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
Church of St John Maddermarket
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.
Just after Liam left for work, I rolled out of bed, staggered down the treacherous winding stairs of the old Weaver’s Cottage and wandered into the kitchen to make my morning cuppa. I flicked on the kettle and opened the fridge to retrieve the milk, only to find this little note taped to the carton:
Brought a little tear to my cynical eye.
It’s the fifth anniversary of our civil partnership today and seven years since Liam and I first met. I’ve been stalked by happiness (and a bit of sadness from time to time) since the day I dropped out of my mother’s womb screaming “I am what I am.” The last seven years have been, without question, the happiest. I awoke this morning to find that Liam had posted a little something on Facebook. Believe me, I know how lucky I am.
Okay, you. One sentence should do it.
Seven years ago we met in that bar in Trafalgar Square, shared that Sloppy Giuseppe and over-priced Pinot Grigio, argued about the bill, eventually went Dutch, courted for months like a pair of 1950’s Catholics (for heaven’s sake), collapsed out of exhaustion into the world of jiggy-jiggy (terribly messy but strangely exciting), fell madly in love, got married (nice suits), moved in together (delicious scandal), watched the curtains twitch (mostly nets), gave up everything sensible and moved to Turkey (what was wrong with Spain?), fell in-and-out-and-in-and-out of love with an extraordinary (no, challenging, misogynistic, homophobic, primitive and God was it cold – okay I loved it) place, you writing ‘that’ book, ‘that’ book getting critical acclaim and big sales (cha-ching) but ‘that’ book largely ignored by those close to us (discuss?), coming back to look after our own (good call), becoming poor, well poor-ish (bad call), discovering the great city of Naaaarwich (nuff said), having more jiggy-jiggy (apparently unnatural, but terribly good with central heating and an injection of Radio 4 LW), re-discovering UK culture like a long lost friend but afraid to tell the expats how wonderful it was in case it came across as boastful (fine line), you becoming ‘properly’ recognised as a ‘proper’ writer (hurrah!) not to mention radio star (OMG), me re-learning Bach fugues (they are SO hard to play, even harder than Mozart, you really have no idea how my fingers ache), both of us weeping like candles at the latest Cinema City flick (okay, mostly Dame Maggie and thank God for the discounted tickets and blood-warm Merlot at the bar), getting over-excited about that converted railway carriage in miles-from-nowhere (yes, I could wash my bits in a sink with a view like that), improvising those make-shift nappies during the messy norovirus days (thank you Blue Peter and Morrison’s super-padded 2-for-1 kitchen towels, we owe you), people-watching at the Playhouse and longing to be young (clearly, we need to avoid Death In Venice comparisons here), gasping at Bonnie Langford’s amazingly flexible crack (and boy, can that Dolly write a tooone) but most of all, keeping our focus, always, on making sure our glass is resolutely full. I’d say it’s been an extraordinary seven years, husband.
Happy Anniversary. It still feels surprisingly good.
Working class lad, Liam, was born with an innate desire to blow things. This manifested itself at the tender age of seven when he learnt to play the recorder with noted skill. A year later, he moved on to the oboe, an altogether more difficult woodwind instrument to master. By 15, he’d learnt to play the piano and started composing simple ditties in a classical genre. By 18 he was studying for a music degree, became an oboe for hire for various orchestras and his then more complex compositions attracted a more discerning audience. A career in serious music seemed assured. But, by 20 Liam discovered the love that dares not speak its name and, with hormones raging, his creative juices flowed in an entirely different direction. His classical career in tatters and with penury looming, he joined the civil service.
Liam rediscovered his beloved oboe in the loft when we were preparing for our emigration. It had been sitting in its sad satin-lined box, broken and unblown for decades. Unable to breathe life back into the lifeless instrument, he sold it on Ebay. It was a sad day. That was then.
Find out more about Liam’s music here.