Meet the crypt club which gathers in city's undercroft

Community Culture Club member, Doreen Cochrane, studies the flint wall of the Museum of Norwich at t

Community Culture Club member, Doreen Cochrane, studies the flint wall of the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Beneath a bustling city street a club gathers in an untouched crypt - making potions and discovering relics of years gone by. 

It is the Community Culture Club, trialled in November 2021 by the Norwich Museum and Age UK with the aim of supporting people with dementia to learn more about the Fine City. 

The group not only explore the undercrofts sprawling beneath the city but take part in activities like "potion making".

Hannah Henderson, curator of community history at the museum, said: "We've worked really hard within the community over the last 15 years.

"One of our key audiences we wanted to work with were older people and we've been very lucky that we could help support people in care homes or day centres."

Susie Childrehouse, right, artist practitioner, shows members of the Community Culture Club around t

Susie Childrehouse, right, artist practitioner, shows members of the Community Culture Club around the undercroft of the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell. From left, Albert Pearce, Margaret Clevett, Patricia Quinn, Ron Green, Jenni O'Halloran, and Kimberley Pearce. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

The club, held every Thursday, was funded as part of the education program from the Heritage Lottery fund for around £2,000 and is seen as a natural progression from their previous work.

With people being led underground into the depths of the museum, activities at the club include looking at relics from days gone by, to crafts that can be made like "potions" with lemon, ginger and hot water, celebrating medieval Norwich.

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Hannah added: "We wanted to bring people together, bringing their own passion and creativity.

"Over time we've seen the club and general commitment of everyone involved make a real difference to those involved.

"It just goes to show how a massive capital project like Royal Palace Reborn can have a trickle-down effect on the grassroots community.

"Everyone will see the work being done to the castle but this is a human story behind the project."

Susie Childrehouse, centre, artist practitioner, shows Community Culture Club members, Kimberley Pea

Susie Childrehouse, centre, artist practitioner, shows Community Culture Club members, Kimberley Pearce, left, and Patricia Quinn, some artifacts at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, ready to create artwork related to the objects. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Community Culture Club is overseen by Rosalind Hewett, who is the adult learning and participation officer at the Norwich Museum.

She said: "We track every participant's wellbeing which we're pleased to see has increased greatly since the club started.

"We've been told by people who attend they sleep better, have made friends, feel much better and have something to look forward to during the week."

Hannah Henderson, centre, curator of community history at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, wi

Hannah Henderson, centre, curator of community history at the Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell, with her colleagues, Rosaling Hewett, left, adult learning and participation officer, and Susie Childerhouse, artist practitioner. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY - Credit: DENISE BRADLEY/Archant2022

Rosalind continued: "It's a privilege to be able to work with these people in this museum." 

What exactly is an undercroft?

An undercroft is traditionally a cellar or storage room, often brick-lined and vaulted, and used for storage in buildings since medieval times.

Norwich has a wealth of undercrofts dating from the Medieval period.

This is because the city had a burgeoning merchant class (of wool and cloth trade in particular).

Merchants would trade from their domestic dwelling and live above their stock so their houses were built with spaces to store and demonstrate or display their goods.

Undercrofts were convenient but more importantly provided secure storage area for goods.

The undercroft was not dark and dingy like a damp cellar.

It would have had light, air and noise from street level, with Norwich's own built for a wealthy merchant.

The one in Norwich Museum is made up of heavily built double order diagonal and cross-ribs supported by wall arches, meaning the ceiling and structure is decorative and not purely functional.

Norwich Museum undercroft used to secure goods

Norwich Museum's undercroft would have originally been used to securely store goods around the 14th century. - Credit: Museum of Norwich at the Bridewell