Stranger things: History of city's refugees

Paul Dickson tells the story of the Stranger refugees who helped shape Norwich into the Fine City it is today.

Paul Dickson tells the story of the Stranger refugees who helped shape Norwich into the Fine City it is today. - Credit: Archant / Paul Dickson

Norwich is rich with diversity, welcoming and recognised as a city of sanctuary.

And much like today the city has welcomed people from far and wide to settle here for hundreds of years.

The Strangers were one such group and an integral part of our city - helping shape it into an economic powerhouse.

Strangers' Hall

Historic Strangers' Hall in Norwich - Credit: Denise Bradley

Many city folk can trace their ancestry back to the Dutch and Flemish refugees who settled in the city back in the 16th century.

Paul Dickson, who ran a tour for Norfolk Museums Service looking at the impact of the Strangers, said: "The Strangers were protestant religious refugees from the Spanish Netherlands, modern day Belgium, Luxemburg and the Artois region of France.

The premises of clothing store White Stuff. Notice the Dutch gable and the bay windows with highly d

The premises of clothing store White Stuff. Notice the Dutch gable and the bay windows with highly decorative plasterwork. Picture: JOHN NORMAN - Credit: Archant

"Initially 30 families were invited to Norwich, most of the men were weavers.

"Thomas Sotherton, Mayor of Norwich from 1565 to 1566 was closely involved in the invitation.

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"He lived at what is now Strangers Hall museum where some of the refugees stayed at his house."

And the huge influence of the Strangers remains obvious throughout the city - if people know where to look.

Mr Dickson added: "By the end of the 1570s numbers were at their peak, with around 6,000 Strangers in the city, comprising Dutch and French speakers.

Strangers’ Hall, where Flemish weavers were given sanctuary in the 16th century

Strangers’ Hall, where Flemish weavers were given sanctuary in the 16th century after fleeing religious persecution. - Credit: ©Norfolk Museums Service

"This was about 30pc of the Norwich population.

"The weavers introduced a lighter woollen cloth to the city, which became known as the new draperies, and gave a great boost to the textile industry.

"The first printing press in Norwich was set up by Anthony de Solempne - one of the Strangers from Brabant.

"He operated as a printer from 1568-72 before focussing on working as a wine merchant."

"The Strangers also brought with them the canary the weavers brought with them as a companion - which a few people may now recognise - became the logo for Norwich City Football Club.

"We can also see in the Dutch style architecture of many of our buildings like the gables you see."

Who else settled in this Fine City?

It wasn't just the Strangers who came to settle in Norwich and made a massive impact.

French protestant refugees who arrived in the city after the end of religious toleration in France known as the Huguenots are also notable.

Mr Dickson said: "The Huguenots arrived with the revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

"It's possible that up to 200 Huguenots made their way to Norwich.

Paul Dickson pictured at Norwich Market on a walking tour

Paul Dickson pictured at Norwich Market on a walking tour - Credit: Paul Dickson

"Gaston Martineau was one of the refugees.

"He arrived in Norwich in 1693 and worked as a doctor in the city - as did the next three generations of his family.

"His great-grandson, Philip Meadows Martineau was assistant surgeon, then surgeon at the Norfolk and Norwich Hospital from 1778 to 1828.

"He founded the Norwich Subscription Library in 1784 and lived at Bracondale Lodge, which is now the location for County Hall, and Martineau Lane is named after him."