It is not easy to encapsulate Norwich into the one thousand words maximum we allow for these pages, so this can only be an outline of the history of the city.
It is difficult to imagine that the great medieval city of Norwich, for a while the second largest city in the kingdom, can only trace its life back to the middle Saxon period. Further back, in Roman times, Venta Icenorum, Caistor by Norwich, was the main town of the region. The original 'Northwic' is now thought to have been on the north bank of the Wensum, perhaps then joining to other local small settlements or simply spreading along the river bank.
The Danes or Vikings conquered Norwich, as is evidenced from a number of street names and church dedications before it fell again under English control, but because the Danes had given it the status of a 'burh' or 'borough' which could mint its own coinage, its future importance was assured.
Excavations continue to understand late Saxon Norwich. In the Norman period the Domesday Book records a drop in the number of citizens of status between 1066 AD and 1086 AD. A probable Saxon fort and a number of houses were demolished to make way for the great Norman castle, the keep of which continues to dominate the city; it was sufficiently advanced to stand against a rebellion in 1075. At about this time a Jewish quarter grew up in the city, one of the most important of such communities in England. Jurnet's House, built by that community, still stands.
Norwich had become a city of churches in the Saxon period. The first bishop for the area was based at Elmham and then at Thetford; finally in 1094 Herbert de Losinga moved his base to Norwich and commenced planning for a great cathedral. Again, as with the castle, much land was cleared. He was given permission to establish a Benedictine priory with the cathedral church in 1100. The east end of the cathedral was finished by the time of Herbert's death in 1119, and his successor Eborard completed the work. The great construction had used local flints within the walls, but the stone for facing the building was brought from Caen in modern France; it came up the river and down a specially constructed channel from what we now know as Pull's Ferry.
Whilst the cathedral and Gilbert Scott's relatively modern Roman Catholic cathedral are the principal ecclesiastical buildings, Norwich remains a city of churches, from St Peter Mancroft to numerous smaller establishments. It is fascinating to see churches built almost beside one another; whilst some remain in use for services, many others now fulfil other functions. Monastic foundations and hospitals established by the church must also be added to the list of Norwich's treasures.
In the Middle Ages, Norwich had grown to a substantial city, perhaps outnumbering London and Southwark for land area covered, though not in population.It was the principal city of the richest and most densely populated part of England. City walls were begun in 1253, as both a defensive system for the city and as a way of controlling trade. There were over 40 towers and 12 gates; the gates were demolished in the decades before and after 1800, but substantial lengths of the wall remain.
In the middle of a major wool producing and agricultural county, Norwich prospered through the medieval period. The city was home to many different types of cloth workers, using the river and its tributaries to provide the water necessary for their work. Alongside the river the merchants built their quays and warehouses, to store the incoming and outgoing goods. Norwich operated as a port, with trading vessels from continental Europe coming up the river system through the harbour entrance at Great Yarmouth. A visit to the beautifully restored Dragon Hall in King Street, once the home and warehouse of Norwich merchant Robert Toppes, will reveal the story.
Fire was a menace to any town in the country in medieval and post-medieval times, and through the 1500s Norwich was frequently set back by fires. In 1509 a rule was brought in by the city that all new buildings had to have roofs of tiles and not reeds. The reformation brought more destruction, this time some of the churches and monastic institutions being pulled down by order. In 1549 the city suffered as Kett led his rebellion, first the rebels and then the Earl of Warwick's forces attacking the city.
The city was solidly for parliament during the English civil war, and there was little fighting in the whole of East Anglia. Building continued within the city in traditional styles but as we have already mentioned by the end of the 18th century, the gates were knocked down and parts of the wall demolished to allow the city to expand. Eventually, as Norwich grew as a regional trading centre, the demand for space for a cattle market led to the outer works of the castle being levelled. The general market in Norwich continues to maintain a wide range of goods on the multi-coloured stalls.
The Quaker merchant and banker families of 18th century Norwich, the Norwich school of artists, the fine non-conformist buildings of the city are all part of the story. The estates that were developed outside the city as the old tenement dwellings crowded within the walls were pulled down, the heavy bombing of the Second World War and in more recent times the development of Castle Mall and Chapelfield, the Forum and the University of East Anglia make up just a brief selection of other parts of Norwich's history.
SECTLINK('Norwich at Peace'^misc#B14865), by Joan Banger, tells the story of Norwich from 1918 to 1939.
SECTLINK('Norwich at War'^Misc#B14861) by Joan Banger, is the definitive record of Norwich through the Second World War.
If you'd like to take a tour of Norwich today, then we recommend Tour Norfolk
The intriguingly named Tombland, with the spire of the cathedral in the background and one of the gates to the right, was where the market was originally held.
A late 19th century magic lantern slide of Pull's Ferry. The channel into the cathedral precincts originally flowed under the arch.
The visitor to Norwich is greatly assisted by the many plaques which mark buildings with significant histories. This one is on Suckling Hall.
The splendid architecture of St Peter Mancroft is opposite to the modern design of the Forum.
Herbert de Losinga's cathedral, its spire second only to Salisbury amongst the English cathedrals, seen through one of the gates to cathedral close.