Norwich is stuffed with the biggest, finest, oldest and firsts in all the realm. There’s a gem on virtually every corner. These are a few of my favourites. Hover over the image for a brief hint and click for more scintillating facts that you never knew you wanted to know.
The Millennium Library is a fitting successor to the first provincial municipal library – the most visited outside London. And guess what? They stock my book
The largest lips in the East and a great kisser
The only English example of a beguinage (a community of lay women living a life of poverty and chastity). The pretty thatched-roofed building is now the Briton’s Arms Restaurant
England’s most highly ornamented castle keep sitting atop England’s largest castle mound. Norwich Castle was founded a few years after the nasty Norman Conquest of 1066 when poor Harry got it in the eye. That happened to me once
The largest cathedral close in England and a great place for a picnic on a hot summer’s day
The only English city to have been excommunicated by the Pope when revolting peasants sacked the priory in 1274
The largest number of medieval churches of any city in Northern Europe (ironic when you think East Anglia is the least devout region in England, according the latest census). Many of the glorious buildings have been converted to cultural or commercial use
The largest walled medieval city in England and bigger than the City of London. You need a vivid imagination – there’s little left of it now, more’s the pity
The first mass production of shoes in Britain – because life’s a catwalk
The first driving school in Britain opened in 1919. I could never be bothered to learn and relied on the kindness of strangers during my street walking days
The largest and most elaborate guildhall outside London. It’s rather dwarfed by the over-imposing and slightly Stalinistic Art Deco City Hall
England’s first provincial newspaper founded in 1701. It didn’t last long. The newspaper closed in 1713 after the Great Carrier Pigeon Hacking Scandal of 1712 (I’m kidding)
This is the rather over-imposing, slightly Stalinistic City Hall. The impressive building retains many of its original Art Deco features and has the longest balcony in Britain (at 365 feet). That’s the Catholic cathedral in the distance
The first and still only UNESCO World City of Literature in England
The first book written by a woman in the English Language came from the pen of Julian of Norwich in 1395. Strange name for a woman but, by all accounts, she was off with the fairies
The first blank verse to be published was written by Henry Howard, Earl of Surrey (eldest son to the Duke of Norfolk). Also, Harry and his mate Sir Tommy Wyatt were the first English poets to write in the sonnet form that Shakespeare later used. Harry didn’t make it to duke as the other Harry (that randy despot Henry VIII) had him beheaded for treason.
Rosary Cemetery was the first non-denominational cemetery in England where people of faith and people of none could together rest in peace
The only medieval friary to survive the Reformation intact – St Stephens and Blackfriars Halls are now used for all sorts of jollities including the annual beer fest piss-up
The largest cathedral cloister in England and very peaceful it is too
Lollards Pit is the only gay pub in the world to be found on the very site where heretics (the Lollards) were once burned to death. A delicious irony, don’t you think?
The first all-metal aeroplane in the world (1919)
Elm Hill is reputed to be the most complete medieval street in England, with buildings dating back to Tudor times. There’s not an elm tree to be seen, though.
The first municipal computer was delivered to Norwich City Hall in 1957 – with the brain power of a Casio pocket calculator (probably)
The Norman Cathedral is one of the most complete Romanesque buildings in Europe. That’s something to get down on your knees for
With thanks to Visit Norwich for much of this treasure trove.