The Norwich close that was a pubs hotspot

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street

Jonathan Hooton, the Norwich Pub Detective, outside his favourite Norwich pub, the White Lion in Oak Street. - Credit: Sonya Duncan

He is known as the Norwich Pub Detective due to his fascination with all things to do with the city's famous pub legacy.

And this week Jonathan Hooton looks back at the history of former pubs on Bull Close, near Magdalen Street, which no longer exist.

Many of Norwich’s streets are named after churches, but there are also many named after prominent pubs or inns that once stood there.

Therefore one might think that Bull Close was one of those.

There is a pub standing where Bull Close meets Cowgate, but it is not the Bull, but the excellent Plasterer’s Arms.

Further up the road it does not take much detecting to notice there was another pub, because the pub name is still on the building, the Bricklayers Arms, even though this was shut back in 1994.

This building dates from 1939, and it replaced an older building which in 1850 was known as the Brewer’s Arms and in 1860 the Bull Close Brewery was put up for auction.

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Did the name come from the road, or did the road take the name of the Brewery?

Now it may have been easy to spot this building as a former public house, due to the helpful retention of its former name board, but if a close look is taken at the house next door, there are a series of clues as to its former incarnation.

The former Bull pub on Bull Close, Norwich.

The former Bull pub on Bull Close, Norwich. - Credit: Jonathan Hooton

There is a corner doorway, typical of many pubs, leading to the flats. Beside this is an area which includes a blank space that looks as if it once held a notice – perhaps a pub sign or name board similar to the one on the Bricklayer’s Arms next door?

Then a little further on than that is a pair of blue doors looking as though they could be the entrance to a cellar and almost identical to the cellar doors found on the Plough and the Ten Bells in St Benedict’s Street where they do lead to cellars.

Could this also be a former pub? The answer of course was yes and this was the Bull. It first appears in the licence registers in 1822 originally in the free trade before being acquired by Youngs & Co, and finally Bullards in 1958.

It then became part of the Watney Mann empire, acquired when they took over Bullards in 1964 and it only took them six years before they shut the Bull in May 1970 and the building was converted to accommodation.

Was the road named after this pub? From further investigation it appears not.

On the 1884 OS map the whole area is known as Bull Close. On King’s map of Norwich, (1766) it is shown as an open space or field between Magdalen Road, Cowgate and Bargate (now Barrack Street) and the City Wall; so it is plausible that this field (or close) frequently contained bulls, just as Cowgate may well have got its name from cows having been driven along this street to and from the pastures in Cowholme (next to Bishopgate).

When the area became built up in the 19th century it took its name from this open area, or close. If this is the case then the Bull probably got its name from the road and not the other way round.

The Bull was a popular pub name. Norwich had two other Bulls on the Market place and the end of St Stephen’s Street as well as a beer house of that name on Cattle Market Street. Also there were three Black Bulls and a Flecked Bull.

So Bull Close in the 19th century had three pubs within a short stretch and if that was not enough for a crawl it has to be remembered that on Cowgate within spitting distance of the Plasterer’s Arms there was the Jolly Maltsters next door to the Maltings that was opposite the Plasterer’s and at the other end of Bull Close if you turned right, a short stroll would take you towards the Leopard, thankfully a pub that is still with us.