Norwich the Old City A History of Norwich Page 5

The Middle Ages

The Middle Ages were a time of conflict. When the barons rebelled against King John in 1215, the French Prince Louis was invited to seize the throne. Louis captured Norwich Castle in 1217 and plundered the town.
The town was again plundered in 1266 by 'disinherited barons'.

During the 13th century, there was an influx of the European religious orders of friars. The Dominicans (Black friars) were the first to arrive in Norwich in 1226, followed by the Franciscans (Grey friars), Austin friars, and the Carmelites (White friars).

In 1253 the defences of the town were enlarged with a new bank and ditch. This led to conflict between the town and the Priory. The monks accusing the town of trespassing and enclosing their land. (At this time the priory owned all the land south of the town as far as the River Yare as well as other areas of land around the town). The quarrel led to brawls between some citizens and some of the Priory servants which escalated into a full scale attack in 1272. The Ethelbert Gate was stormed and the church of St. Ethelbert, the bell tower and most of the wooden buildings of the monastery were destroyed. The town was heavily fined, and ordered to rebuild St Ethelbert's Gate as part of the compensation.

In 1297 work was started on building the city walls, a job that lasted 37 years. All inhabitants had to contribute to the cost. The walls and the 12 gates helped control the influx of people into the town, and of course, the collection of tolls.

As the Market prospered and expanded, separate specialised markets were established. These are reflected today in the street names they became known by - Haymarket, Timber Hill, Hog Hill (now called Orford Hill), and Maddermarket.

In 1345 the outer baileys of the castle were given over to the control of the city, but the castle and mound remained under the control of the King's Sheriff.
By this time the castle had become the county goal.

In 1349, the Black Death arrived in Norwich, and further outbreaks of the plague in 1362 and 1369 led to the deaths of over a quarter of the population.
Yet strangely this was also a time of prosperity. The wool trade was expanding, and Norwich became the centre of the activity and main market for the worsted cloth.
In 1380 a charter was obtained giving the Bailiffs and committee of 'Twenty Four' (all rich merchants), the power the make and alter by-laws. A charter in 1404 replaced the Bailiffs with a Mayor and two Sheriffs, but control of the city was still in the hands of the rich merchants.

Charters in 1414 and 1417 made Norwich a legal corporation and a county in itself.

History Index The Normans Tudor & Stuart

Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 28 November 2006

Time Line
1216King Louis of France captures Norwich.
1248Great Hospital founded.
1266Norwich sacked by barons.
1272Riots between town and cathedral priory.
1290End of Norwich Jewish community.
1343City Walls completed.
1349Black Death in Norwich.
1381Norwich captured in peasants revolt.
1409Building of Guildhall started.