A to Z of Norwich knowledge - This week we look at Elm Hill, Friends Meeting House and Gentleman’s Walk
PUBLISHED: 12:01 07 August 2016
Archant Norfolk 2016
Every month we look at some of Norwich’s most famous sites and stories and the facts behind him. This week we look at things beginning E, F and G.
E is for Elm Hill
Probably the best collection of preserved Tudor buildings in Norwich and also a street which lays claim to containing more Tudor buildings than the City of London.
Elm Hill represents a remarkable survivor from the city’s past. During the medieval period it was the epicentre of society, with 16 mayors and sheriffs living there.
Mayor Augustine Steward rebuilt the Pastons Place at 22-6 Elm Hill after the Great Fire. Steward’s House incorporated the original courtyard entrance to the Paston’s Place (Crown Court Yard) which bears his merchant’s mark.
A little further down the sttreet on the opposite side (41-3 Elm Hill) is the remnant of Pettus House where that family lived from 1550 to 1683. Orginally it extended all the way down to the church and Wright’s Court would have formed its carriageway entrance. At the opposite end a further significant Tudor mansion can be found at nos. 12-16 but in most cases the best view, reflecting more of the original fabric of all of the even numbered properties can be gained at the rear
from Elm Hill Gardens.
Turning the corner at the top of the street, nos 4-6 Princes Street is the surviving mansion of Richard Mann, built around 1600.
In the 1920s the council decided to demolish Elm Hill as part of its slum clearance scheme, but a spirited defence by the newly-formed Norwich Society resulted in the street being saved by the casting vote of the Lord Mayor
F is for Friends Meeting House
Quaker Chapel. In 1654 Thomas Symonds became the first person in Norwich to convert to the Religious Society of Friends or Quakers, but it wasn’t until 1679 that the Friends had a meeting house of their own, built on Upper Goat Lane.
By 1700 there were about 500 Quakers in the city and the Goat Lane buildings were soon expanded with almshouses for the poor and a school.
Further improvements in 1826 saw John Thomas Patience design a new meeting house, replacing the old one with the current Classical-style building.
The financial burden of this and a decline in numbers means the Friends nearly sold the meeting house to the Wesleyan Methodists but when the deal fell through they held on to the site and still worship there today.
The meeting house is also known for its famous congregation. The prominent Norfolk banking family, the Gurney’s worshipped here, as did Elizabeth Fry, prison reformer and campaigner for the sick and homeless.
Fry worshipped in both the old and new house. although her journals revealed that she often feigned sickness to skip the insufferably long services and the ‘disagreeable’ older Quakers.
G is for Gentleman’s Walk
Formed following the Conquest when the Norman Market was laid out, ‘The Walk’ was known as Le Nether Rowe from the early medieval period and sometimes Souter Rowe (Shoe Makers Row). The present name originates from the 17th century when the gentry flocked to the city to shop, be entertained and to display.
Thomas Baskerville in 1681 talks about ‘a fair walk before the prime inns and houses of the market-place...called gentlemen’s walk or walking place...kept clear for the purposes from the encumbrances of stalls, tradesman and their goods’. Strolling was brought to an abrupt halt with the arrival of motorised traffic at the turn of the 20th century.
By the 1980s, the street had become unpleasant and dangerous for pedestrians. The councils showed imagination and courage in closing it to traffic. As well as making it more attractive, the closure resulted in a 300pc increase in pedestrian flows at peaks, a reduction in accidents, an increase in property values and an improvement in air quality. Architecturally, The Walk, and its extension into the Haymarket, is a picture of the city’s styles and periods in microcosm.
Key examples include a Venetian revival style building (formerly Burtons) by Boardman from 1876, the exuberant stone-faced Lloyds bank designed by H Muntro Cautley in 1928 and Edward Skipper’s spectacular Art Nouveau Royal Arcade.
Information kindly republished from The Norwich Knowledge, written and published by Michael Loveday and available in Norwich bookshops.