A bitter east wind blew us into Strangers’ Hall with its unassuming entrance on Charing Cross. That’s Charing Cross in Norwich not its more celebrated twin in Central London from where all distances from the city are measured.
Home to wealthy merchants, sheriffs and mayors during Norwich’s textile heyday, Strangers’ Hall is so called in recognition of the ‘strangers’ – asylum-seeking weavers from the Low Countries who helped make Norwich rich during the Tudor period. It was a time when the English weren’t quite so mean to economic migrants – or at least understood their value. Tucked behind the busy street, the lovingly preserved building dates right back to 1320 and is a hotchpotch of inter-linked rooms dressed to impress like a period drama – Tudor, Stuart, Georgian and Victorian. You half expect Dames Judi, Maggie and Penelope to wander through in bonnets and bodices. It’s a great way to keep out of the cold and a bargain at just a fiver.
Here are a few momentos.
Liam likes his old bowls.
And his arty through the looking glass pics.
After 20 months, we finally closed the door on the Weaver’s Cottage and left the old parish of Norwich-Over-The-Water. It was a sad parting but bricks and mortar are just that, even when they’re 370 years old and located in the oldest ward in town. In any case, we shall return. Our new gaff (my 18th home since I dropped) is less than a mile across the city on the other side of the water. We fully intend to re-visit our old haunts every now and then and wallow in the exuberance and pretentiousness of Norwich arty types (also known as a few pints on a warm summer’s evening at the Playhouse Theatre bar).
There’s something a little bit special about Norwich-Over-The-Water. It’s reckoned by those in the know to be the site of the original Saxon (or rather Anglish) settlement called Westwic. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, wood-pannelled Westwic was torched in 1004 by the deliciously named Sweyn Forkbeard, King of the Danes. Clearly there was something rotten in the State of Denmark, to misquote the Bard. However, the doughty arsonist’s marauding hit the right spot and he later became the first Danish king of England and introduced flat-packed furniture to a world-wide audience. Okay, I made that last bit up.
Fast forward to medieval times and Norwich-Over-The-Water welcomed Huguenot, Walloon and Flemish refugees from the near continent, fleeing religious persecution from the dastardly French and Spanish. The immigrants became known as “The Strangers” and eventually made up a third of the city’s population. Apparently, the mighty flood of immigrants caused very little resentment at the time. Far from packing out the workhouses and stealing the jobs of the local farmhands, the highly skilled expats from the Low Countries bolstered trade with mainland Europe and helped make Norwich rich. Stick that in your pipe and smoke it, Nigel Farage and your UKIP xenophobic swivel-eyed loons.
So, I give you a little tour of Norwich-Over-The-Water from the comfort of your own sofa:
St Mary’s Coslany
St George’s Colegate
St Michael Coslany