Norwich has HEART

Mike Loveday, former chief executive of Norwich HEART (The Heritage, Economic and Regeneration Trust), takes us on a guided tour through the historic streets of our Fine City.

Say 'Norwich' to the outside world and the response is likely to be either 'what?' or 'isn't that a small market town up the longest cul-de-sac in England?'

What you won't be told is that it was England's second city for centuries; that it's the largest, walled, medieval city in England, bigger than the City of London and Southwark together; that its medieval architectural marvels include the 'finest secular building of its period in Europe' (Norwich Castle), one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe (Anglican Cathedral), England's largest and most elaborate medieval city hall (The Guildhall), the only friary to survive the Reformation intact (The Halls), a set of hospital buildings dating from 1249 (The Great Hospital) and a unique medieval merchant trading hall (Dragon Hall).

Beyond these gems, it boasts the largest collection of urban medieval churches north of the Alps; medieval art ranking amongst the finest in the world and notable medieval residents including the first woman to write a book in English (Julian of Norwich), the father of the English Perpendicular architecture movement (William Ramsey) and the first English Hebrew poet (Meir).

Norwich heritageSt James Mill in Norwich.

But look more closely… this isn't just about sumptuous medieval culture on an epic scale but rather about a culture of innovation and creating cutting edge change that continues into the present day. Beyond the Middle Ages, Norwich continued to innovate architecturally with, as Wesley called it, 'the most elegant meeting house in Europe' (Octagon Chapel), a Regency Assembly House unmatched in England, the noblest mill of the English Industrial Revolution (St James Mill), the largest Gothic Revival Cathedral in England, the most sumptuous Edwardian office building (Surrey House) and the finest English public building between the Wars (City Hall), all still surviving.

These icons have been joined more recently by the cutting edge works of Sir Norman Foster (Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts), Sir Michael Hopkins (The Forum), Sir Denys Lasdun (UEA Ziggurats) and Sir Bernard Feilden and award-winning models of sustainable architecture like the Queen's Building and the ZICER Building.

Beyond this the City has innovated culturally with the nation's first purpose built provincial theatre (now the most successful – Norwich Theatre Royal), only Regional School of Artists, the oldest City-based music festival in the UK (Norfolk & Norwich Festival) and one of Norwich's sons also went on to be the first black circus proprietor (Pablo Fanque), and one of the most successful, in the UK.

And if you crave more popular culture, we lay claim to the world's oldest football anthem, still in use today, followed by the only English side to beat Bayern Munich in the Olympic Stadium (Norwich City Football Club).

As Pevsner said 'Norwich has everything' but more than that, and echoing the local motto, we 'Do Different' and spectacularly so. Come and be surprised…

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