Saturday, May 20, 2006

My second destination on my little travel excursion was the city of Norwich. I always wanted to see it, and I was not disappointed in my stay there. I got to see the coastline, which was a good thing, but I was rather tired of Great Yarmouth quickly, and I made my way to the train station (on a really bad side of town--worse than the rest of it) to try and catch an earlier train. Fortunately, there is consistant service from Norwich to Great Yarmouth and back all day long.

At first, I thought I was going to be disappointed by Norwich, too. The train station is outside of the city (in fact, it wasn't even on my town plan, which freaked me out at the beginning), and subsequently, not in the best of areas. When I arrived, it was just after school had ended and apparently a lot of students come from neighboring towns on the same line I was riding, which meant quite a hastle and the need to pull out my 'footballer'-like skills just to exit the train.

The hotel wasn't too far away, thankfully, and in a 'central' location--it isn't in the center of town, per say, but it is right by the Cathedral. The gateway with the tower behind it was right outside my hotel. Of course, those people had to park illegally in their Fawlty-Towers-style car before I took the picture, but so be it. The Cathedral was more of a complex--parts of the area within the gates had been updated, but you could distinguish between the buildings that were contemporary to it and those that had been added later or rebuilt. The area is called Tombland, apparently, and is one of the nicer, more historical, sides of town.

In addition to the Cathedral, there are 32 existing "parish" churches in Norwich. In their hayday, there used to be 61. Most of them are built in the usual "gravel" method, using smaller stones framed in something more substancial. All of them have some kind of bell tower on them. The tower you see here belongs to St. Andrew's which was nearby where I was staying in town. The reason I sought out this one in particular actually had to do with my previous job. The "congregation" of "pilgrims"--or the more religious sorts among them--were all minstered by one John Robinson. Robinson, before being ousted due to his "reformist" beliefs in the early 17th century, was a minister of the Church of England in Norwich, and this was his parish. The whole time I stayed in Norwich, this church was closed (hence the bright yellow sign on the doors). I returned several times there to no avail. However, I did explore the interiors of a number of other, similar parish churches nearby to get an idea of what it may look like inside. Behind it is the Bridewell museum, which is a smaller establishment that focuses on the manufacturing history of Norwich. It is very much like looking at the Lowell mills in Massachusetts, but with several types of exployments rather than just one. Regardless of some failed manufacturing trades, the city, unlike American cities on the east coast, is not dotted with large, hollow, empty brick mill buildings (New England could certainly take a hint).

One of the first things I did when I got to Norwich, regardless of my being exhausted having treked all around Great Yarmouth with my luggage before arriving, was take a walk around the city. There is a huge, mostly outdoor, shopping center there that is in the same place the markets were hundreds of years previously. In the middle of the market, going up a hill, is St. Peter Mancroft church--the outdoor archway is photographed here. According to information in the Bridewell Museum, the cattle market existed just outside of here at one point. In front of it is one of the BBC buildings and off to the right is the main courthouse. It really borders on the upper end of the center of town. Again, I was unable to go inside and take a look--this time due to a late afternoon arrival and the Sunday service on the following day. The original building was Norman, but it was rebuilt and reconsecrated in the 15th century, so that is the style you see here. It really is the largest of the "parish" churches in Norwich--built in the same syle, but approaching more "cathedral-like" architecture.

I saved my trip inside the Cathedral until last given it was on the way to the train station (at that point, I was hoping it was, and I turned out to be right--no thanks to the stupid map I was carrying. It is another Norman foundation--very Romanesque in style but moving in the Gothic direction.

You can see the inside of it here. I got there right when they were about to begin Evensong services, so I didn't get to go around as much as I would have liked. It certainly looks Norman--round, decorated arches and heavy pillars, but you can see the more complicated ribbing on the ceiling, which is more Gothic in style. It is also much lighter--unlike Durham, which is Romanesque through and through, Norwich, with its incorporation of Gothic techniques, takes on a slightly lighter feel. At the back is the organ, which obscures the view all the way down the nave. There is a cloister attached, too, and a few ruins of other parts of the monastery as well as a hospital. The tower is rather distinctive at Norwich, which is probably an identification point for more experienced cathedral-goers than myself.

One thing that I was impressed by was how the Castle dominated the landscape. It is on top of a hill across from the market, so would have been right in the center of town. The Castle was my first stop when I did tour the museums, and I wasn't disappointed. It is an art/archaeologial museum as well as a historical building in its own right. The Castle on the hill gave a great view of the city. I was fortunate enough to choose to take a tour of the prison vaults, which are inside the hill more or less, and had a fabulous tour guide who knew a lot about the city as well as the Castle. She showed me the vaults, explained their use over time, she knew the practices and what the Castle represented in the city itself over time. I was

more than impressed, and was fortunate enough to be the only person on the tour with her. The inside of the building you see pictured was used to house the "common criminal"--debtors, thieves, and the like--and they had a sort of "community" inside the walls there. Before that, it had been a Norman palace, but over time, the Castle was turned over to the city and upon that change of hands, it became a prison. This view is from the bridge crossing over to the Castle, and apparently in the Early Modern period, on Saturdays at noon, there would be an execution--or more than one execution--there. Those that were executed didn't stay in the prison "community," but were instead relegated to the vaults underneath the Castle. Later on, the Castle's prisoners became the subjects of phrenologers who made their death masks and explored the bumps on their head to try and determine if any signalled they would become criminals. In the nineteenth century, it became a museum, as it is today.

Accomodations here very much outclassed those in Great Yarmouth. I stayed in the Maids Head Hotel, which is a 13th century establishment added to and built upon over time. It was a great place--very clean, very nice rooms, and fairly affordable. It was right by the gateway to the Cathedral and the market wasn't a long walk away. I greatly enjoyed my stay there.

So, Norwich earns itself an 8 and 1/2, putting it in the lead over Durham, York, and Great Yarmouth at present. Let's see if it maintains that lead...


silversonic said...

Love reading about your trips and your photos are superb as always!

booda baby said...

How coool you made it to Norwich. (Although there used to be a painful-funny program on with Steve ... oh crap. I forget his name. Steve. ... lol. This isn't going well, is it? I've seen his show, too. Anyway, it was set in Norwich. And it was reallly reallllly funny. But enough of that.)

I like Norwich so much, you did such a great job of capturing it.
Do you think you could wend your way to Bury St. Edmunds? It's no Norwich, but it's still got quite a bit to recommend it. A lot of Catholic history. The Abby ruins. I always think this is SO funny - it's where they decided to create the Magna Carta. (Somehow, that doesn't seem deserving of anything more than an historical footnote. Ha.) It has one of the best Georgian theaters. And a pub purported to be the smallest in England. (It's a weee little thing.) We owned a home on Whiting Street (it's one of the few gridded towns, thank you Normans!) that once belonged to Baden Powell who invented the Boy Scouts.

Whhphew. It's hard to pitch a tour on a blog reply. :)

Rob Good said...


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