Norwich the Old City A History of Norwich Page 4

The Normans

When the Normans arrived and conquered in 1066, Norwich was one of the largest towns in England with 25 churches and a population of over 5,000.
With its easy access to Europe via the river Yare, it had become a thriving trade centre, and the Normans were not slow in realising the potential of the town and area.

The heart of Norwich at that time was based around the ancient crossroads at Tombland. Here was the market place and the houses of the officials who administered the town. The Normans looked for high ground on which to build their castle. At the end of the Ber Street ridge the Normans first cleared the area of Saxon houses and churches, then built a timber castle on top of an artificial mound with massive earthworks surrounding it. This was to be a royal castle.

But within a few years it was the scene of an uprising plot against William by Ralph Guader the Earl of Norwich. But word had leaked out, and an army loyal to William laid siege on the castle. Ralph escaped and sailed to Denmark to seek help, leaving his wife Emma to defend the castle. But after 3 months she was forced to surrender and the King once again took possession of the town.

The Normans also cleared the area to the west of the castle over the stream called 'The Great Cockey' to establish a new market place and homes for the Normans and Jews that came after the invasion. The old market in Tombland was closed, and the area to the east of the Tombland crossroads was given to the church. Houses and churches were cleared from the area and work began on the cathedral in 1096. It took nearly 200 years to complete the task. As the only natural building material in the area was flint, the facing stone had to be shipped in, mainly from Caen in Normandy.

In 1100, work began on replacing the timber castle with a stone one. This was also built of flint and faced with stone from Caen. It took 20 years to complete the task.

As Norwich started developing, two areas of the city were outside the control of the town Reeve - the castle 'fee' and the Cathedral precinct. Two areas that ever since have defined the development of the town.
The Royal Castle and its fee (the area covered by the outer defences) were controlled by the Sheriff, who was responsible directly to the King. The Cathedral Priory was it appears, a law onto itself, and controlled the area of the Cathedral precincts, still walled to this day.

Small conflicts between the Normans, Saxons and Vikings continued, but eventually the town became stable enough to receive a royal charter from Henry II in 1158, and another one from Richard the Lionheart in 1194.

History Index Saxons & Vikings The Middle Ages

Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 28 November 2006

Time Line
1066The Norman Conquest.
1075Rebellion by Earl Ralph and his wife Emma. Seige of the castle.
1094Eposcopal See moved from Thetford to Norwich.
1096Work started on building Norwich Cathedral.
1120Stone Castle completed.
1121Henry I visits Norwich Castle for Christmas.
1144Founding of Leper Hospital.

Suggested Visits

The Norman Castle at Castle Rising, nr Kings Lynn.

See the
Attractions pages.