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Norfolk was first - and here’s the proof

PUBLISHED: 11:42 01 June 2018 | UPDATED: 16:19 04 June 2018

David Holgate's statue of Julian of Norwich at Norwich Cathedral. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

David Holgate's statue of Julian of Norwich at Norwich Cathedral. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

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We’re on the home run: Norfolk Day is next month on July 27 and will mark the first time that the county celebrates its very own awareness day.

But when it comes to ‘firsts’, Norfolk is already ahead of the pack: not only does the county boast the first human settlement in Britain (why wouldn’t it? Where else would you want to live?) it was also where the first-ever computer to deal with the rates system was installed. Imagine THAT celebration!

Here’s a list of Norfolk firsts, from barbers to newspapers, football to postcodes.

10 Norfolk firsts:

1) According to archaeologists, the first Britons arrived in our county 950,000 years ago. ‘Norfolk Man’ entered the country via the extensive land bridge that joined the county to mainland Europe, which – if still in existence – would make mini-breaks to Holland and mainland Europe far easier than they are today (before Brexit, that is).

2) Pablo Fanque – born William Darby in Norwich in 1796 - was the first black circus proprietor in Britain and was celebrated by The Beatles in the lyrics for Being for the Benefit of Mr Kite. The showman was partial to riding through towns with up to 12 horses “in hand” (all on a single rein) and training his equestrian charges to dance in time to music. In true showbiz style, Fanque – who has lent his name to a new tower block in Norwich - was partial to lying about his age: when he married his second wife in 1848, he pretended to be 30, not 52. If you’re going to lie, lie in style.

3) The Norwich Post, first published in 1701, is believed to be the earliest truly provincial newspaper in England. Competition soon arose, with the Norwich Postman published in 1706 and the Norwich Gazette in 1707 – the Eastern Daily Press arrived in 1870, by which I mean it started publishing, not that the paper deliverer was late.

4) The first British-made carpets were knotted in Norwich in 1583 – most bore a coat of arms, scrolling vines and blossoms. It would be another 308 years before the first carpets had their first proper clean when vacuum cleaners were invented.

5) Dame Julian of Norwich was the first woman known to have written a book in the English language. Revelations of Divine Love was produced in 1395 and told of Dame Julian’s visions of Christ, or ‘shewings’, which is as Norfolk a word as you could ever hope to read.

6) In its present form as a mixture of six letters and digits, the postcode was first used in Norwich in 1959 and allowed letter sorting to be carried out by machinery. Today, there are 1.7 million postcodes across the UK. Some of the most risqué-sounding village names in the UK can be found at NE61 3SY.

7) Norwich City Football Club were the only English league side to beat Bayern Munich in their Olympiastadion – the game in 1993. Jeremy Goss and Mark Bowen scored in the first leg in Munich to inflect Bayern’s first-ever home defeat to English opposition and a 1-1 draw at Carrow Road was enough to see Bayern eliminated 3-2 on aggregate. No one mention the next round and Dennis Bergkamp.

8) The first recorded reference to a barber in Britain was John Belton from Norfolk in 1163. Presumably, before this time, men in the county sported flowing locks or relied on someone close to hand being handy with a flint.

9) Norwich City Council was the first local authority to install a computer to deal with the rates system in 1958. The National Elliot 405 machine was massive and required an entire room to house it in – it would be years before anyone at City Hall could watch a cat on a skateboard on a Facebook video on the authority’s computers.

10) The first bowler hat was commissioned by Edward Coke, of Holkham Hall in Norfolk. Coke wanted headgear that could be worn by gamekeepers when they were out riding to protect their heads from low-hanging branches. Before accepting the bowler hat, Coke stamped on the hat twice to check its robustness. Do not try this at home.

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