Search

Norwich walks: Norwich by the book(shop)

PUBLISHED: 07:00 09 May 2020

The Forum, in Norwich's city centre, is home to one of the busiest libraries in the country.  Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

The Forum, in Norwich's city centre, is home to one of the busiest libraries in the country. Pictures: BRITTANY WOODMAN

Archant

This is the fourth instalment in our series where writers commissioned by the National Centre for Writing will share their favourite walks in Norwich. Please only retrace their steps if it meets the government’s coronavirus regulations. This walk focuses on independent book shops in the city, which are all closed due to the pandemic, although some may offer an online delivery service.

The famous cobbles of Norwich's Elm Hill. Picture: Antony KellyThe famous cobbles of Norwich's Elm Hill. Picture: Antony Kelly

This week’s walk comes from Peggy Hughes, the programme director at the National Centre for Writing and chair of Literature Alliance Scotland.

Peggy Hughes recommends Norwich book shop, Bookhive. Pic: Ella Wilkinson, Archant.Peggy Hughes recommends Norwich book shop, Bookhive. Pic: Ella Wilkinson, Archant.

Norwich’s charming winding streets offer universes of possibility, so you can choose your own adventure and start your walk wherever you like.

I commence mine opposite the Cathedral at Tombland, where my first port of call (after a customary visit to Julian of Norwich outside the Cathedral, author of the first book written by a woman in the English language, in 1395), is Tombland Books.

The picturesque Norwich Lanes is a brilliant place to stroll and offers a different shopping experience to the high street. Pic: Ella Wilkinson, Archant.The picturesque Norwich Lanes is a brilliant place to stroll and offers a different shopping experience to the high street. Pic: Ella Wilkinson, Archant.

Housed in a fine, 15th century building, you’ll find the walls and floors, in local parlance, a tad on the huh.

This is the largest bookshop of its type in East Anglia, with a constantly changing stock of secondhand and antiquarian books on most subjects displayed on two floors: if they can’t find what you’re looking for, it’s probably not worth having.

Norwich became England's first UNESCO City of Literature in 2012. Picture: National Centre for WritingNorwich became England's first UNESCO City of Literature in 2012. Picture: National Centre for Writing

Exit, turn left and left again, and you’ve travelled back in time to Elm Hill.

Churlish to quibble its accolade as one of the UK’s bonniest streets, all cobbles and street lamps, and featured in the film version of Neil Gaiman’s Stardust, today it’s home to a stretch of curious boutiques, including your next date: Dormouse Books.

City Hall overlooks the market in Norwich - which makes a great pitstop with its eclectic stalls.  Picture: Sonya DuncanCity Hall overlooks the market in Norwich - which makes a great pitstop with its eclectic stalls. Picture: Sonya Duncan

This tiny treasure trove is stuffed from the flagstones to the ceiling with pre-loved books of all stripes, and a particularly fine line in classic children’s literature.

You might lose yourself among these shelves but you’ll rediscover your childhood here. Drag yourself away.

Consider a vital scone pitstop at the entirely charming Briton Arms.

You may also want to watch:

Head along Princes Street, past Cinema City via Norwich’s famous (and famously circuitous) medieval Lanes to the gleaming beacon that is the Book Hive (b. 2009). Allow self a small appreciative sigh.

Stylish, passionate Book Hive, home to publishing imprint Propolis, with its lovingly curated selection of books and its fairytale stairs to the fiction floor (above which Margaret Atwood is said to have finished her novel The Heart Goes Last).

Burrow in for a browse and stay for one of the many events and launches that happen here, particularly Page Against the Machine, a weekly ode to reading in which attendees step away from their phones and immerse in a book for an hour.

Thence: down the hill with you, the City Hall and its iconic lions passant ahead, and just before the market plain, on your right hand side, you’ll light upon Jarrold, jewel in Norwich’s independent retail crown.

Jarrold have been selling books on London Street since 1823, and with a hugely experienced staff, an especially impressive local interest selection and Chapters café adjacent to the bookshop, you might find no reason to ever leave this East Anglian institution.

Lunch next, and if you’ve managed to resist Jarrolds’ allure, there’s no place better than Norwich’s covered market.

One of the largest and oldest open-air markets in the country, the menu on offer among the many stalls is nonetheless bang up to date: Churros and Chorizo, lasagne, falafel, fresh bread and cheese, a stall dedicated to mushy peas… like Norwich’s book shops, there’s something here for all tastes. And at Row A/top of the market, at stall 18, you’ll find the world’s only handmade leatherware and bookstall mashup.

The Millennium Library, behind the market, isn’t a bookshop, but don’t let that stop you.

It’s England’s busiest library, in terms of both footfall and borrowing figures, with a cracking and extremely current collection, lots of pockets for a sit down and a read, and an unparalleled view of the majestic St Peter Mancroft church.

Robert Toppes, the wealthy merchant who built Dragon Hall, today home to the National Centre for Writing, used some of his enormous fortune to buy himself a stained glass window: if you pop in you can still see some surviving panels in the east window.

This section of your tour may be over, but your adventure is far from an end: there’s still Oxfam and City Books and JR & RK Ellis (with its chair sat upon by the bottom of Arthur Miller) and Amnesty on Unthank Road and Waterstones.

Not to mention all the gorgeous books you’ve bought…

This piece was originally commissioned by the National Centre for Writing to celebrate Norwich as England’s first UNESCO City of Literature. For more information www.nationalcentreforwriting.org.uk/walking-norwich


If you value what this story gives you, please consider supporting the Norwich Evening News. Click the link in the orange box above for details.

Become a supporter

This newspaper has been a central part of community life for many years. Our industry faces testing times, which is why we're asking for your support. Every contribution will help us continue to produce local journalism that makes a measurable difference to our community.

Latest from the Norwich Evening News