Monday, 12 May 2008

A Fine City indeed

I know Norwich quite well as I have family here but I confess its incredible heritage has been dulled a bit by familiarity over the years.

In the 19th century, the Norfolk-born writer George Borrow described Norwich as ‘a fine old city’ – a proud refrain which the city borrowed for its road signs.

Its graceful Norman cathedral and castle dominate the city skyline, and the crumbling ruins of its ancient city walls and labyrinth of medieval backstreets and winding alleys still echo with its long and distinguished history.

For several hundred years, from the Norman Conquest onwards, Norwich was England’s second city and it is well known for having over 50 churches during medieval times – more than any other western European city.

Around 30 remain, and many have carved out a new vocation in these more secular times such as St James’s and St Michael’s which are now a puppet theatre and interactive science exhibition respectively.

Elm Hill remains my favourite spot in Norwich. Tucked away from the thousands of shoppers who throng to the city’s numerous shopping areas, this cobbled street, lined with timber-framed Tudor houses and antique shops is the perfect place to take a breather.

In the 15th and 16th centuries, Elm Hill was an important commercial thoroughfare due to its position by the river. Weavers, goldsmiths, saddlemakers and other skilled craftsmen set up shop here and the area became a hub of workshops and wealthy merchant’s houses.

In 1507, a terrible fire destroyed 700 houses and its thought that only one building in Elm Hill survived – today, the attractive 15th century thatched building called the Britons Arms is a popular coffee house.

A visit to Elm Hill with my Auntie Sarah this afternoon confirmed my view that one of the best bits about Elm Hill is the tiny terrace garden at the Briton’s Arms. It’s an overgrown but completely secluded suntrap - the perfect spot on a sunny afternoon for tea and cake.

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