Norwich cattle market.

Norwich cattle market, 1871, by Frederick Barwell (CastleMuseum).

The cattle market in Norwich was held every Saturday in the city centre throughout my childhood. I said every Saturday, but Easter was an exception. On Easter Saturday the Easter Fair took over the space. I will have more to say on  the Easter Fair at the end of this article.

A row of shops stood on the road that led up from the market place to the castle gates. These shops sold farm supplies, and after the cattle market closed they were occupied by a pet shop and a travel agent. The livestock markets were moved from other streets in the city to the ‘Castle Ditches’ in 1738; before then pigs for example had been sold at ‘Hog Hill’ (now Timber Hill) and horses in Tombland. The cattle market was only moved to the outskirts of the city in 1960. By then the amount of traffic using the city streets was at its most intense; soon afterwards the process of pedestrianisation began. The numbers of cows and bullocks being driven through these busy streets to Trowse Station and City Station were becoming a severe burden on the rest of the city’s life.

It was all cattle; sheep were a rarity in Norfolk in the 1950s, and pigs were brought in pig trailers, open trucks towed behind the farmer’s car and covered by a net. Rabbits and chickens occupied the periphery of the market place. I remember the cattle going down to Trowse; on leaving the market they were driven along Ber Street by men with dogs and whippy hazel sticks, and the residents of that street had to take their chances with the approaching herds. The residents of Bracondale which came next were of a much higher social class, and to protect their elegant dresses from harm there were a couple of enclosures made of iron railings where any stray pedestrians could hide while the cattle pushed past. Although many cows must have come in cattle floats by road in the 1950s, a lot were still carried by cattle trucks on the railway. At Trowse bridge there were more iron railings that protected the people on the pavement from the cows in the road. Most of the animals were taken from the goods yard at Trowse where there is now a depot for sand, but some bullocks were not immediately put back into cattle trucks, instead they were held to fatten up on the adjacent water meadows.

I was taken round the market in the city centre shortly before it closed for good. The smells of the livestock, the noises of lowing cattle and rapid patter of the auctioneers selling their lots made it all very evocative. What made it most memorable however was the fact that a cow decided to evacuate its bowels as I was passing; I got a fresh, warm cow pat right on my foot! As I pointed out right at the beginning, it was the countryside brought right into the heart of the city. Happy days.



What was at first known as the ‘new’ livestock market in Hall Road is now rather reduced in size from its former glory, and the sales are held only once a fortnight, but at least it is still a going concern. This an arable county, but there are enough sheep and cows sold for it to hang on. The sheep which were almost non-existent fifty years ago have made strong come-back since. The livestock market sale yards around the county (for instance those at Aylsham and Acle) have all disappeared in the last thirty years. In other parts of the country the story has been the same, and many places have lost their livestock markets. In the 1960s there was still a strong trade in livestock brought in by rail, and the railway line goes right past the market on Hall Road. There were sidings off the mainline to serve this trade.

The picture at the top of this blog shows the cattle market in the latter part of the 19th century. It is immediately recognisable to anyone who knew Norwich in the 50s, although by then the farmers no longer wore top hats when buying and selling their animals. When the cows were banished from the city they were replaced by the Anglia Television studios. The buildings however are recognisably the same as they were in 1870. Crown Road is visible in the middle distance, and the Steam Packet pub; after being called the Market Tavern for some 80 years it has again reverted to its earlier name. In the distance you can see St James’s Hill and Mousehold, in those days a real sandy heath. Britannia Barracks (now the prison) was soon to be built on the skyline.

Norwich market; flock of sheep in front of the Shirehall.

Norwich market; flocks of sheep in front of the Shirehall show they were popular in 1830.

This picture shows Shirehall Plain soon after the new Courthouse was built. When the cattle market ended the iron railings that penned in the livestock were taken down, and the area became a car park. The Easter Fair which had taken over the cattle market continued to take over the car park until that disappeared when Castle Mall was built. The Easter Fair now takes over Chapelfield Gardens, which are trampled underfoot by the fairground revellers. In the early 60s the fair was still to some extent powered by showman’s engines, those ornate traction engines with twisted brass columns and a generator over the smokebox door.

The shooting galleries and coconut shies offered gaudy but worthless prizes which they seldom had to give out. The sights of the air guns were so out of true that the odds were stacked against you. It was a raucous place where things happened that would be unthinkable today. You would be invited inside a tent to watch a brawny woman killing rats with her teeth, or you could take on a fairground worker in a bout of fisticuffs. In the evening the market was ablaze with lights, and the showman’s engines gently rocked back and forth as they supplied the power. See my blog on the Easter Fair for more details.




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