Norwich the Old City A History of Norwich Page 6

Tudor & Stuart

The wool trade brought great wealth to the town, and by the beginning of the 16th century Norwich was paying more in taxes than any other provincial town in England. But that statement gives the misleading impression of life in Norwich. Less than 30 of it's leading citizens controlled over 40 per cent of it's wealth.

Ever increasing taxes and regulations imposed by the town and government officials led to a decline in the production of cloth and Norfolk wool was now being sold to the Suffolk and Essex weavers where there was less control. Many moved out of Norwich into the countryside where there was no restriction on occupations, and the town went into a decline. This decline was not helped by major fires in 1505 and 1507 which devastated large areas of the town.

The dissolution of the monasteries in 1539 saw the demolition of the Franciscan, Carmelite, and Augustine monasteries. The Dominican Friary was bought by the Corporation.

In 1540 work started on the building of the Duke of Norfolk's town house. This stood at the bottom of the Maddermarket where Duke Street stands today.

The closure of the common lands led to Kett's Rebellion in 1549 and when Kett and his supporters attacked the town across Bishops Bridge many of the inhabitants supported him. The rebellion was crushed some 3 weeks later and many were executed.
Trade on the Market Place dwindled to such an extent that they had to pay someone to clear the weeds that had grown there.

To try and revive the ailing textile industry, a group of Dutch weavers were persuaded to move to Norwich to produce russels and sateens. Religious persecution in the Low Countries at the time led to more immigration, and by 1583 there were over 4,500 of these 'Strangers' in the city.
Although the population was increasing, the actual number of houses stayed practically the same as the poor were squeezed into smaller accommodation as houses were subdivided.

In 1578 Queen Elizabeth I visited Norwich as part of her East Anglia Progress. She stayed in Norwich for 5 days.
The next year saw the first outbreak of bubonic plague followed by more outbreaks in 1625 and 1665. In all over a third of the population (mainly the poor) died.

The battles of the Civil Wars took place away from Norfolk, but Norwich, in support of the Commonwealth, did provide Cromwell's famous Maiden Troops.

By the end of the 17th century the textile industry reached a peak and was producing a wide range of high quality fabrics, much of which was exported direct to Europe and the rest of the world, by-passing the London middle-men who had previously taken some of the profit. It is estimated that up to 10,000 people in and around Norwich were employed in the industry, most working is small home workshops.

History Index The Middle Ages Georgian Norwich

Copyright © Ken Ward 2004
Last Updated: 28 November 2006

Time Line
1501Market Cross built.
1549Kett's Rebellion.
1565'Strangers' invited to Norwich.
1578Elizabeth I visits Norwich.
1620Pilgrim fathers sail to the new world on board the Mayflower. 32 of the 107 on board were from Norwich & Norfolk.
1625Plague in Norwich.
1665Plague in Norwich.
1687Doughty's Hospital founded.
1708Duke of Norfolk leaves Norwich.

For reviews of books with local interest
(old and new)
check out the
Old City Bookshelf