World Facts Index > United Kingdom > Norwich

The "fine city" of Norwich lies at the heart of rural Norfolk in the north eastern corner of the East Anglia region. It is a busy and attractive city with a wealth of historic sights to offer visitors as well as a selection of lively clubs, pubs and restaurants and a colourful variety of shops. Less than three hours away from London on public transport, Norwich is easily reached by train or coach. By road, the journey takes slightly longer but is just as straightforward with the A11 linking the city to the M11.

The city centre

Norwich's history goes back to the days of the Anglo-Saxons and Romans who both made their homes alongside the River Wensum and today the city's central streets still follow their medieval plan. A wonderful city to explore on foot, the centre of Norwich is outlined by the remaining parts of its city walls and contains more than 1500 historic buildings. These range from tiny ancient houses tucked away in narrow cobbled alleyways such as Elm Hill, Tombland Alley and Timber Hill to large, impressive buildings such as the Norman Cathedral, Norwich Castle and the medieval Guildhall.

The River Wensum flows through the city offering riverside walks and cruises and also within the inner city boundary are some of Norwich's unique collection of parks and open spaces including Chapelfield Gardens, Castle Gardens and the green Cow Tower area.

Today much of the centre of Norwich is traffic-free. In front of City Hall is the old provision market with its famous coloured covers. Between the market and Norwich Castle are a number of pedestrianised shopping streets such as Gentleman's Walk, London Street and Castle Street as well as the famous Royal Arcade housing among other outlets the Colman's Mustard Shop. From this area it is possible to enter the underground Castle Mall Shopping Centre.


Norwich really is a shopper's heaven with stores ranging from big high street names to unusual smaller retail outlets. These days the provision market stocks mainly fruit and vegetables, clothes and accessories. Also tucked away inside, however, are health food stalls, hot food stalls and even a hairdresser.

The Castle Mall Shopping Centre features three levels of different facilities. This is the country's only underground shopping centre and the largest of its type in Europe. Its shops range from large chain stores such as Boots, Mothercare and the Early Learning Centre to smaller shops.

Those who love browsing in secondhand and antique shops should make their way to Magdalen Street. Head for Tombland and then over the river. Here you'll find not only a fantastic collection of pubs and restaurants but also numerous secondhand shops ranging from grubby junk stores to smart antique shops.

St Benedict's is another of Norwich's more interesting shopping areas. This runs from the inner ring road in towards the city and is home to some fascinating specialist shops, including fashion, book, gift and furniture stores, and some nice restaurants.

Parking while shopping in Norwich is not really a problem. There are a number of multi-storey car parks as well as some Pay and Display areas and the very reasonable Castle Mall car parks.

Entertainment and culture

Norwich has an exciting variety of theatres, cinemas, galleries and museums in the city centre. The Theatre Royal is the largest theatre and features a variety of drama, musical, dance and comedy productions throughout the year. The Norwich Playhouse and the Maddermarket Theatre are also within the city boundary.

Live music can be heard at the Norwich Arts Centre, on St Benedict's Street, and at the Waterfront on King Street - both about 15 minutes walk from the city centre - as well as at smaller venues elsewhere in Norwich.

As well as its Odeon and ABC cinemas, Norwich now also boasts multiplexes the UCI at the new Riverside development (near the station) and Ster Century in the Castle Mall. For lovers of art cinema there is Cinema City on St Andrew's Street.

Towering above Norwich city centre is the Castle Museum with its Norman keep (currently closed for refurbishment). Other museums in Norwich include the Bridewell Museum, in Bridewell Alley, and the Royal Norfolk Regimental Museum, on Market Avenue.

The Norwich Area

One of the great benefits of visiting Norwich is that you also find yourself within easy reach of some wonderful countryside and stunning beaches. Head up to North Norfolk and you will find market towns such as Aylsham and Holt to explore. Then further on, perhaps 40 minutes from Norwich, you come upon the traditional seaside towns of Cromer, Sheringham and Wells-next-the-Sea.

