History of the City of Norwich

Page 1 - From AD520 to 1272AD

Page 2 - 1297 to 1565
Page 3
- 1578 to 1797

Page 4
- 1804 to 2001


AD 520. The kingdom of East Angles was founded by unifying the North and South Folk

    The town of Norwich had grown from several small Saxon settlements combining together at the shallowest crossing point of the river Wensum.

10th & 11th century. Fragments of soles, uppers and triangular off-cuts of leather found in Norwich by archaeologists in the 20th century. Plus, complete turnshoes which were shoes initially made inside out.

 In 1004AD  Svien Forkbeard's Viking long ships sailed across the North Sea, up the River Wensum and ransacked Norwich.

Magdalen Street was the main street of the Anglo Saxon-Scandinavian town. It was originally called Fybriggate meaning the street leading to Fye Bridge. Coins minted in the 10th century with the name Norvic were probably made here. This area is probably that burnt by King Swein in 1004.

Before the Norman Conquest, Norwich paid King Edward the Confessor an annual tax of: £20, six jars of honey, one bear, and six dogs for baiting.

1066. At the time of the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, Norwich was one of the largest towns in England and was occupied by ten thousand Anglo Saxons, Scandinavians and Normans.

    Within a year or two of victory at Hastings, the Normans had forced the Saxon population of Norwich (or 'Northwic') to destroy scores of Saxon homes and raise earthworks for a fortress. By 1075, a timbered castle, towering above the town and protected by a wooden palisade, had been constructed on top of the mound. To the south and east of the mound were yards (or 'baileys') protected by banks and ditches.

1072. William I, invades Scotland.

1075. The first siege of Norwich castle took place when a Breton called Ralph de Guader (the first Norman constable of the castle) was in charge. Two Earls had intended joining together to remove William the Conqueror from the throne; one of them, the Earl of East Anglia, was thwarted from joining up with the Earl of Hereford, and ended up in the castle under siege from the the Royal Army led by Lanfranc. After approximately three months of deprivation the besieged where allowed to leave unharmed.

1086. A survey of land ownership and possessions of people in England was carried out and published in the what became known as the Doomsday Book.

1087. William the Conqueror dies having fallen from his horse and William II Rufus was crowned king.

Tombland, the area fronting the Norwich Cathedral was the Anglo-Scandinavian market-place in the 11th century. The name Tomb is Scandinavian in origin meaning 'empty' or 'open', the 'open land' being used as a market.

Norwich Cathedral

Background: The arrival of Christianity in Norfolk
Christianity was openly practiced in England and the rest of Europe when the Romans legalised it in the fourth century.
     In the Seventh Century Saxon King of East Anglia, Sigebert, had been converted to Christianity in France before becoming King. Whilst in France he had got to know Felix, a Burgundian missionary, and with the approval of the Archbishop of Canterbury, invited him to East Anglia to become its first bishop. Felix became known as the 'Apostle of East Anglia' and he and the king
made such a good team that both were made saints.
    It is not known exactly where the first church was set up. The Venerable Bede names Donmoc (perhaps an old spelling of Dunwich?). Certainly at Dunwich a large number of churches sprang up almost overnight, the town becoming 'a kind of Canterbury.'

Bishopric moves to Thetford 
After the Norman Conquest of 1066, William the Conqueror appointed a Norman called Herfast as his chaplain and chancellor. Herfast deposed the last Saxon Bishop of Elmham and moved the bishopric of East Anglia from the tranquillity of North Elmham to the bright lights of Thetford, which was already a thriving commercial centre. He enlarged the Church of Great St Mary to serve as his cathedral. The bishopric fell vacant twenty years later. 

