. The Mustard Shop, in the Royal Arcade, gives you a potted history of the famous local product Colman’s Mustard. There is, of course, also a shop selling the various Colman’s products. In Bridewell Alley is the Bridewell Museum which features displays on local industries going back over 200 years. The building itself is of some interest having been built as a gentleman’s house in the 14th century and then becoming a vagrants’ prison. To the west of Bridewell is the Strangers’ Hall. This medieval town house has rooms furnished as they would have been in Tudor and Victorian times. However, the main architectural features to be seen are the stone vaulted undercroft of 1320, the Tudor Great hall and a Georgian dining room. Another town house worth visiting is Dragon Hall, on King Street, it has a timber framed Great Hall and Dragons carved into the ceiling beams.
There are newer, more interactive, attractions in Norwich too. Near the city hall on Millennium Plain is The Forum and Origins; both are located in the same building which has a highly distinctive horse-shoe shape and is made of glass. Built with National Lottery money as a ‘Millennium project’, the Forum building is the main library for Norwich and Norfolk, also on its three floors are cafés, shops and a Technology Innovation Centre. Origins is an interactive museum taking visitors through 2000 years of Norwich and Norfolk history. Outside the city centre on the campus of the University of East Anglia is the high-tech Sainsbury Centre fort Visual Arts. Built in the 1970s by Norman Foster it houses a varied collection of sculptures and paintings including works by; Degas, Picasso, Bacon and Moore.