Those who enjoy exhilarating walks can explore the breath-taking expanses of the North Norfolk coastline at Blakeney and Holkham. This area is also famous for its bird-watching and its seals.

To the east of Norwich is the Great Yarmouth coastline which comes to life every summer when the holidaymakers arrive. Here you'll find all the traditional seaside entertainment from the piers to the Pleasure Beach and the slot machines to the seaside theatre.

South Norfolk offers more tranquil pastimes. Here there are woodland and riverside walks to be undertaken either on foot or on horseback with a party from one of the many stables this area boasts. The market towns of Wymondham and Diss in this area also have plenty to offer the visitor including period architecture, museums and auctions.

Further south, about 40 minutes from Norwich in Breckland, is Thetford, a town with a number of historic sites to visit which is surrounded by one of the oldest and largest forests in Great Britain. The beautiful pine Thetford Forest Park offers 50,000 acres of area to explore on foot, horse-back or by bike (which can be hired from High Lodge).

The Broads

But it is for Britain's finest wetland, the Norfolk Broads, that the county is perhaps most famous for. This covers an area of about 303 sq km to the north and east of Norwich and includes more than 200 km of waterways.

The Broads is similar to a national park and is protected for its landscape and wildlife. Explorations can be made on foot, by bike or by boat. You can take guided boat trips or hire a cruiser by the day, week or even hour from one of the many businesses in Norwich, Wroxham , Hoveton, Stalham or Potter Heigham. There is also plenty of opportunity for those wishing to learn to sail, canoe or windsurf.

There are many attractive villages and small towns to visit within the Broads area as well as historic buildings, museums and of course windmills such as Berney Arms Mill and Sutton Mill. For more details about the Norfolk Broads visit one of the Broads Information Centres at Beccles, Hoveton or Potter Heigham.

Attractions and day trips

Within easy reach of Norwich are literally dozens of places of historic interest and exciting family centres to visit in a day. Stately homes Blickling Hall, Somerleyton Hall and Felbrigg Hall are among Norfolk's many beautiful buildings with extensive gardens to explore.

The Dinosaur Park at Weston Longville, the Shire Horse Centre at West Runton and The Village at Fleggburgh all offer fun for the whole family. In west Norfolk, visitors find attractions such as the Gaol House and the Caithness Crystal Visitor Centre, at Kings Lynn, and the African Violet Centre at Terrington St Clement. In north Norfolk there's Wroxham Barns and for steam train lovers the Bure Valley Railway and the North Norfolk Steam Railway.

In the Great Yarmouth area families can head for Thrigby Hall Wildlife Gardens, Fritton Lake Countryworld and popular theme park Pleasurewood Hills. South of Norwich you'll find the Tropical Butterfly Garden at Great Ellingham and Banham Zoo, near Attleborough.

Whether your tastes lie in visiting historical sites or exploring areas of natural beauty, in taking exhilarating theme park rides or in family fun at the seaside, Norwich and the surrounding district won't disappoint you. There really is something for everyone here - and it's all within easy reach of the "fine city" itself.

History of Norwich

One of England's most esoteric cities, Norwich's founding may long remain a mystery. The city is thought to have grown up because of its position at a bridgeable point at what was then the head of the Yare estuary. By the time of the first written evidence of its existence, near the end of the Tenth Century, Norwich was already a thriving burgh.

Saxon Norwich was centred on Tombland - which means empty or open space and has no reference to graves at all - with the city's richest church and the palace of the Earls of the East Angles bordering the settlement's central market. Today the city's main roads still lead to Tombland which is a good four hundred metres north east of where city centre is today.

The major push toward the city taking the form in which we still see it today was the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. The Castle was built as a centre for Norman power over the English burgesses. Norwich Cathedral is held by many to be the finest Romanesque building in England, and may well have become so by complete chance; its Norman founder dying before even the high altar was completed, his successors did not have enough cash to change the grandiose masterplans. Building commenced in 1096 and the central body of the Cathedral itself attained its present form with the completion of the fourth spire, at 96m the second tallest in England, in 1463.