The Building Of Cathedrals and Churches
In 1087 William the Conqueror was succeeded as English King by William II, Rufus. One of the new King's chaplains was Herbert de Losinga (an Abbot from the Benedictine Abbey of Fécamp in Normandy). He was assigned to the Abbey at Ramsey, which was situated in the still undrained Cambridgeshire fens. Using his wealth he put in a bid for the bishopric vacancy at Thetford for nineteen hundred pounds, got it, and became the Bishop of Thetford at the age of thirty seven. The buying of a bishopric was against church law and he had to go to Rome to confess his sin. For his penance he was instructed to build churches at Yarmouth and King's Lynn and also to build a cathedral in Norwich.
    He laid the foundation stone for the Norwich cathedral in 1096, having first demolished most of the settlement of Northwic, diverted roads and removed two churches which occupied the 36 acres he had chosen.
    The result was a fine Romanesque Cathedral with cloisters and an unrivalled collection of painted Medieval roof boss sculptures.
    The 315 foot spire was a later addition, put on top of the original Norman tower between 1472 and 1501.
    More information from the Cathedral Book Shop or Jarrold Publishing

Back to - Places to Visit / Churches

1100 - William II was killed by an arrow whilst hunting in the New Forest.

1100 - 1135. Henry I, fourth son of William I, was crowned king.

1100. The foundations on which the wooden keep of Norwich castle had been built had settled and the masons had moved in to replace the timber buildings with a royal palace, architecturally the most important secular building of its time in Western Europe. It was to be some twenty one metres high and surrounded by a dry ditch, it took 20 years to build.

1135. Matilda chosen by Henry I as his successor, failed to gain the crown after Stephen her cousin had had himself crowned king.

1154. Stephen dies, and  the son of Matilda was crowned king Henry II.

1171. The cathedral was badly damaged by fire. The damage was repaired by John of Oxford the fourth bishop of the see.

1189. Henry II dies and Richard I, Lionheart was crowned king.

 1189. Richard I dies and John (Lackland) was crowned king.

1194. Norwich was granted the status of a city but excluded from any jurisdiction over the Castle which belonged to the King and any jurisdiction over the Cathedral priory or precincts which belonged to the Bishop.

1200. The Castle had a stone gatehouse and bridge built over the dry ditch, replacing the previous wooden structure. (To Visit)

1215. King John was forced to sign the 'Magna Carta' (which was one of the key moments in English history, and one of the first examples in human history of a King having to admit that his power was finite, and dependent on the good will of 'the people'.

1216. King John dies; Henry III, king John's son aged nine was crowned king.

1216. The castle suffered another siege. The son of the King of France - Louis, came to Norwich with his army and took the castle. This was part of French interference in the Baronial uprising against the crown.

1253. A bank and ditch were constructed around much of the City, the eastern boundary being the River Wensum - an area of nearly a square mile was enclosed.

1266. A new standard was set for the weight of pennies. One pound of silver would yield 240 pennies

1270 - 1307. The first buildings being erected on the site of St. Andrew's Hall (more information).

1272. A coroner issued a warrant to arrest certain residents living within the cathedral precincts who had been accused of murdering a citizen of the city. The prior, William de Burnham, was furious at this attack upon his jurisdiction. He excommunicated the citizens for breach of his privileges, barred the gates to the Close, and prepared to defend its walls. Disturbances continued for several weeks and then, some of the prior's men stationed on the bell tower close to Erpingham Gate, fired on the town with crossbows and balestrae, and a raiding party from the priory pillaged the house of a prominent merchant and a local tavern.
     The bishop, a former prior, did nothing to placate the citizens, preferring to remain safely in his palace.
     His attitude inflamed matters further and the townspeople were soon out of hand. In the three day riot which ensued, monks were slaughtered and the cathedral was damaged.
     Henry III visited Norwich to preside at a thirteen day trial of citizens responsible for the damage. The arsonists were severely dealt with. Thirty were condemned to death. Some were sentenced to be dragged through the streets behind horses until they died. Others were hanged.
     The prior was incarcerated in the Bishops prison.
 The city was placed under administration and only regained its freedom three years later having had to pay a 3000 mark fine payable over six years. (one mark equalled 160 pence)

1272. King Henry III dies and Edward I was crowned king.

Top  /  Next - 1297 to 1565