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Who's for a game of pub cricket?

PUBLISHED: 12:17 31 January 2011

The King's Head at 8 Castle Street

The King's Head at 8 Castle Street

Archant

Derek James takes a wander round the Norwich Market of the 1880s.

Fancy a game of pub cricket? Wandering around Norwich Market my score is soaring. There’s the George and Dragon, the White Hart, the White Horse, The White Lion and the White Swan, plus the Wounded Hart, the bizarrely named Two Necked Swan and I must score several thousand points for the Beehive.

You might score with Sir Garnet Wolseley.

That’s because you’re in 21st century Norwich and I’m in the Norwich of around 1885 and the Market area is packed with pubs. A map, reproduced in the wonderful history of Norwich Market put together by the Norwich Heritage Group last year, reveals the area had more than 30 pubs. Some were enormous, like the Royal Hotel which stretched from Gentleman’s Walk to Castle Meadow.

Others were tiny, but had a big impact on local life. You certainly wouldn’t have needed a sedate game like pub cricket to keep you entertained.

A pub called the Church Stile, alongside St Peter Mancroft churchyard, was named after an old custom of the church handing out free beer to drink at its gate on certain holy days.

That could be a tradition worth reviving, although perhaps not alongside another claim to fame for the pub – which allowed people to see its resident rattlesnake for free as long as they brought in a live cat or rabbit for the reptile’s tea.

The rattlesnake was reported, in the Norfolk Chronicle of 1801, to be 45 years old, almost nine feet long and the largest ever seen in England. It was obviously well fed.

But five years later an even more amazing reptile appeared at the Church Stile when a live crocodile arrived. It was apparently so tame that “any lady or gentleman may touch him with safety.”

Across the Market, in the Jenny Lind, candidates in General Elections regularly threw money from the windows to buy votes.

On the Haymarket the animals on show at the Star Inn in December 1783 included a lion and a wolf.

The exhibition also included a “female satyr” who was also described as “an Ethiopian savage from the Island of Madagascar.”

This poor woman was not the only victim of the terrible racism of the time. The pub sign for the Labour in Vain inn on Gaol Hill is believed to have been painted by John Crome and showed two women trying to scrub a black child white.

The King’s Head welcomed “the Irish Giant” in 1797.

He was over eight foot tall and you can still see his skeleton, in the museum of the Royal College of Surgeons in London. The original pub was demolished to make way for Davey Place, but it continued trading until 1981, in the building which is now the Body Shop.

Several of the old pubs around the Market, including the Waterloo, were pulled down to make way for the new City Hall.

The Wounded Hart of the late 19th century probably started out as the Wounded Heart, and its sign showed the Virgin Mary’s heart, pierced by five swords. By 1900 the sign showed a stag wounded by an arrow and in 1915 the pub was patriotically renamed The Kitchener’s Arms.

There are just two pubs on the 1885 Ordnance Survey map which have both kept the same names, and remain open today.

The Sir Garnet Wolseley actually started out in an old butcher’s shop as the Baron of Beef and was renamed in 1874 in honour of Field Marshal Garnet Joseph Wolseley, 1st Viscount Wolseley. The Walnut Tree Shades was once used to trial new beers.

In some cases the buildings remain although the pubs are long gone.

The George and Dragon is now a McDonalds and was once an inn with the intriguing name “Abraham Offering Up His Son.”

Then in 1619 it became Abraham’s Hall and was later the George and Dragon for more than 200 years. During a renovation in the 1970s some ancient timber beams were uncovered – and clad with polystyrene, to give them a more “authentic” look!

The Raven, currently a restaurant on St Giles Street, is one of the many places rumoured to be linked in to a labyrinth of tunnels beneath Norwich. Its cellars were said to be connected, by tunnel, to St Giles’ Gate. Certainly draymen delivering beer had to bring extra long ropes to lower their barrels into the cellar.

All these fascinating glimpses into the lively world of Norwich’s Market Place pubs come from the wonderful book A Market For Our Times.

It is packed with stories and pictures tracing nine centuries of city life, focussed on our famous market. It is colourful, quirky, a joy to look at and packed with easy-to-read information and is a quite remarkable achievement for the group of volunteers who make up the non-profit-making Norwich Heritage Project. For lots more about Norwich Market and the surrounding streets visit the Heritage Project’s website www.norwich-market.org.uk

The book is available from Jarrold.

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