Norwich in the High Middle Ages had much of the form and structure of the city that we know today. Many surviving public buildings date from the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries: Bishop's Bridge was constructed prior to 1331, thirty years before the construction of the city walls. The Guildhall, today the city's main Tourist Information Centre, was put up between 1407 and 1413 on the site of an earlier municipal building, The Tollhouse. Many street names also date from this period: Rampant Horse Street gained its name from a tavern, but the horse market met here in the fifteenth century; Maddermarket was the centre of the dying trade, madder being a red pigment; Haymarket, not surprisingly, was an agricultural off-shoot of the main city market.

There was a medieval Jewish community in Norwich and the area between Haymarket and Orford Hill was for a while known as the "Jewry". The most significant minority group in Norwich, however, were those known as "Strangers". The proximity of Norwich to the Low Countries has always precipitated an interchange of people. The persecution of Protestants in the Spanish Netherlands led to the city authorities allowing a slow stream of immigration into the city from the middle of the sixteenth century. Most were weavers; notable exceptions included Norwich's first printer, Anthony de Solempne, who arrived in 1567.

The monastic nature of the Cathedral was, of course, a victim of the Reformation. Norwich, however, was the first cathedral priory in the country to re-establish itself as Dean and Chapter. Archbishop Matthew Parker, entrusted by Elizabeth I to undo the machinations of her sister's efforts at counter-reformation, was Norwich born. His reputation for leaving no stone unturned has purportedly given us the soubriquet "nosey parker".

Many of the city's august institutions trace their routes back to the eighteenth century: The Norfolk and Norwich Hospital was founded in 1772 as part of the voluntary hospital system; Gurney's Bank was established in 1775. The younger son of the family would marry into the Barclays, the London banking family. Norwich's Gurneys would go on to play a significant part in the development of the huge clearing bank. Norwich Union, perhaps the most august of all, can trace its routes back to 1783 with Thomas Bignold's incredulity at not being able to get insurance for his move from Kent to Norwich. By the 1820s, the society was trading overseas, with offices in Lisbon and Bordeaux, ground was broken on the imposing Surrey Street headquarters in 1906.

New high quality housing began to be put up in the city from the 1820s onwards. The terraced inner-suburban houses that now make up the Golden Triangle were the product of new housing regulations passed by the City Council from 1877 to 1889: Clearance of the courts and yards on the perimeter of the medieval city dates from the same period.

The first through train ran from Norwich to London in July 1845, and the building of Prince of Wales Road in the 1860s linked the centre of the city to the new Thorpe Station, streamlining traffic flow into the city in the process. The Great Northern Railway opened Norwich City Station in 1882; this was closed to passengers in 1959 and freight ten years later.

The city continued transforming rapidly itself in the twentieth century. The new City Hall went up in 1938, designed by CH James and SR Pierce. During the second world war the city suffered severe damage during the Luftwafe's Baedeker raids. Homes and businesses were destroyed as was the old Bonds store on All Saint's Green, containing the only thatched cinema in Britain and a number of medieval churches, including Saint Benedict's and Saint Julian's. Highlights of post-war building in the city included the West Earlham estate.

In 1963, the old Earlham Golf Course began to be transformed into what would eventually become the reinforced-concrete wonderland of the University of East Anglia. Dennis Lasdun, who shaped the University campus, was the designer of the teaching wall, Europe's longest building, and Norfolk and Suffolk Terraces, the renowned student residences based on Mayan ziggurats. The arts collection of Sir Robert and Lady Sainsbury was given to the university in 1973, and Norman Foster's cavernous Sainsbury Centre for the Visual Arts was built in 1980 as its new home; the Crescent Wing extension was added in 1989/1990.

Today's Norwich contains a wealth of historical buildings and landmarks but is undeniably a thoroughly modern city. No large urban centre in England is as far from another town of comparable size, but this has not stopped Norwich moving and shaking with the best of them: The subterranean Castle Mall, the new Riverside development and the new UEA Sportspark are contemporary highlights. Before the end of 2000 the Millennium Library will also provide the citizenry with an architecturally outstanding public building with which to further pride themselves in their fine old city.


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