LONG STANDING INSTITUTIONS in NORWICH

There are fewer links with the past in Norwich with every year that passes, but we can still claim some notable historic establishments.

Bullen’s, London Street, 75 years ago.

A. E. Coe is an old-established name in photography in Norwich. Albert Edward Coe (born 1844) set up the shop in London Street and Castle Meadow.  In 1890 he was advertising his photographic business at 32 London Street; he had qualified as an optician the previous year. I can remember when this shop in London Street was connected by a passageway with that on Castle Meadow. When my father was first established as an optician in the city (in about 1930) the Coe business was being run by his descendant Neville Coe, who also traded as an optician. The businesses have since been organised as separate firms; Coe, Costa and Moore being the optical side, and the photographic business as Barrett and Coe. The photographer’s shop had been well over a hundred years at the same address, but it has recently moved to Thorpe; although the business remains it has relocated. I will therefore cite W. R. Bullen, the jewellers in London Street, as a business that has remained in the same place for 130 years  . . . but both Bullen’s and Coe’s were established but yesterday in the long history of Norwich.

The department store Jarrolds is well over two hundred years old. It was established as a grocers and drapers in the Market Place in the Suffolk Port of Woodbridge in 1770. The founder, John Jarrold I, died early on and his son, John Jarrold II, was too young at first to take part in the operation of the firm. In the early 19th century, as soon as he was old enough, he transferred the business to its current home in Norwich. Once there the shop abandoned the grocery and drapery trades and became a bookseller and stationer. During the century it became a major printing business which (among other books) published Anna Sewell’s best-selling novel Black Beauty in 1878. Jarrold’s publishing activities were greatest before the 20th century, but in printing it went from strength o strength. It was still producing postcards and calendars into the 21st century, but it is now no longer a printer or publisher. It has remained a large retail store in Norwich city centre throughout this period, and has even reintroduced drapery among its lines. Thorns, the hardware shop which is just across Exchange Street from Jarrolds, and is another old-established family firm. It was set up by a merchant who arrived in the city from London in 1835.

Norwich Railway Station was first opened in 1844; although the terminus has been moved a few metres north since then, the original train shed is still used, now as the base for train crews to sign on. Unusually for post-Beeching Britain, the station retains all the lines that ran out of it when the railway network was at its peak, in the 1920s. Sheringham, Great Yarmouth, Lowestoft, London and Cambridge all still receive regular services. The other stations in Norwich have not been so lucky; there used to three of them, and now there is only the one.

St Mary, Coslany, half a century ago.

The inns of Britain are among the oldest non-religious institutions in the country. Nottingham has three pubs which all claim to have been drinking holes since the middle ages, but such antiquity means their origins are lost in the mists of the past. As for Norwich, the oldest pub is the Adam and Eve, which was run by Benedictine monks to provide refreshment for the builders who were working on Norwich Cathedral. The first time it was recorded by name was in 1249, and this would make it compete in age with the pubs in Nottingham; however it was rebuilt in the 17 century. The Maids Head Hotel in Norwich may well be oldest continuously occupied hotel in England, being commonly dated to  the 13th century. This hotel is near Norwich Cathedral, which was begun in 1096. Also in near the Cathedral is the Great Hospital; this was established in the first half of the thirteenth century as a refuge for the elderly, which is still its function today. The nature of the inhabitants has changed a but since its inception; until the Reformation this was reserved for decayed clerics, but now it is sheltered housing open to all, of either sex.

Norwich Castle was built soon after the Norman Conquest, and was erected at the same time that the Cathedral was started. Its official use as a goal ceased in the 19th century, and with the change of use to the City’s principal museum in the 1890s it cannot really be termed a surviving institution. Even as a museum however it is now quite a venerable institution. The oldest building in Norwich must be St Mary’s Church in Coslany, which has an Anglo-Saxon tower, but it has been redundant as a church for decades now and it is therefore a moot point whether it can be included in this list of surviving institutions. As for the oldest church in Norwich still used as a place of worship I am at something of a loss to determine; St George’s in Tombland still holds services, although nothing about it seems older than the 14th century. Alternatively in may be St Julian’s, although this church was bombed in the war and has been largely rebuilt. On further consideration I think it must the Anglo-Catholic church of St John the Baptist, Timber Hill, as this church also has signs of Anglo-Saxon stonework in its construction.

Thorns, Bullens, the Cathedral, the Great Hospital, the Adam and Eve and the Maids Head Hotel have all retained their original use in the same place for many centuries. Even the railway station has been there for well over a century and a half. All are part of the rich and ancient fabric of the City.

JOSEPH MASON

 joemasonspage@gmail.com

THE BLOG FOR THE STORY OF NORWICH

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